In late September of this year my wife Laurie and I traveled with our good friends and neighbors, Jim and Marcia Wolfe, to upstate New York where Jim and Marcia were born and raised. We had many great visits during our stay including Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame, Niagara Falls and the beautiful small town of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada, the Corning Glass Museum, the Saint Lawrence Seaway and Boldt Castle, and the Adirondacks (the latter we just happened to visit on the day that the fall foliage was at its peak). The scenery was beautiful and the visits all extremely interesting. But, the primary focus was on visiting wineries in the Finger Lakes and tasting the wines.
This was my first visit to the area. We had made plans for the trip in the spring. And, as fate would have it, when we arrived in late September the harvest was underway. We were told that 2012 was the earliest harvest on record and there was even a bit of rain. But, we had a great tasting experience and I was surprised and impressed with many of the wines. Known primarily for Rieslings that compare favorably with the best in the world, there are also other varieties that thrive here including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, and Lemberger. The increased number of varieties being planted offers great opportunity for the future as vineyards mature and more vineyards are planted in new and upcoming varieties. This is an area to watch. And, even though most of the wines produced here are sold in New York, they do trickle into other areas. And, depending on where you live, they can be purchased direct from the wineries.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE FINGER LAKES AVA
The Finger Lakes AVA is an American Viticultural Area encompassing some 11,000 acres which makes it New York State’s largest wine growing region. The area is located in upstate New York just south of Lake Ontario. The Finger Lakes consist of 11 glacial lakes with the area around Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, and Canandaigua lakes having the majority of vineyard plantings in the AVA. Cayuga and Seneca Lakes each have their own AVA within the Finger Lakes AVA.
The area is often compared to the Rhine wine growing area in Germany where the predominant grape is also Riesling. But, over the last 50 years more and more grape varieties have been introduced with the potential for increased plantings of existing grape varieties as well as new varieties over time.
The severity of the climate is moderated by the influence of the lakes which release heat in the winter and prevent early season frost. Most vineyards are planted on the slopes of the lakes which provide drainage and good exposure to the sun with a reduced risk of frost. The average rainfall is 30 inches per year and the vineyards are not irrigated. The weather is also extremely variable with growing conditions different each year. Some growers have gone so far as to say that they have never seen the same conditions twice! Nonetheless, it is in this micro climate where wines are made from grapes that are ripe, but with a lesser degree of ripeness than is achieved in warmer wine growing areas such as most areas of California. This results in balanced wines with alcohol levels generally in the 11-13% range. (To visit the Finger Lakes Wine Country website and learn more about the area click here).
HISTORY OF THE FINGER LAKES
The history of winemaking in the area dates back to the 1800s, with the first commercial plantings of American grape varieties in 1862. Shortly thereafter the area had established a reputation for making sweet sparkling wines, and by the end of the century plantings had increased to around 25,000 acres. In the early 20th century, production declined sharply as a result of phylloxera vine disease, competition from California wines, and prohibition. After prohibition ended, production resumed, but after World War II soldiers returning from Europe had developed a taste for the drier wines made from European Vitis vinifera grape varieties. Unlike in California, it was believed that these grape varieties would not grow in the harsh New York winters. Experiments were made with French-American hybrid varieties with limited success.
Then in 1951 Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian immigrant with a PhD degree in Plant Science, came to work at the Cornell University Geneva Experiment station. And, even though he held an advanced degree, the only job he could obtain was that of a janitor. That, compounded by the fact that he could not speak English, made it difficult for him to use his knowledge of plant science. Although native grape varieties were widely planted and producing wine, the belief at that time was that the European Vitis vinifera varietals could not grow in the cold Finger Lakes climate. But after successfully planting the Vitis vinifera varietals in the cold Ukraine climate, Dr. Frank was sure that many could also be grown in the Finger Lakes area. With support from a sparkling wine producer with whom he shared knowledge of the French language, he began planting Vitis vinifera vines in 1958. In 1962 Dr. Frank started Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, where he began to produce Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürtztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon and Rkatsiteli. Plantings of these varieties spread throughout the region and new wineries soon emerged. Today the number of wineries in the Finger Lakes is over 100. And with increased plantings, new varieties such as Grüner Veltliner have emerged and are becoming increasingly popular.
WINERIES VISITED & TASTING NOTES
We visited a total of 8 wineries located on Cayuga, Keuka, and Seneca Lakes. During these visits we tasted many lovely wines. Despite being there at harvest time (which we were told was the earliest on record), we were privileged to meet many wonderful, friendly, and knowledgeable people. Our goal was not just to visit a few of the best wineries and taste their wines, but also to purchase wines to taste later and enjoy with our at home meals. The wines purchased allowed us the opportunity to taste them over several days with food. This is a really good way to understand and appreciate a wine and see how it matches with food. We were quite impressed. The wines were very food friendly, balanced, and easy to drink. They went well with a wide variety of food from sushi to vegetables, pastas, chicken and meats.
Following, arranged in alphabetical order by location, is a brief note on each winery visited followed by notes on the wines tasted. The tasting notes are further separated by wines tasted only at the winery and wines tasted later.
Cayuga Lake is the longest of The Finger Lakes, the second largest in surface area (slightly smaller than Seneca Lake) and second largest in volume. It is just under 40 miles long with an average width of 1.7 miles and is approximately 435 ft deep at its deepest point. There are 13 wineries located on Cayuga Lake. (To visit the web site for the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail and learn more about the Cayuga Lake wineries click here).
