Travel Tips: Finger Lakes Wine Region New York (FLX)

     For any wine lover the chance to take a short getaway to a wine region and enjoy all that it has to offer is something that is impossible to resist. So my question to you is “What are you waiting for?” Here is your opportunity to start planning a fun trip with that someone special or a lively outing with a group of friends and family.

My favorite wine region to visit in the northeastern U.S. is the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York (FLX). It is easily accessible to visitors from both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S., as well as the Canadian provinces located just north of the Great Lakes.

The popularity of this area has grown exponentially over the past few years. Even with this growth the region has retained its charm and welcoming spirit. Even with this growth the region has retained its charm and welcoming spirit. While the wineries, vineyards and breweries remain the big draw one must not overlook the spectacular beauty of the eleven  Finger Lakes. Deep and ice-cold these lakes were carved out by glaciers approximately two million years ago. The countryside around the lakes is mostly rural and seems to be an endless session of family farms. Adding to the rustic atmosphere of the area are the numerous small family run businesses that run the gambit from artisanal cheese shops, handmade craft stores and Amish country markets. Always remember to show courtesy when you encounter a horse-drawn buggy on the roadways and please be respectful by not photographing members of the Amish community.

I have included a few suggestions to get you started on your FLX adventure. The real fun begins when you start exploring “Lake Country” because you will be making treasured memories as you discover your own favorite spots along the way. “Cheers and Happy Hunting.”

The two things that are essential for a successful visit to the FLX are a GPS and a plan. Since there are no bridges across any of the Finger Lakes you will be driving around the perimeter stopping at wineries as you pass them. Seneca Lake is 38 miles long, making it a 76 miles round trip. This is why it is advantageous to line up your stops in the order you come to them as you circle the lake. I am only going to say this once “Don’t Drink and Drive.”

The Hampton Inn in Penn Yan is a new hotel on the northern shore of Keuka Lake. We have stayed there and I we always ask for a room on a higher floor overlooking the lake. It is a good location to begin your tour of the wineries of Seneca & Keuka Lakes.

The East side of Keuka Lake:

McGregor Vineyards is the home of John McGregor and his FLX cult wine Black Russian Red, the winner of a Grand Silver medal at the Saperavi World Prize in Tbilisi, Georgia. Ravines Wine Cellars is a landmark winery. Weis Vineyards was Limeberry Winery before a former Dr. Frank winemaker bought it and began making European-style wine. Schedule some time to look around Hammondsport ,it’s a nice little town. The scenic views from on top of the hill going up the west side of Keuka Lake are spectacular. Heron Hill Winery and Bully Hill Winery both have fantastic views from their cafés. Dr Frank’s Winery is a must stop when visiting the Finger Lakes. This is where Dr. Konstantin Frank started the Vinifera movement that changed the Finger Lakes wine industry. Dr. Frank’s grandson Fred and great granddaughter Megan run the operation. We had the pleasure to visit with Fred last summer. Fred is a genuinely nice man and if you see him please tell him Rich wpawinepirate said “Hi”.

Starting at Watkin Glen and going up the west side of Seneca Lake on Rte. 14 we have always stopped at Herman J. Wiemer Vineyards. I think they are a premier Riesling producer. Fox Run Vineyard and Café is a mainstay on the western shore. Belhurst Castle is a landmark that is also an interesting winery, restaurant and hotel.

Coming back down the East side of Seneca Lake from Geneva. Ventosa Vineyard & Café is a beautiful Italian themed winery and café. 3 Brothers Wineries and Warhorse Brewing has three wineries and a brewery on the same property. Boundary Breaks Winery is a newer winery with good Riesling and nice lake views in the middle of several vineyards. It’s a little out of the way so bring your GPS. Lamoreaux Landing Winery has a great view from its tasting room. Wagner Vineyards and Winery, Brewery, Gift Shop and Restaurant is one of the best known FLX wineries. Standing Stone Winery makes excellent Riesling, Ice Wine and Sapravi. It was purchased by Herman J. Wiemer Vineyards last year and has just released their 2017 vintages. Finger Lakes Distilling produces spirits. The vodka and Grappa are favorites of mine. They also have a large vertical still that is worth seeing. Red Newt Winery is a classic FLX winery and café.

My recommendations:

Whites: Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and Chardonnay

Reds: Cab Franc, Saperavi and Lemberger

Sparklers: Dr. Frank’s Chateau Frank offerings

del Lago Resort & Casino in Waterloo is an exciting evening after a day of wine tasting.

