Wines From the New York Finger Lakes That Deserve Your Attention
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In late September of this year, my wife Laurie and I traveled with our good friends and neighbors, Jim and Marcia Wolfe, to upstate New York where Jim and Marcia were born and raised. We had many great visits during our stay, including Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame, Niagara Falls and the beautiful small town of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada, the Corning Glass Museum, the Saint Lawrence Seaway and Boldt Castle, and the Adirondacks (the latter we just happened to visit on the day that the fall foliage was at its peak). The scenery was beautiful and the visits all extremely interesting. But, the primary focus was on visiting wineries in the Finger Lakes and tasting the wines.
This was my first visit to the area. We had made plans for the trip in the spring. And, as fate would have it, when we arrived in late September the harvest was underway. We were told that 2012 was the earliest harvest on record and there was even a bit of rain. But, we had a great tasting experience and I was surprised and impressed with many of the wines. Known primarily for rieslings that compare favorably with the best in the world, there are also other varieties that thrive here including pinot noir, chardonnay, grüner veltliner, and lemberger. The increased number of varieties being planted offers great opportunity for the future as vineyards mature and more vineyards are planted in new and upcoming varieties. This is an area to watch. And, even though most of the wines produced here are sold in New York, they do trickle into other areas. And, depending on where you live, they can be purchased direct from the wineries.
The history of winemaking in the area dates back to the 1800s, with the first commercial plantings of American grape varieties in 1862. Shortly thereafter the area had established a reputation for making sweet sparkling wines, and by the end of the century plantings had increased to around 25,000 acres. In the early 20th century, production declined sharply as a result of phylloxera vine disease, competition from California wines, and Prohibition. After Prohibition ended, production resumed, but after World War II soldiers returning from Europe had developed a taste for the drier wines made from European Vitis vinifera grape varieties. Unlike in California, these grape varieties would not grow in the harsh New York winters. Experiments were made with French-American hybrid varieties with limited success.
Then in 1951 Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian immigrant with a Ph.D. degree in Plant Science, came to work at the Cornell University Geneva Experiment station. And, even though he held an advanced degree, the only job he could obtain was that of a janitor. That, compounded by the fact that he could not speak English, made it difficult for him to use his knowledge of plant science. Although native grape varieties were widely planted and producing wine, the belief at that time was that the European Vitis vinifera varietals could not grow in the cold Finger Lakes climate. But after successfully planting the Vitis vinifera varietals in the cold Ukraine climate, Dr. Frank was sure they could be grown in the Finger Lakes area if they were grafted onto cold hardy native rootstock. With support from a sparkling wine producer with whom he shared knowledge of the French language, he began planting Vitis vinifera vines in 1958. In 1962, Dr. Frank started Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, where he began to produce riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay, gewürtztraminer, cabernet sauvignon, and rkatsiteli. Plantings of these varieties spread throughout the region and new wineries soon emerged. Today the number of wineries in the Finger Lakes is more than100. And with increased plantings, new varieties such as grüner veltliner have emerged and are becoming increasingly popular.
We visited a total of eight wineries located on Cayuga, Keuka, and Seneca Lakes. During these visits we tasted many lovely wines. Despite being there at harvest time (which we were told was the earliest on record), we were privileged to meet many wonderful, friendly, and knowledgeable people. Our goal was not just to visit a few of the best wineries and taste their wines, but also to purchase wines to taste later and enjoy with our at-home meals. The wines purchased allowed us the opportunity to taste them over several days with food. This is a really good way to understand and appreciate a wine and see how it matches with food. We were quite impressed. The wines were very food friendly, balanced, and easy to drink. They went well with a wide variety of food from sushi to vegetables, pastas, chicken, and meats.
Click here to find out more on the wineries in the Finger Lakes, and what wines to try.
— John Tilson, The Underground Wine Letter
DOMAINE DONATSCH REVISITED
Last year after my annual trip to Burgundy, I went back to visit Domaine Donatsch in Malans, Switzerland. My first visit was three years ago. I tasted a wide range of Donatsch wines including Chardonnays from 1995 to 2011 and Pinot Noirs from 1989 to 2010 as well as many other wines. I was most impressed. Here is the conclusion to my first article: Clearly this is a small Domaine that has achieved world wide success, yet still has a lot of potential for the future. After all, how can you argue with Martin Donatsch, the two time world champion Pinot Noir maker? Taken from the Domaine Donatsch web site here’s what he has to say: “Martin is convinced that the Bündner Herrschaft is amongst the best Pinot regions in the world and is sure that its potential is by no means exhausted.” Hopefully, over time, more of the Domaine Donatsch wines will trickle out of Switzerland. In the meantime, if you live in Switzerland or pay a visit to Switzerland, they are wines to seek out. And, they stand out as beautiful expressions of what can be done with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes outside of Burgundy. So I clearly knew after my first visit that Domaine Donatsch was something very special. And, this was confirmed again this year. Not only did I again taste some of the best Pinot Noirs outside of Burgundy that I have ever experienced, but other great wines as well.
Here is a bit of the history from my earlier article:
The Dontatsch family has owned their estate in Malans Switzerland for over 100 years and is now in the fifth generation. In Malans there are 12 wine producers. Led by Domaine Donatsch, this is where the best Swiss Pinot Noirs are being made. Martin Donatsch, the current winemaker, represents the fifth generation of the Donatsch family. His father, Thomas is recognized as a pioneer of Swiss wines. Convinced that he could make better wines, Thomas traveled to Burgundy in 1973 and visited the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. There the winemaker, the late André Noblet, gave him instructions on how to make Pinot Noir as well as three used La Tâche barrels. From this he began the quest to improve the quality of the wines. In 1975 he planted Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc which were not allowed at that time under appellation laws. He also was the first in Switzerland to make sparkling wine according to the Champagne method and in 1983 first cultivated Cabernet Sauvignon in the region….
Martin apprenticed at several wine growing estates in Australia, South Africa, Bordeaux, and Spain before joining the family domaine. He has achieved great success and has been awarded the world champion Pinot Noir producer at the Le Mondial du Pinot Noir for the years 2010 and 2011. The Pinot Noirs produced at Domaine Donatsch are very pure and beautifully balanced with flavor and elegance….
And, here is a description of the Donatsch wines again taken from my earlier article:
Today Domaine Donatsch specializes in the Pinot grapes – Pinot Noir, Pinot Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris – as well as Completer, an ancient grape variety unique to Switzerland …
Domaine Donatsch consists of approximately 15 acres of vineyards. Pinot Noir accounts for 50% of annual production, Chardonnay 17%, Completer 17%, Pinot Blanc 10%, and other varieties 6%. The average production per year is 30,000 bottles or 2500 cases. Some 75% of the production is sold to the best hotels and restaurants in Switzerland, 20% to private clients and only a small percentage is exported, mostly to Germany and Singapore. At the Domaine, most of the wines range in price from 30 to 50 CHF per bottle (about 32 to 54 USD).
Three different Pinot Noirs are made – “Tradition”, “Passion”, and “Unique”. To use a Burgundian comparison, “Tradition” is like a village wine, “Passion” is a 1er Cru, and “Unique” is a Grand Cru. The Pinot Noir plantings consist of 2 different Swiss clones (clone 10-5 and clone 45) and 2 different Burgundy clones (clone Pinot 28 and clone 115). Grapes from the Swiss clones mostly go into the “Tradition” while the “Passion” and “Unique” bottlings mostly consist of grapes from the 115 clone which is the most widely planted. Passion represents about two thirds of annual Pinot Noir production or about 10,000 bottles (just over 830 cases). It was first made in 1973 when it was called “Spiger”. In 2006 the name was changed to Passion. Today Passion is made from the oldest vines which are 30 to 40 years of age. It is aged in 1/3 new French Oak, 1/3 one year old barrels, and 1/3 two year old barrels. The first year for Pinot Noir “Unique” was 2000. It is aged in 100% new French Oak barrels and represents a selection of the best barrels with average annual production of 1200-1800 bottles or 100 to 150 cases.
Chardonnay was planted in 1975 in the Frassa vineyard. In 1990 Chardonnay was planted in the Selvenen vineyard. The early Chardonnays were from Frassa and later Selvenen and the later wines from the Frassa vineyard became “Passion”. In 2007 the Frassa vineyard was replanted with Completer. Like the Pinot Noir, today there are three different bottlings of Chardonnay – “Tradition”, “Passion”, and “Unique”. Each receives the same oak treatment as the Pinot Noir. The first “Passion” bottling was 2007 and the first vintage for “Unique” was 2004. The majority of the Chardonnay production is “Passion” with the grapes coming from the Selvenen vineyard. The “Unique” production is about 600 – 900 bottles (50 to 75 cases) per year. From 2004 to 2009 the grapes for “Unique” were picked later. But, the wine was found to be too round and alcoholic and since 2010 the grapes have been picked earlier which results in more minerality and a more Burgundian style….
(To read my article on the history of the Domaine, information on Swiss wines, and notes on Dontasch wines click here and to read my article on Completer which is a great white wine unique to Switzerland click here).
During my visit, I had dinner one night with Martin and his parents, Thomas and Heidi. We had 2 wines that I brought from Burgundy – the 2011 and 2012 Echezeaux from Domaine de la Romanée Conti. Both were gorgeous wines that were much admired by all of us. The 2011 showed particularly well – very open with lots of elegance and finesse. We also had two Donatsch wines including 2012 Completer and 2013 Pinot Noir Unique “Reserve Privée. The 2012 Completer was lovely and bright with very pure fruit. The 2013 Pinot Noir Unique “Reserve Privée was really special. It was a selection of one barrel that was bottled for the exclusive use of the family. With amazing fruit and balance the wine was delicious. I did not know at the time, but the next day we were to have the wine again at a comprehensive tasting of Domaine Donatsch wines. Lucky me! To be able to experience this very special wine on two consecutive days was a real honor and a great experience.