Cameron Hosmer along with his family and winemaker, Aaron Roisen, and a small crew, run the day to day operations of the winery. The day we visited the harvest was in full swing and we were met by the tasting room director and tasted though a few wines and bought a few to taste later. Cameron Hosmer’s father, a Syracuse textile manufacturer, envisioned growing grapes on the gentle slopes of Cayuga Lake at the family’s summer home. His vision took shape when planting began in the late 1970’s. For fifteen years they sold grapes to others and then began to make and sell their own wine in 1985, with the first tasting room in their garage. In 1990 they renovated a barn into a new tasting and retail facility. Today the production is some 7000 cases all made from estate grown grapes. Some two dozen varieties of wine are produced including: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, Pinot Gris, Seyval, two different Chardonnays, and three different Rieslings, as well as several fruit wines, blush wines, flavored wine and rosé, specialty red and white wines, and two sparking wines. The wines are mostly sold from the winery and in New York State. (To learn more about the winery and their wine club which offers special discounts click here).
Wines Tasted Only At The Winery
2011 Hosmer Winery Chardonnay.
This wine was made with 50% in American and French oak and 50% in stainless steel. It is light yellow in color and has a nice floral perfume with a tinge of citrus, apple, and spice. Very crisp and clean with nice underlying fruit this Chardonnay should benefit from bottle age – Recommended Plus. $12
2011 Hosmer Winery Riesling.
This is a lovely Riesling with a nicely balanced sweetness that is well integrated with the crisp fruit. It is pale yellow in color and has a lovely perfume with hints of peach and apricot and a faint floral undertone. The flavors are fruity with pear and apple accented by a touch of citrus and the finish has nice crispness – Highly Recommended. $15
2008 Hosmer Winery Vintners Reserve Riesling.
With 1.5% residual sugar this is a very flavorful and beautifully balanced Riesling. The color is pale yellow and the perfume is gorgeous with hints of peach and pear and faint floral, citrus, and mineral nuances. Loaded with fruit the wine is lush and layered with fruit but at the same time is elegant and shows a lot of finesse. The flavors are fruit driven with pineapple and peach interlaced with citrus and a faint floral spiciness. This is a really delicious Riesling that would appear to have a long life ahead – Outstanding. $25
2011 Hosmer Winery Pinot Gris.
Pale yellow in color this Pinot Gris is faintly floral and citrus tinged with finesse and charm and is very easy to drink – Recommended. $18
2009 Hosmer Winery Lemberger.
This grape originated in Central Europe and is also known by its original name of Blaufränkisch. It is well suited to the Finger Lakes soils and climate where it makes a lighter style wine with nice complexity. This is a fine example. It has a very nice color and a plummy perfume with hints of spice. And, the wine has a good underlying crispness which is nicely balanced by the plum and berry fruit that also show a tinge of minerality and spice – Highly Recommended. $18
2009 Hosmer Winery Cabernet Franc.
This is a nicely balanced Cabernet Franc with a lovely color and a berry tinged perfume that also shows hints of vanilla and spice. Supple berry fruit also shows hints of spice and plum and the finish has a nice crispness – Recommended Plus. $18
Wines Tasted Later
2011 Hosmer Winery Seyval.
Seyval is one of the better New York hybrid grape varieties. This is a very nice example with a balanced residual sugar of 1%. It is pale yellow in color and has a lovely floral perfume with just a hint of citrus. Elegant and fruity with hints of pear and citrus the wine has elegance and finesse with a nice crispness on the finish – Highly Recommended. $10
2011 Hosmer Winery Dry Riesling.
This Riesling has just 0.5% residual sugar. It is pale yellow in color with a lovely perfume showing citrus and peach nuances with a floral undertone. It is fruity and crisp with a wonderful balance and a faint underlying minerality – Highly Recommended Plus. $15
2010 Hosmer Winery Pinot Noir.
This is a very pure Pinot Noir with a nice color and a floral berry perfume. It is nicely balanced with berry fruit flavors accented by a floral spiciness – Recommended Plus. $18
At Sheldrake Winery we were met by Bob Madill whose title is Winegrower & General Manager. Bob is past president of the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail and chair of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. He is very serious and very wine knowledgeable with a strong commitment to making great wines. Sheldrake Point Winery was founded in 1997 by a team including Bob and the principle partner and Senior Managing Partner, Chuck Tauck. The vineyards total 44 acres planted to Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Gamay Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Some 11,000 cases of wine are produced annually and include the above varietals as well several proprietary white and red wines, reserve wines, and dessert and ice wines. Sheldrake Point is making some terrific wines. (To learn more about Sheldrake Point Winery and their wine club offering special discounts click here).
Wines Tasted Only At The Winery
2010 Sheldrake Point Winery Waterfall Chardonnay.
This is a nice understated Chardonnay. It has a light yellow color and a nice floral citrus perfume with just a kiss of spice. It is clean and crisp with floral citrus flavors accented by a faint hint of peach – Highly Recommended. $14
2011 Sheldrake Point Winery Pinot Gris.
This wine is made with 0.3% residual sugar. It is pale yellow in color and has a nice floral perfume. It is clean and crisp with floral peach tinged flavors and a nice citrus note – Recommended Plus. $16
2011 Sheldrake Point Winery Gamay Noir.
Light red in color this wine has a lovely floral perfume with a tinge of spice. It is soft and delicate with lovely berry fruit and nice balance. This wine is very easy to drink and would be particularly nice with a slight chill – Highly Recommended. $16
2009 Sheldrake Point Winery Pinot Noir Block 3.
The production of this Pinot Noir consists of only 2 barrels. It is part of the Pinot Noir development that Bob Madill is pursuing. The wine shows great purity and has elegance and finesse. It is light red in color with a floral spice tinged perfume and has subtle berry fruit flavors again accented with a touch of spice – Recommended Plus.
2010 Sheldrake Point Winery Cabernet Franc
This wine is blended with 6% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is light red in color and has a nice spice tinged perfume. A wine of elegance and finesse there is a nice fruitiness accented by a touch of spice and the wine is balanced with clean finish – Recommended Plus. $18
2010 Sheldrake Point Winery Meritage
This wine is made with 87% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2% Cabernet Franc. It has a deep color with a nice perfume showing spice tinged berry fruit. The wine has lovely balance and is flavorful with berry fruit accented by spice and vanilla notes. The tannins are well integrated and the wine has the structure to age beautifully for several years – Highly Recommended.
