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.

 

 

 

      

“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” Report

     I have developed a fascination for the Saperavi grape. This may seem odd even if you have heard of Saperavi wine because it is nothing new to the wine world. The Saperavi that fascinates me isn’t from the Kakheti region of Georgia , Russia but “New World Saperavi” that is being produced here in the Northeastern U. S., namely the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York and in Central Pennsylvania. Saperavi is a very deeply colored red wine made from the ancient Saperavi grape that originated in one of the oldest wine growing regions of the world. Saperavi grapes are a teinturier grape, meaning its skin and flesh both have pigment which leads to a very delicious dark wine. What follows is the current state of Saperavi in America as told to me by the producers themselves.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellar

When the Finger Lakes Wine Region is mentioned undoubtably the first name that comes Dr Frank Logoto mind is the iconic Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery in Hammondsport. The legendary Dr. Frank proved everyone wrong not only by growing vinifera grapes in the FLX but producing world-class award-winning wine from them. I would like to thank Frederick Frank for the time and attention he showed me while assisting me with this post. Dr. Konstantin Frank first planted Saperavi vines in his vineyard in 1958. Dr. Frank would use that fruit to produce his first vintage in 1962. Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery now has 1.5 acres planted in Saperavi vines and expects to produce 250 cases of Saperavi wine. That 1.5 acres of Saperavi vines is divided between their Keuka Lake vineyards in Hammondsport and their Seneca Lake vineyards (on the eastern side) in Hector. Dr. Frank’s Saperavi is only available at their winery tasting room in Hammondsport but they are planning to expand their plantings and hope to offer their Saperavi wine to their wholesalers in the future. Due to high demand and limited production they haven’t entered Dr. Frank Saperavi into wine competitions.  drfrankwines.com 

Standing Stone Vineyards

For years Marti Macinski owner/winemaker of Standing Stone Vineyards has extolled the virtues of Saperavi while methodically expanding her Saperavi vineyard and constantly improving her wine. Having appeared in many local, regional and national publications Standing Stone wine sales have ridden a steadily ascending arc but no member of Marti’s Standing Stone Saperavisolid menu of wine appears to have create a devoted following like her Saperavi has.

Standing Stone planted their first 80 vines in 1994 and they are the source of the fruit for their newly released 2013 Reserve Saperavi. Since 2006 a deliberate and steady expansion of the Saperavi program has led to a vineyard that is just over 5 acres. 2005 was a trial run that yielded 23.5 cases. 2010 was Standing Stone’s first commercial release with 200 cases produced that year. This year the 2015 vintage is anticipated to be about 500 cases but Marti adds the caveat ” if we manage to hold off the deer.” Those deer will have more fruit to choose from because Standing Stone continues to plant more Saperavi vines to increase supply and build inventory for market after the winery has enough grapes for their own wine production. That future production may include experimenting with longer aging, some sweeter versions of Saperavi or possibly a Rosé or Port. Standing Stone Saperavi is very round with delicious ripe flavors of tart cherry fruit when young that evolves into plum and pomegranate that are integrated into complex layers of aroma and flavors as it ages. Marti doesn’t enter her Saperavi into many competitions so when she does it comes as no surprise that Standing Stone Saperavi 2012 was awarded the Wine & Food Classic Gold Medal last year and the 2013 Saperavi  won “Best Other Red Vinifera” at this year’s Classic. A special thanks to Marti Macinski for all the time and effort that you have taken to help me with this post and all the other projects you have assisted me on. standingstonewines.com 

Fero Vineyards & Winery

Fero LogoFero Vineyards & Winery is the only winery in Pennsylvania that I am aware of that has Saperavi planted in it’s vineyard. Chuck Zaleski owner/winemaker of Fero planted his first 500 Saperavi vines on 1/2 acre of his Lewisburg, Pennsylvania vineyard in 2010. He conducted trials as his vines matured until he released his first vintage from the 2013 harvest which consisted of 50 cases. The first Saperavi I ever tasted was Chuck’s 2013 Saperavi  from that first 50 cases he produced. After tasting that wine I was sold on the potential of this Georgian red grape here in the East. The 2014 harvest produced 125 cases and the 2015 harvest , expected to be in October, is estimated to yield similar volume. With the addition of 1/2 acre of Saperavi plantings the projected production will be 4-5 tons per acre. The final production number for Saperavi produced should be approximately 300 cases.

Chuck’s philosophy is to let the grape determine the style, so the style of his Saperavi really does remain “Fluid”. He let the 2013 vintage hang and made a ripe jammy style the both of us loved. He picked earlier in 2014 for added acidity and weather concerns plus because of some reading he had done. He said the 2014 may take a little longer to soften but may have more longevity. Chuck doesn’t use much oak at all because he wants to showcase the grape’s unique rich flavor. He tries to mimic traditional methods as much as possible by fermenting in tall containers at constant temperature, very similar to a Qveri and age it with minimal disturbing on the lees. Fero Saperavi 2013 won a Gold Medal at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition this year. Enough said!

Chuck’s most intriquing observation about this varity is it’s ability to rival the full-bodied red wines of the warm climate regions. He doesn’t know where the ideal location to produce Saperavi in the U.S. is but is pretty sure it isn’t too far from Central Pa. Chuck’s only problem with Saperavi is that it is selling out too fast before he can satisfy demand. Looks like a great problem to have. Thanks to Chuck Zaleski for introducing me to Saperavi and all the help he has given me.  ferovineyards.com

McGregor Vineyard

John McGregor and his McGregor Black Russian Red have always been an enigma in the FLX. In the Spring of 1980 he planted Saperavi, Sereksiya Charni, Rkatsiteli and Sereksiya Rosé in a limited area of his vineyard. From that first planting his Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni has expanded to 4 acres. In 1985 John made a small experimental batch from these grapes and bottled it in half bottles. McGregor Saperavi and Sereksiya are bottled together and produces over 300 cases per year. That number is certain to rise as more Saperavi vines are planted over the next 3-5 years.

If you are wondering what McGregor Black Russian Red Saperavi & Sereksiya blend taste like here is how John McGregor described it to me ” It’s a very rich, dark red wine that typically spends over two years in oak barrels. It has great structure and depth with flavors typically reminiscent of black currents, blackberries and elderberries entwined with a sweet oak character. It has plenty of tannic structure and generally high acidity, lending it well to long-term cellar aging.” 1985 Saperavi (label)

McGregor Saperavi is entered into few , if any, annual competitions but earlier vintages have been awarded Double Gold and Gold Medals. The 2010 vintage received an 87 point rating in the May 2014 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. After decades of hard work Black Russian Red has grown into what John calls “The Cult red wine of the Finger Lakes.” No matter what you call it the one thing you can call it is “Successful.” The label to the right appeared on the McGregor 1985 Saperavi bottle. Thanks John McGregor for the invaluable help you gave me with this article.    McGregorwinery.com 

Will Saperavi develop into the signature Red wine of the East? The quality is certainly there and the vines are able to express the terroir of the vineyards in which they are planted to produce a wine on par or better than their Russian counterparts. The demand for Saperavi is increasing to the point where demand is out pacing supply while supply is also increasing but at a slower rate because of many factors. I believe Saperavi will find its place as the top varietal Red wine of the East but it will take time simply because there are so many obstacles to overcome and that things move slowly for new wine grape development in any region of the world. If you can’t find Saperavi from one of the producers mentioned in this post I recommend that you try a Saperavi from any of the regions where it’s made. Help me tell the secret of Saperavi  wine to wine lovers everywhere. Please repost this article.