Earlier this month, as some 300 wine writers and industry folk convened in Corning, NY for the annual Wine Bloggers Conference, we were greeted by an overwhelmingly friendly, hometown, local wine culture of the Finger Lakes.
The people of Corning, and the surrounding towns which make their business from the wine industry of the Finger Lakes clearly showed a great pride in the uniqueness of the local wines, and how they stand out among the rest of the U.S. as well as the world.
Before the official conference began, I joined the pre-conference tour of Seneca Lake, which provided a deep dive in to the specifics of the largest and deepest of the Finger Lakes, and the wine industry on it’s shores.
As my friend Melanie and I (@dallaswinechick) first drove in to the area from Philadelphia, I was struck by the pastoral beauty, and calm of the gently sloping hillsides and glacial lakes, carved by the last ice age to reach the Hudson Valley.
While this region has been home to winemaking for much longer, in 1986 the Seneca Lake Wine Trail was formed to encourage visitors to the area to experience all the region could offer. Today, the largest lake also provides the largest, and most diverse wine trail in New York – 30 wineries, a distillery, breweries, and cider producers all line it’s shores.
The deepest of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake is 632 feet and it’s shores provide a perfect locale for wine grapes. On our first day, as we set out from Corning to Geneva, we bounced along the small towns and shoreline communities learning about the history and tasting several wines.
First up, we visit the Villa Bellangelo Winery in Geneva, NY. Villa Bellangelo is on the western shore of Lake Seneca, and specializes in cool climate varietals, with a razor sharp focus on what the Finger Lakes is famous for – Riesling. Here, we were treated to several older vintages, tasting the progression of both the winery, and the wine, as it traveled through time.
Along with Bellangelo, King’s Garden Vineyards was pouring a 10 year vertical of Cabernet Sauvignon. Ironically located in Lodi (New York), King’s Garden Vineyards makes a bit of everything, upsetting the traditionally apple cart of the Finger Lakes a bit, by veering off in to Chardonnay and Cabernet, versus Riesling and other aromatic whites. I particularly enjoyed the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the unique tasting of two 2010s, one that had been in bottle for a few months, and one that was just bottled – giving it extended oak aging. Somewhat surprisingly, the Finger Lakes actually has some great Cabernet Sauvignon, and the ageability of these wines is remarkable.
After enjoying the afternoon at Bellanagela, we headed to Ventosa Vineyards, where the Finger Lakes Women in Wine greeted us with a powerhouse team of female winemakers & winery owners, and one awesome chef.
Before dinner, we tasting through some local ciders to refresh our palates, and heard from these leaders in the region on their contributions to the Finger Lakes wine business. Each woman had a unique perspective on her journey to the wine business, and each one had unique barriers and stories. From Marti Macinski of Standing Stone Vineyards, who went in to the business with no formal education or training, to Jenna LaVita, Ventosa’s winemaker.
From law student to sudden winemaker, she inherited the role unexpectedly when she was working harvest. Finally, Liz Leidenfrost, winemaker of Leidenfrost Vineyards, discussed her progression in to wine, her burlesque career, and former life as a budding classical musician. With her rockabilly style and take no prisoners attitude, she entered the family business intent on shaking it up and making a change for the better.
This panel of women are making waves in the Finger Lakes, and each one offered a unique perspective on the region, on winemaking, and on breaking the glass ceiling. A sunset dinner over the lake was the perfect ending to a magical introduction to the region.
After an overnight stay in Geneva, we were off to Day 2 of our excursion on the shores of Seneca Lake!
9:55 am: Dropoff at Anthony Road Wine Company at 1020 Anthony Rd, Penn Yan, NY 14527
Noon: Pickup at Anthony Road Wine Company
12:15 pm: Dropoff at Fox Run Vineyards at 670 New York 14, Penn Yan, NY 14527
3:15 pm: Pickup at Fox Run Vineyards
4:30 pm: Dropoff at Radisson Hotel Corning at the same location where some attendees were originally picked up.