 

 

 

      

Turn the Page

Tom and Marti Macinski Photo Courtesy: Standing Stone Vineyards

     As I read an interview with Oskar Bynke, co-owner of Herman J. Wiemer Vineyard where he revealed the vision he and co-owner/winemaker Fred Merwarth had for their newly acquired Standing Stone Winery and Vineyards I had to accept the fact that change is inevitable even in wine country. The release of the 2017 vintages from Standing Stone Winery marks the first time since 1991 that Tom and Marti Macinski were not the owners of this iconic FLX property.

In the 1970’s this former Gold Seal Winery vineyard was planted with Riesling and Chardonnay by the legendary Gold Seal wine makers Charles Founier and Guy Devaux. Standing Stone Chardonnay and Riesling have always been highly acclaimed but it wasn’t those world-class whites that lead to my friendship with Marti, it was the dark red Russian wine grape Saperavi. Had it not been for the time Marti took from her busy schedule to answer my questions and keep me updated on her Saperavi program I would have never pursued my interest in Saperavi or have made as many friends around the world who also share my love of this extraordinary wine.

Thank you Marti and Tom for your devotion to making the best wine from the best grapes you could grow on the land you truly love. Please know that like the wake from a sailboat (that you now have time to enjoy) the ripples of your life’s work will be felt far beyond the shores of your beloved Seneca Lake.

Saperavi World Prize 2017 Results

Photo Courtesy: Hvino News

The results are in from the inaugural Saperavi World Prize 2017 wine competition in Tibilis, Georgia. There were entries from seven countries and several continents with the most samples being submitted by Australian wineries. The three Grand Prize winners were awarded either a gold, silver or bronze miniature “azarpeshas“, the ancient Georgian drinking cup. Congratulations to the winners and all the participants of the 2017 SapPrize.

     Tastings were held on December 15th in Tibilisi, Georgia at the headquarters of the International Chamber of Commerce. The competition is open to producers outside of Georgia who make wine from the Saperavi grape. Entry is free and judging is conducted by an international jury of wine experts. This event was not conceived to be solely a wine contest but to become a forum for wine makers to interact and forge new relationships where they could share information and experiences to advance the understanding and quality of Saperavi wine worldwide.

 

SapPrize Grand Prize winners received miniature “azarpeshas”

It is always challenging to plan an award ceremony of this significance. The SapPrize award presentation had to be rescheduled when the American Ambassador couldn’t attend because of the “Shutdown” of the U.S. government due to the budget bill failing to be approved.

     Grand Prize Gold: Cirami Estate 2015 Saperavi from Australia. “The Gold Azarphesha” was presented to David Kereselidze, Director of Department of Asia, Africa, Australia and Pacific Rim of Georgian Embassy in Australia, he will present it to the winner in Canberra. Cirami Estate isn’t a winery but a non-profit organization called “Riverland Vine Improvement Committee”.

     Grand Prize Silver: McGregor Vineyard Black Russian Red 2010 Saperavi from the U.S.A. “The Silver Azarpesha” was presented to Elizabeth Rood, Charge d’ Affaire at U.S. Embassy. The Embassy will deliver the award to winner John McGregor in the U.S.A. John McGregor commented ” We are so honored to receive such recognition. We planted these grapes in 1980 and were the first commercial producer in the United States. It is wonderful to see confirmation of my father’s belief that Saperavi could grow in New York and make world-class wine”. John also won Silver for his 2011 Black Russian Red and 

John McGregor holds two bottles of his award winning Black Russian Red Saperavi

Bronze for his Black Russian Red 2013 Barrel Reserve.

Grand Prize Bronze: Lagyl Arba Saperavi 2013 from Kazakhistan. “The Bronze Azarpesha” was presented to Gulmira Sultanali, Charge d’ Affaires of Kazah Embassy.

Congratulations to Jim and Kathy Baker owners/wine makers at Chateau Niagara in Newfane, New York for being awarded Bronze for their Chateau Niagara Kagor 2016 made with Saperavi  from their vineyard.                   

I would like to say “Thank You’ to Inge Olsson of Hvino News for including me in the SapPrize and I enjoyed working with you on this project.  For more information on the Saperavi World Prize and a list of all the participating wineries go to  sapprize.hvino.com           

Grand Gold Prize winner Cirami Estate Saperavi 2015 from Australia

Elizabeth Rood, Charged d’ Affaire of U.S. Embassy accepts Grand Silver Prize for McGregor Vineyard

 

Wine Review: Boundary Breaks Riesling (FLX)

     Boundary Breaks Vineyard Medium Dry 2016 Ovid Line North Riesling is a wine that has slightly sweet start and a smooth finish. It is a balanced wine with enough acidity to keep it from being too sweet. With a 12% A.B.V. and a 2.0 R.S.(residual sugar) the tropical and stone fruit flavors are restrained but noticeable. That bit of sweetness not only makes this Riesling a good choice for sipping but also the perfect match for spicy food especially Asian cuisine.  http://boundarybreaks.com

 

Boundary Breaks sits near the eastern shore of Seneca Lake on Porter Covert Rd in Lodi, N.Y. I have learned if the address includes the word “Covert” it means you can expect to experience the FLX like a local because you will often be driving on narrow gravel roads flanked by breathtaking vineyards and scenic views. It is well worth the time and effort to do the research required to find theses hidden gems located just off the main road because the rewards are always memorable. Boundary Breaks Vineyard is one of those wineries.

