New York State Fair – Pride of New York

NY State Fair LogoLast November, I had the opportunity to attend the Pride of New York Harvest Festival at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. The event featured a bounty of food and agricultural products produced around the state including a wide variety of products from the Finger Lakes Region. While wine was the main focus of my visit, it was difficult to ignore all of the other products which included artisan cheese, breads, honey and maple products, produce, and meat products including free range and organic products.

The exhibit will continue August 25th through September 5th at the annual New York State Fair. If you are planning on attending the fair, I highly recommend taking the time to visit the Horticulture Building that not only houses the Pride of New York exhibit, it also houses the New York Apple Exhibit and New York Maple Exhibit. Of course, there will be plenty of award winning New York State wines to sample, including the finest from the Finger Lakes. Don’t forget to go by the HP Hood Potato Booth to get your baked potato topped with New York butter and sour cream. You can easily spend a full day in this building alone.

There are many attractions at the fair besides food. With twelve days of free music, the midway, animal exhibits, arts and crafts, competitions, etc., there is plenty to do and see. A complete listing of attractions can be found here.

If a trip to the fair isn’t on your calendar, it’s not too late to plan a trip to Syracuse to enjoy the festivities. With daily admission at just $10, the New York State Fair is an affordable way to spend a late summer day or two.

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My Second Finger Lakes Wine and Culinary Event at Lyons Mansion

Tonight I attended my second Finger Lakes Wine and Culinary Event at Lyons Mansion in Rochester. This event is sponsored by Jeff Arnold, founder of Discover Rochester and the Finger Lakes Destination and Wine Card. Chef Don Antinore co-hosted the event adding color commentary throughout the evening.

Three Seneca Lake wineries, Red Tail Ridge Winery, Atwater Estate Vineyards, and Red Newt Cellars, were scheduled for the event. Unfortunately, Red Newt was a no-show due to the weather. On the culinary side, Chef Brad Yearwood, Executive Chef at Cobblestone Creek Country Club and winner of several regional culinary competitions, was on hand to prepare appetizers and to give a cooking demonstration.

With a full house and only two out of three wineries present, the tasting tables were packed. The crowd made maneuvering around the room tricky too. Despite the cramped quarters, I was able to sample each of the wines without much trouble. I was even able to go back for a second taste for a few of the wines and even a third taste for my favorites. The wineries were well prepared.

I started off tasting with Red Tail Ridge’s Good Karma, a 80%/20% blend of Chardonnay and Riesling. This wine had 2.7% residual sugar but was well balanced with acid to cut the sweetness so it tasted drier than the RS might suggest. It had a nice, crisp citrus finish. Next I tried the 2008 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay. This wine is made from estate grown grapes and had a smooth oak flavor and a silky mouth feel that is common with a good oaked Chardonnay.

Food started coming out of the kitchen so I jumped right in and tasted the Crab Salad on a Crispy Wonton. The salad was delicious with large pieces of crab. The crispy wonton added a nice crunch to the appetizer. Next, came a Leek wrapped Ahi Tuna which was very good, but I liked the cucumber wrapped variation with a mayo and sweet Thai chili sauce that the Chef prepared in his demonstration much better.

I worked my way over to the Atwater table to taste their 2008 Pinot Gris and their 2009 Dry Riesling. The Pinot Gris had a crisp grapefruit flavor with the right amount of acid while the Riesling had lemon citrus flavors and was also well balanced. I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of balancing acid in a wine. Overly acidic wines go down hard.

More food came out on the floor including a Beef Carpaccio with Carbonated Grapes, Breaded Eggplant with Mozzarella and Pesto, and Green Tea Soba Noodles with a Hoisin and Teriyaki sauce. I found the beef to be bland. The eggplant was lightly breaded and cooked perfectly. The pesto was light and complimented the Mozzarella nicely. The noodles were served twirled on a fork which was clever and the sauce was light and flavorful.

The second hour of the event featured red wines. Red Tail Ridge served the 2008 Lemberger made with Martini Family Vineyard (It’s a Wonderful Life?) grapes and estate grown 2008 Pinot Noir. The Pinot was light bodied and fruit forward but a bit young tasting. The Lemberger was medium bodied with a light smokey finish. Atwater served their Big Blend, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (33%), Lemberger (26%) Syrah (22%), and Merlot (19%). This was an interesting wine with different flavors coming to mind with each sip. It had a character all its own not dominated by any one particular variety. They also served their 2007 Meritage but by time I tasted it I had already gone back to have second tastes of other wines so my palate was past the point of discerning flavors in the wine. It tasted good, I just couldn’t tell you how good.

By time Chef Yearwood gave his cooking demonstration, the crowed had thinned by at least half so it was easy to see him in action. Jeff, feeling the need to fill in the gap that Red Newt left, went to the wine store and bought a few Finger Lakes wines to sample. He asked trivia questions about the Finger Lakes and their wineries as he poured wine to those who lingered after the cooking demonstration.

Overall, it was an interesting evening. The crowd was friendly and the wine and food was very enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed talking with Mike Schnelle, owner of Red Tail Ridge, and Chef Yearwood. They were eager to answer my questions and had a lot to offer about their craft. Jeff and Chef Don did a great job handling the crowd and keeping things interesting and running smooth. My only criticism, which I find true for many wine tasting events, is that it was too crowded. I found the same thing at Deer Run’s food and wine event before Christmas. Half the number of people would have been more appropriate for the space.

