Like many New York State residents, I had no idea how many lakes there are in the Finger Lakes. This in spite of the fact that I’ve visited the region every year for the past 35 years. I knew there were more than five (one for each finger), but I never knew the correct number, that is, until I sat down with Matt Jones, owner of Eleven Lakes Winery.
While working at Swedish Hill, Matt started thinking about developing a business plan to start his own winery. It was a long term dream of his, owning his own business. That dream became a reality after a chance meeting with the winemaker of Hearts and Hands Winery at a pickup basketball game. This led to an introduction with John Herbert, a longtime Finger Lakes winemaker on Seneca Lake. After listening to his concept, John jumped on the band wagon and Eleven Lakes Winery was born and a tasting room was established on the northern part of Cayuga lake. While all of the grapes for each wine are sourced from Seneca Lake, each bottle is dedicated to one of the eleven lakes.
As Matt Jones explains: “Finger Lakes wine should do more than just taste great. It should be fun and tell a story. About the people who make it and the land it comes from. But more than anything, we believe it should pay homage to the amazing lakes. The idea is to provide education along with enjoyment and to let the tourists take a piece of the lakes home with them.”
And sure enough every wine had a story. Listening to the commentary on each wine (and each Lake), I felt like I was on a tour of the lakes. Our first tasting was the Dry Riesling dedicated to Canadiagua Lake. The Seneca Nation named Canandaigua Lake the “Chosen Spot,” and after a visit to the lake you’ll know why. Canandaigua is surrounded by natural beauty with waterfront estates lining its lakeshore. The Riesling was clean, crisp and refreshing, with hints of citrus. We then tasted the “Long Lake” Reserve Cabernet Franc. Skaneateles Lake, which means “Long Lake,” and is known for having clean water, picturesque hillsides and the charming village of Skaneateles. The wine is 80% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This full-bodied dry red is oakey, smokey and smooth with hints of raspberry and currant leaving a fantastic finish. Six months of oak aging has contributed to the complexity of this wine.
Next was the “Always Beautiful” Gewürztraminer from Conesus Lake, the western most of the Finger Lakes. At 66 feet deep, it is one the shallowest of the Finger Lakes and the only lake to consistently freeze every winter. The Gewürztraminer was well balanced with floral notes, aromas of passion fruit and citrus and is an ideal accompaniment to spicy food. Saluting Keuka Lake, was Canoe Landing “Crooked Lake” Red, a blend comprised mostly of Chancellor and Dechaunac. Keuka Lake means “Canoe Landing” and is also known locally as the Crooked Lake because of its unique “Y” shape. This lake is the only one in the country to flow both North and South.
We then traveled to Cayuga for some “Boat Landing” Cayuga White. Cayuga Lake is the longest of the Finger Lakes and is an Iroquois word meaning “Boat Landing”. The Cayuga grape was developed especially for the Finger Lakes by Cornell University in 1972. This semi-sweet wine has delicate apricot flavors and a refreshing finish. We finished our tour with Moonglorious, a semi-sweet red made from Pinot Noir, DeChaunac and Rougeon. Moonglorious is not dedicated to one particular lake, but to the entire region.
True to Matt’s promise, the tasting was educational and fun. And like most visitors to the tasting room, I brought home a piece of the lakes with me. So, if you want to take a tour of the region, but don’t have time to visit all the lakes, visiting Eleven Lakes Winery is the next best thing.