Finger Lakes Wine Month

flwine_month_logo_finalI know I am a bit late to the party, but at least I made it. May has been designated Finger Lakes Wine Month and is promoted as such by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, a winemaker organization in the New York Finger Lakes region. The Alliance is hosting a lot of different events, from tastings in wineries and restaurants to video interviews with winemakers and virtual tastings held on Twitter.

I had my first Finger Lakes wine ever (sic!) in late April. I was not very familiar with the region, just had heard that as a Riesling drinker (some might say ‘nut’) I should look into this wine region. It can be tricky to find its wines in Michigan, though, where Rieslings from Traverse City and the Leelanau Peninsula dominate wine racks. So I took my chances when a friend from Buffalo, NY was visiting us for a weekend and asked whether he could bring some wines to try – and he did. I still have not opened these wines for various reasons, but we went out the first night of his visit to a local wine bar and when I checked the wine list, I saw a Dr. Konstantin Frank Riesling on it. I immediately ordered it because I had heard the winery name before. I liked the wine quite a bit, red apple flavors were dominating the palate. Nothing exceptional, but a good and tasty wine…it definitely made me want to try more Rieslings from the area.

But what is that area anyway? The Finger Lakes region became an officially recognized American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1982 and consists of approximately 4,451 hectares (11,000 acres) that are operated by around 100 wineries. The main glacial lakes that make up the area are Canandaigua Lake, Keuka Lake, Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. These (and other lakes) stretch from North to South just South of Lake Ontario which explains their name: Finger Lakes. Apparently, the first vines were planted in 1829. The Finger Lakes really seem to have taken off when the above mentioned Dr. Konstantin Frank (a Ukrainian immigrant with a PhD in plant science) started experimenting with roots and grapes varieties there for Cornell University in the 1950s and 60s. His work proved to be the first that enabled wine makers in the North Eastern United States to grow European grape varieties, in a climate and area that had been deemed off limits for these grapes.

What is interesting about the region is that the lakes lie at different heights, with land surrounding Canandaigua Lake reaching up to 2,000′ in height, with the land between the lakes further to the East successively reaching lower heights of  1,500′, 1,300′ and 800′. So this should actually make for different micro climates and therefore perfectly situated for single vineyard wines.

The region’s dominating grape varieties by acres under vine are mostly North American usual suspects: Concord (1,814 acres), Catawba (811 acres) and Niagara (667 acres). However, the Finger Lakes region’s second most planted variety is Riesling with 828 acres under vine. The climate should be favorable to Riesling and other varieties grown in colder climates like Germany. Actually, if you look at data gathered by Cornell University in the summer of 2012 (which also provides the other numbers), there are many obscure German or Austrian varieties planted in the area: from Zweigelt to Siegerrebe to Geisenheim to Dornfelder.

The Finger Lakes have been pushing their Riesling credentials, and from what one can read, rightly so. Its slate soils and cooler temperatures seem to give their Riesling grapes all the ingredients a winemaker needs to make good Riesling: slow ripening conditions to develop sugar and acidity and mineralic soil…

I am looking forward to participating in the Finger Lakes Wine Month virtual tasting on May 25, 2013 which will be held on Twitter (#Flxwine) and Facebook between 6pm and 10pm. This will be my first virtual tasting and I am really excited to be a part of it. I’ll write up my experience in another post. Or better yet: Come join if you are on Twitter.

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16 thoughts on “Finger Lakes Wine Month

  1. […] But to the wines. I have written about the region previously, so feel free to check out this post that I wrote for the Finger Lakes Wine Month back in May. […]

  2. […] I mentioned in my introductory post to the Finger Lakes region last week, I received a box with five samples to try during the Finger Lakes Wine Month’s final virtual […]

  3. Stefano says:

    Great post, Oliver: I have been looking at the Finger Lakes region with interest myself, but have not tried wines from that area yet. I therefore appreciate the information that you compiled about the AVA and am very much looking forward to reading about your virtual wine tasting experience!

    • Thanks, Stefano! I have three more bottles of Riesling from good producers that I have not tried yet. Might just as well hold on to them to increase the pressure on us to meet up. We might need a whole week, though, given our plans….:)

  4. Love that wine region and spend a lot of time in Canandaigua. Great people to go with great wine! :) Interested to read what you’ll have to say.

  5. I have 2 bottles of Riesling left from the Riesling tasting we did a couple of weeks ago so I will see you online Saturday!

  6. Looking forward to the virtual event!

  7. Self-promotion approved!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Will have to look into them later today!!

  8. waywardwine says:

    I got to make a few wines from Finger Lake fruit. To get a better sense of Vignoles and the good 2010 vintage check out my second wine:

    To hear about my third wine and 2011’s disaster vintage in such a marginal climate for my second wine:

    It’s such an interesting region with loads of potential. Dr. Frank’s bubbly is pretty brilliant as well:

    OK…self-promotion over…(apologies).

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