Book Review: Dr. Konstantin Frank

     My wife and I had the good fortune to meet Fred Frank during a recent visit to Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellar. Fred could not have been a more warm and welcoming host as we talked and sampled his excellent wines. As we were enjoying our visit he surprised us with a gift. The gift was a copy of the Tom Russ book “Finger Lakes Wine and the Legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank” that he thoughtfully signed with a message for us. I had some idea of the history surrounding Dr. Frank and the groundbreaking changes he brought to the wine industry in the Eastern United States but I was astonished to learn how world events conspired to bring this amazing man to New York and start him on a lifelong quest to bring vinifera grapes to the vineyards along the East Coast. Author Tom Russ takes his readers on the journey of Dr. Konstantin Frank from his birth on July 4th, 1899 in the Ukraine to his passing in Elmira, New York on September 6th, 1985 chronicling all the twists and turns that defined his life.

     Russ captures Dr. Frank’s vision that Vitis vinifera wine grapes could be successfully grown in the Eastern U.S. because “He felt Americans deserved only the best wines”- Frederick Frank. This book documents the life and legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank that continues to evolve today in wineries and vineyards east of the Mississippi River and in Southeastern Canada. Tom Russ conveys the all consuming and sometimes misdirected obsession that Dr. Frank had for the promotion of vinifera wine grapes as seen through the eyes of family, friends, cooperators and adversaries to weave a compelling story of a complex man who changed the wine industry to the benefit of everyone that loves good wine. This book is available in print or e-book from http://amazon.com , http://arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781626197343 and at the Dr. Frank tasting room Hammondsport, New York.

 

“From Russia with Love” Dr. Frank Cuvee d’ Amour 2014

 

     On a beautiful day in early June, my wife and I found ourselves standing at

View from Dr. Frank Wine Cellars Hammondsport, New York

the tasting bar of Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, New York taking in the spectacular view of Keuka Lake. We were led through a tasting of Dr. Frank wines by someone who knows them better than anyone, none other than Fred Frank, grandson of the legendary Dr. Konstantin Frank. After sampling several excellent Dr. Frank wines that included a few fabulous “Sparklers” Fred walked across the room holding a bottle and said to me “I know you like to try the different wines” as he held it up to show me the label, “Cuvée d’ Amour 2014.

Cuvée d’ Amour is made from the fruit of the vitis Amurensis grape. Dr. Konstantin Frank was familiar with this extremely cold-hardy grape and brought it to the FLX from Russia. This grape species is native to the Asian Continent where it is known as the Amur grape in Russia and Shan Pu Tao in China.

The first thing I noticed as Fred poured the wine into my glass was its dark red color. Cuvée d’ Amour 2014 is a flavorful full-bodied red with bright acidity that fits nicely within its well-defined structure leading to what Dr. Frank aptly describes as a “Crisp finish reminiscent of a fine Bordeaux or Borolo.” I would lean towards the Bordeaux but it also has characteristic hints of several wines but they aren’t prominent enough to mention.

If you want to indulge your curiosity for something unique I would suggest trying Cuvée d’ Amour 2014. It is available online at http://drfrankwines.com or at their tasting room in Hammondsport, New York for $29.99.

Russia and China have invested a considerable amount of time and money into the development of vitis Amurensis. This grape has a long list of positive traits that makes it highly desirable in that region of the world. It is probably the most cold-hardy vitis grape at -30°C but while that fact is impressive this grape also has a strong resistance to disease including powdery mildew, white rot, grapevine anthracuose and black pox. Since it has no distinctive aroma it provides a “Blank Canvas” that will not disturb the aroma profile of varieties that it is being hybridized with.

The story life story of Dr. Konstantin Frank is a fascinating one and has been recounted by author Tom Russ in his book “Finger Lakes Wine and the Legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank”. Fred Frank generously gifted a signed copy to me during our visit and I am very grateful for his kind gesture. You can purchase it on Amazon.com  

 

“New World” Saperavi Update

      When I began following the Saperavi grape in North America it was viewed as a grape with great potential in the vineyard and winery but still unproven as to just how the public would receive it. It had the reputation of being a “cult” wine because its limited production caused demand to exceed supply. With the four major Saperavi producers increasing their

Saperavi Grapes

Saperavi vineyards plus new producers and growers beginning to enter the market Saperavi availability has improved. What’s driving this interest in Saperavi you may ask? There are plenty of reasons for wine makers to like Saperavi, not the least of which is the higher price this dark red wine commands.