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Holiday Winery Happenings

It’s been well over a month since I’ve posted but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy on the wine trail. Just before Christmas, my girlfriend Katy and I visited two wineries, Deer Run on Conesus lake and Ventosa Vineyards on Seneca Lake. The week after Christmas, I visited Kings Garden Vineyards on Seneca Lake as well.

Deer Run hosted a holiday food and wine event featuring seven dishes paired with as many wines. The menu included Cranberry Dip an Pita Chips paired with Fawn, a fortified blend of estate grown Traminette and Valvin Muscat, Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup paired with Valvin Muscat, Horseradish Encrusted Salmon paired with Traminette, Greek Beef Stifado paired with Merlot, Sweet Potato Apricot Bake paired with Cayuga White, Spinach, Apple and Glazed Pecan Salad paired with Seyval, and Pears Poached In Wine with Vanilla Ice Cream Paired with Cabernet Sauvignon. My favorite dish by far was the Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup. It had an Asian twist with lemongrass, ginger, and coconut. We received copies of the recipes so I was able to make the soup for Christmas dinner. It was delicious and a big hit. The Sweet Potato Apricot Bake was also very good but I didn’t like the wine pairing. The Cayuga White was overpowered by the orange in the dish. The beef and Merlot paired well but I would have switched the Merlot with the Cabernet Sauvignon because I think the Cab would have held up better to the beef and the Merlot would have been lighter with the pears. Both of these reds were delicious and were my favorites of the night. Katy’s favorite was the 2008 Corot Noir that we sampled before the main event. I liked it as well so a bottle made the trip home with us. We happened to enjoy it the other night for dinner.

Our evening at Ventosa was highlighted by jazz and holiday music by the trio of Johnny Russo, Doug Robinson, and Brian Earle. These talented musicians from Ithaca are well known in the area and I have seen Johnny and Doug perform on several occasions in the past. The crowd was in a festive mood as we broke out in song with every holiday tune the trio played. The staff at Ventosa is wonderful. Melinda happened by as we walked in and she whisked us over to the tasting bar and pored us samples of their newest wines. Jessica and RJ were there as well and we had a great conversation as we listened to the music, sang, and drank wine. They are a great team and took care of all the guests like they were family. The cafe staff did a great job as well. Katy and I shared a specialty pizza that was fantastic. I’m sorry I didn’t take notes on the wines and food to provide a better description. I was having too much fun to worry about details. Fortunately, I’ve written about their wines in the past so you can refer to earlier posts to get a feel for Ventosa’s wine.

I stopped in at Kings Garden before heading out on the trail in the Finger Lakes National Forest for an overnight hiking and camping trip with my nephew Brian and friend Chris. I wanted to see what happens at a winery on a mid-winter week day. I emailed Corinne Oleksyn, who owns the vineyard along with her husband Mike, telling her I would be in the area and would like to visit. She said Mike would be busy racking wine and I was welcome to stop in. I startled Mike when I arrived. He was standing right behind the barn door as I opened it and probably wasn’t expecting anyone at that particular moment. He was cleaning the hose and pump used to rack the wine between barrels. He explained the racking process and its importance in removing sediment from the wine. As the wine matures in the barrel, particles suspended in the wine settle and form a sediment in the bottom of the barrel. The wine is periodically drawn off into a clean barrel, leaving the sediment behind. It’s a relatively simple process but labor intensive. Mike hefted a barrel off its stand, rolled it outside to the concrete pad next to the barn so he could rinse out the sediment using hot, high pressure water. It took about ten or fifteen minutes to clean the barrel thoroughly. He then brought the barrel back into the barn, hefted it back onto the stand, put one end of the transfer hose into the clean barrel and the other end into an aging barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon, and turned on the pump. It took several minutes for the wine to transfer. He then turned off the pump, withdrew the hose from the barrels, and repeated the process using a different barrel of maturing wine. Watching Mike lift the 100 plus pound barrels on and off the stands impressed me. Looking back into the barn where dozens of barrels were waiting to be racked impressed me even more. Mike was kind enough to share a sample of the wine as he racked it. It was delicious with a wonderful body and deep red color and the plum and berry flavors enhanced by the oak. This wine is going to be great once it finishes and ages a bit in the bottle. I also sampled a Chardonnay that was produced with Sauternes yeast which gave it a hint of grapefruit. It was off dry and very bright. This is another star in the making. Mike sent me off with a bottle of the Cab and the remaining Chardonnay that we sampled to enjoy around the campfire that night. We drank the wine as the fire blazed and warmed us in the clear, fifteen degree winter’s night air. It was a treat having the wine as we looked into the moonless sky, awestruck by the stars and Milky Way.

Be sure to check out the event calendar for your favorite wine trail or winery. There are plenty of events scheduled this winter so there is sure to be something for everyone.

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2010 in review

The folks at WordPress.com apparently send out annual blog summaries to their bloggers. The summaries are ready to post so I figure, “why not?”. Here’s the high level summary of Finger Lakes Wine Guy overall blog health according to Word Press:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 19 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 88 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 76mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was May 18th with 86 views. The most popular post that day was Casa Larga Vineyards – Rochester’s Suburban Winery.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, networkedblogs.com, fingerlakeswinetrailcard.com, stumbleupon.com, and stressingthevine.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for finger lakes wine guy, finger lakes wine blog, chateau dusseau, cascades indoor water park, and hotchebaba.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Casa Larga Vineyards – Rochester’s Suburban Winery May 2010

2

Finger Lakes Riesling Festival August 2010

3

Cortland Arts and Wine Festival August 2010
1 comment

4

Finger Lakes Wine and Culinary Event at Lyons Mansion September 2010

5

Seneca Lake Summer Music and Wine August 2010

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A New York State Of Mind

The Pride Of New York Harvest Festival was held this past weekend at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. I was invited to attend by the the firm promoting the event so Katy and I decided to take a drive out with some friends to see what it was all about. I looked online at the list of vendors scheduled to be at the festival and was pleased to see over thirty wineries listed, most of which were from the Finger Lakes. Along with the wineries, there were several breweries and dozens of food vendors which guaranteed there would be plenty of tasty items to sample. Vendors were coming from all corners of the state which added to the diversity of products.

