Wineries & Wine – A Finger Lakes Experience

by Jason Feulner

There was a time when there were relatively few wineries in the entire Finger Lakes Region. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, wineries popped up here and there, but it was hardly the wave one sees today. It was only in the 1990s that the region really seemed to find its footing when it became clear that there was a rapidly increasing market for vinifera as well as the native and hybrid varieties. After 2000, and especially after 2010, growth seemed nearly exponential and now there are over 140 wineries in the region.

The following round-up includes wineries that responded to a survey from Life in the Finger Lakes. For those who love Finger Lakes wine, let this information serve as a primer to get out there and enjoy what the region has to offer. Along the way, you’re guaranteed to discover even more that interests you. It has always been about the journey – no matter how many wineries lie along the route.

Fun Name, Serious Wine

Wineries have some fun with their labels and label names from time-to-time, and the sheer variety of grapes and winemaking methods means that you can create some off-beat bottlings. Furthermore, the informal nature of the Finger Lakes has led to a disproportionate number of wineries where – really – anything goes, especially in the sweeter wine category.

Sometimes simple is the way to get a more complex message across. McGregor’s Black Russian Red might sound like a weird cocktail order at first, but it is an effective way to explain that two Eastern European red grape varieties – Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni – grow well in the Finger Lakes and taste great blended together.

Lamoreaux Landing’s T23 Unoaked Cabernet Franc might lead one to think that the letter-number combo refers to some chemical principle of winemaking. Nope – T23 is just the name of the stainless steel tank in which the wine was first made. Tank number 23.

The name of a wine can, in its own weird way, honor a piece of relevant information concerning the region. For instance, Wagner’s Fathom 107 is a blend of Riesling and Gewürztraminer. A fathom is a nautical term of measurement for 6 feet of water depth and Seneca Lake is 107 fathoms (640 feet deep), one of the deepest lakes in the United States. So, no, the name has nothing to do with the wine, but it is an interesting way to reference the unique lake next to which the grapes grow.

Shaw Vineyard offers a Riesling that is proudly labeled Road Block Reserve, typically harvested late in the season. The wine is made from the block of Riesling that grows right next to
Route 14.

Art imitates life with Anthony Road’s 2013 Art Riesling. This vintage is part of the “Art Series.” This label artwork came from Ann Martini’s (founder, owner, matriarch) fine arts days at Nazareth College, circa 1965.

Teetotalers beware! Arbor Hill Grapery & Winery’s newest product, called Prohibition Red, is a soft, smooth, sweet red fortified dessert wine reminiscent of yesteryear. It’s made like the dessert wines during prohibition 1920-1933.

The sweet wine institutions really jump on the insane labeling. Pompous Ass prides itself on its Kiss My Ass series that pokes fun at the wine industry in general, including Highfalutin’, Pure Arrogance, Big Ass Blend and Pretentious Port. Ouch!

Vintage Alert - Some Wineries Are Older Than You Think

Since most wineries undergo some sort of a facelift from time-to-time – and the years pass all of us by a little too quickly – it’s quite easy to forget that some Finger Lakes wineries have really been here awhile. No, there aren’t many “grandparents” in the group quite yet, but some of the wineries have definitely entered early middle age.

One of the early standouts that people tend to take for granted is Dr. Konstantin Frank on Keuka Lake. Bonded in 1962, Dr. Frank’s (as most refer to it) was a rather small affair in its early years, serving as an experimental station for its namesake who was hell bent on establishing his theories about the viability of vinifera in a cool climate. Now in its fourth generation of family ownership, this flagship winery continues to maintain some of the highest quality winemaking in the region.

While Dr. Frank’s is definitely the oldest in the group found in this article, there is one winery that can make an interesting claim about longevity. Eagle Crest Vineyards, located on Hemlock Lake in the far western reaches of the Finger Lakes, was spun off from the Oh-Neh-Da brand of sacramental wine, founded by Bishop of Rochester Bernard McQuaid in 1872 to make “Wine that is Wine, pure grape wine for the Eucharist.” It’s a long and interesting story, but the bottom line is that if you are looking for a real adventure, look up Eagle Crest and make your way over to Hemlock Lake, which is preserved as a water source and has no other structures around it save for the old winery next to a former seminary. It’s a Finger Lake in all its natural glory.

As for the rest of the class, the following wineries were all founded before the year 2000. No, that doesn’t make them ancient, but that means all of them are now older than a college student, and a whole bunch are creeping up on the big 4-0!