2005 Sheldrake Point Winery Cabernet Sauvignon.
This is a lovely Cabernet that has beautiful balance and very pure fruit. The color is deep and the perfume shows plum like fruit accented by hints of spice. Supple and rounded with lovely spice tinged plummy fruit this wine is harmonious and lovely to drink now – Highly Recommended Plus.
2007 Sheldrake Point Winery Cabernet Franc Reserve.
This is an impressive wine that is aging beautifully. It has a nice amber tinged color with a floral berry perfume accented by hints of black pepper and cigar box. On the palate the wine displays lovely fruit and it soft and supple with accents of spice and a faint smokiness – Outstanding.
2006 Sheldrake Point Winery Dry Riesling.
2006 was a cold vintage. This wine was made with 0.6% residual sugar. It is totally remarkable for the mineral component that is so evident. The color is pale yellow and the nose shows a strong mineral like flintiness with hints of smoke and citrus. The palate shows bright crisp citrus tinged fruit that is nicely balanced with a smoky minerality. This is a serious wine that appears to have a long life ahead – Outstanding.
2010 Sheldrake Point Winery Riesling Ice Wine.
The frozen grapes used to make this wine were harvested in January 2010. It is a stunningly great dessert wine with 28.3% residual sugar and lots of acidity giving it a marvelous yin and yang. The color is light yellow and the wine has an intense perfume of lichee nut, pineapple, peach and citrus. It has great intensity of fruit with layers of tropical fruit flavors that coat the palate with a lush roundness and then finish with a bright zesty crispness – Exceptional. $65
Wines Tasted Later
2011 Sheldrake Point Winery Gewürtztraminer.
Made with 0.4% residual sugar this is a really gorgeous Gewürtztraminer. The color is pale yellow and the wine has a stunning floral spicy perfume accented by citrus. Lush and supple, there is also a crispness that gives the wine elegance yet it all marries beautifully with the spice tinged fruitiness – Outstanding. $18
2011 Sheldrake Point Winery Dry Rosé
This wine is made from Cabernet Franc and has 0.4% residual sugar. It is pale salmon in color and has a lovely floral berry tinged perfume. It is bright, clean, fresh and fruity with a nice tart cherry undertone – Highly Recommended. $14
2011 Sheldrake Point Winery Dry Riesling.
This Riesling has 0.8% residual sugar. It is pale yellow in color and has a gorgeous perfume of peach and citrus with floral accents. Balanced with very pure fruit the wine is finesseful and elegant, but with lots of flavor. Peach and apricot nuances are followed by a nice underlying crispness which carries through on the finish – Outstanding. $16
At King Ferry Winery we were met by the enthusiastic young winemaker, Lindsay Stevens. King Ferry Winery, on the east side of Cayuga Lake, has been owned and operated by Peter and Tacie Saltonstall since 1984. The emphasis here is Chardonnay. Some 27 acres of vines are planted to Chardonnay, Riesling, and Gewürtztraminer. The grapes are hand-tended and selectively picked to make wines under the Treleaven label. About a dozen wines are made each year including red wines made from purchased grapes grown on the North fork of Long Island. (To learn more about King Ferry Winery/ Treleaven Wines and join the wine club offering special discounts click here).
Wines Tasted Only At The Winery
2009 Treleaven Main Chardonnay.
This wine is referred to as “the owner’s house pour!” It is light yellow in color and has a nice vanilla tinge perfume. Floral citrus flavors are accented by a kiss of vanilla and spice and are followed by a nice crisp finish – Recommended Plus. $14.99
2011 Treleaven Chardonnay Reserve.
This wine is made from grapes grown on the original Chardonnay vines which are now 22 years old. It is light yellow in color and has a lovely perfume showing hints of peach and citrus with floral nuances and a touch of vanilla. Rounded and supple the wine has lovely fruit with a touch of vanilla and spice and a nice citrus touch on the finish – Highly Recommended. $18.99
2007 Treleaven Meritage.
This wine is made from 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, and 11% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a deep color with an amber tinge and a nice perfume that is faintly plummy with a touch of spice. The flavors have a jammy fruit quality and the wine is soft and rounded with some crispness on the finish – Recommended Plus. $24.99
2010 Treleaven Caberent Franc Reserve.
Blended with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon this wine has a deep color and a plum and berry perfume accented by black pepper. It has nice plummy fruit and a distinct black pepper undertone and has well integrated tannins with some crispness on the finish – Recommended Plus. $31.99
2011 Treleaven Pinot Noir.
This is a lovely pure and delicate Pinot Noir. It is light in color with a nice floral perfume showing hints of berries and spice. There is an intriguing strawberry fruit on the palate accented by faint floral notes and a touch of spice. Rounded and elegant the wine has a lot of charm and a nice crisp finish – Highly Recommended. $18.99
2008 Treleaven EIS Late Harvest Riesling.
This is a very rich and appealing dessert wine with 38% residual sugar. It has a light golden color and a deep perfume of apricots and pineapple. The wine is supple and lush with loads of sweet apricot and pineapple fruit that is layered on top of the underlying citrus flavors that are manifest on the finish with a nice crispness – Outstanding Plus. $34.99
Wines Tasted Later
2011 Treleaven Gewürztraminer.
This is a very nicely balanced Gewürztraminer. It has a light yellow color and a very nice floral spice tinged perfume. The wine is supple and rounded with elegance and lovely spice tinged fruit that is followed by a nice crispness on the finish – Highly Recommended. $21.99
2011 Treleaven Dry Riesling.
Made with 0.4% residual sugar this Riesling has a pale yellow color and a floral citrus tinge perfume. It is very crisp with nice flavors hinting of peach and citrus with a floral tinge and a faint minerality – Highly Recommended. $15.49
Keuka Lake is an unusual member of Finger Lakes because it is Y-shaped, instead of long and narrow. In the past it was referred to as Crooked Lake. The lake is about 20 miles long and varies in width from a half mile to two miles with a maximum depth of 186 feet. The length of the shoreline is about 60 miles. There are 11 wineries located on Keuka Lake. (To visit the web site for the Keuka Lake Wine Trail and learn more about the Keuka Lake wineries click here).
