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The Influence of European Winemakers on the Finger Lakes Wine Region

In recent years, the Finger Lakes has garnered acclaim as “one of the greatest Riesling regions of the world” and “America’s premier cool-climate wine region.” Some of that success has been shaped by a handful of European Winemakers who have blended the best of old-world traditions, training, and experience with new-world innovation, a willingness to experiment and to share ideas, and the flexibility to adjust to any given situation. On April 11th, Explore Steuben and Finger Lakes Countrysides are premiering on YouTube the new documentary video exploring The Influence of European Winemakers on the Finger Lakes Wine Region.

In 1829, a reverend intent on making sacramental wine planted the first vines in the Finger Lakes region in the small town of Hammondsport. Eventually, several of his parishioners were inspired to grow grapes. By the end of the 19th century, there were over 25,000 acres of vineyards around Keuka Lake. At first, the sweet native grapes were primarily sold in NYC and other markets as table grapes, but eventually the area gained a reputation for its sparkling wines. However, by the time Prohibition ended in the 1930s, only six wineries remained.

While winemaking in the Finger Lakes is still in its infancy, at just over 160 years-old, in recent years the region has garnered significant acclaim as “the prime wine region of the Eastern U.S.” and “America’s preeminent East Coast wine region.”

You could say the upward trajectory began when Charles Fournier, chief winemaker at the renowned Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin in Reims, France, was brought to the Finger Lakes following Prohibition to oversee the sparkling wine production at the Urbana Wine Company (later known as Gold Seal). Fournier introduced several notable French-American hybrid grape varieties to the region and provided Ukrainian immigrant Dr. Konstantin Frank the opportunity to ignite the Vinifera Revolution, forever changing winemaking in the northeastern United States. Today, while Dr. Frank’s descendants and the winery that bears his name continue to set the standard by which all other Finger Lakes wineries are judged, a few other wineries founded by winemakers originally brought to the region to make wine for Dr. Frank’s, continue to elevate the quality of wine being produced and the experiences visitors can enjoy.

French winemaker Morten Hallgren has spent the past two decades making exceptional wines at Ravines Wine Cellars. Called a “pioneer of the Dry Riesling” for which the Finger Lakes region has been gaining acclaim. French winemaker Sébastien LeSeurre, who worked at Dr. Frank’s before starting Domaine LeSeurre winery with his wife and fellow French winemaker, Céline, on the east side of Keuka Lake, focuses on crafting terroir-driven, food friendly wines. Right next door you’ll find the 2022 New York State “Winery of the Year,” Weis Vineyards, which was founded by German winemaker Hans Peter Weis after spending a decade working for Dr. Frank’s. Weis was also recently named one of Wine Business Monthly’s “Hot Brands” for 2023. Over on Seneca Lake, another German winemaker and grower, Johannes Reinhardt, who worked at Dr. Frank’s when Hallgren was there, founded Kemmeter Winery over a decade ago his wife Imelda. German winemaker Hermann Wiemer, another vinifera pioneer, was actually the first winemaker at Bully Hill Vineyards, but eventually his desire to work with Vinifera grapes led him to start his own winery on Seneca Lake. When Hermann retired from winemaking, he left his winery and his legacy in the capable hands of Oskar Bynke and Fred Merwarth.

Read the rest of the original article on I LOVE NY.

Main Street Drivers provides customized experiences in the Finger Lakes for wine enthusiasts of all levels. If you are traveling to the area, check out the details on our affordable Finger Lakes Wine Tours.

Finger Lakes winemakers land a ‘home’ for their new property ahead of 1st release

How well are things coming together for winemakers Kelby James Russell and Julia Rose Hoyle as they build the foundation for a new Finger Lakes winery called Apollo’s Praise?

Based on the set of circumstances that occurred with an 1840s farmhouse located across the road from the Lahoma Vineyards they will source for their line of wines, the run-up couldn’t be going much better. They purchased that farmhouse today, which they plan to use for dinners and pick-up parties for members of their wine club in addition to making it available as an Airbnb.

Russell says he had seen the farmhouse for years during his stint with Red Newt Cellars, where his stellar reputation grew with the world-class Rieslings and other wines he produced before this latest venture. “But Julia, one day we were driving around and she made the comment, ‘If that ever went up for sale, my gosh, what a perfect addition to the property [that would be].’ For all we know it might have been the original farmhouse because there used to be an orchard where the vineyard is.”