The festival was held in the spacious John Deere Horticulture Building which gave vendors and visitors plenty of room to spread out. It didn’t seem crowded even though there were thousands of people at the event. All the booths were busy but the wait times to sample items and talk to vendors weren’t long and vendors had plenty of time to talk about their products. I never felt rushed to make way for other people.

At first we were focused on tasting wine but were soon drawn in by the various food vendors whose products were too tempting to pass by. There were all types of hot sauces, BBQ sauces, mustards, and dips. Better Brittle featured a West African Peanut Brittle made with cane sugar rather than corn syrup. Although I love traditional peanut brittle, this brittle was delicious. It isn’t as sweet as traditional brittle, is a lot more healthy, and doesn’t stick to your teeth. Angelina Vagabonda featured a delicious Eggplant Camponata which would be great on toasted Italian bread or mixed with pasta. There was a fantastic Lemon Fig Chutney from Tanna’s out of Cooperstown which had big pieces of fig with a mild lemon flavor. Then there was the Gourmet Hot Apricot Relish from Koop’s Kitchen which hails from Blasdell, NY just south of Buffalo. This relish had a lot of flavor and the right amount of heat to make it interesting. Hot-che-Baba makes a Chipotle Chile Ketchup which would wake up any burger and fries and their Chipotle Chile & Garlic Mayonnaise would add a bold favor to a BLT. Being Italian, I know my people think they do everything better than everyone else so it was no surprise to see an Italian try to out-do all of Mexico by making an Italian salsa. That’s right, Bisco’s Italian Salsa takes the traditional favorite and replaces cilantro with basil and uses olive oil and other Italian seasonings to give their salsa an Mediterranean twist.

Cheese, did I mention the cheese?  Muranda Cheese Company of Waterloo had several types of cheese including my favorite Raw Milk British Cheddar which I wrote about in an earlier blog post. Meadowood Farms of Cazenovia featured Artisanal Sheeps Milk Yogurt and Cheese. Another New York product that was well represented was maple syrup. I even had a taste of maple cotton candy. These were but a few of the wonderful New York State products on display at the festival. You can get a complete listing of exhibitors at the event website.

I did get a chance to see one of many cooking demonstrations. It would have been interesting to see more of them but there just wasn’t enough time. I was very impressed by the variety and quality of the products on display. I would definitely recommend this event to all Foodies. If you missed the festival in Syracuse, you get a second chance in Albany on November 13 and 14. See the website for details.

With all the food and wine sampled at the Harvest Festival, we managed to save room for a hot dog from Heid’s of Liverpool. They have great Hofmann franks and coneys with all the fixings along with Saranac Ginger Beer to wash it all down with. Of course, these are New York State products as well, so it was a fitting ending to a fantastic afternoon.

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Of Course There’s Time to Stop At a Winery

I found myself on the road again this past weekend, this time to New Jersey for some personal business. I had to be in Newark the first thing Monday morning so I decided to drive to Scranton Pennsylvania Sunday night and continue on to Newark in the morning. Since my home town of Cortland is on the way to Scranton, I figured I would stop to spend some time with my family. Skaneateles happens to be on the way to Cortland and as luck would have it there’s a winery just south of Skaneateles along the way as well. I think you can see where I’m going with this.

Anyela’s Vineyards is located on the west side of Skaneateles Lake on route 41A about four and a half miles south of the village. Anyela’s is the only winery on the lake so it would be my only winery stop for the afternoon. Anyela’s is rather unique in that it’s one of the highest wineries in the region. Its vineyards are located on slopes that are more than 1000 feet above sea level. This is much higher when compared to vineyards on Cayuga and Seneca lakes that are typically below 600 feet. This may not seem to be a significant difference in elevation but it’s enough to make a big difference in average temperatures, frost and snowfall. Because of this colder climate, Anyela’s carefully takes their vines from their trellises each fall after the harvest and buries them to protect their fruit bearing buds from the harsh winter. In the spring the vines are unearthed and placed back on the trellises. This is a very labor intensive process that no doubt limits the number of acres Anyela’s can successfully manage. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because maintaining lower acreage allows them to concentrate on producing higher quality fruit.

The building that houses the tasting room is only a few years old. It has a tall cathedral ceiling with an opening to a cupola perched on the roof. There’s a great room in the back with a large stone fireplace that is ideal for parties and special occasions. A patio is located off to the side of the building and a second patio area is located on a path away from the building. Both patios provide a nice view of the lake. Further up the hill are two new buildings, one of which houses offices and storage space and the other, still under construction, will be a production facility.

