|A typical Finger Lakes winery. Good news: Wines are quite good. Bad news: They also sell, and burn, patchouli incense. We had to take wines outside to smell them.|
The two most-planted red vinifera grapes are Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. In warm vintages, both make pretty good wines: very Old World style and suitable for fans of varietal typicity and elegance.
2. The Rieslings are, as a group, more disappointing than they should be
Riesling is crucial to the Finger Lakes because there are more than 800 acres of it; the second-most planted vinifera grape is Chardonnay, with only about 350 acres. And the very best wines are Riesling. Unfortunately, many producers seem to do everything they can to hide their Riesling's acidity, but freshness should be a Finger Lakes Riesling's birthright.
3. The region is a long way behind California in wine tourism
Some wineries will tell you that's not a bug, it's a feature: they're charming, they're in barns, they don't have that California slickness. Sorry folks, you're drawing from the exact same customer pool as Sonoma County and you really could up your game. I'm not even talking about Napa Valley. Put together a trade delegation to, say, Paso Robles. Visit wineries at random and see how nice their tasting rooms are and how welcoming and informed their tasting room staffs are. In the Finger Lakes, I went to a place that offered pours in tiny plastic thimbles -- picture the cup that comes atop a bottle of cough syrup, only smaller -- from bottles that had been open at room temperature for who knows how many days. And this place, inside a major tourist attraction, is called the Finger Lakes Wine Center. If it was Napa Valley, the vintners would sue them to stop using the name.
|The Finger Lakes does not lack natural beauty, which is why it gets plenty of tourists in summer|
4. Other than pride, the region doesn't seem to see much incentive to improve
Enough people drive through the Finger Lakes region and uncritically buy whatever is on offer, such that many pretty mediocre wineries can sell all the wines they make, especially if those wines are sweet and cheap.
5. Uncritical tasting room tourists won't spend $30 a bottle
Great wines require great viticulture, generally with low yields, and thoughtful winemaking. The more money a winery makes for its wine, the more it can invest in these things. If you start making $30 wines, and selling them, it becomes easier to make more $30 wines, and even $50 wines. And then the winery makes more money. Why am I explaining this to you? Because it doesn't seem self-evident all over the Finger Lakes.
6. The best Finger Lakes wines are world-class, but there aren't many bottles to go around. However, there are plenty to go around if they're just sold locally, which depresses the price
Some wineries are considering allocation. I can't speak for every market, but there would be demand for top Finger Lakes wines in Northern California, if the best wineries took steps to get their wines here. Spreading the top wines around would enhance their reputation and increase scarcity and therefore value. But right now, I can't really torture you with recommendations of my favorite Finger Lakes wines because there isn't any easy way to buy them. Check out the Finger Lakes wines available on Wine-Searcher. (Of that group, I'd say try the Ravines Dry Riesling.)
|Concord grape pie: a super-sweet Finger Lakes treat|
Vinifera still makes up only 23% of the 9500 acres of grapes in the Finger Lakes. There's a lot of crappy sweet wine made from hybrids. But one of my favorite lower-priced Finger Lakes wines was a white hybrid-vinifera blend meant for immediate consumption. Tasting it, I wondered how good a hybrid could get with all the advantages given to, say, the best Carignane: really old vines, really low yields, gentle treatment, etc. Eric Asimov recently wrote a whole article in the New York Times praising a Vermont winery doing about 250 cases a year of hybrids, which probably ensured its wine will sell out for a decade. You'll never convince people who think, say, screwcaps are bad that a hybrid wine is worthwhile. But wine geeks would be curious if a hybrid were taken seriously. I'm curious. Eric Asimov's curious. Who's with me?
8. Yes, I'm making all these sweeping statements based on 5 days in the Finger Lakes for the Wine Bloggers Conference
Because this is what wine bloggers do. Damn bloggers! But how long do you think most magazine and newspaper writers spend in the regions they write about? How many dinners do restaurant critics eat before writing a story? Writers make sweeping assumptions based on our experiences. It's what we do. (If you want to read more experienced writers on the Finger Lakes, click here.)
9. Non-bloggers make much broader generalizations much faster than bloggers
Ever heard somebody say, "I don't like Sangiovese. I've had it and didn't like it." They might mean one bottle. Go look at Yelp. Ordinary people make up their mind quickly based on the most minor factors, and generalize from that. It's the basis of racism, sexism, every -ism you want. It must be human nature.
10. I make point 9 because, dear Finger Lakes wineries, go look at point 3 again