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The Finger Lakes

Book Reviews

Dr. Konstantin Frank Biography – A Book Review

December 8, 2015
Finger Lakes Wine and the Legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank by Tom Russ

As part of our 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference welcome package, Shawn and I received copies of Finger Lakes Wine and the Legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank by Tom Russ. This was the perfect gift for me, as I’m always interested in reading about the history of winemaking in the regions we visit. I eagerly dug into this book in the early fall and I wasn’t disappointed.

As you might expect from the title, this book concentrates solely on Dr. Konstantin Frank and his family, who were pioneers in bringing vinifera to the Finger Lakes. Dr. Frank’s legacy in the area is a big one and author Russ lays out all the reasons his acclaim is so deserved. If you’re looking for an overall history of the region’s winemaking, Evan Dawson’s brilliant Summer in a Glass may be a better bet, but this book provides a deep dive into one family’s extensive and lasting contribution to American wine.

Dr. Frank was a German man raised in the Ukraine and forced from his home during the war. A renowned agricultural scientist, he managed to grow vinifera successfully in the Ukraine’s cold climate and had re-built a comfortable life after his original displacement by running a viticultural program. When he learned that he and his family were not safe from the Soviet round-ups of German nationals, he decided he had to once again give up the life he knew. Having already lost several family members, he arranged for a friend in the Soviet army to smuggle his small family out of the Ukraine, before making their way to New York.

There, he struggled to find work (despite speaking numerous languages, English was a challenge for him),
but was determined to use his experience in agricultural science in his new country. He eventually talked the Experimental Station in Geneva into hiring him, where he quickly made waves with his assertion that vinifera could be grown successfully in the Finger Lakes. At the time, French hybrids were the only wine grapes accepted as viable in the area, but based on his experience growing vinifera in the Ukarine, Dr. Frank was adamant that it could be grown in the Finger Lakes.

Over the years, he was able to use his knowledge and experience to prove that he was indeed correct and that vinifera could grow and flourish in the region. His experiments with different grapes and growing conditions helped to inspire and educate other local winemakers and many credit his influence with the fact that vinifera is widely grown in the Finger Lakes today. But the path to this acceptance was a long and bumpy one and it certainly makes for a good read.

Dr. Konstantin Frank 2014 Gruner Veltliner Finger LakesDr. Frank’s dogged determination to see his dream of high-quality vinifera as the only wine grapes grown in the Finger Lakes was, however, not to be. While he railed against hybrids, they still make up a large and successful part of Finger Lakes wine production. But there was much more to Dr. Frank and to his company’s continued success in creating some of the best vinifera wines in New York State.

There’s lots of interesting tidbits about the region’s history in this book and it’s clear that Russ has done extensive research about the family. An enjoyable and informative read that will appeal to any wine history buff.

Have you read this book? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

Featured

The 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference: Lessons Learned

October 14, 2015
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This year, Shawn and I attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in the Finger Lakes. It was my second time attending the conference and Shawn’s first. As always, it was an exceptional event. We learned so much about the region and had the opportunity to attend a number of excellent seminars and activities. So what were some of the main takeaways?

* I want to be a better writer. One of the reasons I started this blog was to share my experiences with wine. Since then, it has grown exponentially and I often find myself rushing to keep up. Even with Shawn helping, running this blog takes a huge amount of my time – time I often don’t have. I think that affects the quality of the writing sometimes.

As someone who writes as part of her career and is the proud holder of a journalism degree, that’s not something I’m happy about. Listening to W. Blake Gray and Meg Houston Maker’s exceptional session on wine writing, I realized that I need to ensure I never forget that quality will always trump quantity. You can read Meg’s inspiring words to wine bloggers here.

* The facts are far more important than my opinion.      W. Blake Gray is one of my favourite wine writers and bloggers and getting to meet and interact with him at this conference was hugely inspiring. One of the points he shared during his presentation was the above and it was a good reminder that I need to use my research skills more – less ‘I think’ and more ‘I know.’