I was the only customer in the tasting room when I arrived. Perhaps because it was later in the afternoon or maybe the cold damp weather was keeping people away. Either way I wasn’t complaining because I didn’t have to wait to be served or bump elbows with other people at the tasting bar. I introduced myself to the staff on duty which included Patricia Nocek, one of the owners, Gail, who was busy doing paperwork at the front desk, and Chris, who is behind the tasting bar. I struck up a conversation with Patricia, asking her questions about the winery. We discussed things such is how they bury the vines each fall, the new construction up on the hill, and the vegetable gardens that provide fresh vegetables for salads and soups served in the winery by Chef Luke Houghton. I got the feeling that Patricia was preoccupied with some task at hand so I turn my attention to Chris and the wine tasting. Chris, like Patricia, was very business-like and didn’t seem to want to engage in conversation much. He was very courteous and answered all the questions that I asked to the best of his ability, however.

The wines I tasted included the 2009 Chardonnay, 2009 Riesling, 2007 Pinot Noir, 2007 Merlot, 2007 Cabernet Franc, and the 2007 Overlay. The Chardonnay is a blend of barrel and stainless steel fermentations. It is lightly oaked, well balanced and has a light lemon finish. The tropical fruit flavors of the Riesling stand out nicely. The sweetness and acidity are well balanced and it felt very crisp and bright on the palate. The 2007 Pinot Noir is a 2010 Florida State Fair silver medal winner. It’s a light bodied wine with subtle strawberry notes that become more pronounced after a few sips. The Merlot is a medium bodied wine with cherry and plum flavors and a slightly spicy finish. The Cabernet Franc is also medium bodied. I found it better balanced, smoother, with more pronounced fruit flavors than the Merlot. The Overlay is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is light to medium bodied with delicious berry flavors. It was the smoothest of all the reds that I had tasted and was my favorite wine of the day. A bottle ended up coming home with me.

After the tasting I walked around the grounds for a while with my faithful, four legged companion, Sierra. We checked out the construction and vegetable gardens as we took in the view of lake in the valley below. It was cold and overcast but the sun broke on the hilltops on the far side of the lake which lifted my spirits and was a nice way to end the visit.

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A Lazy Saturday Afternoon in Naples

It was a lazy, dreary, Saturday afternoon. Katy’s daughter Megan was in town for the weekend and we were looking for something to do with her and her brother Tom. We discussed taking a drive somewhere to see the remaining foliage and visit a farm market or two. Katy suggested Naples. We hadn’t been there in over a year and the kids hadn’t been there so it was as good a destination as any. Besides, I knew Imagine Moore Winery was in Naples and I’ve wanted to visit it for a while.

Katy decided to drive, which was a treat for me. I eagerly obliged and took the role of navigator. I decided to take us down through Pittsford, West Bloomfield, Honeoye, and Hunt Hollow. I’ve taken that route many times and knew it would be scenic as well as fairly direct. Turning off Monroe Avenue onto Clover Street in Pittsford, you quickly leave the congestion of the city and suburbs. The relatively flat landscape just south of Pittsford turns into rolling hills and valleys once you get a few miles south on West Bloomfield Road. Even with a dark grey sky in the background, the autumn hills with fading reds, yellows, and oranges were beautiful. The winding road takes you to Route 5 and 20 in West Bloomfield. Continuing south leads to the village of Honeoye. From there you follow the western shore of Honeoye Lake south, past Hunt Hollow Ski Club and finally descend into Naples. Looking off to the west as you come down the hill into the village, you see towering windmills dotting the hilltops. These graceful giants seem out of place at first but tend to blend into the landscape, almost as if they have always been part of it.

Our first stop was Josephs Wayside Market. Josephs is a fixture on South Main Street in Naples. They have been in business since 1955 and offer everything you would expect from a farm market including flowers, fruit, vegetables, baked goods, apple cider, preserves, and honey. There were all types of apples, squash and pumpkins, which are usually abundant this time of year. Grapes and pears caught my eye. Apple cider donuts caught Megan’s. Megan won. Katy picked up a few items as well. It’s easy to get carried away with all the fresh produce, pies, fresh grape juice and cider on display but we managed to control ourselves and left with a modest load.

We then headed north a mile or so to Imagine Moore Winery. I was familiar with their wines, having tasted them on several occasions at various wine events, but had never been to the winery. It was easy to find, not only because it is located on North Main Street, but because its purple exterior is definitely hard to miss. The winery is a modest size with a tasting room in front, a small gift area, and deck on the upper level. Fermentation tanks and wine barrels are on the lower level in back. There was a fairly good crowd in the winery, which wasn’t a surprise having noticed the limo bus in the parking lot as we walked in. The tasting room was full so we scattered to explore the rest of the winery while we waited for the crowd to disperse.
I made my way downstairs and out the back door to find a beautiful view of the vineyard and hills off in the distance. I took the opportunity to take a panorama photograph and enjoy the peace and quiet for a moment. I made my way back upstairs and found Katy. Tom and Megan had wandered across the street to get a cup of tea so Katy and I took the opportunity to taste some wine.

Allison, our server, led us through a flight of seven wines. Imagine Moore has unique, poetic names for their wines, such as Bliss, and Gratitude. Allison was very helpful in describing the wines which meant I didn’t have to work hard to figure out what they were. I could have read the tasting sheet to find out as well but that wasn’t necessary.

