The Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York was officially declared an American Viticulture Area in 1982, though records of commercial winemaking go back to the early 19th century. Located 4.5 hours north of New York City and 6 hours due west of Boston this location has finally convinced enough people that it deserves a big pin on the map of the wine world. Even the “acknowledged experts” have all been giving a shout out in the form of high praises, press, and points for the quality of the wines produced here. Riesling is the grape that nailed the Finger Lakes to the map. For the past four years each September has been a celebration of the new vintage releases. If you’d like to learn more about the upcoming events celebrating the 2013 vintage check out Finger Lakes Wine Country. Just ahead of the hoopla I took a trip and spent five days. Seriously, five days only scratched the surface of what I would have liked to see and do. My wife is not as interested as I am in the wine (though she does enjoy Riesling) so it was awesome to learn that there is so much more to do than visit wineries (I don’t see what’s wrong with that). In hope of whetting your appetite enough to make you want to travel there yourself I will give you my travelogue, similar to the posts I wrote about our trip to Long Island Wine Country. In October I will be attending Taste Camp in the Hudson Valley, so by then I will have a solid first hand familiarity with all of the wine-producing regions of New York State (there should be some sort of certificate for that. I’ll have to ask the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess – yes, there really is one!).
The Finger Lakes were formed so many bla bla bla million years ago by the advance and retreat of glaciers ultimately carving out 11 finger shaped lakes. A number of these lakes are particularly deep and many have steep slopes ensuring good drainage. There is no one soil type that characterizes the entire region’s terroir. Instead there is a great variation due to the advance and retreat of glacial deposits. Conditions of soil and climate convinced enough hardy pioneers that Vitis vinifera would thrive there. Native Vitis labrusca varieties such as Niagara and Catawba had already been growing there naturally, and for hundreds of years under cultivation as an industry. Many French/American hybrid grapes such as Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc, and Cayuga were developed to withstand the cooler climate and shorter growing season prior to winemakers committing to growing vinifera grapes. While the Taylor family of Taylor Wine Company, Great Western (New York Champagne), and Bully Hill all worked with predominantly native or hybrid grapes, Dr. Konstantin Frank is widely recognized as the modern father of the Finger Lakes wine industry, largely due to his belief that vinifera could be successfully grown there. I’ll come back to him later. On to our travels.
Finger Lakes Wine Tour – Day One
The first stop we made had nothing to do with wine but was so interesting that I would encourage anyone to visit Seneca Falls. At the northern tip of Seneca Lake this town is well-known for numerous things. It is called the Historic Gateway to the Finger Lakes. We got out of the car in front of the Seneca Falls Visitor Center to get our bearings. I learned the proper pronunciation for Lake Skaneateles. Go ahead and try. I was told it was pronounced as “skinny atlas, or atlees”. Were you close? Seneca Falls is the birthplace of the Women’s Rights, or Suffrage Movement. Situated along the Cayuga-Seneca section of the Erie Canal system this town also boasts a proud Industrial Revolution era water-powered manufacturing history. It was a hotbed of abolitionist activity and included stations on the Underground Railroad. Another of its claims to fame is that it believes itself to be the inspiration for Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
In 1848 Seneca Falls was home to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and along with friends Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, and others they called to order the first National Convention on Women’s Rights. They drafted a “Declaration of Sentiments” that mirrored the Declaration of Independence. We visited the Women’s Rights National Historical Park which included the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel where the convention was held, and the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Home. There are a good number of plaques and statues commemorating moments that contributed to the increased rights of women as citizens. Along the banks of the canal, just down the street from Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home and across the canal from a beautiful Episcopalian church is a bronze statue of three women – Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Bloomer (wearing her namesake article of clothing), and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This marks the place where Amelia introduced Elizabeth to Susan (who lived in nearby Rochester).
We also visited the National Women’s Hall of Fame. It was inspiring to see the contributions made by women from all walks of life, talents, and times – from Sacagawea to Sally Ride. This museum is in the process of expanding and moving into a historic knitting mill. So many women’s accomplishments to celebrate.
On the south side of the Bridge Street Bridge (the bridge claimed to be THE bridge George Bailey jumps off of in It’s A Wonderful Life to save angel Clarence Odbody) is the Ludovico Sculpture Trail, a lovely walk along a reclaimed railroad bed where over the course of nearly two miles there are statues to discover that tie to the themes of the area’s history.
From here we visited the Elizabeth Cady Stanton home where I sat for a spell on one of the white porch rockers feeling that vibe of history that always give me a thrill (Shut up! I know I’m geeky.)
After the five-hour drive and afternoon of touring we drove a little further down the west shore of Seneca Lake to the Fox Run Vineyards in the town of Penn Yan. I had planned to end our day there with a tasting and the kickoff of their annual garlic festival with an incredibly entertaining Celtic inspired folk/rock band called Town Pants. We were going to have the locals experience! We bought several bottles, set up our lawn chairs, bought some garlic white pizza from the food truck, cracked open a chilled bottle of their non vintage Arctic Fox, a slightly sweet French/American hybrid grape Cayuga. From the minute the band started playing people got up to dance and never sat down.
It’s not too often that you go an event where so many people eschew glasses in favor of just swigging out of the bottle but that was the common sight. No one was drunk but everyone was having a good time. It was a great end to our first day. Another 45 minutes down to the south end of Seneca Lake and we were in the town of Watkins Glen, which would be our base camp for the next four days. More wine and other amazing things to see and do on Day Two.