One of the new producers that I learned of recently contacted me after reading my guest post about Saperavi on my friend Anatoli Levine’s wine blog http://talk-a-vino.com    Jim and Kathy Baker own Chateau Niagara in Newfane, NY. They grow many of the well-known varieties of wine grapes on their 31 acre Niagara Lake Plain property along with several exotic plantings that include Saperavi, Turan and Feteasca Neagra. Jim uses Saperavi from his 5-year-old 1/2 acre vineyard to produce Kagor and his soon to be released first vintage of a dry Saperavi varietal. He got his first Saperavi clippings from a friend in Washington state but suspects that is Saperavi-Svernyi. The vines came through Nova Scotia then traveled to British Columbia and finally across the border into the U.S. He bought his Saperavi vines from the Amberg’s and their Grafted Grapevines Nursery Clifton Springs, N.Y. Jim told me he is tempted to plant another 4 1/2 acres of Saperavi but will wait to see how his varietal sells. Chateau Niagara is one of the few wineries in North America to make the traditional Hungarian wine “Bulls Blood” http://chateauniagarawinery.com

Shalestone Vineyards owners Rob & Kate Thomas offer a Saperavi for sale at their Lodi, N.Y. tasting room and online. Shalestone doesn’t currently grow Saperavi in their vineyard but expect to plant it in the Spring 2018. They currently source their Saperavi from grower John Beckhorn in Valois, N.Y. Before visiting always check their website for tasting room hours. http://shalestonevineyards.com  

To my knowledge the White Barrel Winery Christiansburg, Virginia is the only Saperavi grower in Virginia. White Barrel’s Rik Obiso tells me that things are going well in their young Saperavi vineyard and they will be adding 200 new vines in the Spring of 2018 bringing their Saperavi planting to about 1/2 acre. White Barrel won’t be relying entirely on its own vineyard to produce Saperavi but instead building upon its excellent relationships with Georgian (Russia) vineyards to possibly begin importing bulk Saperavi wine to meet their needs. This story is just starting with more to come in 2018 and 2019. http://whitebarrel.com 

The big news this year has been the sale of Standing Stone Vineyards Lodi, N.Y. (east side of Seneca Lake) to premier Riesling maker H.J. Wiemer Dundee, N.Y. (west side of Seneca Lake). Standing Stone is one of the original four producers that I began to follow when I took an interest in “New World” Saperavi. H.J. Wiemer will keep the Standing Stone line of wines and continue its Saperavi program/nursery operations.

At McGregor Vineyard John McGregor told me that the latest release of his iconic Black Russian Red, which is the only Saperavi – Sereksiya Charni blend in the world, was the best he had ever made. From his Dundee, N.Y. tasting room he pointed out the areas in his vineyards where he plans to plant more Saperavi in the very near future.

Chuck Zaleski owner/winemaker of Fero Vineyards & Winery Lewisburg, PA. remains committed to his Saperavi program. Chuck planted his first Saperavi vines in 2010 and has kept expanding his plantings and knowledge of this grape ever since. Fero is the only grower/producer in Pennsylvania and benefits greatly from its site in the heart of the Susquehanna River Valley. Due to high demand Fero Saperavi always sells out so it is wise to check online or call the winery about availability before you visit. http://ferovineyards.com

The first sentence on Dr. Konstantin Frank Wines home page says it all!!!!  “Dr. Konstantin Frank ignited the “Vinifera Revolution”, a movement that forever changed the course of wine growing in the Finger Lakes and United States.” That same pioneering spirit is alive and well at Dr. Frank’s today thanks to the efforts of his grandson Fred Frank. It only made sense that Dr. Frank would favor grape varieties he knew well from Eastern Europe and Russia. He cultivated Saperavi, Rkatsiteli and vitis Amurensis in the Finger Lakes. Dr. Frank has two Saperavi vineyards, one the west side of Keuka Lake and the other on the east side of Seneca Lake. Once only available at their Kueka Lake tasting room in Hammondsport, Dr. Frank Saperavi can now also be purchased on their website. http://drfrankwines.com

 

The Saperavi story keeps getting more exciting as these producers and growers continue to push the development of “New World” Saperavi forward while always improving the quality of the wine. If you are a Saperavi grower or producer or if you know of a grower/producer please contact me at http://wpawinepirate@gmail.com

I attempted to contact Knapp Winery about their Saperavi vineyard but I did not receive a response before I posted this article.