The first wine we tasted was the 2009 Bliss Sauvignon Blanc. I found this to be a bit to acidic for my taste with the fruit getting lost in the acid. Next we tried the 2009 Gratitude. This 50% Chardonnay, 50% Sauvignon Blanc blend is aged on the lees for eight months and barrel fermented in American oak. The lees are the yeast sediment left behind after fermentation. Most of the time, the wine is filtered, or racked, from the fermentation tank to the barrels for aging, leaving the sediment behind. Aging on the lees gives the wine a subtle yeasty character and can add more complex flavors and depth as well. The Gratitude was well balanced with a light oak flavor that didn’t hide the fruit. Next was the 2009 Joy Dry Riesling which was light in body and flavor with flowery citrus notes. We finished the whites with the 2009 Harmony, a 75% Cayuga Blanc, 25% Traminette blend. Harmony had a fresh, lemon flavor which was quite good despite its sweetness. At 5.5% RS, it was way past my sweetness threshold. Gratitude was our favorite white with Joy right behind. Next, it was time to move on to the reds. Our first red was the 2007 Wisdom Cabernet Franc. Wisdom is aged in New York and Missouri oak for twelve months. To me it was a classic Cab Franc with cherry fruit up front and a spicy finish. Wisdom is a bold, steak or pork chop wine that would compliment these dishes well. After Wisdom came the 2008 Truth. Truth is a Bordeaux style blend of 22% Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and 12% Cabernet Franc. It was a bit lighter and smoother than Wisdom which makes this a good wine to drink on its own. Allison finished by pouring the 2008 Inspiration. She introduced it as their mystery blend and wanted to see if we could guess the varietals hidden within. The spicy finish gave away the Cab Franc but I didn’t have the palette to guess Noiret as the other grape used in the blend. This semi-sweet wine was light, smooth and dry enough for me to enjoy without balking at the sweetness. Overall we found the wines of Imagine Moore Winery to be very pleasant and the winery visit equally as enjoyable.


As we pulled out of the parking lot, I noticed a cemetery across the street. I asked Katy to pull down the side street leading to the cemetery so I could take a few photographs. I supposed the late afternoon light and damp, grey sky had something to do with me being drawn to it. We would have taken a walk up Grimes Glen to see the waterfalls if the weather wasn’t so wet. The Glen is one of Naples’ hidden treasures. After the cemetery, we made our way back up to Honeoye where I sought out a slice of pizza at Top Shelf Pizza on East Lake Road. I was disappointed, however, since they stopped serving slices at 4:00. We then meandered to Victor then caught Route 490 back to the city. It was a nice way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon with Katy, Tom and Megan. Katy dropped me off at Cobbs Hill Pizza before heading home with the kids. I didn’t forget about that slice.

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A day with the winemaker at Kings Garden Vineyards

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend Katy and I attended the Canandaigua Wine Walk. Some of the things I enjoy about events like this, other than tasting wine, are learning about new wines and wineries, meeting people, and getting an opportunity to experience something out of the ordinary.

One of the benefits of being a wine blogger is that people in the industry engage me differently when I introduce myself as the Finger Lakes Wine Guy. I routinely hand out my business cards when I go to wineries and wine tasting events to promote my blog. This opens up opportunities because the wineries realize my blog can provide another channel for them promote their wines. This was the case with the Canandaigua Wine Walk. I happened to be at the wine walk because Don Stevens, the organizer of the event, invited me after reading one of my blog posts which I promoted on the Downtown Canandaigua Merchants Association’s Facebook page. After handing out business cards at the Wine Walk, it was no surprise that I received an invitation to visit Kings Garden Vineyards, one of the wineries at the event. What was a surprise is what a uniquely informative and enjoyable experience the visit turned out to be.

Kings Garden Vineyards is located on State Route 414 in Lodi, NY on the east coast of Seneca Lake in an area known as the “banana belt” for its unique micro-climate which is particularly suited for growing grapes. It is owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Mike and Corinne Oleksyn. Corinne had sent me the invitation after her son gave her my business card after the Wine Walk, where he was pouring wine. Corinne offered to give me a tour of the winery and to participate in a barrel tasting with the wine maker, her husband Mike. This sounded like a great opportunity and I eagerly accepted Corinne’s invitation.

Katy and I arrived at the winery around 11:30 last Saturday morning. Corinne was pouring wine for a couple of customers so Katy and I had a look around while we waited for an opportunity to introduce ourselves. The tasting room is a fairly new building with single tasting bar, a couple of bathrooms, and a modest deck off to one side. It’s located on a large piece of property that is also home to the winery, a quarter mile behind the tasting room. The view of the lake is fantastic from the deck which makes it a great spot to enjoy a bottle of wine with some bread and cheese. The customers Corinne was waiting on had left which gave her the opportunity to introduce herself and to start the tour. She started off by telling us a bit about herself and the winery and then led us out to the deck where we continued to get acquainted. Corinne pointed out the fact that there were no grapes growing on the lot with the tasting room yet and that their vineyard is located a few miles down the hill. She also pointed out the winery up the hill where her husband was working and where the bulk of the tour would take place. She offered to drive us up to the winery but Katy and I decided to walk up, which seemed surprising to Corinne. She stayed behind to mind the tasting room while she waited for her assistant to show up. Katy and I walked the short distance up the hill, taking in the magnificent view on the way.

Mike greeted us as we approached the building and he jumped right into the tour. He started by taking us to the back of the building to show us where the grapes come in and are crushed and de-stemmed. The machines can be adjusted to control how much stem to leave or the level of crush to achieve. He then brought us inside where a one ton container of Pinot Noir grapes was fermenting. We saw the “cap” of grape skins floating on top that has to be “punched down” several times a day so the flavors contained in the skins are mixed with the juice. Mike offered Katy and me a taste of the juice in this raw, fermenting form. It had a very grapy flavor with a bit of sparkle and was very different than what it will become when it finishes the process. We also tasted a Chardonnay juice before it was inoculated with yeast. This was the best grape juice I ever tasted. Mike explained many details of the wine making process including sugar content and percent alcohol, balancing acidity, variations in yeast strains, and much, much more. It’s amazing how much information is in his head. Part of the winery looked like a science lab with beakers, test tubes, funnels, and various instruments for measuring sugar content, acidity, etc. The geek in me found this all very interesting.