Heron Hill Winery – 1977
Wagner Vineyards – 1979
Lucas Vineyards – 1980
McGregor Vineyard– 1980
Hunt Country Vineyards – 1981
Chateau LaFayette Reneau – 1985
Hosmer Winery – 1985
Keuka Spring Vineyards – 1985
Fox Run Vineyards – 1989
Fulkerson Winery – 1989
Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars – 1992
Shalestone Vineyards – 1998
Atwater Estates – 1999

Name That Wine

Blends of different grapes are often given interesting names. Hunt Country calls their traditional red Bordeaux blend Alchemy because “it’s the closest thing we’ve found to the magical Elixir of Life.”

Long Acre Farms calls one of their white blends Morning Dew (Vidal Blanc, Traminette and Cayuga White). The tie-dye tear drop and the name are a subtle reference to the winemaker’s favorite band, the Grateful Dead.

If you’re feeling patriotic, Thirsty Owl invites you to try their red blend Lot 99, which is not a reference to a lot of wine, but to the specific land on which the winery was built. The name comes from the original Revolutionary War land grant given to Sergeant Florence Marony, 1st Regiment, for his service to the founding of the nation.

Keuka Spring Vineyards calls one of their red blends Millers Cove Red not only because it mentions the name of the shoreline just below the vineyard, but it highlights a bit of local history. Over 100 years ago, long before there were grapes on that site, a landowner named Miller cultivated fruit trees and left a legacy on that part of Keuka Lake.

Diane Moore of Inspire Moore Winery wants to inspire more love in the world, and through their ever popular semi-dry Riesling called “Love,” they are doing just that. Her husband Timothy Moore has a vast knowledge of many different winemaking styles and has worked with many varieties. Their winey was one of the first Finger Lakes wineries to produce high end dry red wines, and Austrian varieties such as Gruner Veltliner and Blaufrankisch.

Zinderella 2017 from Long Point Winery is a sweet light-bodied red with flavors of raspberry and watermelon. Imagine Cinderella as a wine, and this is what you get!

Wineries that carry a theme can keep the references alive with their new creations. Damiani honors its Italian heritage by naming its new sparkling wine Bollicine, which means “tiny bubbles” or “bubbly” in Italian.

Perhaps Three Brothers takes the cake in almost any naming category. I will quote directly from their response since it’s nothing short of an eclectic work of art: “One of our most popular wines is Scandelicious. This wine label was inspired by Heddy Lamarr, an Austrian born American actress and inventor. At the beginning of World War II, she and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes. Although the US Navy did not adopt the technology until the 1960s the principles of their work are arguably incorporated into Bluetooth technology. This work led to their induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.” A head-scratcher for sure.

What's In a Name?

Ryan William’s popular wines are their Cabernet Franc & Chardonnay wines. They consistently produce quality wine year after year using estate grown grapes.

Some themes are a bit out there but fun nonetheless. Barnstormer attempts to evoke the daring acrobatic pilots of the 1920s, and therefore it named its Ruby-Port style dessert wine Nosedive. Hopefully no one falls down drinking the stuff.

Ventosa Vineyards boasts Italian heritage and bottles the relatively rare Tocai Friulano grape from northern Italy.

Senza is Anyelas Vineyard’s first sparkling wine. It’s a blend of their best white grapes and has a smooth and refreshing effervescence with crisp, clean floral notes.

Belhurst’s best sellers are always Rieslings. Their signature historical collection, which has some incredible blends, gives depth to the history of the Belhurst property as well as combinations of grapes most people have never tried.

Riesling is the favorite at Azure Hill Winery. They planted 700 vines in 2006 and make a estate-grown sparkling brut, a dry and a sweet Riesling. Dry Riesling tends to be their best seller.

Animals are always a popular theme that seem to dominate at some wineries. Chateau LaFayette Reneau offers a Nature Pack: Emperor’s Blush (penguin), Northern White (polar bear) and Roaring Red (lion), three semi-dry wines.

Deer Run has a wine named Max Black, a blend of Niagara and Vincent grapes.  The wine boasts a Scottish Terrier on its label and was named after the owner’s late winery dog, Max.

Tug Boat Red is one of Lucas Vineyards most popular wines. What (or who) was the inspiration for this wine? One of the founders was a Tugboat Captain in the New York Harbor. They also have some catchy “nautical” themed wines and “Nautie Wines” which are a spin off of their Tug Boat wine.

Riesling, inspired by the wines of the Rhienhessen in Germany, is also popular at Barry Family Wine Cellars. Their lineup of wines is always changing. They adjust their wines to fit the vintage and the variations which it provides.

Often family itself is the theme. Zugibe was founded by a Lebanese family that named one of its wines 4 Freds, which is a red blend that honors 4 succeeding generations of Fred Zugibe. It is not specified which specific Fred most closely corresponds to the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, or Lemberger blended therein.