The next day Martin and I first tasted some Domaine Donatsch wines from barrel. This was followed by a tasting of young and old Donatsch wines from bottle along with lunch. The latter lunch and tasting included many of the top sommeliers in Switzerland.
My notes on a large number of new and old Donatsch wines follow. But, let me once again say at the outset that some of the Domaine Dontasch Pinot Noirs that I tasted on this trip as well as some of those tasted on my first visit are some the best Pinot Noirs I have ever tasted. And, since my visit, Martin tells me that the 2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique received the only perfect score ever awarded a wine by Switzerland’s leading wine magazine. In addition, the 2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique received an Outstanding rating as one of the best Pinot Noirs in the world outside Burgundy from Decanter Magazine in the April 2016 issue (To get more information as posted on the Domaine Donatsch website click on the following link http://www.donatsch.info/#!wine/c129h).
DOMAINE DONATSCH TASTING NOTES
With a couple of exceptions the 2014 wines tasted from barrel were components of wines that would be blended later. Hence most of the notes are only a glimpse of components of the finished wines. The year 2014 had normal production for Pinot Noir whereas the Pinot Noir crop in 2013 was reduced by some 50% as a result of a long winter and poor flowering in the spring. The 2014s tasted all showed lovely fruit and balance. They will be wines with early charm yet with the ability to age.
2014 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Unique
This wine was in tank awaiting bottling at the time of tasting. With a light yellow gold color the wine has a deep perfume with lovely floral notes and faint hints of tropical fruit and spice. With beautiful balance it shows floral and tropical notes on the palate with a nice underlying citrus tinged crispness and a very faint hint of vanilla – Outstanding Potential.
2014 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Tradition
This wine is a representative of the Tradition bottling. The Tradition bottling is composed of grapes grown mostly on the Swiss Pinot Noir clones. With a deep color the wine has a very nice berry perfume with a tinge of earthiness. It has lovely bright crisp berry fruit with a faint spice tinge and a faint hint of earthiness – Very Good Potential.
2014 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Passion: Five different barrels tasted
Passion represents about 2/3s of the Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir production. It is made from grapes grown mostly on the French Pinot Noir clones and include grapes from the oldest vines.
#1 One component of Passion from an old barrel. Deep color. Great perfume. Lots of fruit. Very nice concentration. Balanced and flavorful.
#2 The primary component of Passion from an old barrel. Deep color. Great floral perfume. Rounded and supple. Lots of black cherry fruit. Harmonious and flavorful. Really lovely.
#3 This wine is in new oak. New oak will represent about 30% of the final blend. Deep color. Lovely spice tinged perfume. Rounded and supple with very nice fruit and a distinct spiciness.
#4 This wine is in a different type of new oak. It is very similar, but not as spicy.
#5 This wine is in a third type of new oak. It has a more subtle spiciness and more richness.
2014 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique: Five different barrels
Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique has been made since 2000 and is a selection of the best barrels (usually 6) of the production from mostly the French Pinot Noir clones. The final blend will be composed of wines from 80-100% new barrels.
#1 Deep color with a great perfume showing a hint of spiciness. Lots of fruit and very flavorful with a faint hint of spice. Lots of fruit with a subtle spiciness. Rounded and lush.
#2 This will be a small component. Deep color. Lovely berry perfume with spice nuances. Lovely spice tinged fruit.
#3 From another type of wood this will also be a very small component. Deep color. Lovely berry perfume with a faint hint of vanilla. Very nice fruit and very flavorful with just a kiss of vanilla.
#4 Deep color. Great perfume. Lovely fruit with a very subtle oak influence. Flavorful and rich.
#5 The best balance and the most richness of the five components taste. Deep color. Great floral tinged perfume. Silky and rounded with lush fruit and lots of depth.
All of these wines were served with lunch at the Domaine. There were several older wines where very few bottles still exist. And, with just a couple of exceptions, the wines showed beautifully over the entire spectrum of vintages 1978 – 2014. It was an amazing tasting which showcased the quality of the wines, their consistency and evolution, and their ability to age. Domaine Donatsch is indeed a very special place and is a great tribute to the skill and talent of Martin and his father Thomas.
2014 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Passion
Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue this wine is bright and crisp. It has a lovely perfume with hints of citrus and peach and has lovely citrus tinged fruit – Highly Recommended.
2013 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Passion
Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue, this wine has a deep perfume with hints of roasted almonds and a faint floral undertone. On the palate, it is quite rich and rounded with a faint honeyed quality showing a faint citrus tinge – Highly Recommended.
2012 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Passion
Of the 3 Passion Chardonnays tasted this was the only one that went through a full malolactic fermentation. With a light yellow color showing a faint golden hue, this wine has a lovely floral perfume with faint hints of peach and apricot. The flavors suggest a subtle myriad of fruits – peach, apricot, pineapple, and citrus – with a faint floral undertone. Balanced with a nice underlying crispness, this is a lovely stylistic Chardonnay – Outstanding.
2013 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Unique
Light yellow color with a faint golden hue this Chardonnay has a lovely faintly floral perfume with hints of pineapple, passion fruit, and mint. The fruit is lovely with a faint floral exotic tinge and the wine is flavorful and balanced with a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding Plus.
2012 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Unique
Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue this wine has a lovely floral perfume with a faint hint of spice. The fruit is very pure and flavorful it is balanced with depth and richness and a nice crispness on the finish – Outstanding.
2011 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Unique
With a light yellow color showing a faint golden hue this wine has a lovely floral perfume with a touch of citrus and a faint hint of mint. It is beautifully balanced with very pure fruit showing faint hints of peach and citrus and has a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding.
2007 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Unique
Light golden yellow in color this Chardonnay shows a caramelized perfume with tinges of spice. Rich and full, the wine shows a very ripe apple-like fruit with a faint tinge of spice and citrus and is a bit flat without underlying structure. It is still drinkable, but out of character with the other wines and past its prime. (Note: From 2000 to 2008 the Chardonnay grapes for Unique were picked later. This wine is a reflection of that practice. Since that time the old practices of harvesting have been followed. This has resulted in wines that reflect a more Burgundian character with more structure).
1997 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Selvenen
(Note: This Chardonnay is from the Selvenen vineyard which was planted in 1990. Prior to 1990 all the Chardonnays were from the Frassa vineyard which was planted in 1975 and then replanted with Completer in 2007.) Light golden yellow in color this wine has a deep floral tinged perfume with hints of roasted hazelnuts. It has very good depth and richness and is faintly honeyed with a nice underlying citrus tinged crispness – Highly Recommended Plus.
1987 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Frassa
At nearly 30 years of age this Chardonnay is quite remarkable. It has a light golden yellow color and a deep faintly floral perfume with a suggestion of passion fruit. On the palate, it is quite lush with hints of exotic fruit yet is still fresh with a nice crispness – Outstanding.
1988 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Frassa
This is a delicious mature Chardonnay with lots of flavor and richness. Light golden yellow in color it has a deep faintly honeyed perfume with faint hints of crème brulée. With lovely faintly honeyed fruit the wine is balanced and very appealing with a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding.
1978 Domaine Donatsch Chardonnay Frassa
This was the first vintage where the Chardonnay was aged in barrels. At nearly 40 years of age, this Chardonnay is complex and very drinkable if tiring a bit. Martin said that another bottle tasted a few months prior was much fresher and much better. Alas, it is academic as there is only 1 bottle left! This bottle had a light golden yellow color and an unusual perfume showing a faintly burnt quality and hints of honey. With ripe faintly honeyed fruit flavors there was also a green apple quality underneath. It is unusual to be sure, but still drinkable and interesting.
When I first tasted Completer on my first visit to Domaine Donatsch in the fall of 2012 it was love at first sip. Unfortunately, the production of Completer is unique to Switzerland and the amount produced is minuscule. In short, it is rare in Switzerland and virtually nonexistent outside of Switzerland. But, I cannot help think that one day this grape will find a home somewhere else. To me it might be the Finger Lakes of upstate New York (to read an article on the Finger Lakes click here and to read the article on Completer click here).
2014 Domaine Donatsch Completer Malanserrebe
This wine is unique and delicious. It is exotic yet bright and crisp and has richness while retaining lots of charm and finesse. With a light yellow color the wine has a faintly exotic floral tinged perfume with a faint hint of citrus. Flavorful and complex with exotic fruit and citrus nuances this Completer is also balanced with a nice crispness on the finish – Outstanding Plus.
Completer and Cheval Blanc Restaurant in Basel, Switzerland
On my earlier visit to Domaine Donatsch I tasted 3 vintages of Completer – the 2009, 2010 and 2011. This trip, in a period of 3 days, I enjoyed the 3 most recent vintages of Completer. It was a great treat to drink these rare and delicious wines. – The wines were the 2014 described above, a 2012 at dinner with the Donatsch family the night before the tasting, and a 2013 with lunch at Cheval Blanc restaurant in Basel the day after the tasting. The 2013 Completer was the perfect match for the very flavorful and elegant food we had at lunch. It was beautifully balanced with lots of finesse and subtle yet complex flavors. A brief commentary on our lunch at Cheval Blanc restaurant follows.
I met my wife Laurie in Zurich the night after the tasting and the next day we went to Basel to board an AmaWaterways river boat to cruise on the Rhine River. The restaurant Cheval Blanc is located in the 5 star hotel Les Trois Rois (The 3 Kings) on the Rhine River. The chef is Peter Knogl. Cheval Blanc had just recently received its third star at the time of our visit. The lunch we had was off the charts great and merits the attention of every lover of great food. Here are a few of the dishes we had: three appetizers – tuna tartare with avocado mousse, thin crackers with smoked beef and barley and horseradish cream, smoked oysters with ponzu cream and seaweed chips with mushrooms. First course – raviolis with egg yolk and fresh spinach topped with fresh shaved Alba white truffles. Second course – Fresh filet of sole for Laurie and fresh filet of Turbot for me. Both accompanied by different delicate sauces, fresh Breton lobster in a delicate foam, and fresh poached potatoes. Cheese course – a great selection of the best cheeses from Switzerland and Abbaye de Citeaux cheese from France. The latter is my favorite cheese in the world and rarely seen outside of France. Dessert – parfait of praline, lemon jelly, caramelized hazelnuts, and chocolate, followed by an assortment of fresh made daily chocolates which were the best chocolates we have ever eaten!