Finger Lakes Wines
Exploring Finger Lakes wine
* Trust my voice. Keynote speaker Karen MacNeil is another wine writing inspiration who I was able to meet at the conference. Her keynote was a spot-on reminder of why I do this and how I can improve. And now I can’t wait to read her new edition of The Wine Bible, one of my absolute favourite resources for wine information. A huge thanks to the conference organizers for bringing in such strong speakers this year – they all left me inspired and informed.

* I love being part of the wine blogging community. When you find your people, you want to spend time with them. And the Wine Bloggers Conference is full of people I want to be around. They are engaged, funny and just as geekily obsessed with grapes as I am. This event feels like one giant five-day conversation and I truly hope that it will continue on throughout the year in other forums.

Finger Lakes Vineyard
The beauty of the Finger Lakes

* The Finger Lakes area is fabulous. We live just a few hours away and it’s a shame we had never been before. That’s going to change. I have spent the last few weeks telling everyone I know they have to visit the Finger Lakes. It’s a beautiful place, the wines are well worth tasting and the people are lovely. And the Corning Museum of Glass will blow your mind. Seriously. Part of the charm of this conference is getting to really experience the wines of a region, this year I feel we got the chance to really immerse ourselves in so much more. It’s a special place.

Were you at the conference? Share your takeaways in the comments or on social! Feel free to post your own WBC15 wrap-up post links as well.

Wine Travel

Things to do in Corning, NY

September 16, 2015
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Sitting in Riverfront Centennial park, in the Gaffer District of Corning, NY, dipping my spoon into a second helping of an incredible sorbet made from Glenora Estates rosé, I was definitely in my happy place. Is there anything better than a cool treat on a hot summer night? I’d argue that making that treat with rosé was the cherry on the sundae. The sorbet was from Dippity Do Dahs, a popular local ice cream store, and Shawn and I were attending an event in the park to welcome the Wine Bloggers Conference attendees.

Corning, NY was the location of this year’s conference. It’s about a 30 minute drive from the bottom of Seneca Lake (where the wineries are situated), so it’s not the closest city to wine country, but it’s near enough to make wine touring very easy. It’s also a really lovely place to visit. We stayed at the Radisson Corning in the Gaffer District, which is a hub of local shops and beautiful parkland.

Sculpture at The Corning Museum of Glass

While the Conference keeps attendees very busy, Shawn and I made a point of exploring this area and spending some time in what might have been the most welcoming city I’ve ever stayed in. Thanks to all the local businesses for making us wine bloggers feel so very welcome.

Hand + Foot – A quick scan of the restaurant options in Corning can be overwhelming – there are a lot of places to eat! Hand + Foot impressed us with their eclectic menu, so we decided to give them a try. The food was fun, filling and jam-packed with flavour; the wine, beer and spirits menu was extensive and well-curated and the staff were just lovely. Owner Dan Morton has made a point of putting together a beverage list that works perfectly with his menu and we were thrilled that he took the time to help us pick the right beverages for our meal and fill us in on the best local and international options available. I think we recommended this place to everyone we met over the weekend and Shawn and I are both looking forward to eating here again in the future.

Dippity Do Dahs – As mentioned above, this place stole my heart with its rosé sorbet – and I may have gone back to sample another flavour or two. A family-run business with some of the best ice cream I’ve tasted, this is a must-do on Market Street and the perfect end to a busy day of wine tasting.

 

Volo Bar – There was plenty of wine on hand at the conference, but at a certain point both Shawn and I were ready for a break. Volo was just steps from our hotel and had the nicest group of people behind the bar. They drew us in on Thursday night by offering free tastings of local wines (which I enjoyed while Shawn opted for a local beer) and we had to come back to try their excellent cocktails on Saturday. While I was spitting most of my wine, I will confess to drinking every drop of their excellent Moscow Mule.

