Many thousands of years ago,
during cooler times, a huge ice sheet heading south from present day
Canada modified the topography south of Lake Ontario in New York State.
This modification that included significant moraine deposition helped in
creating the Finger Lakes. Officially there are seven lakes but eleven
were created, most in the long slender finger like shape we have come to
This area was one of the first
in North America (1850’s) to produce wine and other fruit, especially
apples. The deepness of the larger lakes, Cayuga (435 feet) and
(618 feet) prevent the formation of ice during winter except at the
northern and southern extremities. The volume of water creates a heat
storage effect which moderates low winter temperatures and extends the
growing season in the fall. Varieties such as
Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chancellor, Ravat and Cuyuga White thrive here in this picturesque region.
Cuyuga Lake wineries are
only a four and a half hour drive from Ottawa and you don’t have to pass
through a major metropolitan area to get there so it is a reasonable
The southern end of Kuka Lake is
the most spectacular looking grape growing area in Eastern North
America. The view from Bully Hill just north of the town of
Hammondsport with its cascading vineyards is definitely worth a detour.
Just down the road is
Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars
founded by the famous grape pioneer. Anyone in the east who wanted to
start a winery made a pilgrimage for advice to Dr. Frank’s door,
from 1962 when he established his winery until his death in 1985. He
freely expressed his views, only asking that his visitors endure a
lecture about the health dangers of consuming wine made from French
Hybrid grapes and what calamity it would impose on future generations.
Suffice to say that Frank’s promotion of vinifera varieties has gone a
long way in making the wine industry in Ontario and New York what it is
today. (Historical Note: Dr. Frank traveled to Ontario and Quebec to
obtain riparia-based (wild grape) rootstock to graft on the
Riesling and Cabernet etc. that he planted in the Finger Lakes to
increase cold and phylloxera resistance.)
Home winemakers have a number of
reasons to travel to the area. In early April, the
Station in Geneva on Seneca Lake co-ordinates a “Wine Industry Workshop”
– a two to three day event devoted to grape growing and winemaking.
Numerous home winemakers from Ottawa and Eastern Ontario, over the
years, have benefited from the professional insights of the
presentations as well as the informal discussions that take place on
winery premises. There are also grape and juice outlets such as
Fulkerson Winery and
Fall Bright Winemakers Shoppe
who have been around for many years. These businesses sell grapes and
juices in season as well as winemaking supplies year round.
Back at Cayuga Lake, Tom and
Susie Challen and their children, own and operate
Cayuga Ridge Estate
home of the Vigneron Program. This program allows customers to lease
vines such as Cabernet Franc. Riesling, Chardonnay and
Cayuga and to
take classes in pruning and other viticultural activities. Other
include purchase of grapes or juice
- either U-Pick or otherwise.
The Challens, who are Canadian, also offer a full range of wines made
from their estate vineyards.
Just down the road at
Point Winery is Bob Madill, General Manager, who is another Canadian
from Ottawa. This picturesque winery in a small village, is just off
Route 89 and contains the recommended Simply Red Bistro, an innovative
place that does all sorts of things that please lovers of wine and food.
He isn’t Canadian, but Cameron Hosmer and his wife
Maren love to come to Canada to ski. They also
produce one of the best Rieslings in the East at
Hosmer Winery on Cayuga
This winery won
the Governor’s Cup a few years ago that is awarded to
the top winery in New York State. Their 2006 and 2007 Rieslings have
won many a gold medal and in fact all of their wines are solid examples
of what can be done in the Finger Lakes. For something different try
their Lemberger, a fruity red that does well in the cool climate of
central New York.
The Cayuga Lake wineries
described here are 25-30km north of Ithaca, the home of Cornell
University and about the same distance southeast of the city of Geneva,
at the top of Seneca Lake where the Cornell Research Station is
located. Both towns offer a selection of hotels, motels and restaurants
If Geneva is your base, you are
only 15km north of the Fox Run Vineyard which is located on Route
14 down the west side of Seneca Lake. Peter Bell, yet
another Canadian born and bred, is the winemaker and he's at the top of his game in the
Finger Lakes. The winery just achieved a status that no other area
winery has received -
Wines and Spirits Magazine in their
November, 2008 edition has rated Fox Run Winery one of the top 100
wineries in the world. The wines speak for themselves.
Except for weekends at harvest
time, this area is seldom congested as far as traffic is concerned.
With over 100 wineries in the region, the spread out rural nature
virtually guarantees some solitude. The one thing you should be aware
of is that local college or university events can create room shortages
on some weekends. The rolling agriculturally dominated countryside
lends a relaxing feature that relates more to a bygone era and as a
destination it even has promise for the
outlet mall shopper in your car.
Harvest 2008 seems to be in good
shape as of this writing. Vines are healthy from the good rainfall of
this growing season after a few years of lower than average
Chardonnays, Rieslings and
Pinot Noirs were harvested weeks earlier than those in Niagara,
suggesting that the growing season here had less rainfall and more sun.
Time will tell, but whenever you plan a visit, don’t
overload on wineries. There are many natural features (Watkins Glen)
and manufactured attractions (Corning Glass) from which to choose. For
those interested, the wines of New York State will be available at the
Ottawa Wine and Food Show,
7, 8 and 9 November 2008 at the Civic Centre
at Lansdowne Park. Hope to see you there...
in vino veritas...
Finger Lakes Wine Region,