(Note: Up until 2006 the Pinot Noir was called Spiger. In 2006 Spiger became Passion. And since 2000 a small selection of the best barrels from the best vineyards is made and bottled as Unique.)
1990 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Spiger
Light brick red color with an amber edge this 25 year old Pinot Noir exhibits classic mature Pinot Noir flavors. The perfume is lovely with foresty/floral nuances. On the palate the wine is rounded, soft, and supple with faint hints of plum and dried rose petals. It is flavorful and exhibits great balance and finesse – Outstanding.
1995 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Spiger
Two bottles of this wine were tasted. The first showed a distinct mushroom quality in the nose and on the palate and finished with a dryness.
The second was more like the 1990. Light brick red in color with an amber edge and showing a foresty/dried rose complexity in the nose and on the palate. Elegant with lovely soft, sweet fruit the wine shows a lot of charm and is delicious to drink –
1999 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Spiger
Tasted in 2012 this wine was stunning and it remains so today. It has a deep color with a hint of amber at the edge and a lovely floral perfume with hints of plums and cherries with a foresty nuance. Rounded and supple with lots of exotic spice tinged fruit accented by foresty notes and hints of dried rose petals, this is a gorgeous Pinot Noir approaching full maturity with a long life ahead – Outstanding Plus.
2001 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Spiger
With a very nice color just amber at the edge, this wine has a lovely floral perfume. It has very good fruit with foresty nuances and balanced and flavorful with a tinge of crispness – Highly Recommended Plus.
2001 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique
Tasted in 2012 this wine was showing beautifully. And, it continues to remain so today. The fruit may be just a bit diminished now, but the wine remains complex and balanced with ample fruit. Now fully mature, the plum like fruit retains an exotic quality and foresty nuances. It is flavorful and a pleasure to drink – Outstanding Plus.
2005 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Spiger
With a very nice color just amber at the edge, this wine has a lovely floral spice tinged perfume. It has very nice cherry and plum fruit with floral nuances and is beautifully balanced with a lot of finesse and elegance – Outstanding.
2005 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique
This is a really stunning Pinot Noir. It has a deep color with an amber edge and a gorgeous floral perfume with a tinge of mint. On the palate there is a lot of floral tinged cherry fruit and the wine is very pure, supple, and rounded with lots of flavor and a great elegance – Extraordinary.
2007 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Passion
This wine has a very nice color and a lovely floral spice tinged perfume. Elegant, with supple very pure fruit, it is elegant and flavorful with lovely balance and a lot of charm – Outstanding.
2007 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique
With a deep color this wine has a gorgeous cherry perfume with floral tinges. On the palate it has lots of floral spice tinged cherry fruit and is supple and rounded with lots of flavor and charm – Outstanding Plus.
2011 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Passion
This wine has a very nice color with a faint amber edge. It has a lovely floral perfume and lots of supple floral tinged fruit. Elegant and beautifully balanced this s a Pinot Noir with a lot of charm – Outstanding.
2011 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique
With a deep color this wine has a great floral spice perfume. It has loads of lush black cherry fruit showing a floral spice nuance and is balanced and very flavorful. This is a wonderful Pinot Noir with a long life ahead – Outstanding Plus/Extraordinary.
Note: 2013 was a year with a very long winter and a very short spring. Very poor flowering resulted in a Pinot Noir crop that was reduced by 50% with very small berries. As a result, the wines are very concentrated. There were 8 barrels (200 cases) of Unique in 2013 as compared with the usual 6 barrels (150 cases).
2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Passion
With a deep color this wine has a lovely cherry perfume showing a hint of mint. It has gorgeous cherry fruit and is rounded, lush, and supple with great underlying structure. Balanced with very good concentration this is really lovely – Outstanding/Outstanding Plus.
2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique
With a very deep color this wine has a gorgeous black cherry perfume with a faint floral tinge. It has loads of rich black cherry fruit and is balanced, rich, and supple with richness and depth. A very impressive Pinot Noir by any standard it is destined for a very long life ahead – Extraordinary.
2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Unique “Reserve Privée”
This wine is a selection on one barrel that was bottled for the exclusive use of the family. It is absolutely stunning. Dark in color this Pinot Noir has an incredible black cherry perfume and layers of black cherry fruit on the palate. Very pure, lush, and balanced subtle floral spice nuances are woven throughout and there is a very faint exotic tinge on the finish. The evolution of this wine should be nothing short of spectacular. Bravo – Extraordinary/Extraordinary Plus.
2008 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Noir Passion
This is a delicious Pinot Noir that is drinking beautifully now. It has a very nice color with a faint amber edge and a lovely floral berry tinged perfume. With lovely fruit the wine is elegant and finesseful with flavor and balance – Outstanding.
2013 Domaine Donatsch Pinot Gris Föhnbeerenauslese
This sweet wine is made from grapes without botrytis. Instead the bunches of grapes are placed on straw mats in the sun to concentrate the juice. Light gold in color the wine has a stunning tropical fruit perfume with honeyed floral undertones. Sweet and lush with loads of honeyed tropical fruit, it is balanced and very pure with very good underlying acidity – Outstanding Plus.
New York's Finger Lakes: The Next Great Wine Region in America?
At a time when the local food movement has inspired many consumers across the nation to, for the first time, consider the wines being made in their own backyards, no up-and-coming domestic region has received as much serious attention as the Finger Lakes of upstate New York. To be specific, it is the Rieslings of the Finger Lakes that have generated the most buzz.
Wine is produced in all 50 of the United States from Kentucky to Hawaii. California dominates the market with about 90 percent of production, followed by New York, Washington, and Oregon, respectively, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau's 2009 Statistical Report.
Considering that New York produces more wine than either Washington or Oregon, many American consumers are much more likely to have tried a Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Chardonnay from Washington than a Riesling from the Finger Lakes. Indeed, even in New York City, wines from both Washington and Oregon make fairly frequent appearances on some of the city's best, or at least most enlightened, wine lists.
So why is it that wines from these two far-flung states have managed to upstage the wines from just a few hours north?
According to Jim Trezise, the president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation (NYWGF), while New York State does make the second largest quantity of wine in the United States after California, about 80 percent or more of the state's total wine production is through Constellation Brands, and goes into products like Arbor Mist.
The rest of the state's wineries are small-to-medium sized producers who insist that the region's delayed blossoming is a direct consequence of a legislation-fueled game of catch up. There is a palpable sense that the winemakers of the region place much of the blame on the legislation of yesterday for putting them so far behind. They are quick to tell you how prohibition pounded the region's grapegrowers and winemakers into the ground and left only a handful of mega-producers in its wake.
"In general terms, prohibition slowed everything down and we're still working our way out of it," said Bob Madill, chair of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. "For example, New York is one of the few large producing and consuming states that doesn't allow the sale of wine in grocery stores and that is a historical vestige of the idea that sales of alcohol needs to be controlled."
Between the end of Prohibition in 1933 and the important passing of the Farm Winery Act in 1976, the state's legislature made it virtually impossible for anyone but producers of cheap bulk wine like Great Western, Gold Seal, and the Taylor Company to operate in the region.
"The Farm Winery Act . came at a time when there was a crisis in the grape industry," Trezise explained. "Traditionally, there were hundreds of grape growers in the region who were all dependent on a handful of large corporate wineries buying their grapes."
In the 1960's, however, the grape market collapsed through a perfect storm of events, including various corporate takeovers that took many of those large companies out of the region.
The Farm Winery Act was introduced to allow the region's growers to open small wineries and made it legal to sell directly to consumers, said Trezise. After the passing of the Farm Winery Act, the number of wineries in the region went from 19 in 1975 to about 50 in 1985 and has continued to grow steadily since then, according to data supplied by the NYWGF.
Trezise and winemakers of the region are extremely proud of the region's swift growth over the past two decades, and especially because they've done it without any major outside investments. However, news of a big potential investment came in March of 2011, when the world-renowned winemaker Paul Hobbs, a native of Upstate New York, announced, on a Buffalo radio show, that he was interested in making wine in the Finger Lakes.
"Paul is indeed interested in winemaking in the region," Jennifer Freebairn, director of sales and marketing for Paul Hobbs Wines, wrote in an email exchange. "[Hobbs] is currently consulting to a winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and he has considered developing a project in the Finger Lakes, though nothing is set as of yet."
The announcement in March created a healthy bump in the region's credibility and showed that the winemakers of the Finger Lakes are not the only ones who believe that they are capable of producing world-class wines. While some winemakers confidently assert that they already are making top-notch wines, others concede that the only reason they're not is because it's a relatively new game and they're still learning the rules.
"We see the opportunity to position the Finger Lakes as North America's preeminent cold climate region," Madill said. "And what I mean by that is that the wines are true to an authentic regional style and perceived as being as interesting as any other wine."
While the region is quickly gaining recognition for its Rieslings in particular, some winemakers assert that there is still much work to be done -- especially when it comes to other varieties.
"The quality of winemaking has gone up a lot in the last decade and its only getting better," said Peter Becraft, assistant winemaker at Anthony Road Winery. "So what you'll find is that the quality of the reds will start to catch up and I think that certain varieties like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Lemberger can really shine."