The Corning Museum of Glass – When we were offered a tour of The Corning Museum of Glass, I was happy to agree (glass is beautiful), but I was thinking it would be a small museum and a quick walk-through. I was completely wrong. This museum is enormous – and stunning. Their new contemporary art wing is a dazzling display of elaborate glass sculpture against sweeping white walls, and the sheer size of the entire museum is staggering. Our host, Kimberly A. Thompson, the museum’s Public Relations Specialist, said the average visit is four- five hours and I can completely understand why. This is a must-see that will impress even the most museum-jaded in your group. And, if like many people I’ve met, you toured it twenty years ago – go back. You will be pleasantly surprised to see just how much this museum has grown.

I suggest leaving an entire day in Corning to fully experience the museum (including the edge-of-your-seat drama of the glass blowing demonstrations), have a meal at a local restaurant and spend some time walking through the Gaffer District. It makes a great hub for your wine touring and is a short drive from several National Parks and NASCAR locations.

Have you been to Corning? What were your favourite things to do? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

Wine Travel

New York’s Finger Lakes Region

August 19, 2015
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I often tell people that Evan Dawson’s Summer in a Glass is the only wine book that ever made me almost miss my subway stop. It’s an engrossing read about the mavericks and originals who are taking on one of the most complicated regions in North America and making wine along New York’s Finger Lakes.

As Shawn and I drove down Hwy 14 and Seneca Lake came into view on our left, I had finally arrived in the place that had so enchanted me as I tore through the pages of that book. I had vowed to visit just one chapter in, but it was the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference that had finally made that promise a reality. Looking out over the lake and its extraordinary beauty, I couldn’t believe it had taken this long.

Two local favourites

In August, more than 200 wine bloggers from around the world descended on the Finger Lakes, ready to sniff, swirl and spit (and maybe even sip) some of the best wines the region has to offer. For many of us, it was our first time trying wines from the area, which sells the majority of its product within New York State. Inviting us to visit and experience the region seems to be part of a larger plan to finally put the Finger Lakes on the world stage. Based on some of the wines I tasted, there are winemakers in the area who are more than ready to take that step.

Shawn and I spent five days there, heading in a bit early so we had time to explore on our own before the official start of the conference. Only a four hour drive from Toronto (give or take given the unpredictability of wait times at the border), the Finger Lakes is easy to get to for Ontario residents and well-worth a stop for wine and food aficionados.

The view from Ginny Lee Café

Sitting on the patio overlooking Seneca Lake while having lunch at the Ginny Lee Café, which shares a property with Wagner Vineyards on the lake’s east side, I couldn’t stop staring at the oasis of vineyard and blue water in front of us. We had gotten lost looking for Forge Vineyards, a winery Evan Dawson had recommended and which we later learned is housed in Hector Wine Company’s Building, but that’s another story. Shawn was hungry and frustrated, I was overwhelmed with options. Wagner came into view offering wine, a brewery and a restaurant – we were sold.

Now, with a glass of their dry Riesling in my hand (a very good representation of how well that grape grows in the region), a delicious turkey sandwich in front of me and that view spreading out as far as I could see, it was hard to comprehend how anyone ever leaves.

The locals will tell you that, as with Ontario wine country, the winters make it easier to understand. Those winters have broken more than a few winemakers’ hearts as vine loss is a fact of life in this cool (should read cold) climate region. At Fox Run Vineyards, where we’d stopped the day before, marketing and events manager Marisa Indelicato, had explained that they anticipate a certain percentage of loss each year and work from that. Sometimes it’s more than expected and, thankfully, sometimes it’s less.

Fox Run Vineyards

As with Ontario, there have been some cold years of late. Those have been tough, but they have often come with good growing seasons. Making wine in this region is not always easy, there are a seemingly endless list of complications – many of which were explained to us at a conference session where professor Alan Lasko from Cornell University presented on the region’s soil, climate and weather patterns. I was struck by how similar the terroir is to Prince Edward County and was not surprised to learn that ‘hilling and de-hilling’, the burying of vines for winter, is also common in the Finger Lakes.

But sitting on that patio at the Ginny Lee, sipping that dry, delicious Riesling on a hot, sticky August day, I can see why winemakers persevere here. Why they make it work. Shawn and I will be sharing even more of our Wine Bloggers Conference experiences with you over the next few weeks and I hope you too will see why this wine region is worth exploring.