This was the winery that started it all, and it was our first visit. We were met by Frederick Frank, the grandson of the founder Dr. Konstantin Frank, who has been president of the family operation since 1993. Like his father Willy, he is a businessman who has established a second label, Salmon Run, to make wine from purchased grapes. In the meantime, he is also purchasing and planting vineyards in the Finger Lakes area to assure a dependable supply of grapes from estate owned and farmed vineyards. Today Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars makes approximately 3 dozen different wines, including 5 sparkling wines under the Chateau Frank label, 6 varietals under the Salmon Run label, and the balance Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars varietal wines including Reserve bottlings. The wines are sold in 30 states and also available direct from the winery through their wine club which offers significant discounts. These are wines to put on your shopping list. They are beautifully made, balanced, and well priced. (To visit the Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars website and learn more about the winery and its wines and to sign up for the wine club offering special bottlings and discount pricing click here).
Wines Tasted Only At The Winery
2011 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Riesling 50th Anniversary Reserve.
Only 200 cases of this wine were made. The wine has 5.0% residual sugar but is impeccably balanced by the underlying acidity. It is stunningly delicious with a pale yellow color and an intense floral tropical fruit perfume. The wine is loaded with a myriad of tropical fruit flavors that are accented by citrus tinges. Despite the intensity of the flavors, this Riesling maintains a beautiful delicacy – Outstanding Plus. $24.99
2008 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Riesling Bunch Select Late Harvest.
This is a simply fabulous dessert wine with 15% residual sugar and tremendous balance and complexity. It is light yellow in color and has an intense perfume of apricot, coconut, and pineapple that have an underlying floral note. With great depth and flavor the wine is packed with loads of apricot, peach, pineapple, and coconut fruit, yet maintains a beautiful balance of acidity which enhances the very long finish – Extraordinary. $69.99 1/10
2010 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Old Vines,
This wine is made from the original vines planted here in 1962. That makes them the second oldest Pinot Noir vines in the U.S. after those planted in 1953 by Ambassador Zellerbach at Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma, CA (to read more about Hanzell Vineyards click here). This Pinot Noir has a nice color and a lovely floral tinged berry perfume with a faint kiss of spice. There is lovely berry fruit on the palate with hints of berries accented by floral undertones and a faint smokiness. The wine is balanced and very pure and is very appealing now – Highly Recommended. $19.99
2010 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Lemberger.
Lemberger is a cool climate grape that originated in Central Europe. It seems well adapted to the Finger Lakes where it makes a crisp wine with bright fruit. This wine has a very nice color and a subtle perfume with hints of cherry and a faint spiciness. The berry fruit flavors and accented by tinges of vanilla and spice and the finish is clean and crisp – Recommended Plus. $19.99
2010 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Cabernet Franc.
This is a very nice Cabernet Franc reminiscent of some of the wines made from this grape in the Loire Valley. The wine has a deep color and a lovely perfume of plums and berries. It is rounded with very nice fruit and flavor and has depth and balance with a nice underlying backbone – Highly Recommended. $19.99
Wines Tasted Later
2011 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Dry Riesling.
This Riesling is made from vines planted in 1962. It has 0.6% residual sugar and is beautifully balanced. Pale yellow in color the wine has a lovely floral perfume with hints of citrus and a faint underlying minerality. It is lovely and crisp with subtle hints of citrus and peach and is balanced and very pure with a nice crisp finish tinged with citrus. This is a delicious dry Riesling – Outstanding. $14.99
2011 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Semi Dry Riesling.
This wine contains 2% residual sugar. It is beautifully balanced with a level of acidity that allows the wine to retain a beautiful crispness which complements the sweetness. The color is pale yellow and the wine shows a lovely perfume of pear and peach with a floral undertone. Very elegant and pure this Riesling is balanced with gorgeous fruit and a nice crisp citrus tinged finish – Outstanding. $14.99
2011 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Grüner Veltliner.
Grüner Veltliner is a grape variety that is gaining in popularity as a result of its balance and ability to match with a wide variety of foods. It is grown primarily in Austria, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic with a history dating back to Roman times. Dr. Frank’s 10 acres of Grüner Veltliner plantings are the largest in this country.
This 2011 is pale yellow in color with a lovely floral citrus tinged perfume with just a hint of minerality. It is finesseful and very crisp with a nice citrus tinge and a touch of spice and fresh herbs. This is a wine that matches well with lighter foods and is particularly good with vegetable dishes and olives served as appetizers – Highly Recommended Plus. $17.99
2010 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Rkatsiteli.
Rkatsiteli is thought to be the oldest grape variety in existence with a history going back to 3000 BC. It originated in Georgia where it is still widely planted today. Other significant plantings are in Eastern Europe. It is not well known in other areas, but was one of the first varieties planted by Dr. Frank here in 1962.
The wine is pale yellow in color and has a lovely complex perfume with floral hints and a touch of mint accented by a slight flintiness. The flavors are likewise intriguing showing the same complexity with the addition of a more distinct mineral component. This is a unique and lovely wine – Highly Recommended. $14.99
2010 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Chardonnay Reserve.
This Chardonnay has 13% alcohol and was barrel fermented in French oak. It has gorgeous flavors with restraint and balance. The color is pale yellow and the floral perfume has very faint hints of spice and vanilla with a nice citrus tinge. Flavorful, yet with great balance the wine has lovely fruit with floral vanilla spice notes and a nice underlying crispness. This is a gorgeous Chardonnay that shows complexity and purity – Outstanding. $24.99
2011 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Gewürztraminer Reserve.