Will Ouweleen, the owner and winemaker at Eagle Crest Vineyards, and a self-professed wine snob who admits that 20 years ago he would not have deigned to try a New York wine, agrees that there's still some tinkering to do. "Burgundy didn't start with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and know that [those grapes] would bring them renown as a region -- they had to grow a lot of other stuff first and kind of agree that these were the wines that showed the best terroir, work and philosophy and I think the Finger Lakes are right there," he said.
Regardless, one of the most striking features of the region is the winemakers' commitment to cooperation and collaboration among themselves in the name of producing world-class wine. Much of this collaboration comes in the form of a large group of winemakers in the region who get together several times a year with brown-bagged bottles and a thick skin to taste blindly and discuss. One of the rules is that winemakers have to be willing to discuss exactly how they made each of their wines.
"We will taste either works-in-progress or commercial wines with Finger Lakes included to see how our wines stand up to others out there," Becraft said. "Every one is hyper critical in a very positive way to help if there are problems and discussing what's happened and how it can be fixed."
"I've never seen anything like this before in my life where people that are basically in competition with each other for a very small share of the market are all working together," Ouweleen said. "That's not the cover of the brochure -- that's the truth and we understand that our success will only help each other."
Riesling and the rest of the region's vinifera varieties, or grapes of European origin, were introduced to the region in 1962 by a Ukranian immigrant named Dr. Konstantin Frank. Among the region's vinifera plantings, Riesling is the area's most-planted grape with an estimated total production of about 150,000 cases of wine a year, according to data collected by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. The Finger Lakes Rieslings' star has risen quickly and many winemakers in the region are now able to recognize and identify a clear regional style.
It is, perhaps, serendipitous that of all the grapes, it is Riesling that shows best in the Finger Lakes. Riesling is a relatively popular and versatile grape so it bodes well as the calling card of this unfamiliar region.
"Riesling is known as a grape that's very transparent as opposed to, say, Chardonnay, which is known as 'the winemakers grape' because you can do almost anything with it," Ouweleen said. "Riesling is such a reflection of where it came from and that's exciting."
Especially when it comes to the region's dry Rieslings, there is an element to the wines that makes them extremely food friendly -- an attribute that the winemakers also like to stress. "They tend to be fresher," Madill said. "And what we're seeing that our climate and region produces wines that pair with food in a beautiful way -- that's our style."
As far as red wines are concerned, the leaders of the pack in terms of plantings, according to estimates by the Finger Lake Wine Alliance, are Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. The Austrian grape, Blaufrankisch, which goes by the more pronounceable Lemberger in the Finger Lakes, is on the rise and often used in concert with Cabernet Franc -- a blend that has potential to be a signature of the region.
However, the red wines of the Finger Lakes have been as much maligned as the region's Rieslings have been praised. "I think that with our reds we have more of a challenge because we don't get as many days of sunshine as warmer regions but I've had some really great ones," Ouweleen said. "It's beautiful and it keeps getting better -- so far [red wine production] hasn't plateaued yet."
"The wines are being made in a very technically correct fashion -- one may or may not like the particular style -- the jammy and confit fruit flavor? It's not going to happen with our wine because of our climate!" Madill said. "But it's very seldom that in a random sample of some of these varieties that you'll find technically incorrect wines. They're not flawed anymore."
Jim Trezise stressed the area's focus on quantity over quality. "We don't aspire to be the biggest, but we do aspire to be the best and recognized as among the best," he said.
Unlike many winemakers in other wine regions, like Napa, for example, a majority of the winemakers in the Finger Lakes are either self-taught or were trained at other wineries nearby. Many of the winemakers' past experience working as growers has informed their wines, too.
"So many of the winemakers up here are originally growers . and it's a humble way of living but where they're always pursuing excellence," Ouweleen said. "If you work in a vineyard you know that you can always do better. It builds character, integrity, and honesty and that expresses itself in the wine."
Certainly when it comes to the red wines of the region, there's no question that they are getting better and that they've vastly improved over the last few years. There is genuine promise in the Cabernet Franc and Lemberger-based wines of the region, and many in the wine world are eager to see what the area can do with Pinot Noir.
However, at present, it is the dry Rieslings -- racy, bone dry, and often effusively aromatic -- that most deserve to be considered and recognized. Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer are the varieties to watch.
At the end of the day, the Finger Lakes is producing some truly inspired wine, and perhaps more remarkably, the winemakers there are doing it in a way that is rather inspiring.
Best wines in the Finger Lakes, New York, USA
We're planning a road trip through the Finger Lakes of New York, and one of the things we'd like to do is check out a few wineries. Any suggestions as to which are the best, give the best tastings? Give free tastings? Serve food worth eating along with the wine? I'm the wino in the family, my wfe is going along to keep me happy, so wine tasting isn't going to be the focus of our trip, which means that I'd like to make sure that the wineries we visit will give us a really good experience.
I recently listed some of my favorite wineries in this thread:
Regarding food at wineries, I've had nice meals at Knapp and Sheldrake Point (Cayuga Lake) Glenora, Red Newt, and Stone Cat Cafe/Bloomer Creek Winery (all on Seneca). Other restaurants worth trying are Village Inn in Hammondsport (Keuka Lake) and Ports Cafe in Geneva (Seneca Lake). Lots of wineries have gift shops and some offer snacks like local cheese.
Relaxing places to sit with beautiful views at Atwater and Chateau Lafayette (Seneca), Goose Watch (Cayuga) and Heron Hill (Keuka). There's a nice little flower garden at Lucas (Cayuga).
Outside of wine drinking, the hike up Watkins Glen's gorge is well worth it, as is the easy walk to Taughannock Falls.
I'm headed there for my annual trip in a week and am pretty keyed up for it, as you can probably tell.
Clicking the will recommend this comment to others.
I sent this along to a similar thread elsewhere two months ago, but I read it over and everything is still completely up to date. In terms of wineries to visit that have appeal to non-wine drinkers, I can at least say that Fox Run Vineyards (full disclosure, see start of next paragraph) offers extremely popular tours on the hour from 10am-4pm each day that last 1/2 hour and show you the vines plus the winery. Just down the road at Anthony Road, they have a really cool garden with various plants that display potential characteristics of various grape varieties.
Full disclosure, I'm the junior winemaker up in the Finger Lakes. On one hand this means I can be a bit biased, but on the other hand it means I have a pretty decent handle on the winery scene around the lake. My suggestions for you or anyone coming our way would be (just off the top of my head, apologies to anyone I am forgetting):
- Heart and Hands Winery: On the east side of Cayuga Lake, absolutely worth finding (they are open on the weekends). Just starting up, they only make pinot noir, riesling, and sparkling. All are brilliant.
- Sheldrake Point: West side of Cayuga Lake, great selection of whites, reds, and icewine that are all very well made.
West Coast of Seneca (North to South):
- Billsboro: Most boutique-style winery in the lakes, interesting grapes for the region (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris) with a well known rosé.
- Fox Run Vineyards: Steely rieslings and great dry reds that are true to the variety rather than jam-bombs.
- Red Tail Ridge: First LEED certified winery in NY, also happens to be a facility that has invested more in their vine plantings than anyone else since they started in 2004. Nice sparkling wine here worth seeking out.
- Anthony Road Wine Company: German winemaker excels at rieslings and traditional berry-selection botrytis wines in years where possible.
- Heron Hill: Stunning location on Keuka Lake, but also an outpost on the west coast of Seneca Lake.
- Hermann Wiemer: The new owner/winemaker is doing great things with their full range of rieslings, but the sparkling are among the most serious in the Finger Lakes.
- Glenora Cellars: Rather large production, but the ཅ Riesling is stunning.
East Coast of Seneca Lake (South to North):
- Atwater Vineyards: Same winemaker as at Billsboro at a slightly higher production level fantastic rieslings and gewurztraminer the last time I was there. Very nice syrah also made only in the best of years.
- Red Newt: Great single vineyard wines from premier growers around Seneca Lake's "banana belt" (southeast slopes). Known for their touch with reds, but rieslings and gewurztraminers often deserve as much or more attention.
- Damiani Cellars: They have recently changed their tasting room from the garage that Mayan accurately referenced to a very nice house. Red wine specialist (to say the least).
- Zugibe: New estate winery that has had plantings in the ground for quite a few years, now the brothers in charge are making elegant vinifera white and red wines.
- Ravines Wine Cellars: Beautiful view from the tasting room is eclipsed by the focus and quality of the wines here.
- Dr. Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars: Getting ever larger and larger, still making very satisfying wines.
- Heron Hill: Stunning location on Keuka Lake, but also an outpost on the west coast of Seneca Lake.
- Finger Lakes Distillery: East Coast of Seneca, great small production distillery making a fantastic gin, clear corn whiskey, rye, and a couple of stunning liqueres.
- Red Dove: If you're looking for a great gastropub meal in a laid back setting, this place is hands down the best bet in the Finger Lakes. It's up in Geneva.
- Union Block Italian Bistro: Down in Hammondsport this new bistro can be a bit hit or miss, but is mostly hit and finally brings more authentic italian cooking to the Finger Lakes.
- Ithaca Farmers Market: This is the real deal featuring the most eclectic and fantastic produce, meat producers, food vendors, and artisans you'll likely ever see collected in one place.
The Finger Lakes Make Some of the World’s Best Rieslings—Here’s Proof
This article appears in February/March 2017: Issue No. 49 of Edible Manhattan.
If you’re a first-timer, these three wines from the slopes surrounding Seneca Lake are a good place to start.
Anthony Road Winery owner John Martini describes an experimental vineyard.
Let’s start with a factoid: Seneca Lake, the largest of upstate New York’s Finger Lakes, is 640 feet deep. Combine the max 45-foot depth of the water surrounding Manhattan and the 306-foot height of the Statue of Liberty, and the lake’s still deeper.
