Dr. Konstantin Frank is undoubtedly one of the leading producers of vinifera wines in the Finger Lakes, but at times it is an easy place to overlook. With so many new, boutique wineries popping up on the landscape over the past few years, Finger Lakes wine lovers can find themselves chasing new and interesting wines in a variety of locations. A spirit of growth and change has been in the air, and sometimes the first guard of vinifera based wineries is lost in the conversation.
Meaghan Frank – now representing the fourth generation of the Frank family to lead the winery – wants to change that. In tandem with her father, Fred Frank, they have created a tasting platform that highlights the inherent quality of Dr. Frank’s wine, its dedication to unusual varieties of grapes, and its appeal to both the casual tourist and wine aficionados alike. This is a wine lover’s approach to wine tasting.
The concept is called 1886, named after the founding year of the original winery that graced the western slopes of Keuka Lake – the site upon which Dr. Konstantin Frank later founded his own winery in the 1960s. The 1886 Reserve Tasting Room, the centerpiece of this program, sits in a beautifully-restored stone room of the original 19th-century facility – a complex which also houses the cellars of Chateau Frank, the sparkling wine arm of the Dr. Frank brand.
“We wanted to offer our regular customers something more,” says Meaghan, a Cornell enology graduate who recently spent several years working in the Australian wine industry before returning to the family operation. She observed that Australian wineries often emphasize seated tastings, by appointment, where the winemaker walks customers through the wine lineup. Inspired by this intimate approach, Meaghan sought to bring a similar tasting experience back to the Finger Lakes.
The concept is simple but elegant. Participants are treated to a presentation about the winery, the vineyard or winemaking, followed by a lineup of wines paired with food. Each session has a different theme. I attended one titled Unique Wine Variety Experience. We started off the afternoon with a glass of sparkling Célèbre Rosé, followed by a walking tour of the vineyard where Meaghan wielded a refractometer to allow the assembled group to see how to measure brix (sweetness) of the grapes as they approached harvest.
We then re-assembled in the 1886 Reserve Tasting Room to try six glasses of wine made with unique varieties of grapes, each glass accompanied by an appetizer expertly prepared by the chef at Snug Harbor. It was a fun group of people, and the food and wine matches were spot on (see tasting notes).
Previous 1886 sessions included a tour of the sparkling wine lineup and operation, as well as a Riesling lineup that included single vineyard and late harvest variations. The program will explore additional themes in the future.
And yet Meaghan Frank is only getting started, brimming with ideas to bring a new approach to what has already been a successful family story.
“I feel very lucky to be the fourth generation of my family involved in the winery. My father and I work very well together and I am enthusiastic about learning absolutely everything I can about the business. At the end of the day, for me, it’s about making my family proud and building upon my great-grandfather’s dream.”
Based on my experience, the reasonable fee for the 1886 tasting is a tremendous deal. The lineup featured the 2015 Pinot Blanc, 2014 Grüner Veltliner, 2015 Rkatsiteli, 2014 Gewürztraminer Reserve, 2013 Saperavi, and 2013 Cuvée D’Amour.
What are these grapes, you may ask? That was the point of the program: We learned all about them. In short, Dr. Frank grows grapes that are either relatively unusual or nearly impossible to find in the U.S.
All the wines were good; the Gewürztraminer was a show-stopper with its greasy texture, honey-dipped apple and spice. Among the reds, the Cuvee D’ Amour (made from the unusual vitis Amurensis grape) stood out with its tremendous balance, featuring complex tobacco and cocoa powder notes on a steady finish.
The food pairings were nearly perfect, and most importantly, participants left the event not only having tasted good wine, but with a greater knowledge of viticulture and wine. This program is a must for wine enthusiasts.
Story and photos by Jason Feulner