This wine is made from grapes grown on old vines. It has 2% residual sugar, but again is complemented by the underlying acidity which allows the retention of a fresh crispness. The color is pale yellow and the wine exhibits and intense floral spice tinged perfume. It has delicious peach tinged fruit with hints of apricot and citrus and a nice floral spice accent. The sweetness is well balanced and the wine has a nice crispness on the finish – Outstanding. $24.99
2006 Chateau Frank Blanc de Noirs.
This wine was aged for 6 years in the bottle before disgorgement earlier this year. It was made at an existing winery next door that was converted to a sparkling wine facility and named Chateau Frank. It is made from 95% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier in a brut style and is really delicious. This sparkling wine is pale yellow in color and has a lovely floral perfume with a faint hint of spice. The wine is balanced and creamy with very pure fruit with hints of apple and pear and faint floral spice notes. This is a delicious sparkling wine – Outstanding. $29.99
2011 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Dry Rosé.
Light reddish pink in color this rosé has a light reddish pink color and a lovely perfume of floral tinged cherry fruit. It is a really tasty delicate rosé with lovely floral tinged fruit and a nice crisp finish – Highly Recommended. $11.99
2009 Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Old Vines.
This is a very intriguing Pinot Noir. It was tasted over a period of 3 days. Unlike the 2010, which was tasted earlier at the winery, at first the wine was quite closed. This note is from the 3rd day. With a nice color just amber at the edge the wine has a lovely floral perfume showing raspberry and cherry with just a touch of spice. It has very pure fruit and is very finesseful with firm underlying acidity and is a very nice expression of the Pinot Noir grape. These wines are reputed to be long lived. And, even though I have not tasted an old one, my guess is that this wine will soften and blossom to show more complex flavors with additional bottle age – Highly Recommended/Outstanding Potential. $19.99
At Heron Hill Winery we were met by Dave Herman, the cellar master, a serious young man who clearly has a passion for his work. Heron Hill Winery is located on a hill overlooking Keuka Lake. Heron Hill’s grape grower and owner, John Ingle often says that Heron Hill has “boot prints in its vineyards, not tire tracks.” Since people maintain the vines at Heron Hill, not machines. From its first vintage in 1977, Heron Hill has steadily grown from a small 5,000 case winery that only made white wines into a 20,000 case production facility and entertainment destination for more than 50,000 people every year. Today, Heron Hill offers nearly 20 wine varieties; Rieslings, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Francs, and dessert wines. (To learn more about Heron Hill Winery and join the wine club offering special discounts click here).
Wines Tasted Only At The Winery
2011 Heron Hill Winery Unoaked Chardonnay Ingle Vineyard.
This wine is made without using any oak. It is pale yellow in color with a lovely floral perfume showing hints of pear. On the palate the wine has lovely fruit with hints of pear and citrus accented by an underlying floral note. There is also a hint of tart apple that show through on the citrus tinged finish – Highly Recommended. $17.99
2011 Heron Hill Winery Muscat.
This is a lovely dry Muscat made with 1.3% residual sugar. Very pale yellow in color the wine has an intense floral perfume with just and tinge of citrus. It is very fruity, engaging, and fresh with a lot of finesse. Beautifully balanced with a nice crispness, this is a delicious wine that is very easy to drink – Highly Recommended. $13.99
2006 Heron Hill Winery Late Harvest Riesling Ingle Vineyard.
This Late Harvest Riesling has 17% residual sugar. It has a light gold color and a gorgeous perfume of pineapple with hints of apricot and citrus. The wine has great intense fruit with tropical nuances and is lush with lots of richness which is balanced by a bright crispness and a faint underlying minerality. This is really gorgeous – Outstanding Plus. $49.99
Wines Tasted Later
2011 Heron Hill Dry Riesling Finger Lakes.
This Riesling is totally dry with no residual sugar. Pale yellow in color it has a great perfume showing floral citrus notes and hints of peach. This wine has gorgeous pure fruit with hints of pear, peach, and tart apple and a lovely crisp finish. Beautifully balanced, this is a wonderful Dry Riesling – Outstanding. $13.99
At Keuka Spring Vineyards we were greeted by the gracious and affable owners, Len and Judy Wiltberger. In the early 80’s Len and Judy had the opportunity to purchase 30 acres of land overlooking Keuka Lake. Len was a corporate executive and with his wife Judy had a dream of making wine. With help from family members, in 1981 they planted Chardonnay and Riesling vines as well as hybrid vines Seyval Blanc and Vignoles. They produced their first wines in 1985 which the Wiltberger family sold wine from the tasting room. Later a new tasting room was added overlooking the lake and new plantings of Lemberger and Cabernet Franc were added. Production has gradually expanded from an initial 2,000 cases to about 8,500 cases today. Most of the wine is sold direct. There are some really lovely wines being made here and Keuka Spring Vineyards is a delightful and friendly place to visit. (To learn more from the web site and join the wine club offering special bottlings and discounts click here).
Wines Tasted Only At The Winery
2011 Keuka Spring Vineyards Riesling.
This Riesling is made in an off dry style with 1% residual sugar. It is pale yellow in color with a lovely floral perfume showing hints of peach and citrus. The wine is very fruity, again with hints of peach and citrus, and is crisp and bright with nice balance and a lovely finish – Highly Recommended Plus. $13.99
2011 Keuka Spring Vineyards Vignoles.
This wine is made with 4.5% residual sugar. It is pale yellow in color and has a lovely perfume of apple, pear and citrus. It has lovely sweet fruit with hints of pear and the sweetness is nicely balanced by a hint of tart apple. This is a bright, fresh wine that is very easy to drink – Highly Recommended. $12.49
2010 Keuka Spring Vineyards Vignoles Dessert Wine.
This is a really delicious light sweet wine. It is pale yellow in color and has a lovely perfume of citrus with floral notes and a hint of pear. The wine has loads of fruit with suggestions of citrus, pear, and apple. It is sweet, yet crisp and delicate with a nice crispness on the finish – Outstanding. $19.99