The vineyards of the 60-something wineries surrounding Seneca Lake benefit from its steep slopes. The cavernous body of water retains heat, which rises in the winter. The cold air pushes it down creating an almost constant breeze, which grape vines like (it prevents mildew and keeps them warm). Vineyards on the western side benefit from the morning sun, eastern side vineyards get the afternoon warmth, and a section in the center is warm enough to be called the “banana belt.” The soil, created by glaciers, has good drainage, and the incline helps.
Although it’s not the only grape planted, the Finger Lakes is known for riesling. It does well in colder climates and its high acidity is easily tempered with varying amounts of residual sugar. Scratch that—it’s not that easy. To find the perfect balance between the acidity and the sugar requires years of getting to know one’s grape vines and how they ripen. It takes serious time to be comfortable with every kind of weather Mother Nature throws across the deep lake, because, hopefully, a grower’s seen something like it before. And it takes years in the cellar, watching and waiting as the must, or pressed grape juice, ferments and knowing just when to stop it, to achieve that balance.
The three wines below represent three different results of this kind of experience: They are all from the Seneca Lake AVA (American Viticultural Area) they are all rieslings, and they all tell different stories about how this wine is evolving and achieving new heights in the Finger Lakes.
Boundary Breaks 2014 #239 Dry Riesling
This wine is an example of how a (relative) newcomer can enter the highly collaborative Finger Lakes wine community and come out on top. Owner Bruce Murray started planting in the banana belt in 2009 and hired experienced vineyard managers and workers with very strong opinions about how to do things the “right” way. He then sought experienced local winemakers. His first vintage of the #239 Dry Riesling (239 refers to the clone) was in 2011 in 2012 it caught the eye of Wine Enthusiast and was included in that year’s top 100 wines. The 2014, the current vintage, also made that list. The wine is dry, but the intense ripeness achieved in the Finger Lakes in 2014 gives the wine a heavier mouthfeel and smells and tastes of ripe pears even the graininess of the pears comes through on the palate, where the long finish evolves to peachy fruit then the zippy brightness of a lemon drop.
Bryn Hagman, beverage manager at the Dutch, loves the Boundary Breaks. The restaurant’s wine list is exclusively from the U.S. (except for Champagne), and this gives her the opportunity to introduce customers to something new. “I frequently find the average dinner guest knows about the Finger Lakes and knows they’re associated with riesling,” she says, “but they’re afraid to try them. They’re thinking ‘We can’t make good wine on the East Coast!’” She adds that not many people ask for riesling, but when they do “I cling to them like a koala bear.” Hagman recommends the riesling with a current menu item, hangar steak with kimchi rice. “It’s spicy and the wine satisfies the palate.” Winery owner Murray, who drinks a lot of riesling, says the night before we talked that he drank his wine with linguine and white clam sauce. “But it’s important to have the red pepper flakes to give it some heat,” he added.
Hermann J. Wiemer “Magdalena Vineyard” 2014 Riesling
Wiemer is certainly not a newcomer. The winery was started in 1979 by its namesake, a German immigrant. The Magdalena Vineyard, named for Wiemer’s mother, was not part of the initial 80 acres. They bought the lot in the mid-’90s, says co-owner Oskar Bynke, and replanted with new clones, new rootstock and new spacing. It’s in a protected site by the lake on the west side, he says, where the deep water has a noticeable moderating effect, keeping the vines dry in the summer and protected in the winter.
Winemaker, vineyard manager and Bynke’s partner, Fred Merwarth, spent years as Wiemer’s apprentice and makes the wine the same way Wiemer was taught when he studied in Germany. All grapes are handpicked. Merwarth does not use commercial yeast, just the descendant ambient micro-organisms that call the winery their home. This makes for a long fermentation, six to eight months, as the dead yeast cells, having done their job of turning sugar into CO2 and alcohol, settle to the bottom. “We do not use fining or filtering agents. We just keep checking it, to make sure it’s clean,” says Bynke. “You have to pay attention.”
This makes a very different wine from Boundary Breaks. It’s off dry, to balance the wine’s tart acidity, but it also has a waxy, earthy smell mixed with apricots. It has a creamy mouthfeel and long finish with pears and tangerine, an outlier of the citrus flavors usually found in wine. “I drank it last night with pasta with cream sauce,” says Bynke. “And it handled it quite well. The weight and the acid cut through the richness.”
Hermann J. Wiemer’s wines can regularly be found on Pascaline Lepeltier’s wine list at Rouge Tomate Chelsea. “They show how riesling can reach fantastic tension, minerality and ripeness at the same time,” she says. “The attention and respect for the soil shows in the wine. And I really like that there’s low intervention during winemaking. The wine is extraordinarily complex and the equivalent of what you can find in Europe.”
Anthony Road “Art Series” 2012 Riesling
Ambient yeast and the region’s cold winters call for a long fermentation, so this wine’s one of the last that Anthony Road bottles the following spring. Photo courtesy of Anthony Road Wine Company.
This bottling, says winemaker Peter Becraft, is the result of an experiment started in 2009 when they left a portion of their harvest to ferment with ambient yeast, “And we were really pleased with the result.” The grapes are not site specific and some can go into other blends. So Ann Martini, who owns the winery with her husband, John, made a label from one of her recent paintings, and the Art Series was born.
Ambient yeast and the region’s cold winters call for a long fermentation, so this wine’s one of the last that Becraft bottles the following spring. In the meantime, the wine sits on the fine lees, which adds to the body and mouthfeel. Becraft also lets the wine rest in bottle for two years before release. In 2016, the wine is still fresh with electric acidity that confronts the wine’s 11 grams of residual sugar. The nose has the slatey kerosene aromas found in many rieslings from Germany. The long finish is packed with honeyed lemon zest, and Becraft likes to drink it with peanut noodles.
Patrick at Back Label Wines carried a lot of Finger Lakes riesling, and says many customers come in asking for it. These are the people he’ll introduce to the Art Series. “ Rieslings from the Finger Lakes possess a very flamboyant personality much like that of the Mosel. Opulent, promiscuous but sturdy,” he says. “Although there is still much work to be done to master this great variety—as can be said anywhere in the world—the best produced outside of Germany are from the Finger Lakes.”
Why Crus Du Beaujolais Wines Deserve Renewed Attention
Only after music is turned down do we appreciate the beauty of background sounds.
‘Music’ can be compared to the once popular wave of Beaujolais Nouveau juice—released on the third Thursday of each November to a worldwide trumpet of marketing hype. This quickly macerated, just-bottled wine is made from lower and medium quality Gamay grapes from the Beaujolais region. The ‘background sounds,’ in contrast, are wines from the top-tier Crus du Beaujolais grapes. Until recently, these have been underplayed and thinly recognized. Now that the era of ‘nouveau’ Beaujolais has passed in popularity, the world is tuning into the vinous jewels produced in this region of France: Crus du Beaujolais wines age well, brim with flavor and are not sold freshly fermented.
Decades ago, the rise in popularity of young, just fermented Beaujolais wine (‘nouveau’) coincided with the light ‘nouvelle cuisine’ of chefs such as Paul Bocuse which at that time —during the latter 20 th century— was storming Lyon, Paris and the world .
Worldwide sales of this wine surged.
In 1955, Beaujolais shipped out about 400,000 gallons [15,000 hectoliters] of freshly fermented juice. By 1970 that figure had risen to 2.6 million gallons [100,000 hectoliters]. Yet after 2004, exports of nouveau dropped precipitously (by about 50 percent to the U.S.), while exports of Crus (in volume) are on the rise: they increased by 25% to the U.S. just between mid 2016 and mid 2017.
The Beaujolais wine region stretches 34 miles [55 kilometers] long and over a half dozen miles wide—from north of the city of Lyon to the southern Mâconnais wine region of Burgundy. Beaujolais vineyards—in terms of area—constitute a little more than half those of Napa Valley, twice those of the Finger Lakes wine region within New York, a third of those in Burgundy and less a tenth of the area of Bordeaux vines.
Unlike Burgundy to the north—which predominantly grows Pinot Noir as a red grape—Beaujolais reds are made from the Gamay grape, which better suits the local personality of terroir: soils, geography and climate.
In the 1930’s the Beaujolais wine region began to be formally divided into three segments—lower tier Beaujolais to the south and east, medium ranked Beaujolais Villages predominantly in the north and west, and top tier Crus du Beaujolais to the north — deep within the region, like marrow in a bone. Most of the ten Beaujolais ‘crus’ are associated with a specific village. The value of local land reflects the value of vines. As of 2017, Beaujolais vines can fetch approximately $7,200/acre (15,000 Euros/hectare), while Crus du Beaujolais can sell for up to $48,000/acre (100,000 Euros/hectare).
I recently visited Moulin-À-Vent, one of the 10 crus within Beaujolais. Moulin-À-Vent means ‘windmill’ and is named not after a village, but for the historic mill, constructed in 1490, that commands an airy view of the Massif Central to the west and fog generated farm fields adjacent to the Sâone River on the east.
Workers in the 'Moulin a Vent' vineyard, Beaujolais, France (Credit: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP/Getty . [+] Images)
Within Moulin-À-Vent, 1,600 acres [663 hectares] of vines produce high quality, semi-tannic wines, some of which will age well for decades. This particular ‘cru’ region has been nicknamed the King of Beaujolais.
Jean-Jacques Pârinet owns Château Moulin-À-Vent (the winery has the same name as the cru). He moved to the region from Paris in 2008 and now he and his son Édouard promote wines from their 91 acres [37 hectares], as well vintages from the entire region. They are eager to highlight the merits of Crus du Beaujolais to the world, and appreciate the value of what it means for a wine to be a 'cru.'
“You have to have a good quality product and also a good sales team. Château Lafite, for example, would not sell so well if you named it something else,” said Édouard, referring to the well known Bordeaux wine.
They also learn patience from the vagaries of climate. This spring, frost knocked out many grapes within the region.
“It happened fast,” recalled Jean-Jacques. “In 15 minutes everything was white, and such a strong wind. Catastrophic!”
