New York State of Wine

by Thea Dwelle

This year, the annual Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) will be held in the Finger Lakes town of Corning, New York, which is the cultural heart of the Finger Lakes wine region. Over 300 wine bloggers, professional wine writers, producers, and other industry members will have the opportunity to connect, engage, and explore the host region. This annual gathering of like-minded individuals allows an unparalleled collaboration over the course of a long weekend, where writers get to share ideas, inspiration, techniques, and of course, wine.

Each year, the WBC plans excursions to producers in the host wine region, giving participants a chance to experience a day of intense exploration and a peek into the viticultural practices of the area (get ready for a barrage of Twitter posts tagged: “#WBC15”).

If you’re curious at all about the 2015 conference, head to the official WBC website, which is loaded with information, interviews and details on how to register.  

#FLXwine Region Backstory

Just mention the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York and for many it will conjure images of Kellerman’s Resort, the Catskill Mountains retreat, which inspired the movie Dirty Dancing (though the movie was actually filmed in Southwest Virginia). Still, those images of idyllic retreats and summer resorts from the 1960s remains the same, and closely mirrors the Hudson Valley and Finger Lakes resorts that exist today.

 Image courtesy of New York Wine & Grape Foundation

Image courtesy of New York Wine & Grape Foundation

The Finger Lakes are situated at the western edge of the state between Rochester and Syracuse, cascading southward, with the university town of Ithaca falling in the middle, but at the southern most edge of Cayuga Lake. The entire Finger Lakes region provides a hub of outdoor activities, wine trails and is home to the culinary educational center of Cornell University, a school which has blessed the wine industry with some of its brightest stars.

Rockwellian picture-perfect farmscapes give way to over sprawling vineyards, clustered around the three major, long and skinny glacial lakes that make up the “Fingers,”—Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga. With over 200 wineries, and over 150 different varietal-plantings, there truly is something for everyone, but here, in the chilly northern latitudes, Riesling is the powerhouse variety, planted to over 800 acres, according to the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, with Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir coming in second, third and fourth respectively, in terms of numbers of acres planted to vine. Beyond the grapevine, history buffs can visit the famous Erie Canal for a bit of classic Americana interspersed with wine tastings.

The wine story of this region really begins with Dr. Konstantin Frank, who emigrated to the Finger Lakes from his native Ukraine in 1951. Originally a horticulturist at Cornell University, Dr. Frank found that the local wine economy–which already existed–was not thriving due to improper rootstock, rather than the selection of planted varietals. After all, aromatic whites thrive in the chilly regions of Alsace, Germany, and Austria, so why not here? A decade of experimentation later, Dr. Frank founded Vinifera Wine Cellars, which quickly becoming a rising star producer in the region and a major advocate and influencer of American Riesling. 

I’ve tasted several wines from this region, and in comparative tastings am hard pressed to discern which wines are from the Finger Lakes, versus which are from the Mosel—or even Australia. Stylistically, the light, crisp and bracing wines from the Finger Lakes rival are a natural pairing for Asian foods, smoked salmon, and compliment most options on your holiday table.

Wine production in the Finger Lakes tends to err on the boutique side, with wineries producing dry to sweet wines, specializing in aromatic whites. While some native hybrids are still produced, the focus remains largely on Riesling—perhaps because this high acid, spicy, fruit-forward white is suitable for so many food pairings, and can be produced in a range of sweetness levels and styles.

If you’d like to do some wineglass travel to the Finger Lakes on your own, check out some of my favorites:

Boundary Breaks Vineyard

Located in Lodi, New York, Boundary Breaks produces Riesling, and only Riesling (sorry Zinfandel lovers, you’ll have to stick to Lodi, California for those wines!). This is a must stop for every Riesling lover and may prove to convert those who aren’t fans.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellar

With off-dry and dry Rieslings full of minerality and zest, Dr. Frank also produces a smattering of other varietal-offerings—aromatic whites like Gruner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Blanc, as well as interesting reds like Lemberger and Pinot Meunier.

Fox Run Vineyards

With their critically acclaimed Cabernet Franc and seven unique Riesling offerings, ranging from dry to sweet and one undergoing barrel fermentation, Fox Run practices minimal intervention and strives to be sustainable in every way. The winery also plays host to the Fox Run Garlic Festival, where the winery showcases food and wine pairings. They also produce reds, a rosé and one blush wine.

Red Newt Cellars

While specializing in a wide variety of Rieslings, Red Newt is also known for their Cabernet Franc and for producing fortified wines, well loved by locals for their savory and ethereal flavors.

Finger Lakes Wine Region Resources:


Thea Dwelle is a “Wine Brat” by night, software jockey by day, working on CRM solutions for the wine industry. She also serves on the advisory board of the Wine Bloggers Conference. She wants you to know that her blog, is a conversation, not a dictatorship, but it is totally her blog, so if you agree or disagree with things she writes, that’s totally cool. Follow her at @luscious_lushes and @winebratsf.

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