2010 Keuka Spring Vineyards Cabernet Franc.
With a very nice color showing a faint amber tone this wine has a lovely floral perfume with hints of berries and spice. It has lovely floral tinged berry fruit and is rounded and nicely balanced with some crispness on the finish – Highly Recommended. $18.99
2010 Keuka Spring Vineyards Merlot.
With a deep color this Merlot has a lovely floral perfume with hints of plum. It is supple and nicely balanced with plummy fruit showing hints of green olive and spice. This is wine with a lot of charm and early appeal – Highly Recommended. $18.99
2007 Keuka Spring Vineyards Merlot Reserve.
This is a lovely wine with a deep color and a cedary perfume with just a tinge of spice. It has lovely cedary tinged plummy fruit and is rounded and soft with very nice balance and a nice finish – Highly Recommended Plus. $24.99
2011 Millers Cove Red Wine.
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with the grapes picked as late as possible, this wine is made mostly for distribution in the local area. It has a deep color and a lovely floral perfume with hints of plum. Rounded and lush with lots of rounded berry fruit accented by a touch of spice, this is a wine with great early appeal – Highly Recommended Plus. $21.99
Wines Tasted Later
2011 Keuka Spring Vineyards Crooked Lake White.
This wine is made from the hybrid grape varieties Vidal Blanc and Vignoles in a semi-dry style with 0.75% residual sugar. It is a lovely balanced wine that is very easy to drink. Pale yellow in color the wine the wine has a lovely floral citrus tinged perfume. It is fresh, crisp and very pure with citrus flavors and just a hint of pear – Highly Recommended. $10.99
2011 Keuka Spring Vineyards Gewürztraminer.
Pale yellow in color this Gewürztraminer has a very floral perfume with spicy nuances. It is elegant and finesseful with lovely fruit and floral spice notes and has a nice balanced tinge of sweetness – Highly Recommended. $16.99
2010 Keuka Spring Vineyards Pinot Noir.
This is a lovely Pinot Noir with a very nice color and a floral berry perfume. It has lots of supple fruit and is balanced and flavorful with floral spice tinges and a very nice finish – Highly Recommended Plus. $18.99
2010 Keuka Spring Vineyards Red Wine Epic Reserve Finger Lakes.
Made with equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, this is a delicious red wine. It has a deep color and a lovely perfume with hints of blackberry, cherry, and mulberry with just a touch of spice. With great balance, the wine is loaded with a myriad of red fruits showing faint spice tinges and is supple and lush with a lovely finish – Outstanding. $24.99
At Ravines Wine Cellars we were first met by Lisa Hallgren at the original winery facility and then later visited the new winery where we met her husband, Morten. Ravines Wine Cellars is the dream and passion of Morten and Lisa. Morten is a European Winemaker/Oenologist. Lisa is his delightful self described Chef/Foodie wife. Morten was raised in the Provence region of the South of France. The Hallgren family owned and operated Domaine de Castel Roubine (now under new ownership and known as Château Roubine). (To read my article on Château Roubine and the Three Cru Classe Ladies of Provence click here).
For many years Morten worked in the vineyards of Domaine de Castel Roubine honing his viticultural skills along side his future brother-in-law Jean Michel, and in the cellar, learning the traditional methods of fine European winemaking. He received an advanced degree in both Enology and Viticulture at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier, one of the world’s top winemaking schools. He spent his first harvest in Bordeaux, at Chateau Cos d’Estournel, a great second growth St. Estephe then owned by the legendary Bruno Prats. After working for a French negociant on a project in West Texas (where he met Lisa), he moved on to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina which is the most visited winery in America. Here he was recruited by Willy Frank who offered him a job as chief winemaker for Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars where he worked for six and one half years.
In 2000 Morten and Lisa purchased a 17 acre parcel of land on a glacier-carved hillside on the Eastern slopes of Keuka Lake. This land is located at the widest part of the lake which allows grapevines to receive maximum benefit from its temperature-moderating effects, it has a good slope which keeps the mineral rich soils well-drained, and is situated between two deep ravines, which drain cold air from the land during the winter. These ravines are the namesake of the winery. It is interesting to note that Morten says that in his years on the Finger Lakes no 2 vintages have been the same. The weather conditions are constantly changing which offers continuing challenges and opportunities.
This year a winery and land on Seneca Lake was purchased. The property includes a new state of the art winery facility and vineyard land that includes 40 acres of producing vineyards. There is no doubt about the commitment to excellence at Ravines Wine Cellars. Everyone we spoke with had only the highest compliments for Morten and his work. There is no question that Ravines Wine Cellars has quickly become one of the finest wineries in the Finger Lakes region. The wines have garnered many awards and are world class in quality. The current production is 14,000 cases and there is the potential to more than double this production over time. With a new winery facility and expanded vineyards this is a winery to watch. (To visit the web site and join the wine club offering special wines and pricing click here).
Wines Tasted Only At The Winery
2009 Ravines Wine Cellar Dry Riesling Argetsinger Vineyard.
This Riesling was made with 0.3% residual sugar. It is gorgeous and mineral driven with a pale yellow color and a mineral tinged floral citrus perfume. The wine has intensity and laser like focus with grapefruit and mineral flavors followed by a long, clean, crisp finish – Outstanding.
