Christopher Tracy, the winemaker of Channing Daughters, based on the South Fork of Long Island, conducts wine education classes each summer. Past topics have included Sherry, wines from Bordeaux, Riesling and Wines from Off the Beaten Path (which I have already chronicled). One of the topics for this year’s series was Finger Lakes wines. Because I’ve been making annual visits to Finger Lakes wineries for over 35 years, this was a subject of keen interest to me. The guest lecturer was Katie Marks from Atwater Vineyards, which is on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. Not only is Katie the daughter of founder Ted Marks, who acquired Rolling Vineyards 15 years ago, but she is the off-site marketing manager for the Atwater. She is also a wealth of information about Finger Lakes wines and wineries. And, oh yes, she’s a heck of a lot fun.
Christopher and Katie greeted me with a warm welcome and a glass of the 2010 Cuvee Brut sparkling wine from Atwater. Not only was the sparkling wine refreshing and flavorful, but it was a great way to get the tasting off to a festive start. It was also a great way to show that the Finger Lakes can (and does) produce some first rate sparkling wine. We did the tastings in three phases. After each tasting we would collectively express our opinions about the wines in that group. The discussions were lively, instructive and often humorous. While not everybody liked every wine and everyone had their favorite, the tasting did a great job in showcasing the depth of the region and demonstrated that the Finger Lakes is producing some really fantastic wines.
While Riesling may be the King of the Finger Lakes (six of the thirteen wines we tasted were Rieslings), there was also a nod to another member of royalty, Dr. Konstantin Frank. Dr. Frank founded his winery in 1962 and was one of the true pioneers of the region. From his experience in the Ukraine, he firmly believed that with the proper rootstock, vinifera grapes could thrive in the cold climate of the Finger Lakes. His success transformed the region and he was chiefly responsible for the switch from mainly native American varieties to European vinifera. Representing Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars was the 2013 Rkatistelli, a grape from the country of Georgia, which is considered one of the oldest grapes known to man. Smooth, eminently drinkable, with notes of stone fruits and fresh basil, R-kats (as it is called) is a great example of the diversity of grapes grown in the Finger Lakes.
The thing to remember about Rieslings is that not all Rieslings are sweet. So, saying you don’t like Riesling because you don’t like sweet wine is like saying you don’t like all music just because you don’t enjoy Rap. There are almost as many styles of Riesling as there are styles of music. And the Rieslings that we tasted highlighted the different kinds produced in the Finger Lakes. Included were Rieslings from Tierce (which is a cooperative effort from Fox Run, Anthony Road and Red Newt), Bloomer Creek, Fox Run, Kemmeter (a new Seneca Lake winery started by Johannes Reinhardt, who was the winemaker at Anthony Road) and two from Hermman J. Weimer. One of the wines from Hermann J Weimer was a 2005, which perfectly demonstrated the ageability of Finger Lakes wines. While this wine was already ten years old, I had the feeling that it had not yet peaked and wished I had a bottle in my cellar that I could taste in five years.
Katie also included four dry red wines to illustrate the range of Finger Lakes wine. We had a Pinot Noir from Atwater, a Syrah from Billsboro, a Blaufränkisch (also called Lemberger) from Red Tail Ridge and a Cabernet Franc from Ravines. We also tasted a 2012 Atwater Gewürztraminer, a cool climate favorite that does well in the Finger Lakes.
The beautiful sunset in the vineyard at Channing Daughters and the wonderful wines made it a memorable evening. The comedic banter between Chris and Katie made it an enjoyable evening. For those who were not familiar with the quality of wines being produced in the Finger Lakes today it was also an educational evening. And as the title indicates, it was also great fun!