During the third week of August almost 300 wine bloggers from around the U.S. converged on the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York (what NYC’ers call anything north of the city). They were there for the eighth annual Wine Bloggers Conference. They experienced and learned what I have already known about this gem of the eastern U.S. wine world. The best way to describe it is to say that whether you are a grape grower, cheese maker, glass blower, farmer, or race car driver there is community here amongst these diverse groups and the conviviality and fellowship of the locals is palpable. Those words, already over-used by the bloggers’ recent visit, are still the best words.
Last year I spent a week immersed in everything I could possibly experience there so at this year’s conference I felt I could do more living in the moment. Bloggers being bloggers, especially when travelling in packs, and on a mission are actually funny to watch as an outsider. They can easily be recognized by their ability to talk, taste, and juggle phones, tablets, notebooks, glasses, cameras, and food, all while moving in groups. It’s remarkable to see all the tasting and chewing, photo snapping and note taking all going on simultaneously. This is how wine bloggers experience living in the moment. From all of the other posts I’ve seen so far each perspective someone shares adds to the whole and shows the conference and the region from a different angle. All of this documentation conveys that this is a pretty awesome place. At any time of year there is something special to experience.
My fellow bloggers spent three days in seminars and on field excursions. They learned that there are actually 11 Finger Lakes. The deep gouges in the earth that resemble fingers and are easily identifiable on any state map of New York were formed during the retreat of the last glacial ice sheet. Seneca Lake, the deepest at 630’ is actually below sea level. The lakes are a major contributing factor to the region’s ability to grow splendid vinifera grapes. In this part of the world terroir is a concept that varies from place to place in the closest proximity. Glacial till and terminal moraines (the tail end debris left behind by glacial retreat) have provided over 13 different soil types from clay to shale, to limestone, all of which affect the grapes grown. Add in the influence of the lakes and you’ve got the secret sauce for great wine. Most vineyards produce a variety of styles. Riesling is without a doubt the signature grape of the region but everyone was impressed with the quality of the non-vinifera hybrids, and I think the quality of the reds improve year over year. Depending upon the side of which lake and what soil type you have on your plot, maybe even a block or row, you’ll get a different outcome. All part of the fun, and sometimes heartbreak, of growing grapes for wine.
Farm to Table dining is not a special occasion here. Local people have strong ties to the natural resources for all it provides. Great livestock and produce farms contribute to the menus of most local restaurants and Finger Lakes wines figure prominently on many wine lists. The wine bloggers learned how each winemaker experiments with their own special geography. They have a willingness to try new things and they collaborate as well with each other. This is one place that truly espouses the concept of all ships being lifted on a rising tide. They help each other through hardships, and they celebrate when one of them gets a feature in a wine magazine or receives a high point rating by a credible source.
The secret is getting out. The Finger Lakes can give you the same wine travel experience as any west coast region, and often in a more laid back way, and for a lot less money. This is a place where I would say you could have a value luxury vacation. By that I mean I can visit, enjoy great vistas, dining experiences, world class wines, and have enough money left over to fill my car with wine for the way home. Yes. I am fortunate enough to live within driving distance.
As for what I got out of the conference this year I need to thank the people who provided me with the experiences that make wine enthusiasm such a rewarding personal interest. Alan Wright and Beth Peluse of Zephyr Adventures listened to post conference feedback from prior years and put together a great agenda and pre and post excursions. Many people arrived early and/or stayed longer. Zephyr also produces the Wine Tourism Conference and offers citizen bloggers a 50% discount to attend. They also specialize in experiencial travel adventures.
Thank you for getting Karen MacNeil as Keynote speaker. Hers was the first wine book I bought when I became more seriously interested in wine. I enjoyed other Keynotes such as Jancis Robinson but Karen MacNeil was the first person I felt really spoke to us rather than over us. I loved hearing her tell her back story.
Next I have to give kudos galore to my friend Laury Poland and her team Christina Roberts, Teresa Degarmo, and Melissa Buck from Finger Lakes Wine Country for all of the work they put in to make this event happen. Laury, a bundle of never-waning energy, had only recently arrived in the region the year before and took up the project with vigor from the start. Thanks Laury for introducing me to some amazing people I will never forget. Kim Thompson of the Corning Museum of Glass lead small groups of bloggers on a special tour of the new Contemporary Wing of an already spectacular museum. This is no ordinary, look at curated things hanging on walls museum. This is a dynamic, destination, mind-blowing, interactive museum experience not to be missed if in the area. Kim, you did a wonderful thing for me and I Thank You most heartily.It made my visit most memorable.
I realize I haven’t really said a word about the vineyards and wineries. There’s just too much to write in one post. I thought I should say Thank You first. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we packed into three days.
To fellow bloggers who may read this in passing – every year, after the conference, and then again during the planning for the next conference there is all of the bitching and moaning buzz. Sure most hotels think they can handle our wifi needs. Most of the people associated with the conference who are not with Zephyr Adventures plan and work for a long time to give us the best experience of their region that they can. So if there are negative comments I say just this – where else can an amateur or citizen blogger get all that we get for only $95? Even the swag was pretty good this year. I could never complain. I think the folks in #Lodi are already getting the agenda ready for #WBC16
From my trip last year: