Finger Lakes Wine Region

I have been very fortunate over the last few yeas and have been offered media samples of wine from various wineries and their public relations firms.  This past summer I received samples of four different Rieslings and an ice wine through the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance.  As I have received wines from them before (some of these same wines actually) I decided to write about the Finger Lakes Region instead of the specific wines.  This decision made for some interesting research.  Enjoy!


  • 1829 – first grapes planted in Finger Lakes (Isabella & Catawba), cuttings from the Hudson River Valley
  • 1850 – a “vinedresser” from Germany, Andrew Reisinger, plants the first vineyard and introduces pruning & training
  • 1860 – Hammondsport & Pleasant Valley Wine Company, first bonded winery was created.  This later changed to the Great Western Winery.
  • 1865 – The second winery for the Finger Lakes was started, Urbana Wine Co., but history was created because Hammondsport & Pleasant Valley Wine Co. bottled the first sparkling wines from the area, Great Western Champagne.
Picture borrowed from The Democrat and Chronicle

Picture borrowed from The Democrat and Chronicle

  • 1873 – Great Western Champagne takes a gold medal in Vienna
  • 1919-33 – Prohibition shuts down most of the wine industry, but some wineries survive by producing sacramental wines and growing grapes for home winemakers.
  • 1934 – Charles Fournier joins Urbana Wine Co. as winemaker from Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin
  • 1945 – The origins for Constellation brands began
  • 1950 – Charles Fournier wins the only gold medal at the California State Fair.  His entry was New York State Champagne Brut.  Fair officials subsequently barred non-California wines from competing.
  • 1960 – (ca. 1960) Urbana Wine Co. (now known as Gold Seal) releases its first Riesling

And the history continues today!

The Finger Lakes AVA was established in 1982.  It is the largest wine region in New York and home to more than 115 wineries.  Out of the 9,200 acres of grapes planted each year, there are 848 acres of Riesling.  Each Riesling producer has 2-3 styles of Riesling ranging in taste profile from bone dry to sweet.  Riesling is the fastest growing white wine in the US.

But what makes the Finger Lakes so perfect for growing Riesling?  Answer:  The Lakes!

We all know that great wine starts in the vineyard.  The vineyards of the Finger Lakes are cut from centuries-old glaciers with beds of shale running deep into the soils.  This shale helps produce wines with a natural acidity.  These glaciers have created large, deep, fresh-water lakes.  The Finger Lakes area runs North/South providing optimal grape growing sites on both the eastern and western slopes.  During the winter, cold air is pulled naturally from the sloping vineyards to the lakes.  This same cool air delays the start of growing season in the spring and helps the vines avoid exposure to late frosts.  Then in the fall, the warmth provided by theses same sun-drenched waters prevent early frosts and allow for an extended growing season.

FLX map

Great Rieslings from Alsace and Germany are produced with the intent of aging.  Typically white wines from the US, especially sweeter ones, are meant to be consumed  within a couple of years.  But the Rieslings coming out of the Finger Lakes today can be aged for a few years.  Exactly how long is yet to be determined.  Two ice wines I received for review back in 2012 are a 2010 Gewurztraminer Ice Wine from Standing Stone Vineyards and a 2010 Vidal Ice Wine from Knapp Winery.  My plan is to open one of these in 2014 and the other in 2015 to see how gracefully they have aged.  I also am holding onto a Swedish Hill 2012 Dry Riesling and a 2012 Red Newt Cellars Medium Sweet Riesling.  I will hold each of these for at least 3 years (2015) and will attempt to taste them side-by-side with their then current vintage counterparts.

The other wines I received and tasted during the virtual event were:

  • 2012 Riesling Ice Wine from Fulkerson Winery.  This wine had 19.7% residual sugar and is definitely a dessert wine.  We paired it with a really moist cream cake.  The sweetness from the wine melted away as the flavors blended on the palate.  Each sip and each bite left you wanting more.
  • 2012 Standing Stone Old West Block Riesling (a vineyard started by Charles Fournier in 1972 – see above).  Nice acidity and well balance with 1.4% residual sugar.
  • 2012 Riesling Select from Wagner Vineyards.  This is their sweetest Riesling with 4.2% residual sugar and comes from a vineyard more than 30 years old.

Previous articles about Fine Lakes Wines:

A Celebration of New York Wines

Virtual Riesling Tasting: Finger Lakes Wines


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: About | emilykarn
  2. Trackback: Winter White Wine: Dry Riesling, Canoe Ridge, Snipes Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington 2007 | WAYWARD WINE

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