In the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, there’s a growing excitement, literally. Grapes! Wine grapes, to be more specific. The sloping hillsides, lake breezes and a steady summer sun have always provided the picturesque Finger Lakes region with a healthy grape-growing climate. But until recently, the land was primarily used to grow local Concord grapes that were sold to juice companies.
In recent years, younger generations have taken over the family farms and begun experimenting with wine grape varietals. While the yield can be more profitable, the arduous and artistic process is all the more intensive and comes with a higher risk factor. But with continued growth and a respected product that has gained praise and earned prizes all over the world, the shift seems to be working. Now with 109 wineries, the Finger Lakes have helped make New York the third largest wine producer in America.
Even though the area is known for its cabernet francs, chardonnays, pinot noirs and ice wines, it’s riesling that reigns supreme. With a climate similar to its German origins, the varietal has found a second home here. Ranging from dry to sweet and anywhere in between, each vineyard in the area produces at least one style of Riesling -- some make several -- and many have won worldwide Gold Medal honors.
A Frank history of the area
The very existence and continual growth of vineyards in New York state can all be attributed back to the bold and successful experiments of Dr. Konstantin Frank. Emigrating from the Ukraine to avoid Stalinism in 1951, Frank revolutionized sustainable growing methods for vinifera (vines imported from Europe) in the 1950s and proved that the region’s crops could not only survive the extreme winters, but could also produce a world-class wine year after year. Opening Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in 1962, the family-run business is celebrating its 50th anniversary and is heralded as New York state’s most award-winning winery.
Camaraderie over competition
With a wine trail marked by road signs, vineyard tours and tasting rooms, tourism in the Finger Lakes is increasing. And with several wineries adding inns and high-end restaurants to their properties, many are calling the Finger Lakes the next Napa Valley. Vineyard owners in the area, however, are quick to point out a monumental difference — a unified sense of community. Here it’s camaraderie, not competition, since in this region the vineyard owner is often the farmer, the marketer, the salesman and sometimes even the deliveryman.
“If someone needs a forklift, we let them borrow ours,” says Ted Marks, proprietor of Atwater Vineyards. “And they would do the same for us. People come from all over the world to work here and can’t believe that we want to help each other succeed. We do what we do well. And we do it without pretension.”