The tour continued as Mike started to take samples from the barrels. We sampled many wines including Pinot Noir, Cab Franc, and Syrah. We tasted from American and French Oak barrels. We tasted wine made from free run juice and from pressed juice. Free run being the juice that comes out of the grape when crushed. Pressed juice is extracted by pressing the grapes to coax the juice out. There were blends of free run and pressed. Other variations in the process include the toast of a barrel and the type of yeast used to ferment the wine. Barrels are charred which gives them a smoky character. The amount of char is the described by the level of toast. Barrels can be lightly toasted or heavily toasted. The toast greatly affects the character of the finished wine. The oak species also makes a difference in the wine. American oak barrels tend to produce wines with more of a bite while the wine produced in French oak barrels tends to be smoother. Variations in yeasts strains make a difference in the character and flavor of the wine. I mentioned to Mike that many wines I taste have a grapefruit flavor. He said that Sauterne yeast tends to impart a grapefruit flavor in the wine. Oh, I better not forget to mention the variations in the grapes themselves. Grapes that grow on one end of a row of vines can be very different from the grapes on the other end of the row. Some grapes on the same vine receive more sun than others. To put it another way, if you take two tons of grapes of a specific variety, each ton from different sections of the vineyard, crush the grapes the same way, collect free run and pressed juice, ferment with the same strain of yeast, and place the juice in similar barrels, you will end up with each barrel being noticeably different from the rest. Start adding variability in the crush or type of barrel used and the differences will be greater yet. We tasted a free run Syrah aged in American oak and it had a very distinctive smoky, nutty, coffee flavor. We then tasted a Syrah made from a blend of free run and pressed juice in French oak which was rather neutral. Finally we tasted a free run Syrah in French Oak that had a pepper finish. The trick or better yet, the art is to take all these barrels and blend them to achieve desirable characteristics and consistency that you can bottle in reasonable quantity. You may blend the various barrels of the same variety or you may blend different varieties. Blending is an art unto itself and there is a lot of experimentation that takes place to come up with the best blends. The French call this “the marriage”. The French have colorful terms for practically everything.

We headed back down to the tasting room after the winery tour to taste the finished product. By this time there were several customers coming and going which kept Corinne and her tasting room assistant quite busy. Katy and I were a bit hungry so I broke out some brie, a baguette, and some grapes for a snack while Mike lead us though a traditional tasting. By this time I stopped taking notes and simply enjoyed the wine. We went though the entire lineup and I definitely found several favorites which included the 2008 Syrah, Kings Cab, the 2005 Chardonnay, and the 2008 Pinot Noir.

We couldn’t leave without visiting the vineyard, which is located a few miles down the hill from the tasting room. We said goodbye to Corinne and Mike took us down for a quick look at the vineyard. The quick look turned into an hour tour of the vineyard. Mike went over all the details of grape farming from planting, pruning, spraying, trellis repair, leaf removal to expose grapes to the sun, and harvesting. He explained all the perils that the grapes face including pests, weather, deer, turkey, woodchucks, etc. We tasted all the varieties of grape and even tasted some grapes “infected” with the Botrytis fungus. The word “infected” in this case is not a bad thing because this fungus is actually desirable. It causes the grapes to become partially raisined, which concentrates the sugars and makes a sweet, rich wine. Of course the French have a term for this as well. They call it Noble Rot.

If Katy and I didn’t have commitments that evening, I think we would have ended up spending several more hours with Mike and Corinne at Kings Garden Vineyards. We had a wonderfully fun and informative day and we gained a new appreciation for how much work goes into making great wine. Our conversations were not only about wine but our backgrounds, hobbies, the Finger Lakes, and many other topics that were weaved into our discussions of wine and wine-making. I look forward to visiting Kings Garden again to sample their new wines and to take Mike and Corinne up on their invitation to participate in some blending experiments. Most of all, I look forward to spending more time with our new friends. They are wonderful hosts and provide a great wine tasting experience. Be sure to stop in and say hello if you find yourself traveling in the area. You won’t be disappointed.

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Canandaigua Wine Walk

Last Saturday was a cool, fall day.  I spent the morning doing chores around the apartment and was looking forward to going to the Canandaigua Wine Walk with Katy in the afternoon then heading over to Seneca Falls to meet my family at the Saint Anthony’s festival afterwords.

The Wine Walk is a reoccurring event sponsored by the Canandaigua Merchant Association and is designed to get people familiar with the shops and restaurants on Main Street.  The carrot in this case is Finger Lakes wine.  It’s apparently effective since there was a respectable turn out for the event judging from the lines I saw at each stop along the walk.  If you’re not familiar with Canandaigua, Main Street is also Route 332 which is a four lane highway that leads from the New York State Thruway to Routes 5 and 20, the other major highway running east and west through the region.  There’s a tree lined median that divides Main Street with street-side parking and wide sidewalks that make it inviting to stop and shop or grab a bite to eat.  I have to say that for all the times I’ve been to Canandaigua, I’ve never stopped at any of the places on Main Street.  I’ve always headed straight to the lake, bypassing the Main Street merchants along the way.  Perhaps this is common and is a motivating factor behind the Wine Walk.