Lo and behold, last August it went on the market. “We’re like, well you don’t really get to choose when opportunity strikes, even though it wasn’t necessarily the ideal timing to make another big move,” Russell says. “I guess we feel really happy we made the offer because the last time it sold was 1947. “

While the couple has no short-term plans for a tasting room, Russell says this gives them a cozy home for club members and others to visit. “It’s nice to have sort of a hearth to welcome people to,” he says.

A Finger Lakes native, Russell left home for Harvard, where he studied Orchestra Management. According to a June 2023 story on the New York Wines website, it was winemaking that drew him back in 2009, and he began his tenure as Red Newt winemaker in 2012. His accolades include outstanding reviews and a spot on Wine Enthusiast’s “40 Under 40 Tastemaker” list, and last year he was honored by his colleagues in the New York Wine and Grape Foundation with the “Phyllis Feder Unity Award.” He also played a key role as a co-chair for the “FLXcursion” International Riesling Conferences in 2019, ‘21 and ‘23, which have helped to showcase the region and its extraordinary wines.

Russell left Red Newt last spring around the same time he and Hoyle were purchasing Lahoma Vineyards — a source of grapes for several Red Newt classics such as the “Big H” Riesling and The Knoll Riesling as well as other wine producers — from grower Ken Fulkerson and setting in motion their plan to start Apollo’s Praise. The vineyard and farmhouse are both located across the lake from Red Newt Cellars, in Rock Stream, New York.

The name is inspired by a song entitled “Glorious Apollo” that Russell sang in the men’s choir, one that was familiar to members through the years. He says since his career path was meant to be Orchestra Management, “this is a way to tie everything back together.” While Russell is now focused exclusively on this winery, Hoyle will continue as the winemaker at nearby Hosmer Estate Winery while serving as her husband’s co-conspirator, as she references it on the website, with their ambitious project.

The availability of grapes from the 55 acres of vines located on Seneca Lake’s southwest shore figures to change very little, he says, even with their venture. “There’s been no shortage of demand for the fruit. We weren’t looking to upset the applecart in any way,” adding that “it’s been a very easy path to keep a little bit of what we wanted and keep supplying a lot of the longtime customers.”

If there was one setback, it was the infamous May 18, 2023, late frost, which robbed Fingers Lake vineyards of tons of potential fruit, including at Lahoma, where Russell and Hoyle lost half of their available fruit a month after purchasing the vineyard. Still, Russell told New York Wines, “We’re going to make people sit up and notice with the wines we do get to make.”

In an interview last week with PennLive, he says they have cleared the main hurdles, securing their bonded winery permit and approval from the state. They are aiming at releasing around half of their wines to members of what they call their Wine and Glee Club on May 1 and then the second set on Sept. 1. Club membership, of which there are still some openings, will include six wines from each of their two releases, which can either be shipped or picked up.

Skurnik will otherwise provide distribution to several states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and probably California. “We’re not expecting to sell a ton in California,” Russell says, “but there are some wine restaurants out there, of course, that we’d really like to showcase [our products] to the wine world.”

The portfolio at this point will include nine wines, starting with some Finger Lakes classics — a dry Riesling, a Kabinett-style (made from fully ripe grapes) Riesling, a dry rosé of Cabernet Franc and a stainless-steel Cabernet Franc, with the remainder of the list, Russell says, featuring “some of the things that are unique to us”:
  • Reserve Cab Franc that’s done in a 400-gallon oak tank, “very Old World-inspired in that way”
  • Gruner Veltliner
  • Barrel-fermented Chardonnay
  • The reserve Riesling, The Knoll
  • And “a real perky one called Scheurebe. It’s widely planted in Germany, especially in the faults in the Rheinhessen, which is where I had it when I was visiting some states in 2016 and just really fell in love with the grape,” he says. “The owner at the time of Lahoma Vineyard, he had a little half-acre parcel and he asked what I’d be curious to see planted, and that just kind of stuck out to me.”

Their first commercial crop from that trial plot was harvested last year. “It’s a really fascinating combination of things in terms of how it presents,” he says. “It has a little bit of, sort of like, acidity and fruit of Riesling, but also has some of the spice notes from Gewurztraminer.” While he expects that wine will require a bit of education for consumers, he anticipates that it will become as much a cult wine as anything. “That would be the sort of goal for this wine. In a good year, [production] might be 100 cases” that will be offered as a wine club exclusive.

