SWE CONFERENCE 2018: A Tour of Seneca Lake New York Finger Lakes

Since 2016 the Finger Lakes have been suffering a drought, but that all ended when the Society of Wine Educators came to the region for their 2018 Conference. It rained almost the entire week.

There are 11 lakes that make up the Finger Lakes AVA. The choices for the pre-conference wine tours were either Seneca or Cayuga lakes. I chose Seneca because most of the New York wines we stock come from that region.

As we were loading onto the buses the first morning, it was raining so hard a row of umbrellas was needed, from the hotel lobby to each bus. Rumor had it that some wineries were closed and had cancelled tours due to flooding. We were lucky, none of the wineries on our trip closed even though there were plenty of signs of high water levels.

Riesling rules here, but I was about to find out how diverse this region really is!

 Our first stop, Ravines Wine Cellars, owned by Morten and Lisa Hallgren, is on the northern end of Seneca Lake. As we drove down Barracks Road, the first things we saw were rows of fruit trees. They’re trellised just like the grapevines are which a recurring sight throughout the day.  This tasting room is a historic barn made of slate with a wood interior, and an extra long wooden tasting bar that fit our group nicely. They have a second tasting room on Lake Keuka.

Ravines is known for their Dry Riesling and Cabernet Franc. We carry the 2015 Finger Lakes AVA Dry Riesling, a blend from 3 vineyards, White Springs, 16 Falls, and Serenity. We tasted the 2015 and 2016, side by side. Both were dry, crisp and delicious, but the 2016 flavors just popped more. I’m looking forward to tasting that again. Their 2016 Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc is a blend of White Springs & 16 Falls Vineyards.  This wine is juicier, fleshier and no pyrazines (green bell pepper) flavor that Cabernet Franc can be known for. I found it very approachable at such an early age.

I purchased a 2016 Dry Riesling from the White Springs Vineyard, just outside of the barn we were in. It was difficult to see it because of the hard rainfall, but below is what it looks like when it is not raining.

 White Springs Vineyard

White Springs Vineyard

Fox Run Vineyards was our second stop, where we tasted the line up from sparkling to port. The standouts were a Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine made of 100% Chardonnay, a Traminette (a cross between Gewürztraminer x French American hybrid, Joannes Seyve), and Lemberger, known as Blaufränkisch in Germany and Austria.

We had a fun cheese and wine pairing at Magnus Ridge before they served us lunch, and then explored the large tasting and retail area. There were so many local goodies, no one left empty handed. 

Then off to Lakewood Vineyards! Now the wines start to change and include grape names most of us have never heard of.  Even though this third generation winery uses Vitis Vinifera grapes, the wines they make from Hybrids and Vitis Labrusca were much more interesting. After all we are here to learn!

They make a Prosecco-like bubbly made of Cayuga White, a cross between 2 hybrids, developed especially for the Finger Lakes Region by Cornell University.  Another grape developed by Cornell is the Valvin Muscat; it has similar aromatics of Vitis vinifera Muscat but is more winter-hardy and disease resistant. Their Abby Rose is a blend of 40% Concord, 38% Ives, 14% Vincent, 8% Delaware. Some of these grapes are also made into ice wine.

The rain paused, so we took the opportunity to check out the vineyards. They were so tall, lush and thick. The man in front of the vines is over six feet tall.

 Lakewood Estate Vineyards

Lakewood Estate Vineyards

Our last visit of the day was to the Anthony Road Wine Company; owned and managed by the Martini family with three generations working the business. They are large grape growers and own 225 acres of land, not all under vines yet but at least 75 acres are. As much as 50% of their grapes are sold outside the winery. They make wines from some of the same grapes as most Finger Lake wineries do, but our tasting showcased their love of Pinot Gris, used in 3 ways: 2016 Finger Lakes Pinot Gris, 2016 Barrel Ferment Pinot Gris and a dessert version.

 I love the Finger Lakes logo, which most wineries sell on shirts and hats, in their tasting rooms. They may alter or add something around the lakes, like a fish head and tail, or just leave the design alone, similar to making their wines. Whichever grape works well on their land is the grape they will grow and make wines from. It doesn’t matter if it is a non- vinfera grape, they will make the best wine they possibly can.

 My favorite is the fishbone version and just had to add it to my Seneca Lake story.

- Muriel Sarik

 Finger Lakes t-shirt logo

Finger Lakes t-shirt logo

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