Despite these challenges, their parcel of land is an indomitable asset. Their vines grow on granitic soils in the middle and west sides of Moulin-À-Vent, which provides them with layered, Burgundian-like complexity. They also recently acquired 12 acres [5 hectares] of Pouilly-Fuissé vines in Burgundy so they can export white Chardonnay as well as red Beaujolais. The family, though they moved from Paris, are proving themselves conscientious, energetic and pro-active custodians within Beaujolais.
At nearby Château Bonnet, located in La-Chapelle-de-Guinchay, winemaker Charlotte Perrachon related how their buildings, built in 1630, were purchased by her family in 1973 and then renovated. Today the family owns grapes in different regions of Beaujolais, and produce wines not only from Moulin-Á-Vent (where some of their vines are 45 years old), but also from other nearby cru regions that include Juliénas, Chénas and Saint-Amour.
Their land is bucolic and tranquil. Birdsongs boil out of one sizable lone tree adjacent to the winery, and their view includes inclined and wrinkled plains and a nearby church spire. As with other cru grapes, harvest is manual, and Bonnet uses gravity to move juice from fermentation tanks to barrels for aging. Working closely with her parents Pierre-Yves and Marie-Luce, Charlotte produces not only red wines, but also a crisp and firm Chardonnay, tart with minerals backed by fruit. Her first Crus du Beaujolais label—Vin de Garde—is a delicious bargain and includes black pepper and spice on the nose, as well as silky blackberries in the mouth. The largest challenge was not related to vinification.
“It took time,” she laughed, “to convince my father about putting the image of a dog on the label.”
The red and black fruit of the 2016 vintage is generally more complex, darker and profound than adjacent vintages. Although 2017 wines from the adjacent Fleurie scream with violets and some Côte de Brouilly include intense and gorgeous scents of orange rind, the 2017 wines I tasted from Moulin-À-Vent generally include ample purple power—light, delicious and strongly aromatic fruit such as black cherries and raspberries. Generally, prices are also extremely reasonable.
The tasting notes below include some recommended cru wines from Moulin-À-Vent. The list is abbreviated due to space constraints. Of dozens sampled, virtually all were excellent. Tasting notes for additional Crus du Beaujolais wines can be found at the Vino Voices website.
Château Moulin-À-Vent. Moulin-À-Vent La Rochelle. 2015. [93 points]
This includes tar, anise, blueberries, mocha and lemon rind on the nose like a gorgeous Burgundy. In the mouth this has layered complexity with violets and blackberries and notable spice. Black fruit gives this a long and satisfying aftertaste.
Château Moulin-À-Vent. Champ de Cour. 2014. [92.5 points]
Pepper on the nose, black cherries and lemon rind in the mouth. This is a mildly tannic, distinct and complex wine. Includes a satisfying finish.
Vineyard near Moulin-À-Vent, Beaujolais. Credit: Shutterstock
Château Moulin-À-Vent. La Rochelle. 2014. [92.5 points]
This is peppery on the nose and reminiscent of a Burgundnian Pinot Noir. It has texture and chewiness in the mouth and is both bold and elegant. This is still a very approachable wine, definitely for pairing with a meat or poultry dinner.
Château Bonnet. Moulin-À-Vent Vieilles Vignes. 2016. [92 points]
This is light and floral in the mouth, with a distinct taste of raspberries and cherries, and reminiscent of a Burgundian Pinot Noir. Complex, with low to mild tannins.
Château de Durette. Moulin-À-Vent. Prestige. 2015. [92 points]
Massive cherries on the nose and blueberries in the mouth. Supple with medium tannins. This is a distinct yet easy drinking wine riddled with flavor.
Domaine Alain Margerand. Moulin-À-Vent Vieilles Vignes Fût de Chêne. 2015. [92 points]
This includes soft and light black cherries on the nose, as well as eucalyptus and lemon rind. The distinct flavors evolve rapidly. In the mouth this is complex and delicate with black fruit as well as butter and citrus.
The aroma includes complex and varied fruit with cherries, pineapple, raspberries and also leather. In the mouth this is layered with the additional tastes of green pepper and spice.
Domaine du Moulin D’Éole. Moulin-À-Vent Champ de Cour. 2015. [92 points]
Light lavender, sage and florals on the nose. In the mouth this is delicate, distinct and yet complex with the additional taste of black cherries.
Domaine Mee Godard. Moulin-À-Vent Au Michelon. 2016. [92 points]
Orange rind and sage on the nose. This is light in the mouth like a delicate Fleurie and includes lavender and cocoa. It is young, vibrant, energetic and complex.
Domaine Louis Boillot & Fils. Moulin-À-Vent Les Rouchaux. 2015. [92 points]
Complex anise, sage and pepper on the nose. Gorgeously filling and round in the mouth with light tannins.
The following Moulin-À-Vent crus are also excellent.
Black fruit and slight citrus on the nose. A balanced and mildly tannic beauty. Slightly rounded and smoky.
Black cherries and cocoa on the nose. Opulent and rounded with balanced fruit in the mouth.
Château du Moulin-À-Vent. Moulin-À-Vent Croix des Vérillats. 2014.
Balanced and beautiful black fruit on the nose, including gorgeous black cherries. Creamy in the mouth mildly tannic. This is a calming wine.
Domaine des Pierres Roses. Moulin-À-Vent Vieilles Vignes. 2015.
Rich and fragrant with a powerful nose of distinct black cherries. Slight but pleasant oak with lemon zest in the mouth. Balanced and light.
Domaine des Pierres Roses. Moulin-À-Vent La Roche. 2015.
A very strong nose that includes violets, blueberries, and cherries. Light tannins.
Domaine Didier des Vignes. Moulin-À-Vent Cuvée Terre de Manganese. 2015.
Mild aromas of black cherries, violets and brick. Gorgeous orange rinds and violets in the mouth. Slight minerality and complexity.
Domaine Jacques & Annie Loron. Moulin-À-Vent. 2014.
Peppery, similar to that of a Carmenere wine, on the nose. Complex and bright fruit in the mouth.
Beautiful pepper, cookie dough and lemon rind on the nose. A complex and balanced wine. A lovely floral and fruit song in the mouth, balanced and easy drinking.
Sage and black cherries and bubble gum on the nose. Florals with lavender in the mouth. Balanced and round and slightly complex. Refreshing.
Domaine Maurice Gay. Moulin-À-Vent Vieilles Vignes. 2014.
Earth and musk on the nose as well as lemon rind and a slight hint of mushrooms. In the mouth this is a delicious rodeo of round and balanced black fruit flavors.
Domaine Maurice Gay. Moulin-À-Vent Vieilles Vignes. 2016.
Distinct green pepper on the nose. Feminine as a Fleurie. Includes black cherry and black pepper in the mouth.
Raspberries and lemon rind on the nose. Light tannins and rounded in the mouth. Light and layered.
Weak nose, but opens elegantly in a minute with the aroma of a distinct Burgundian Pinot Noir. Full, fruity and well rounded in the mouth. Mild beef and cheddar and blackcurrant.
New York State’s 10 Best Wineries and Vineyards
Move over Napa, because New York has some great wine regions of its own. The Finger Lakes, Hudson River Valley, Niagara, and Long Island all feature competitive wineries who create exceptional products. There’s no longer a need to travel across the country to tour world-class vineyards: they’re in our own backyard. Here’s our list of New York’s best vineyards:
Spring Lake Winery
This western New York vineyard located near Niagara Falls is one of the outstanding locales on the Niagara Wine Trail. The winery features 78 acres for private outdoor tastings at a spring-fed lake, perfect for a couples’ escape or even a wedding if you’re really serious! Spring Lake specializes in Rieslings, but they also have excellent Zinfandel, Merlot, and Chardonnay wines. The special feature of this vineyard is the vintage 1940’s train you can board at the nearby town of Lockport to take a historical journey through the Niagara countryside and eventually stop at the winery for lunch. Website
Hunt Country Vineyards
Part of the distinguished Keuka Lake Wine Trail, Hunt Country is a true farm winery, family-owned and managed, producing an entire range of 24 wines. Open year round, the tasting room is bright and airy, and the wines you taste are always your choice. Since 2010, their wines have won over 20 major awards in competitions across the country. Best of all, you can enjoy a variety of entertainments at the vineyard if you’re looking for a memorable excursion, including chamber music concerts, twilight picnics, dog walks, and the annual Harvest Festival. Website
Nestled in the lush green hills of Marlboro you will find Benmarl Winery. Overlooking the historic Hudson River Valley, its 37 acre estate lays claim to the oldest vineyard in America. The winery also holds New York Farm Winery license no.1. Although their history runs deep, it is their tireless commitment to quality and consistency that has made Benmarl one of the premier wineries in the region. New York wines are making a name for themselves on the world stage and we are proud to be a leader in this movement. Matthew Spaccarelli, the winemaker, is a rising star in the wine world. Website
Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery
Whitecliff is an artisanal family-run winery created from the ground up by owners and founders, Michael Migliore and Yancey Stanforth-Migliore. They have one of the largest vineyards in the Hudson Valley, with over 20 varieties of grapes planted for their continuing effort to refine growing and winemaking. The winery is situated directly underneath the Shawangunk Cliffs, with spectacular and dramatic views. What’s more the wines are award-winning they have brought the Best White In Show award home from the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Website
Bully Hill Vineyards
This vineyard not only has an extensive and intriguing history to explore, but also a museum, art gallery, restaurant, and gift shops in which to wonder. The Bully Hill family philosophy of winemaking is to combine “wine with laughter”, embodied in everything from their curious bottle labels to the boisterous personalities of their tour guides. Being one of the largest and oldest wine producers in the Finger Lakes region, Bully Hill blends an extensive professional knowledge of the craft with a very welcoming demeanor. Website
Red Newt Cellars
A recipient of Wine & Spirits Magazine’s 2011 Winery of the Year, Red Newt focuses not only on crafting world-class wines, but to expertly pair them with locally sourced cuisine. There are several wine and food tastings at Red Newt to demonstrate this emphasis, including a designed three-course meal to bring out the best qualities of both food and wine. There are also weekly events to experience such as the Cooking Class Series where the chefs unveil some if the magic and teach some of their recipes to a small class. Website
Standing Stone Vineyards
Perched on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake, Standing Stone is another must-stop on any Finger Lakes wine tour. Predominantly producing white wines, Standing Stone was the first winery to produce the newly recognized Saperavi wine in the USA after the grape variety was officially recognized. Tours of the vineyards can be unguided or with a guide, including a barrel cellar tour where you’ll have the novel option to taste wine right out of the barrel! Website
Recognized as the oldest operating winery in the United States, this vineyard in the Hudson River Valley has been producing wine for nearly 200 years. Brotherhood features many specialty “spiced” wines including one flavored with ginseng, a May wine with sweet strawberry flavors, and a wine similar to mead made from wildflower honey. The gorgeous old-world styling and spaciousness of the winery grounds offers an excellent venue for weddings, corporate events, and dinners. A visit to Brotherhood is essential for any lover of wine. Website
Dr. Konstantin Frank
Overlooking the crystal clear waters of Keuka Lake, The Dr. Konstantin Frank winery offers breath-taking views year round. Situated in the former home of Dr. Konstantin Frank, their main tasting room is both cozy and welcoming. Vast windows surround the tasting room, peeking out to beautiful Keuka Lake and some of the oldest vinifera vineyards in the United States. Visitors may also enjoy their newly constructed tasting room located directly next to our main tasting room with panoramic views of Keuka Lake. Website
Duck Walk Vineyards
The high vaulted ceilings, custom tasting bars, and expansive outdoor patio of Duck Walk give visitors a true Long Island Wine Country experience. You could consider this the “luxury” winery and tasting destination of this list, located in the heart of the Hamptons with quick access to all manor of resorts and leisure activities. Despite its surroundings, most of Duck Walk’s award-winning wines can be purchased for under $15. Great for an economical, yet romantic date activity. Website
Seneca Lake Wineries
Seneca Lake Wineries Map
The Seneca Lake AVA, established in 2003, is located within the larger Finger Lakes AVA and surrounds the Finger Lakes' deepest lake, Seneca Lake. The deep lake warms the the nearby, hillside vineyards resulting in a long growing season and protection from New York's freezing winters. In addition to Riesling, the area is known for making high quality Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Modern Seneca Lake winemaking began in the early 1970s when Charles Fournier and Hermann Wiemer planted Vinifera on the east and west sides, respectively, of Seneca Lake.