Read the rest of the original article on Penn Live.

Main Street Drivers provides customized experiences in the Finger Lakes for wine enthusiasts of all levels. If you are traveling to the area, check out the details on our affordable Finger Lakes Wine Tours.

The Best Gifts for Wine Lovers

The Wine Lover’s Gift Guide

As a writer who works for a wine importer and moonlights pouring bottles at a natural wine bar in Brooklyn (hello, freelance life), I try dozens of wines a week, and often several in a single day. I know what grapes and producers I like, and I buy bottles for myself with reckless abandon (read: with my tips). While I love when friends bring over a special bottle for us to share around the holidays, I already have plenty to go around. Or at least I would, if I could ever find a wine key in my crowded kitchen.

It never occurs to me to buy all the accoutrements that would greatly enhance my wine drinking: my glassware is a chaotic amalgam of shapes and sizes, mostly pocketed—er, collected—from my favorite wine bars, and given that I don’t have enough room in my fridge to store my bottles, I’m guilty of occasionally cooling down my wine with ice. I last did this while working a wine harvest in Alsace, France, and when the winemaker caught me, I swore I’d never commit the crime again.

And yet, I still haven’t bought myself a set of wine stones.

Most wine lovers I know are the same way, splurging on bottles instead of proper storage or other practical wine accessories. If you love someone who loves wine, know that the best gifts are things they won’t buy for themselves: Top-notch stemware, books that go deep on pioneering producers, and a centerpiece-worthy decanter are great places to start. For those deeply moved by the giving spirit, a subscription to The Vines—a luxury wine club that whisks members away on intimate, far-flung wine adventures for a casual $25,000 initiation fee—would surely be appreciated by your oenophile pals. I you’re looking for new friends, come by Frog Wine Bar to say hi. Until then, read on to see some of the best gifts for wine lovers you can buy this year.

A Nerdy Wine Book

Having worked on a few vineyards, I can confidently say that wine tastes better when you know the person who makes it. Longtime Food & Wine editor Ray Isle has spent the past several years doing exactly that. His debut book, The World in a Wineglass, paints intimate portraits of sustainably minded winemakers from around the world, spanning pioneers of natural wine in Austria to longtime family-run vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It’s a tome that will introduce you to your new favorite wines, which of course pair beautifully with the book.

A Luxe Wine Key

The wine lover in your life probably already has a corkscrew or two, but as someone who loses one in their tote bag on a weekly basis, I promise there’s no such thing as having too many wine openers. This wine key—which differs from a bulky, tedious two-armed corkscrew—is compact, elegant, and crafted from durable stainless steel and laminated wood. It’s made by the iconic French brand Château Laguiole and comes with a chic leather holster for convenient carrying.

A Curated Wine Bundle

Part subscription service, part retailer, The Waves is like having your own natural wine concierge. If you’re unsure which bottles to gift a friend, they’ll make sure it’s not just the thought that counts, but the taste too. Founded by award-winning somms, the site offers expertly curated bundles of wines that are free from chemicals and additives. My favorite three-pack is The Wild Bunch, which includes a pét-nat, an orange wine, and a chilled red—a.k.a. the holy trinity of fun, easy-drinking wines. For a gift that keeps on giving, consider springing for The Waves’ two-, six-, or 12-bottle monthly subscription.

A Gadget That Keeps Open Wine Fresh for Weeks

If you’re looking to open a bottle of wine but don’t think you’ll finish it, I’d say (a) invite me over or (b) invest in a Coravin. This revolutionary device keeps wines tasting fresh for up to four weeks, meaning you can serve yourself by the glass or even host an at-home tasting with a flight of your favorite wines (again, invite me over!). It’s super straightforward to use: Simply replace the cork or cap with the included Pivot Stopper. When you’re ready to revisit the bottle, insert the Pivot Device, tip the bottle, press the button, and marvel at how good the wine tastes weeks later.

A Customized Wine Tote

If your friend is always the one lugging wine to the party or park picnic, the least you can do is thank them with a tote that will make their life easier. This monogrammed canvas bag fits up to four bottles and helps to keep them from knocking about thanks to the interior lining. You can personalize the monogram as well as the strap color.

A Custom Wine Label

Corny? Yes. Charming? Also yes. A custom wine label is whatever you want it to be: an earnest celebration of an engagement, a cheeky snapshot of your lover, or a silly selfie of you and your BFF after one too many bottles.

