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07 November 2019

New York State, Finger Lakes: Seneca and Cayuga

The cool-climate Finger Lakes wine region, although summers can be very warm, is named after this series of eleven beautiful glacial lakes found in central-northern New York State, which dramatically mark the landscape like long deep cuts running north-south(ish) about 50 miles inland from the southern (US) side of Lake Ontario. It's about a four and a half hour drive from New York City and two and a half hours from Niagara Falls (extremely touristy but unmissable by the way). Seneca and Cayuga lakes are the longest of them, and Seneca the deepest, which is where the greatest concentration of vineyards are planted along and around their sloping edges as the corresponding microclimate is much less severe in winter there. Not surprisingly, there are two well-organised wine routes (in fact Cayuga Lake wine folk claim to have 'America's first wine trail') linking up wineries, accommodation, restaurants, events and attractions. Check out:
cayugawinetrail.com and senecalakewine.com.

Sheldrake Point Winery, Cayuga.

The Finger Lakes region boasts New York's 'biggest' wine production - and NY state ranks as no. 3 or 4 in the US depending on whether you count volume or number of wineries* - although there are less than 10,000 acres / 4000 hectares under vine, and only 10% of it Riesling, just to add a little context. As this doesn't amount to a great deal of wine, the prices reflect this but you can definitely find some very good quality. There's a little more geeky info and stats on this site if you like: fingerlakeswinealliance.com. (* There's plenty of slightly misleading info out there about American wine production: it depends how up-to-date as things have presumably changed a lot in recent years.)
There are also several pretty State Parks worth visiting such as Watkins Glen at the southern tip of Seneca with its sliced gorges, splashy waterfalls and serene forest walking trails. Watkins Glen itself and surrounding area would make a good base for a wine trip (can be very busy with tourists though), as is the laid-back town of Seneca Falls on the north-west side of Cayuga or the historic small city of Ithaca lying at the southern end of that lake. Back in Seneca Falls, the Gould Hotel is an appealing 1920s-style option for a couple of nights' stay; and this attractive wee town, set on a canal connecting the two lakes, offers a decent selection of diners, restaurants and stores alongside important social history too (a landmark in the women's rights' movement).

Boundary Breaks Vineyard - Lodi, Seneca Lake, NY 14860.
Tucked away in an isolated spot right on the eastern shore of Seneca a couple of miles from the village of Lodi, Boundary Breaks was established in 2008 and has become something of a Riesling specialist, although they make some good red wines too. There's an interesting point on their website basically citing Riesling as a red wine drinker's first choice for white wine in terms of depth of flavour and potential development, and I can see what they mean. The winery is owned by Bruce Murray and Diana Lyttle with Kees Stapel as Vineyard Manager aided by Jesse Kovnat and John Swick. These wines were sampled in the tasting room in situ in early October (you get 20% discount off these prices if you become a wine club member):

2018 #356 Bubbly Dry Riesling - Refreshing and crisp with nice oily and yeasty notes with underlying citrus. $19.95
2017 #90 Extra Dry Riesling - Hints of 'mineral' complexity, fairly rounded mouth-feel actually yet with long crisp finish. Good. $18.95
2018 #198 Reserve Riesling - Later picked and more medium in style, this is a bit sweeter obviously but more concentrated too with elegant 'chalky' palate (and only 8% abv). Tasty. $22.95
2018 Gewurztraminer - Floral and spicy lychee on the nose, quite dry and elegant with crisp floral finish. Nice style.
2018 Dry Rosé (DeChaunac grape variety) - Deep-coloured with super fruity nose, strawberry/raspberry and chocolate flavours even on the palate but with attractive crisp finish. $14.95
2018 Cabernet Franc - Aromatic red fruits with leafy edges, subtle oak and tannins on the palate, very good actually. $19.95
2017 Harmonic Red (56% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc) - More tannic mouth-feel at first but has some nice fruit with cedary notes, fair depth and a smoother finish in the end with a hint of oak. $27.95 

Sheldrake Point Winery - Ovid, Cayuga Lake, NY 14521.
Another not-so-easy-to-find winery, this time lost on the western side of Cayuga near a little promontory on the lake called Sheldrake Point, it doesn't appear to be part of the 'official' wine trail but is worth seeking out. This former orchard and dairy farm was bought and planted in 1997 by the 'principle' (sic) owners Chuck Tauck and Fran Littin, and over time was transformed into a now 60 acre vineyard (25 ha) show-casing ten vitis vinifera varieties (imported from Europe). Sheldrake specialises in keeping back stocks of what they call library wines (older vintages obviously going back to the beginning originally) as well as making some rather good ice wines from Riesling. Dave Breeden and Greg Dlubac are the winemaking team, working alongside vineyard manager Dave Wiemann and assistant José Aguilera. More about the people behind the scenes at Sheldrake Point, the wines, club membership and where to find them: sheldrakepoint.com.

2017 Dry Riesling - Aromatic with 'mineral' oily tones, nice balance of quite rich mouth-feel and crisp acidity, pretty intense and dry finish. Good Riesling. $16
2017 Chardonnay - Yeast-leesy 'Chablis' style, a bit lean and unexciting though. $18
2017 Pinot Gris - More full-bodied to start with underlying slender nutty palate, attractively crisp finish; different style and it works. $16
2016 Gewurztraminer - Fairly full-on lychee, Turkish delight and pineapple notes poised by fresh/bitter twist to compensate, this has lots of maturing flavours. Very nice Gewurz. $16 / $14 on offer at the moment.
2018 Riesling Ice Wine - Picked at temperatures of 14 to 17 Fahrenheit (-8 to -10 C) over three days to freeze-concentrate the grapes, the final wine has 8.4% abv and 230 grams per litre residual sugar. Rich honeyed nose with lovely developing Riesling character, lots of oily 'mineral' flavours and textures plus layered with honeysuckle aromas and underlining zippy acidity. Delicious dessert wine. $60.
Sheldrake also makes two styles of sweet wine from red grapes (Cab Franc) and from iced apples; as well as dry Pinot Noir, Gamay and Muscat Ottonel among others.

Another winery based in Ovid that caught my attention with their tasty fruity dry 2018 Cabernet Franc Rosé was Hosmer, which dates back to 1985 so they must have some of the oldest vines planted in this AVA* area, and is run by the fourth generation who has owned the farm since the 1930s.
(*American Viticultural Area.)

There are clearly many good craft breweries in the US too judging by the quality of some of the beers tried on this trip. The evocatively named Fat Tire Amber Ale from the New Belgium Brewing Company in Colorado was one of the stand-out bottles consumed in moderation with a classic burger and sweet potato fries dinner one evening.

Other photos of New York State and City

Watkins Glen Park, Seneca Lake.

Niagara Falls.

Grand Central Terminal.

The Chrysler Building etc.

Lower Manhattan sunset from the Staten Island ferry.

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.