Shana Speaks Wine

Wine Marketing Consultant and Journalist

Drinking out loud. 

Road Trip: Finger Lakes, NY - Part 1



It's July 4th weekend and with the garbage and tourists piling up on the streets, it's time to hit the road and get the hell outta town.  Destination?  The Finger Lakes in upstate New York.  An easy domestic getaway, the region has been on my radar for a while now as I've wanted to see the counterpoint to the Long Island wineries.  The Summer of Riesling campaign has also put a spotlight on some of these producers and the unique qualities of their wines. 

Although there are technically eleven lakes, The Finger Lakes wine region primarily consists of four: Seneca, Cayuga, Canadaigua and Keuka. The region has been producing wine from local grape varieties since the 1800's but it wasn't until Dr. Konstantin Frank came over in 1953 that European varietals, vitis vinifera, which are the grapes we associate with the vast majority of the wines we drink, were produced and the region began to flourish.  Furthered by the work of Charles Fournier and Hermann J. Weimer in the 1970's, the Finger Lakes began producing notable wines, particularly German varietals. 


The region is still creating wines from native grapes, vitis labrusca, such as Cataba, which are often rather sweet. Think Manischewitz.  No, really.  Manischewitz, is, in fact, produced up the Finger Lakes region.  While I have a soft spot for the Manny (hey, those seders can run for a mighty long time and a gal needs sustenance), these wines are not going to be my drink of choice.

Whites tend to be the superstars in the wineries, but there is quite of a bit of Cabernet Franc and Lemberger (more commonly known as the Austrian Blaufrankisch) being produced as well.  They are lean, tannic, vegetal and a bit spicy.

What's especially interesting in the growing interception of science in the winery and not just in vinification techniques and vineyard management.  Some wineries have actually been working with Cornell University to engineer grape varieties.  At Wagner Vineyard, for example, they've birthed a new grape called Melody which is meant to be very light with almost no finish so you're left wanting to drink more. And more.  Let's call this a classic study of quantity over quantity.

Finally, some of the wineries have begun dabbling in beer, and often with surprisingly good results (better than the wines in the two circumstances we encountered.  But more on that later).

So, pack your bags and away we go...