Our first stop was Artiques Heirlooms and Art.  We parked on the street a few car lengths away and immediately saw the purple balloons identifying the shop as a Wine Walk participant.  The entry fee is $5 per person which covers the cost of a wine glass and the tastings.  There were eight participating merchants, so this was a bargain considering tastings typically cost a dollar or two at the wineries.  I was put back at first by the length of the line for the tasting which ran forty or more feet though the store and out into the street.  I almost asked for a refund because I wasn’t much in the mood for long lines.  I had imagined the wineries setting up outside on the sidewalk where there would be more room.  It seemed a bit crowded inside to accommodate so many people.

We decided to skip this stop for the time being and headed across the street to try our luck at Pulp Nouveau Comix who teamed up with Kings Garden Vineyards from Seneca Lake for the wine walk.  I’ve never heard of this winery so it was a treat to try something new.  I was happy to see that the line was quite a bit shorter and moved along rather quickly.  This was partly due to the wineries limiting their tastings to four wines.  Katy and I perused through some of the comics while waiting in line.  I never knew there were so many different comics.  I knew there were more titles than Super Man, Wonder Woman or The Hulk, but didn’t imagine Jack of Fables, a western themed comic.  Apparently the West wouldn’t have been wild without Jack of Fables.

Our next stop was Pickering Pub and Fulkerson Winery, also located on Seneca Lake.  Pickering Pub is your typical neighborhood pub complete with sports on TV, a full pub menu, and a friendly local crowd.  It was rather busy for a Saturday afternoon.  They put out a platter of tasty Chicken Quesadillas for the wine tasting crowd.  The quesadilla tasted just like what I make at home, which means I liked it a lot.  I took a look at the menu and it had typical pub fare including an array of appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, and salads along with an assortment of dinner items including beef, fish, and pasta.  I would definitely consider coming back the next time I’m in town looking for something to eat.

Bubuli and 1852 Hazlitt Vineyards was next on the list.  Bubuli is a chic women’s clothing store that would definitely be of interest to my daughter.  While I didn’t pay much attention to the clothes, I did pick up a tip for dinner.  More on that later.  I’ll also let you check out their website to get a feel for what they offer rather than trash their business in a futile attempt to describe it.  Pesky Y chromosome.  Hazlitt was set up outside in back of the store which gave the wine crowd a bit more elbow room, although the line here was short for some reason.  I think it just worked out that way with traffic flow.

G. Jones Furniture featured Pittsford’s Dolce CupCakery who offered an array of bite sized cupcakes to sample.  Katy and I both had a Key Lime cupcake.  The cake didn’t taste much like key lime, but the frosting did. It was good; I just wish I was able to sample more.  Maybe I should have asked.

Leonard Oakes Estate Winery paired up with Finger Lakes Gallery & Frame.  Leonard Oakes was the only non Finger Lakes winery on the walk.  They are located in Medina, NY which is a canal town between Brockport and Lockport.  The line grew long again in the gallery.  This was fine because I knew the lines were moving fast.  This also gave Katy and I a chance to chat it up with other wine walkers, including Don Stevens, the event organizer.  It also gave me a chance to look around at some of the wonderful photographs displayed in the gallery.  I immediately recognized the work of John Francis McCarthy who happens to be one of my favorite photographers.  He had a couple of prints of the Canandaigua water front that were stunning.  John Francis knows how to capture the mood and many dimensions of his subject by shooting in the most interesting light conditions.  I wish I could take one photograph as good as his.  The gallery was quite large and had a wide range of pieces on display as well as a full frame shop.  I could have spent another hour in there easily.

We had time for two more stops on the walk, Simply Crepes with Wagner Vineyards and Anthony Road Wine Company at Artiques Heirlooms and Art, our first stop where we bought our wine glasses.  There was one more destination, the Lumberyard Grill featuring the beers of Custom BrewCrafters from Honeoye Falls, but we didn’t have time for that.

I’ve been to the Pittsford and Rochester Simply Crepes locations so I was familiar with their menu.  They make delicious sweet and savory crepes with an interesting assortment of fillings.  They had crisp cinnamon crepe pieces with a sweet cheese spread followed by crisp savory crepe pieces with a roasted red pepper spread.  It may have been a roasted red pepper hummus.  Time was just about up after we left Simply Crepes.  We had just enough time to pop into Artiques to taste a couple of Anthony Road’s wine but didn’t have a chance to look around in the shop.  Next time.  Yes, there will be another Canandaigua Wine Walk in our future.  I’m sure Katy would agree

It was 7:00 and we were hungry.  We headed out towards Seneca Falls when my sister called and said they were on their way home because it was cold, damp, and the kids were getting tired.  I thought about going anyways because I was looking forward to a bowl of giblets, you have to try the giblets, but decided it was better to turn around and eat dinner in Canandaigua.  I overheard the ladies in Bubuli mention Rio Tomatlan as being a fantastic Mexican restaurant, and suggested it to Katy for us to try.  She eagerly agreed.  The restaurant is located just off Main Street so it was convenient to get to.  There was a parking lot just across the street which was also convenient.  The restaurant was busy, which was a good sign.  We ordered a couple margaritas and took a seat at a small table near the bar while we waited for our dinner table.   The margaritas were good but not exceptional and they were a bit pricey.  The complimentary chips and salsa were very good.  Both were obviously freshly made.  The chips were thick and crunchy.  The salsa was full of fresh diced tomatoes, not saucy like jarred salsa.  There was plenty of garlic, onion, and cilantro.  For dinner, Katy ordered a combination plate with chicken, beef, and pork which was served with Rio Tomatlans Rice and refried beans.  Katy liked the flavor of the meat dishes but said the chicken and beef were dry and over cooked.  I had the Mole Poblano, a traditional Mexican dish with chicken, rich chocolate pepper nut sauce served with a poblano pepper rice and corn tortillas.  The mole was some of the best I’ve ever had.  It had rich, complex flavors and a deep brown color I expect.  My chicken was dry and over cooked as well.  It detracted from the dish somewhat, but the mole was so good you could have served it with beef jerky and I wouldn’t have complained too much.  I also prefer the dish served with a whole chicken breast rather than pieces of chicken.  I also like it topped with sesame seeds.  Okay, now I’m being picky.  Did I mention the mole was fantastic?  I will definitely go back for more.  Oh, I almost forgot the desert.  I was about to suggest Flan but Katy overheard the people at the next table order Tres Leches and said I had to try it.  Tres Leches is cake saturated with a delicious blend of three different types of milk with a Mezcal whipped cream, coconut, fruit and a hibiscus flower sauce.  It was fantastic.  It dissolved in your mouth as soon as it hit your tongue which was a very interesting feeling on top of the delicious flavors.

