New York Finger Lakes District Sparkling Wines
20th June 2023
New York Hudson Valley and Finger Lakes District
Flying into John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) airport was a moment that bred expectation and potential. I loved the heightened frisson anticipation, and my lack of really understanding how far apart NY state distances really are. When I arrived taking the transit bus from JFK, I was dropped off in the heart of Manhattan. I needed to hail a cab, but more importantly, where was I trying to go first to find sleep? It was a beautiful late spring morning, the scent was fresh and all previous aromas from sanitation strikes that plagued NYC in winter 1985/1986 gone. I arrived at the clean but humble hostel in midtown by 2pm. I refreshed myself with a shower, and decided I needed to explore the neighborhoods. I also was trying not to dress to draw attention to myself, but appearing respectful. I finally got my fashion correct (for once), and entered the late afternoon’s sunshine with a game plan. My NY connection in DC had recommended I update my restaurants (adios Quilted Giraffe) and replace with a bistro named Le Metier (a medieval contraction of a person’s raison d’etre trade or profession) that my Robert Chadderdon Importer suggested. The chef’s spring bounty cuisine was spot on, and excellent wines were offered. The beginning was suggested by Blue Point Oysters paired with a fantastic 1983 Muscadet Domaine de la Tourmaline label by the Gadais family. This was followed by a local delicacy I’d not encountered before, spring fiddleheads: braised gently to preserve the tight concentric coils designed by ferns nature. The final enviable fiddlehead preparation was pan sautéed with slivered green olives, spring green garlic, and green almonds; an ode to spring that, to me, was a traditional revelation when paired with Billecart-Salmon Brut Champagne. The Mareuil-sur-Ay Champagne’s village fruit expression was a first for me to understand that the expanse of Champagne might not always need to be blended to achieve a sum greater than its parts, by looking inward to village wine’s purity. I vowed to try as much Billecart-Salmon as possible on this NYC trip! Roasted Duck breast with a 1979 Morgon Côte de Py by Trenel completed my gustatory tour. A green Chartreuse as a farewell digestif made my post prandial hostel stroll an invigorating and brighter evening.
Several more days exploring Manhattan island yielded similar dining experiences. I went by Barry Wine’s family Quilted Giraffe, and saw an impressive dining room, but more about dining flash than the meal’s substance.
I rented a car to drive through the Hudson Valley north of NYC, into the verdant hills and tiny towns surrounding the rural landscape that is upper New York state. Vegetable and fruit roadside stands peppered the miles, each one looking more innocuous than the previous. Finally I pulled over and bought 2 kilos of vegetables & fruits, sorting out whatever I’d eat that afternoon raw. Tomato season isn’t here yet, what is a tomato enthusiast to do in the offseason?
Taylor Winery was a traditional name for old school NY still wines. A decade earlier the Canadaigua drinks corporation bought the winery brand name, and contentious legal battles ensued. Who was legally entitled to the family name? Walter Taylor added a tongue in cheek twist Saint Bully surname to his label giving his pet goat equal space, with the moniker: “They may have gotten my name, but they didn’t get my goat!”
I drove on to visit St. Bully Vineyards where Walter was holding court on his porch overlooking his estate that The Taylor Family name had built generations before. He did the best he could with the technology available at the time. The hybrid grapevines that tolerated the freezing NY winters (this baffled me how New York was more harshly chilling than Germany, Austria, or even Russia?!). I’d need to travel further to towns Hammondsport and Dundee in the Finger Lakes district to meet the Dr. Konstantin Frank heirs, and another disciple the Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard (now owned by Fred Merwarth and Oskar Bynke), whom both subscribe to classic vinifera grapes planted on the windward edge of the deep Finger Lakes with sunnier exposures. The Wiemer Vineyard has a penchant for Riesling grown in the Mosel tradition on rocky Slate vineyard soils providing excellent drainage, and deep vine roots for anchored growing. The five deep Finger Lakes carved from ice age tectonic and mountains create ample moderating water temperature influences that prevent the vines from killing the vineyard, and necessitating costly replanting. Dr Frank was the first to logically propose that Vinifera grapes could be happily grown in the Finger Lakes district. My first taste of the previous vintages cellar racking tasting trials showed me that how and where vines are planted contributed equally to the grapes ripening and subsequent flavors.
Both the Dr Frank’s heirs and new Wiemer Vineyard owners are pursuing excellent still and sparkling wines with distinction.
The kernels of stone fruit (apricots, peaches, and mangoes?!) were the touchstones to ripe Riesling wines whether in Germany or Upper New York State Finger Lakes. The sparkling Methode Champenois as opposed to Sekt (the German bubbly Charmat Process) are both practiced at Wiemer Vineyards. I find there is a smoother flavor and texture from yeast aging with the Champagne method sur latte in the bottle. The Wiemer viticulture team collects as many as four or five vineyard grape harvest passes to obtain the ideal grape sugars. I’m in awe of their devotion to doing the hard but correct processes for the betterment of the wines.
Wineries Focusing on Sparkling Wine in the Finger Lakes
- U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1 – Pleasant Valley Wine Company
Best Finger Lakes Wineries to Visit Making Sparkling Wine in:
- Keuka Lake
- Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery
- Rooster Hill Vineyards
- Seneca Lake
- Lamoreaux Landing
- Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards
- Damiani Wine Cellars
- Cayuga Lake
- Swedish Hill Winery
- Goose Watch Winery
Styles of Sparkling Wine Produced in the Finger Lakes Region
- Traditional Method (Méthode Champenoise from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier; Riesling)
- Charmat Method (Tank Method)
- Pétillant Naturel (Pet-Nat)
- Sparkling Rosé
- Sparkling Ice Wine
Restaurant General Manager, Corporate Beverage Director, & Hospitality Consultant, with these qualities he represents a Triple Threat: a culinary tableside historian, an accomplished wine taster with the casual ability to make flavor relationships and beverage quality value accessible.