Scroll down for a comprehensive list of Seneca Lake wineries and click "map view" to access the advanced winery search. Whether you would like to visit a winery that provides beautiful vineyard lodging, has food available to complement its wines, hosts vineyard weddings, or produces wines from organic grapes, we make it easy to find the best Seneca Lake wine tasting and touring destinations.
A Brief History of New York Wineries
In many ways, American wine making began in New York. Settlers first began to experiment with grape growing in the 1600s, and the first licensed winery was located in Hammondsport. However, the story of fine wine production really begins in the 1950s, when Dr. Konstantin Frank began to experiment with growing famed Old World grape varietals in the Finger Lakes region.
By the 1970s, the success of Dr. Frank’s experiment began to catch on as more wineries began to switch from sweeter juice grapes to the finer European varietals. However, many growers are also sticking to New York tradition and creating fine wines using some of the French-American hybrids that had been earlier dismissed as lower-quality.
Out of this commitment to New York’s rich wine history, melded with bold experimentation, five distinct wine growing regions have emerged: Long Island, the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie, Hudson Valley and the Niagara Escarpment. Each region is earning its own distinct reputation while working together to draw attention to the great wine making being done in New York.
Long Island’s wine growing is concentrated on the eastern side of the island. Its emergence as a fine wine region can be traced to the early 1970s, as the first winery opened in 1973.
Long Island’s climate has been likened to Bordeaux, so it’s unsurprising that Long Islands vintners have focused on Bordeaux grapes. The warm summers are tempered by the cooling sea breezes, replicating the seaside growing regions of France. As a result, cabernet franc, merlot and sauvignon blanc are the primary grapes being harvested in Long Island. Compared with other wine regions in New York, Long Island gets quite warm in the summer. This is why their Merlots are especially well-regarded. However, the Cabernet Franc should not be neglected. Black pepper is well-balanced with fruity plums and a delicate licorice flavor. In many ways, these are the best cabernet francs outside of the Loire Valley in France.
But if you prefer whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the most common. The former is probably the better representation of Long Island’s wine making skill.
This is a great region if you like a well-balanced variety of wines. Both strong reds and whites are grown on the island. It’s also a fabulous source of local produce, including asparagus, berries, tomatoes, squash and various root vegetables. This gives the North Fork a complete culinary vision, allowing you to pair excellent wines with fresh ingredients and great food.
As those familiar with Long Island geography will know, the eastern end of the island is divided into two forks. The southern fork is home to the famed Hamptons, where many of the rich and famous of New York spend their summer vacations. As such, much of this land is too expensive to be used for growing grapes. The northern fork, however, is much more affordable — and it’s here that you’ll find the vast majority of Long Island’s leading vineyards.
A number of wineries have become popular in Long Island, both for the casual and dedicated wine taster. There are around 40 wineries that you can visit. However, we especially recommend Bedell Cellars, Palmer, Pellegrini, Castello de Borghese, Paumanok, Raphael and Shinn Estate. If you happen to be taking a vacation in the Hamptons, it’s a easy drive to the other fork.
Winery Spotlight — Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse
The roots of Shinn Estate began with the founders’ love of farm-to-table food. Barbara Shinn and David Page are Midwesterners who moved to California before deciding to open one of the East Coast’s first farm-to-table restaurants.
Building on the restaurant’s success, they purchased 20 acres of vines and began producing wine. Throughout the process, they have continued to focus on sustainability and respect for nature. In 2010, they became the first East Coast winery to be solely powered by alternative energy sources. Similarly, the grapes are farmed and harvested using holistic techniques.
In addition to the winery, they also have a distillery, which makes them a great destination for those with more eclectic tastes. As far as their wines, they produce excellent Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, Cabernet Francs and Rosés. Their tasting room is open daily, but we definitely recommend a scheduled tour. And don’t forget to stay for dinner! Check out their website for further details and a list of special events.
Hudson River Valley
Just as the state of New York started along the Hudson River, so too did New York’s winemaking. This region is home to the oldest winery in the US, the Brotherhood Winery, which was established in 1839. The winery, which only produces sacramental wines used in Christian religious services, was able to survive Prohibition because it was granted a religious exemption. Therefore, while many of California’s wineries closed down at the beginning of the 20th century, forcing the region to restart their wine industry after Prohibition was repealed, the Hudson River Valley continued to thrive.
However, while the Hudson River Valley holds a distinguished position in the American wine making world, on the whole, this is an underused wine growing region.
To put the valley’s potential in perspective, consider this: there are 225,000 acres of vineyard land available. However, currently only 500 acres are being used.
That being said, while the Hudson River region has a lot of room to expand, those who do make wine here are committed to their craft. While most of the various wine growing regions in the United States emulate and experiment with Old World grapes, the Hudson River proudly protects its own distinctly American wine making tradition.
As such, the two most representative wines are known as “Heritage Red” and “Heritage White.” While both are blends of older French hybrids, their production is tightly controlled by bylaws.
The region’s many hills help block the vines from the more intemperate cold air further north. Conversely, the river keeps the region cool during the hotter months.
As a wine tourism destination, this is an attractive place to visit, as it’s just a short drive from New York City. And while there may not be a large number of wineries to visit, the ones that do exist are definitely worth the trip. Besides the aforementioned Brotherhood Winery, the Hudson-Chatham Winery, Millbrook and Oak Summit are all excellent places to visit.
Winery Spotlight — Millbrook Vineyards & Winery
Founder John Dyson first started exploring fine wine grape growing in the 1980s. He found success when he purchased the land that became Millbrook Vineyards in 1983, and began to make wine the following year.
The first wines produced were Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and he has since expanded to include Riesling and the Italian grape, Tocai Friulano.
Tastings take place within the gorgeous confines of the Hudson River region, and are available year round. The rolling hills and gorgeous vistas are worth the visit, so think about the weather when planning a trip. They also have a grille that provides excellent cuisine that’s meant to be paired with the equally excellent wines.
The also offer special learning experiences, so if you’re interested in deepening your wine knowledge, take a look at their calendar and sign up for one of their special events.
The Finger Lakes
When people think of New York wines, the Upstate NY wineries in the Finger Lakes region are usually the first to come to mind. Of course, when it comes to making fine wine, the Finger Lakes, under the guidance of Dr. Konstantin Frank, started the trend in the state.
Because Dr. Frank was Ukrainian, he had an understanding of the climate of Upstate New York. Often much colder than most wine growing regions, the Finger Lakes have earned a sterling reputation nonetheless, especially in regards to their most famous wine: Riesling.
While the Finger Lakes, created by retreating glaciers, certainly define the region’s geography, they are also crucial for supporting the wine growing climate. The lakes stabilize the temperatures in an otherwise frigid part of the country. Similarly, when the summers grow hot, the lakes keep the region cool, again helping to provide ideal growing conditions for grapes.
The wine in the Fingers Lakes begins and ends with Riesling. They are known for their especially aromatic and dry version of the wine, although many wineries are also creating excellent sweet bottles. They also make excellent Gewürztraminer. However, if you prefer reds, they also have excellent Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Francs.
When traveling through the region, you should always make sure to check out the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery. Not only is it still run by the founder’s heirs, but it also leads the way in producing the best Riesling in the Finger Lakes. But there’s a lot more than that for you to explore. There are over 11,000 acres of vineyards being used by 130 or so wineries. Agness Wine Cellars, McGregor and Kemmeter are all excellent wineries that also provide great tours and tastings.
