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

Another Great Riesling

This wine was a media sample from the Finger Lakes Alliance

This must be the week for cleaning out the wine rack.  I had thought I was out of white wine but then remembered that I had a Riesling left over from a virtual wine tasting I participated in last fall.  I had been fortunate enough to receive a shipment of wines from the Finger Lakes Alliance.  Often I end up with nobody to share my wines with for virtual tastings so I choose to only open 2-3 of them and save the others for a later tasting and special blog post.  So goes this post for Billsboro 2010 Riesling.

Having had a really mild winter in the Southeast, we are now experiencing an exceptionally early spring with some exceptionally warm days, the kind of warmth that makes you crave a good chilled white wine.  What better way to quench this craving than with a Riesling from the Finger Lakes wine region.

Pleasantly refreshing, this wine offers up kiwi and a touch of banana then finishes with mango on the back of the palate.  Considered a semi-sweet wine, this is a great wine to finish off the day watching the sun go down.  I would suggest pairing it with spicy foods such as black beans and rice as well.

Varietal: Riesling               Alcohol: 11.5%              Price:  $16.00

Virtual Riesling Tasting: Finger Lakes Wine

Shortly after the 2011 Wine Blogger’s Conference in Charlottesville, I received an email (or a link via email) that led me to a request form where I could request wine from the Finger Lakes Alliance.   Let’s be VERY clear here, I LOVE getting free wine, so obviously I completed the form and submitted it.  This was late July/early August.  With life being what it is, I have trouble remembering what happened yesterday, let alone 6-8 weeks ago; so when I walked into my office on Monday, September 19 and saw a wine shipment sitting at my desk, I was thrilled!!!!  (I actually just assumed it was a wine club shipment as it is that time of year.)  Then I realized that the shipment was from the Finger Lakes Alliance which peaked my interest even more, so I grabbed something sharp to cut the box open.  I couldn’t remember ever tasting any wines from the Finger Lakes region so I was pleasantly surprised to see 6 bottles of Riesling neatly packed inside along with a letter thanking me for requesting the samples.  Quite frankly, I don’t remember requesting these wines but since I LOVE getting free wine samples, I wasn’t complaining, actually  I was absolutely giddy!!!!

The letter enclosed explained that the Finger Lakes Alliance simply wanted me to sample their wines.  The mayor of Geneva, New York had declared Thursday, September 22 as “Riesling Day.”  There was going to be a live tweet-up of people tasting a variety of 30 different Finger Lakes Rieslings and posting their comments.  I was under no obligation to participate, but I truly enjoy participating in virtual wine tastings and  interacting with all the other winos on Twitter so there was no way I was missing this opportunity!

I had six different Rieslings to choose from for the virtual tasting.  I opted to   only open two of them for the tweet-up and save four to review at a later date.  The two that I opened were Anthony Road 2010 Dry Riesling and Rooster Hill 2010 Medium Sweet Riesling.  I was looking for true variety in the tasting. 

The two things made this virtual tasting/tweet-up so unique was that the samples could be tasted in any order the participant chose and we had not all received the same wines.  The shipments were mixed.  Not only did we have tweets coming from all over the country, we had tweets being posted about wines that we might not have received or that we might not have opened yet.  You wanted to know what everyone else was tasting and what they thought about it especially if it was sitting at your house unopened!

There were a lot of people on Twitter participating in the Riesling Launch 2010.  I would venture to guess that it was a hugely successful launch party.  This lends itself to the question then, how do you host a successful virtual wine tasting?  We can definitely take some pointers from the Fingers Lakes Alliance and the Finger Lakes Wineries.  Here are a few other pointers that you might want to consider:

1.      Promotion:  Promote your virtual tasting.  Use the social media outlets that you already use to make your announcements (I.E. Twitter, Facebook, etc.)  Announce it and occasionally remind people about it.  Provide a link back to your website so people can read the details for wine selection, date and time of the tasting.

 2.      Your Website: Find a prominent spot on your homepage to promote your virtual tasting.  Again, provide details for wine selection, date and time of tasting.  It is entirely up to you if you want to offer discounts on either shipping or the wines being tasted for your virtual event.  

 3.      Newsletter:  Email a special edition of your newsletter to let people know about the virtual tasting.  There will be questions on how to participate so be sure to provide a link back to your website where all the questions can be addressed (see #1 above).  Make sure people know how to order or purchase the wines you have selected for your virtual tasting.

 4.      Invite a few guests (6-10) to participate in the wine tasting at a chosen location.  With your winemaker and tasting room manager at the tasting, you should be able to answer all the questions you will get from the virtual participants.  If you have someone who handles your social media, they need to be there as well.

 5.      Providing wine samples to some known bloggers or active Tweeters, will increase your exposure and keep the virtual tasting hopping with questions and comments.  

Money can’t buy the marketing you get from a properly executed tweet-up.  Most everyone who receives free samples will not only post during the tweet-up, they will also follow up with a blog post and links back to the winery(ies).  Who knows, your event might even go viral!

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Finger Lakes Alliance for the opportunity to be part of the Riesling Launch 2010.  It was lots of fun and I got to try some great wines that I would have never bought but are now on my list of greats to try again and find the perfect pairing for.

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