After one long, hot summer, it’s definitely time to cool off a bit which may explain our new obsession with one of the coldest wine growing regions in the United States, known for producing phenomenal, cool climate wines – the Finger Lakes of New York.
The Finger Lakes wine region is the largest and most acclaimed winemaking region in the Eastern United States and New York is now the second largest wine producing state right after our own California.
Yet while the region’s viticultural history dates back to the 19th century, the triumph of wines from the Finger Lakes is really a recent phenomenon.
A little bit of history:
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the Finger Lakes were carved out by waves of glaciers traveling through the region, creating deep fresh water lakes and depositing shale and other ancient soil deposits in the region.
Plantings of vines in the Finger Lakes began in the early 19th century, yet most were either native grapes like concord, made for grape juice or French-American hybrids like cayuga, rather than vitis vinifera grapes.
It was not until the 1950′s, when Dr. Konstantin Frank arrived from the Ukraine and started his Vinifera Wine Cellars that a concentrated effort began to explore the region’s potential with traditional vitis vinifera plantings.
Established in 1982, the Finger Lakes AVA is currently the largest wine region in New York, with approximately 11,000 acres of native labrusca grapes as well as both French-American hybrids and vitis vinifera planted.
The Finger Lakes AVA owes much of its success to the lakes themselves, which continue to have profound effects on winemaking in the region.
The steep slopes surrounding the lakes act as natural means for rainwater and drainage and as the lakes rarely freeze, they provide a mitigating effect for the region’s 9,393 acres of vineyards, serving to warm the fog and enabling an extension of the growing season.
The four main lakes of the Finger Lakes AVA include Canandaigua Lake, Keuka Lake, Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake, and each of these lakes offer their own distinct viticultural characteristics. In fact, both Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake are recognized as their own sub AVA within the Finger Lakes.
The region is often compared to Germany’s Rhine region due to its comparable growing conditions as well as the region’s emphasis on Riesling. Produced in a multitude of styles, Finger Lakes’ Rieslings range from crisp and minerally to lush, tropical fruit driven wines.
Alongside Riesling, other cool climate varieties also excel here such as Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay and the classic Finger Lakes style of white is highly aromatic, with low alcohol levels and crisp, racy acidity.
Sparkling wine production as well as ice wine is also common.
For reds, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc dominate the majority of the region’s production, yet the expression of these two classic varieties may surprise many California wine drinkers. Light bodied, mineral driven and highly acidic, the reds from the Finger Lakes are delicate yet extremely focused. The wines’ high natural acidity and low alcohol levels also serve to make them the new favorite among sommeliers as they make the perfect food pairing wine.
Top 3 producers to check out:
1. Forge Cellars –
Forge Cellars formed as a partnership between Louis Barruol (from Gigondas France) alongside Richard Rainey and Justin Boyette (from the Finger Lakes). As a small artisanal producer focusing entirely on Riesling and Pinot Noir, their goal is simple- to produce unique, handcrafted wine reflective of the exceptional Finger Lakes terroir. One of the few Finger Lakes producers to utilize oak aging for Riesling, Forge Cellars ages their Riesling in 75% neutral French barriques and 25% stainless steel for an added richness while still maintaining the wines excellent acidity. Their Pinot Noir is just as elegant and with only 160 cases produced, if you can find a bottle I’d recommend snapping it up right away!
2. Ravines Wine Cellars-
Ravines Wine Cellars was founded in 2000 by French oenologist and winemaker Morten Hallgren. Intent on making classically styled wines that allow for the cool climate characteristics of the region to be highlighted as well as creating his own unique expression within the Finger Lakes wine region, Ravines Wine Cellars was named Wine and Spirits Top 100 Wineries of 2014. Producing Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Riesling, Ravines Wine Cellars continuously crafts wines of elegance and finesse from the cool climate, mineral rich soils of the Finger Lakes with vibrant acidity and distinctive minerality.
3. Red Hook Winery –
The Red Hook Winery was created in 2008 by Brooklyn native Mark Snyder. Recruiting two winemaker friends from Napa, Robert Foley and Abe Schoener, the goal was to work with a region gaining momentum and show its true potential. Red Hook splits each lot of grapes in half to allow for both winemaker to experiment. And working with as many as 15 different New York vineyards and producing as many as 26 wines per vintage, Red Hook Winery surprisingly still remains a small, hand crafted operation.
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