There are also a number of distilleries, breweries and excellent eateries in the region, meaning you can combine your tour with a complete culinary experience. Plus, this region — along with perhaps Long Island — has the most developed wine tourism industry in place, meaning you can easily find tours and wine tasting experiences that are designed to make discovering Finger Lakes wine easy for those who are new to tasting.
Winery Spotlight — Kemmeter Wines
While many wineries try to trace their heritage back to Italy or France, Kemmeter Wines, along with its founder, Johannes Rienhardt, is a product of the German winemaking tradition. The Rienhardt family hails from Wuerzburg, an excellent winemaking region in the Franconia region of Germany.
Rienhardt received further training in Germany before coming to work at Dr. Konstantin Frank’s winery in the Finger Lakes. From there he set off to establish his own winery, which is quickly earning a reputation as one of the finest in a region that’s already quite crowded by excellence.
They focus on Rieslings, which makes sense considering the grape’s German heritage. Their tasting room is intimate and, as such, requires an appointment. However, it’s worth the experience — especially if you want the opportunity to take your time and avoid some of the more crowded touristy wineries.
Check out their website for further information on planning your visit.
This is a traditionally Concord juice grape growing region that has only recently begun to explore the possibilities of fine wine grape growing.
The region is becoming known for its success in growing lesser-known varietals, including the French-American hybrids of Seyval Blanc and Vignoles. In addition, they are working to elevate native grapes, including Catawba, Niagara and Delaware. Like much of New York, Riesling also plays a prominent role in the region’s grape industry.
In addition, Lake Erie is earning a reputation for ice wine, which derives its dessert-caliber sweetness from allowing grapes to freeze on the vine before harvesting them.
This is definitely a region with plenty of room to grow. They currently harvest 20,000 acres’ worth of vineyards, although 90% of those grapes are currently Concord.
It should also be noted that this wine region crosses state borders into Pennsylvania and Ohio.
If you’re looking to stay in New York while exploring all that the Lake Erie region has to offer, we suggest checking out 21 Brix Winery. Woodbury Vineyards is also excellent.
Winery Spotlight — 21 Brix
This is a newer winery, having opened its doors in 2011. Winemaker and founder Kris Kane combined his experience on his parents’ farm with a wealth of wine making experience, both domestically and abroad in Australia, to establish 21 Brix as a true up-and-comer.
They offer a wide range of wines, including excellent Rieslings, Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Sauvignons and specialty Vidal ice wines. They also experiment with other fruit wines, such as cherry, blueberry and raspberry.
The visitor experience is truly wonderful, as they feature a 60-foot tasting bar, and the winery itself is nestled right along the shore of the lake. They are open daily for tastings, and host a number of special events as well. So head over to their website in order to check out their calendar.
Or, if you’re in the area, just keep an eye out for Ella, the life-sized pink elephant that guards the entrance to the winery along Route 20!
The Niagara Escarpment is a new winemaking region to be sure, but they also have good neighbors to emulate. Ontario has grown in reputation, especially when it comes to ice wine, and Niagara is looking to capitalize on that success.
This is also definitely a small region. Only 800 acres are currently being cultivated, with a total of approximately 15 wineries producing wines. But, in a sense, this plays to their strength. Ice wine can be consistently produced, and the smaller scene means that each winery can focus on doing what they do best.
Furthermore, wine experts are confident that, as Niagara grows in renown, this is a region due for an explosion.
As for wineries worth exploring, Spring Lake and Niagara Landing are both well respected and are a great place to start if you’re looking to get in on the ground floor of this up-and-coming region.
Winery Spotlight — Spring Lake
Spring Lake was born from the visions of Dr. Nicholas and Tamre Varallo. Inspired by the deep Italian heritage of Nana and Papa Varallo, Nicholas began making wine in his basement when he was just eight years old.
They’ve won numerous awards for their wine, including a bronze medal at the International Riesling Challenge. Obviously, their award-winning Rieslings are the star of the show, but they also bottle excellent Merlots, Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons.
To round out the experience, they also offer train excursions. The Vineyard Express includes a tour of the Medina Railroad Museum, combined with dinner and music at the vineyard.
For more information and to purchase tickets, head over to their website.
Best U.S. Destinations For Wine Lovers
On the eve of America’s bicentennial celebration, our young nation revolutionized the world of great wines. At an event intended to be staged just for fun, an 11-member expert panel (nine of them French) judged a new generation of California wines against some of France’s most famous wines in a blind tasting — with a shock upset result overwhelmingly in favor of the USA. The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (portrayed in the movie “Bottle Shock”) sent New World wines on their way, led by Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California.
Approximately 90 percent of America’s wine production is from California, with its 107 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), which as the world’s fourth largest producer is surpassed only by France, Italy, and Spain.
While Napa Valley has the more famous name, neighboring Sonoma Valley is equally deserving, if less flashy. Head north over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Napa’s scenic Silverado Trail reveals a lineup of prestigious brands with mega-watt names, stunning views, and gorgeous tasting rooms like the one at Trinchero Winery , as well as charming tasting rooms with picnic tables at smaller family-run estates. In downtown Napa, visit the Culinary Institute of America at Copia, with its museum, gift shop, classes, and restaurant. Browse the Oxbow Public Market for artisan makers and rent a bike for the new Napa Valley Vine Trail which will soon span all 47 miles north to Calistoga. No car? Take a journey on the restored vintage Napa Valley Wine Train right through the heart of Napa, stopping for tastings at wineries like Robert Mondavi, Charles Krug, Raymond, and Grgich Hills.
In Sonoma Valley, the Wine Road provides a wonderful discovery route for Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys many offer a single- or multi-day pass good at dozens of participating wineries. From winter’s bud burst to harvest crush, both destinations present wine-themed concerts, vineyard and cellar tours, barrel tastings, film festivals and food fairs, including the big Sonoma Wine Country Weekend over Labor Day. The Wine Institute taps April as Down to Earth Month with a focus on sustainable, biodynamic winemaking and September as California Wine Month.
“Virginia is for (Wine) Lovers,” said Gov. Terry McAuliffe on a recent Valentine’s Day promotion for the commonwealth’s wine region. That message resonated across the nation, where Virginia scooped up medals at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the world’s largest award showcase for American wine. In addition to plenty of gold and silver wins in recent years, plus a 2017 best in class, the recognized excellence of estate grown Virginia grapes won’t be lost on visitors looking to combine historical sightseeing with a wine country experience.
Dozens of wine trails embrace 200 wineries in seven major AVAs from Loudoun County on the outskirts of Washington D.C. to the rolling landscape of Shenandoah Valley. Explore Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home where the third U.S. president was a grape grower. Sniff, swirl, sip, and sleep at romantic country inns and farmstead B&Bs along the way. Don’t miss the local Viognier, Virginia’s cornerstone white varietal that has caught international attention for its success in the Monticello AVA.
Pinot noir, anybody? Fans are passionate about the soft, velvety wine produced by this finicky, thin-skinned grape. Less than an hour south of Portland, Willamette Valley and its six distinct sub-appellations are famous as the New World home to this cool climate loving varietal. Since the first planting in 1966, the 100-mile long and 60-mile wide region has grown to to about 500 wineries, many with tasting rooms and patios surrounded by views of the Cascade Mountains. Because every single one of the region’s producers is small with limited production, you’ll find excellent wines here that are quite simply not found anywhere outside Oregon.
Agricultural authenticity abounds in this corner of the Pacific Northwest, where the sight of a farm tractor is likely, a tour bus is not. As in other US wine regions, tasting fees are typically set against the optional purchase of a bottle. Casual wineries with a cozy fireplace may offer estate tasting flights, private reserve tastings, vineyard and cellar tours, plus food and wine pairing dinners and plenty of opportunities to meet winemakers.
About two million years ago, in a landscape sculpted by slow moving glacial sheets of ice, 11 long and narrow lakes were carved out. In upstate New York, the shores of these clear and deep inland lakes presented a cold weather opportunity for cultivation of “Vitis vinifera” European grape varietals. This attracted a mid-20th century viticulturist immigrant, Dr. Konstantin Frank, who used methods studied in his native Ukraine to plant on the west side of Keuka Lake. Vineyards throughout Finger Lakes AVA’s 120 wineries are often compared to those in Germany’s Rhine River region, where Riesling is also king. It’s a classic European grape that, shielded by the lake shores, withstands cold and snowy winters, producing award-winning sweet and dry wines. Other notable Finger Lakes varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc Gewürztraminer, and sparkling wines.
When adults wish to take a break from wine tasting, the Finger Lakes is a scenic family-friendly region with farm tours, water parks, railway rides, boating, and science museums. Corning Museum of Glass has interactive glassblowing studio sessions and Watkins Glen State Park offers spectacular hiking, 19 waterfalls, and impressive gorges clawed out by Mother Nature. For three days in July, the state park hosts 80 wineries at the Finger Lake Wine Festival.
Leaving San Francisco, head south on one of America’s most outstanding road trips along the Pacific Coast Highway, a dramatic, winding stretch of incredible vistas encompassing Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, and Morro Bay. Several miles inland from the rugged cliffs, crashing waves, and soaring redwoods, some of California’s best vineyards thrive in the signature climate of alternating coastal fog and midday sun producing marked temperature shifts that grapes enjoy. Put wine tasting in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo (“Happiest City in America”) on your itinerary.
On the way to Santa Barbara, a Mediterranean-style city dubbed “The American Rivera,” you’ll find Santa Ynez Wine Country, a diverse grape-growing region of exceedingly pretty little towns featured in the movie “Sideways.” The very large Central Coast AVA has 360 boutique wineries, many with downtown tasting rooms sprinkled throughout Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the first and foremost varietals of note.