My second day in the Finger Lakes had much better weather thank goodness; it was a bit sketchy driving back to the motel in heavy rain at night (and by night I mean 5:00 p.m.) The Finger Lakes like the Niagara Escarpment were formed in the last Ice Age by glacial movement which not only tore up the gouges the lakes sit in but also shifted a lot of minerals and soil. This makes the region incredibly diverse in terms of terroir. It is also a fairly large region, taking about 1.5 hours to get from the most North East point to the most South West point. It's lovely driving this time of year, as most of the trees have lost their leaves and it is quite stark. There are numerous small towns throughout upstate New York, looking quite rural but not poor. During the Summer this place gets pretty busy, and there is a lot to see, do and taste. The wines aren't enough of a drawcard like they are in the Napa, but in a few years the 50% of the US population who live within a days drive will be flocking here to gobble up the wines.
Starting back on the Western shore of Seneca Lake, my first visit was to Fox Run Vineyards, originally planted in 1984. Although the name implies the vineyards are run by one or more foxes, the chief winemaker is Peter Bell, originally from my new favourite city, Toronto. When I was on the West Coast during the harvest and I was just turning up at tasting rooms without an appointment, I was very lucky if I got to meet a winemaker or viticulturalist. Over on the East Coast the vintage is well and truly over, but there are winemakers around checking on ferments and transferring wines. This means that at many of the wineries I have visited I have got to chat with winemakers, and Fox Run was one of the best opportunities. After trying the wines in the tasting room (with Kyle Anne, a former exchange student to Bright, Victoria), I was invited up the hill to the winery. Peter and his team showed me around and we all looked at some post-fermented wines from tank and barrel. Having tasted the wines I was not surprised to hear that Peter likes fining and filtering his wines, as they are very clean precise and approachable. Also as expected, the rieslings, cabernet francs and lemberger (blaufrankisch) were the standouts, but I wasn't a fan of the cab franc lemberger blend, as the character of each variety got lost in the blend. The fortifed lemberger was surprisingly good, considering the nature of this climate. I certainly appreciated Peter's time and insights, as he was extremely knowledgeable about wines from all over the world, and his young padawan apprentice Kelby is destined for great things having worked vintages in Australia and New Zealand. Best of luck at Yalumba next year Kelby, and I hope you have found your calling Sarah!
About five minutes South of Fox Run is Red Tail Ridge, a mom and pop operation established by Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan. They are small but gaining attention and looking to expand and bring new people onboard, including a marketing person and assistant winemaker, which I could do either or both. The lady who runs the tasting room was lots of fun, as was the atmosphere in the tasting room. There are some interesting wines made here, including three bubbles; a white, rose and a sparkling red teroldego, an obscure Northern Italian variety. It was a shame I couldn't try these with my background at Chandon, but it is a quiet time of year and they are very small volumes. Continuing the trend (I sound like a broken record), the wines that showed well were the riesling and blaufrankisch, and the burgundian varieties and meritage blend lacked ripeness and definition.
On the Eastern side of Seneca Lake are numerous wineries, some of the oldest in the region. Red Newt Cellars established a popular following for their very good portfolio of wines made by David Whiting, as well as their respected restaurant at the winery led by his wife Debra Whiting. In August of this year Debra was tragically killed in a car accident, which profoundly affected the winery and the region, as she was respected and loved by many, particularly the local farmers she sourced produce from to use in the kitchen. The portfolio is broad and deep, displaying the great potential for Alsation white varieties and Loire Valley reds (cabernet franc). The gewurtztraminers in particular were exceptional, and there was quite a difference between the Sawmill Creek and Curry Creek single vineyard wines, particularly from the 2007 vintage. These are made in a very classic Alsatian model, with rich viscosity, warmth and some residual sugar adding texture. The cab franc here was probably the best and most balance I tried in the region. Compared to some of their other wines it was good value, but compared to wines from other wineries, the Red Newts were a little higher.
As amazing as it sounds, the first Finger Lakes wine I tried was not in the Finger Lakes region. When I was in San Francisco, over five weeks ago, I was in a wine bar asking for local wines. I mentioned my trip and destinations I was heading to, and upon hearing I was visiting the Finger Lakes they told me they had a FL wine on the list. It just so happened to be a Sheldrake Point Riesling, and it was great. The Sheldrake Point winery and vineyard is located on Cayuga Lake, further East of Keuka and Seneca Lakes. The difference in terroir is noticable, as the rieslings are much more slatey in their mineral characters. They have just opened a brand new tasting room on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, and they are officially launching it on Thursday night, get down there. The GWT 2010 was the best I tried in the Finger Lakes, the Riesling (semi-dry) 2010 had exquisite texture and balance without compromising on flavour. The reds were a little disappointing, the cabernet franc not because it wasn't ripe enough, it just didn't have enough extraction to achieve the velvety tannins I had come to expect. A great place to finish my Finger Lakes experience. It was also great to finish the day with another enlightening chat with a knowledgeable Canadian, this time one of the owners at Sheldrake Point.
And thus, my North American Wine Adventure comes to a close. I'm on my way to Boston for a few nights, then New York City before I head to South America. I may try to visit some wine bars and stores there and report in, but otherwise I'll see you in Chile!
Click here to see more photos from Day 2 of the Finger Lakes