2006 Ravines Wine Cellar Dry Riesling.
This Riesling also has 0.3% residual sugar. It is pale yellow in color with an intense mineral tinged perfume showing hints of peach and citrus. The wine has depth and richness with a very crisp backbone. The flavors show a tart citrus nuance with faint hints of pear and a subtle underlying minerality and the finish is long and crisp – Outstanding. $16.95
2009 Ravines Wine Cellar Chardonnay.
This is a gorgeous balanced Chardonnay. It is light yellow in color and has a wonderful floral tinge perfume with underlying hints of butter, citrus, and spice. The wine has gorgeous floral tinged peach fruit with hints of citrus and spice and a faint buttery nuance. The finish offers a nice crispness which is a subtle counterpoint to the complex flavors – Outstanding. $18.95
2010 Ravines Wine Cellar Chardonnay.
The 2010 year was warmer than 2009 and the difference is reflected in this wine which has a more fruit driven character. I would expect that this Chardonnay will improve and gain more complexity with a year or two of age, but it is delicious now. It is light yellow in color with a deep floral perfume showing hints of apricot and citrus with a touch of spice. The wine has lovely supple fruit showing apricot, peach and citrus nuances with a floral spice undertone and the underlying crispness shows through on the finish – Outstanding. $18.95
2008 Ravines Wine Cellar Meritage.
This wine was made with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Merlot. The wine has a very nice color and a lovely berry perfume with cedary, peppery nuances. On the palate there is nice berry tinged fruit again with hints of cedar and pepper. Balanced and flavorful this is wine with lovely fruit and a distinct character – Highly Recommended. $24.95
2006 Ravines Wine Cellar Meritage.
This wine was also made with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Merlot. The growing season in 2006 was cool and similar to 2008. This wine has the same distinct character of the 2008. It has a deep color with just a hint of amber and a lovely berry perfume with a floral nuance and hints of pepper and cedar. The wine has lots of fruit with good backbone and a faint peppery quality and exhibits a nice underlying crispness on the finish – Highly Recommended.
Wines Tasted Later
2009 Ravines Wine Cellar Pinot Noir.
This Pinot Noir has 12.5% alcohol. It is very pure and flavorful with a nice color and a great perfume showing cherry berry fruit with floral tinges, a hint of green olive, and a kiss of spiciness. Elegant with gorgeous fruit accented by a floral spice nuance, this is a Pinot Noir with finesse and balance – Outstanding. $22.95
2011 Ravines Wine Cellar Dry Riesling.
This Riesling was made with 0.4% residual sugar. It is pale yellow in color and has a gorgeous perfume of citrus, melon, and pear with a floral nuance. The wine has great finesse, style, and balance with lovely citrus tinged fruit accented by a faint minerality – Outstanding. $16.95
2011 Ravines Wine Cellar Sauvignon Blanc.
Pale yellow in color this wine has a nice floral perfume with a faint herbal quality and citrus nuances. It is elegant and finesseful with nice melon tinged fruit showing a faint herbal undertone and has a nice crispness on the finish – Highly Recommended. $17.95
Seneca Lake is the largest of the glacial Finger Lakes and the deepest lake entirely within the state. It is 38 miles long and is the second longest of the Finger Lakes. It has the largest volume of water of all the Finger Lakes (accounting for about half the water in all the Finger Lakes) and has a maximum depth of 618 feet. Seneca Lake is the home of 32 wineries, the most of any of the Finger Lakes. And despite the fact that Seneca Lake has the most wineries, it was the area where visits were the most difficult for us to schedule. So, unfortunately, we were only able to schedule only one Seneca Lake winery visit at Fox Run Vineyards. (To visit the web site for the Seneca Lake Wine Trail and learn more about the Seneca Lake wineries click here).
At Fox Run Vineyards we were met by Scott Osborn the energetic and dynamic owner. Fox Run Vineyards is situated high on Torrey Ridge overlooking one of the deepest parts of Seneca Lake. For more than a century what is now Fox Run was a dairy farm. The first grapes were planed in 1984 and the Civil War era dairy barn was converted to a modern winery in 1994. In 1996 a new visitors facility and tasting room and restaurant were completed. Today the emphasis is exclusively on European Vinifera grape varieties. Plantings consist of 55 acres of Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Gamay Beaujolais, Lemberger, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir vines. Wines produced include the above as well as meritage red wine, sparkling wine, and port wines. Fox Run Vineyards is making some seriously good wines. It is a winery to watch. (To visit the website and join the wine club offering special discounts click here).
Wines Tasted Only At The Winery
2011 Fox Run Vineyards Chardonnay.
Light yellow in color this Chardonnay has a nice floral citrus tinged perfume and crisp clean citrus tinged fruit with a floral nuance – Recommended. $9.99
2011 Fox Run Vineyards Semi Dry Riesling.
Made with 2.1% residual sugar this Riesling has a pale yellow color and a lovely perfume with hints of peach and citrus. It is balanced with lovely fruit and a faint sweetness that is complemented by the crispness – Highly Recommended. $13.99
2010 Fox Run Vineyards Riesling 10.
This Riesling was made in a small quantity of 81 cases as part of the geology series. The residual sugar is 0.5%. Pale yellow in color the wine has a gorgeous floral perfume with hints of citrus and passion fruit and a faint minerality. It is crisp and bright with gorgeous fruit showing a faint exotic quality and has gorgeous balance and a long, crisp finish – Outstanding Plus. $29.99
2010 Fox Run Vineyards Riesling 11.
Only 22 cases of this wine were made as part of the geology series. It has 6.1% residual sugar and 8.4% alcohol. Pale yellow in color the wine has a lovely perfume with hints of citrus, peach, and apricot. It is loaded with a myriad of fruit and is lush and rounded with a mineral note and a nice underlying crispness. The sweetness is seamlessly integrated into the wine resulting in a wine that shows very pure fruit with great balance and complexity – Outstanding Plus. $39.99
2010 Fox Run Vineyards Tierce Riesling.
This is a unique Riesling that is a blend of 3 different wines made by Peter Bell of Fox Run, Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road, and Dave Whiting of Red Newt. The wine has 1.1% residual sugar and 12.2% alcohol. The production totaled 200 cases. It is a wonderful expression of dry Finger Lakes Riesling. With a pale yellow color the wine has a lovely floral perfume tinged with citrus and faint hints of peach accented by a tinge of minerality. The wine is crisp and citrus tinged with underlying hints of peach and apple with a subtle minerality – Outstanding. $30