Montezuma Winery boasts that Fat Frog Red (concord grapes) is their most popular wine. It was inspired by the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge that is adjacent to the winery.

What Sets Us Apart, Brings Us Together

Wineries surveyed were asked what sets them apart, and there were some interesting answers. Most wineries have a story, and that’s part of the fun. It’s rare to hear someone rave about a winery just because of the wine (as important as that is). As consumers, we love to feel connected to what brings a wine about, whether the background of the winemaker, the conditions in the vineyard, or even the view from the tasting room.

Collocca Estate Winery emphasized that it’s special because it’s not technically in the Finger Lakes American Viticultural Area, but is closer to Lake Ontario, which the proprietors believe gives the grapes an extra boost. Who knows? Much like heading out to Hemlock Lake to check out Eagle Crest, this sounds like an adventure ready to go.

Hosmer is one of the older wineries in the region (1985) but the family has been growing grapes since 1972. In fact, the vineyard expertise has been passed down to such an extent that Tim Hosmer owns a spin-off business called Benchmark Planting which uses a GPS guided laser system to plant incredibly accurate new vineyards. This is one of the few such setups on the entire East Coast and his services are in high demand in growing wine regions.

Tired of all that white wine? Shalestone has your back. The winery produces not a single white wine, and is in fact the only winery in the state that produces only reds.

Atwater Estates claims they have one of the best views in the Finger Lakes (and they might have a point) but they also have a unique business relationship with Billsboro. Both wineries share the same winemaker – Vinny Aliperti – who first served as winemaker for Atwater before founding Billsboro on the others side of Seneca Lake. For some reason the situation seems to work for both wineries and Vinny continues to make award-winning wines under both labels.

Fulkerson Winery has been around since 1989, but the winery actually started as a juice plant 10 years earlier. In fact, the winery still provides a great deal of grape juice to home winemakers as a secondary business to their labeled wine production.

Domaine LeSeurre is one of the newest wineries on Keuka Lake, but the young French couple (Sébastien and Céline Leseurre) trace their winemaking roots way back. Sébastien’s family has been involved in winemaking in Champagne for at least 6 generations and Céline grew up near her grandparent’s vineyard near the Pyranees. The family crest on the winery label is a reflection of this heritage.

Is all this talk of wine giving you the munchies? Rooster Hill now sports a brick oven pizza operation utilizing an imported Italian implement, and pairing various gourmet pizzas with the wine is a must. Food is typically offered on weekends.

Toro Run Winery offers a Spanish theme, but their winemaker is French… and one of their standout wines is made from the very French grape Pinot Meunier, which is native to Champagne. Regardless, their bottles often sport a Flamenco dancer and they serve delicious Tapas, so it’s all good.

And finally, most people have heard of Fox Run, known for their wide variety of wines made by veteran winemaker Peter Bell, but the winery’s biggest claim to fame is its annual Garlic Festival. This event continues to be one of the most popular single winery events of the year and, despite all the strong odors of glorious garlic cooking during the festivities, people seem to enjoy the wine as well. It’s a bit of an extreme pairing, but no one can argue with success.

Get to It!

A lot of fun can be had when tasting wine. Ask questions and see where the conversation takes you. I’ve never met a winemaker or winery owner who wasn’t willing to talk about the wine.

In many ways this round up of information only scratches the surface, but that’s the point: The Finger Lakes wine region has always been a large territory but now it’s getting deeper and deeper with more wineries, more wine, and more stories. There’s a lot to explore.

Have fun out there and be safe! Always have a designated driver when you go tasting.

On the web

Anthony Road Wine Co.
Anyelas Vineyards
Arbor Hill Winery
Atwater Estate Vineyards
Azure Hill Winery
Barnstormer Winery
Barry Family Cellars
Billsboro Winery
Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
Chateau LaFayette Reneau
Colloca Estate Winery
Damiani Wine Cellars
Deer Run Winery
Domaine LeSeurre Winery
Dr. Konstantin Frank Wines
Eagle Crest Vineyards
Fox Run Vineyards
Fulkerson Winery
Heron Hill Winery
Hosmer Winery
Hunt Country Vineyards
Inspire Moore Winery
Keuka Spring Vineyards
Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars
Long Acre Farms
Long Point Winery
Lucas Vineyards
McGregor Vineyard
Montezuma Winery
Pompous Ass Winery
Quality Wine Tours
Rooster Hill Vineyards
Ryan William Vineyard
Shalestone Vineyards
Shaw Vineyard
Sheldrake Point Winery
Starkey’s Lookout
Thirsty Owl Wine Company
Three Brothers Wineries & Estates
Toro Run Winery
Ventosa Vineyards
Wagner Vineyards
Zugibe Vineyards

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