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ON THE GRAPE TRAIL
Mac's News from the Finger Lakes...

... New York's
Finger Lakes Wine Region

Finger Lakes NY Map

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 know.

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 Seneca (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 Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chancellor, Ravat and Cuyuga White thrive here in this picturesque region.  

Cayuga Ridge Winery BarnThe 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 weekend destination. 

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 Pinot Noir, 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 Cornell Experimental 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 andTom and Susie Challen of Cayuga Ridge Winery their children, own and operate Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery 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 options Alex Thum of Brockville picking cabernet franc at Cayuga Ridgeinclude 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 Sheldrake 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 Lake. This winery won Cameron Hosmer and Mac MacDonald in Hosmer Winery Tasting roomthe 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 for visitors.  

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 precipitation. 

cabernet franc fresh from the vineThe 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...

Mac MacDonald
October, 2008
Finger Lakes Wine Region,
New York

 

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