A Wine Fridge

I may not have an age-worthy collection of Bordeaux wines, but I do have a child-sized fridge in my Brooklyn apartment, and playing Tetris with all my groceries and wine bottles was a headache. Springing for a wine cooler has offered me so much space to store my wines, and the split zone makes it easy to set the top and bottom section to different temperatures to suit a variety of wines. Since my kitchen is compact, I use the top of the cooler as extra counter space, decorating it with potted plants and books. Plus, if I ever get desperate or run out of wine (one in the same, I suppose), I could always use it for shoe storage, à la Carrie Bradshaw.

Some Nice Wine Glasses

When it comes to gifting glassware, there are two options: a branded glass from your friend’s favorite wine bar or this set of elegant tulip glasses from Riedel. Forgo bulbous or ultra-delicate stemware, which takes up too much space and often feels too precious to use. Instead, go for a pretty and practical option that can be used for both red and white wines. I like these because they’re dishwasher-safe and feel sturdy enough to use with frequency. They’re sleek but not pretentious.

An Artsy Decanter

Decanters do a great job of separating out sediment from wines while also looking sexy on a dining room table. I like the coiled design of this borosilicate glass one from Wine Enthusiast, which looks like a middle school science experiment gone right. Even friends who don’t enjoy wine will get a kick out of watching grape juice twirl through the double spirals, which serve to decant the wine while oxygenating it, resulting in fuller flavors and aromas.

Read the rest of the original article with links to buy each gift on Bon Appetit.

Another excellent gift idea is a personal wine tour! Main Street Drivers provides customized tours for wine enthusiasts of all levels in many wine regions throughout the country, including amazing and affordable Finger Lakes Wine Tours.


Wines of the Finger Lakes at Saratoga Performing Arts Center Event

Saratoga Performing Arts Center announces the latest CulinaryArts@SPAC event, Eric Asimov: Wines of the Finger Lakes, featuring The New York Times chief wine critic and author, Eric Asimov. Asimov, a connoisseur and champion of the growing region, will lead guests through an expert guided tasting of six different wines from New York’s Finger Lakes region including Riesling, the signature wine of the region, as well as a selection of reds from Ravines Wine Cellars, Forge Cellars and Bloomer Creek Vineyard, in addition to a sparkling wine from chëpìka. Hors d’oeuvres to complement the wines will also be served. The event is slated for April 20th from 6:00-8:30 p.m. at Canfield Casino in Saratoga Springs.

“Our Culinary Arts initiative was created to celebrate our local farmers, chefs, and the overall culinary bounty of the region. With this special event, we are expanding our radius and inviting The New York Times chief wine critic Eric Asimov to bring the wines of New York’s Finger Lakes region to Saratoga. Wine connoisseurs and social wine drinkers, alike, will be both enthralled by his insights and tantalized by the spectacular wines and tastings,” says Elizabeth Sobol, President & CEO of Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Asimov is the chief wine critic of The New York Times and the author of “How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto,’’ published by William Morrow, and “Wine With Food: Pairing Notes and Recipes From The New York Times.’’ His column appears in the Food section of The Times. On his participation in the upcoming CulinaryArts@SPAC event, he states, “The Finger Lakes is the most exciting wine region in New York and one of the most interesting in the United States.”

Eric Asimov: Wines of the Finger Lakes will include a sparkling wine reception with hors d’oeuvres and a guided tasting led by Asimov and the vintners from each winery, followed by a Q&A. Asimov will share his expertise on the wines with tasting notes and insights, and also discuss the viticulture of New York’s Finger Lake region and why it belongs in the national conversation alongside other famed wine regions like Napa. Kim Klopstock of Lily and the Rose along with the Culinary Arts team will provide bespoke hors d’oeuvres designed to complement the wines.

Beyond its amphitheater stage, SPAC has become a year-round gathering place celebrating the artistry of food in building community while empowering individuals to understand how what we eat influences our communities and our planet. The CulinaryArts@SPAC initiative, founded in 2020, combines culinary excellence and education with exquisite food that emphasizes socially conscious cultivation and consumption, local procurement, and fair wages.

Read the rest of the article and event details on here.

Main Street Drivers also provides customized tours for wine enthusiasts of all levels. If you are traveling to the area, check out the details on our affordable Finger Lakes Wine Tours.