2010 Fox Run Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve.
Only 68 cases of this wine were produced. It has a deep color and a lovely floral berry perfume accented by hints of cedar and spice with a faint underlying smokiness. The wine has lovely plum and berry fruit with tinges of spice and cedar and is balanced with a long, crisp finish – Outstanding. $39.99
2009 Fox Run Vineyards Lemberger.
This wine is a very fine example of this relatively obscure varietal which seems to do particularly well in the Finger Lakes area. It has a deep color and a lovely perfume with hints of cherry and black pepper with a faint floral undertone. With nice cherry fruit, the wine is accented by a peppery note and is very pure with a nice crisp finish – Highly Recommended Plus. $17.99
2008 Fox Run Vineyards Lemberger/Cabernet Franc.
This wine is a 50/50 blend of the 2 varietals. It has a very nice color and a subtle perfume of berry fruit with a slight peppery quality. The wine has nice crisp fruit with a hint of pepper and herbs and has early appeal – Recommended Plus. $14.99
2010 Fox Run Vineyards Meritage.
There were 177 cases of this wine produced. It is a blend of 71% Merlot and 29% Cabernet Sauvignon. With a deep color the wine has a lovely floral berry perfume with hints of vanilla. On the palate there is an abundance of spicy berry fruit with faint cedar notes and the wine finishes with a nice underlying crispness – Highly Recommended Plus. $39.99
Fox Run Vineyards Hedonia.
This is a fortified port wine made from 100% Traminette grapes. It has 9% residual sugar and 20% alcohol. The name Hedonia means “the ability to experience extreme pleasure.” Taken in small amounts, very cold, this name and translation seem to be very appropriate. The wine is pale yellow in color and has a stunning perfume of flowers and fruits intermingled with a tinge of exotic spices. It has a great intensity of complex sweet fruits and is lush and rounded yet with a nice underlying crisp lemon lime nuance. This is certainly unique and is a great value in a very appealing dessert wine – Outstanding. $14.99
Fox Run Vineyards Ruby Port.
This is a sweet fortified port style wine made from 3 grape varieties – 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Lemberger. The wine has a deep color and a heady perfume of plums and blackberries with floral spice undertones and a kiss of vanilla. It is sweet lush and rounded with a myriad of dark fruit flavors and a subtle spiciness. This is a delicious wine to drink with nuts or blue veined cheeses – Outstanding. $19.99
Wines Tasted Later
2010 Fox Run Vineyards Chardonnay Reserve.
Pale yellow in color this Chardonnay has a lovely perfume with a kiss of vanilla and a very faint tropical nuance. It is elegant with style and finesse and has a subtle fruitiness showing hints of citrus and peach accented by a very faint vanilla tinge – Highly Recommended. $12.99
2011 Fox Run Vineyards Dry Riesling.
This Riesling is classified as between dry and medium dry with 0.9% residual sugar. It is pale yellow in color and has a lovely floral tinged perfume with hints of citrus and peach. It has lovely fruit with a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding. $15.99
2011 Fox Run Vineyards Riesling Reserve.
This Riesling is made from a selection of different lots and has 2.1% residual sugar. It has a pale yellow color and a lovely perfume with a subtle mineral quality intermingled with tropical fruit and citrus. The wine is very pure and balanced with gorgeous fruit and a very nice underlying crispness – Outstanding. $29.99
2011 Fox run Vineyards Riesling 12 Lake Dana Vineyard Finger Lakes.
This Riesling has 6.4% residual sugar, but the sweetness is totally integrated and beautifully balanced with the acidity. The color is pale yellow and the wine has a gorgeous perfume with hints of peach and citrus and a faint tropical nuance with a touch of minerality. There is an abundance of gorgeous fruit with suggestions of peach, apricot, and citrus and a nice crispness on the finish – Outstanding. $29.99
As contrasted with wines made in warm areas such as most of the wine growing areas of California, the wines from the Finger Lakes are more restrained. The climate is cooler and the wines are lower in alcohol (usually in a range of 11-13%) and not at all heavy. The best of them have flavor and richness with wonderful balance. As expected, the Rieslings from the Finger Lakes are wonderful and very fairly priced. The Rieslings and Semi Dry Rieslings have wonderful fruit with just a hint of sweetness that is balanced by the bright acidity. The Dry Riesling also have gorgeous fruit and are also beautifully balanced. And, some of the late harvest Rieslings are spectacular. However, what was amazing to me was how good the other wines were. Many of the white varietals such as Chardonnay, Gewürtztraminer, and Grüner Veltliner were really nice. But, for me, the biggest surprise of all was the red wines. There are many nice wines from the Bordeaux varietals as well as lesser know varietals such as Lemberger, but I think the greatest potential of all will be for Pinot Noir. Just now the plantings of Pinot Noir are very small. Very few are being made. As the knowledge of Finger Lakes Pinot Noir becomes better known, there is no question in my mind that there should be a lot more Pinot Noir vines planted over time. To me, the potential here in this cool climate is similar to the really good Pinot Noirs being made today in Switzerland. (I visited there right after this trip and will have an article on Swiss Pinot Noirs posted soon). In short, there are many lovely wines being made in the Finger Lakes that are balanced and extremely well crafted. Over time, there will be even more. And, the area itself is very scenic. That makes it a wonderful place for all wine lovers to get to know.
If you have never visited the Finger Lakes area you really should make the trip. The fall was a wonderful time to visit. But, the summer (although crowded) and spring would also be good times. There are many side trips like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this article. However, the wine experience is very special. If you are like us and love balanced wines that marry beautifully with food, then you are in for a real treat. And, again if you haven’t tried the wines of the Finger Lakes it is something very much worth your while. To purchase most of these wines outside of New York, the easiest way is direct from the winery if shipping to your state is available. Also, some of the wines are in limited distribution outside of New York. Please go to the websites listed in the article for availability in your area and try the wines. Most likely it will be a new experience and one that you will find most enjoyable just as we did.
In Vino Veritas,