You might have noticed I didn’t write about the wine at all.  I figured I would focus on the merchants and the experience rather than the wine this time around.  Sometimes it’s not about the wine.  The wine complimented the experience rather than being the experience itself.  I did take notes on the wine and would summarize the tasting experience by saying each winery put their best grape forward for the event.  There was a good variety of wines presented which were very representative of the styles of wine found throughout the Finger Lakes.  Hazlitt and Leonard Oakes were my favorites of the day with consistently excellent wines.  I’m sure I’ll visit these wineries in the coming months to give a full review of their wines.  I hope the next wine walk features different merchants so I get to discover something new about the beautiful city of Canandaigua.

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Finger Lakes Wine and Culinary Event at Lyons Mansion

Since I’ve started my blog, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people associated in one way or another with Finger Lakes Wine. I’ve met winery owners, wine makers, tasting room managers, tasting room staff, and every day people who simply enjoy wine. One new acquaintance is Jeff Arnold, founder of Discover Rochester and the Finger Lakes Wine Trail Card. Discover Rochester is a Facebook page and soon to be launched online magazine dedicated to all things Rochester. Finger Lakes Wine Trail Card is a Finger Lakes wine discount card that entitles the bearer to discount wine purchases at over thirty five Finger Lakes Wineries. As part of these endeavors, Jeff hosts various wine related events including limo tours, social mixers, and wine tastings. Katy and I invited a couple of friends to join us at one of these events; a wine and culinary tasting at Lyons Mansion on East Avenue, home of the Rochester Academy of Medicine. This event featured wines from Shaw Vineyards, Billsboro Winery, and Fox Run Vineyards. Also featured were the culinary creations of Chef Carlo Peretti, executive chef at the New York Culinary Center in Canandaigua. Chef Don Antinore added colorful commentary throughout the night in introducing the wineries and Chef Carlo. Chef Don was recently inducted into the American Academy of Chefs’ Hall of Fame.

Lyons Mansion is one of East Avenue’s grand mansions and was home to the prominent Lyon family until 1938 when it was donated to the Rochester Academy of Medicine. It provided the perfect setting for the wine and culinary event. The large, wood paneled parlor is flanked by a library, dining room, and sun room and provided ample space for the guest to mingle while we enjoyed our wine and hors d’oeuvres. There is also a mezzanine overlooking the parlor that is accessible through a hidden door off the main staircase.

The first hour of the wine tasting was dedicated to white wines with the second hour dedicated to reds. We started the tasting with Shaw Vineyards. Steve Shaw and his son Steve Jr. were pouring their 2007 Riesling and their 2009 LiBella Pinot Grigio. The Shaw label is used for their serious, premium wines while the LiBella Label is marketed to more relaxed wine enthusiasts. This dual label approach is not new to me. Dr. Franks on Keuka Lake has Salmon Run as a second label. Heron Hill Winery brands some of their wines with the Ingle Vineyard label. The Riesling had 3.2% residual sugar that was balanced with a fair amount of acid that made it drink like a 1.5% RS wine. That is to say, it tasted a lot drier than the sugar numbers would suggest. I found this very interesting. It goes to show that numbers don’t always tell the whole story. I enjoyed the crisp lemon finish of the 2007 Riesling as well. The Pinot Grigio at 1.4% RS tasted slightly sweeter than the Riesling. It was light bodied with a crisp clean fruit flavor. Steve Jr. pointed out that the Pinot Grigio is the first Finger Lakes wine to be listed by K & L Wine Merchants, a high end California wine retailer. We also sampled Shaw’s 2006 Gewürztraminer.

Next we visited the table featuring Billsboro and Fox Run wines. Noel Uzemack represented both wineries. Noel is an instructor at the New York Culinary Center. He poured a 2009 Pinot Gris and a2009 Riesling from Billsboro along with Fox Run 2009 Dry Riesling and 2007 Reserve Chardonnay. The Pinot Gris was dry, with medium body with plenty of citrus flavor up front. The Billsboro Riesling at 2.5% RS tasted sweeter than Shaw’s Riesling and also was very fruit forward with a slight tart finish. The Fox Run Riesling was light, dry, with a slightly tart, lemon finish. The Reserve Chardonnay was bone dry with a light oak flavor achieved by fermenting and aging in oak barrels.

We circled back to Shaw when the red hour started where we tried the 2005 Merlot and the 2005 Cabernet Franc. Both of these wines are aged three years in oak, which Steve Jr. told me is unique in the Finger Lakes. The fruit is also hand picked. No beating up the grapes while making these wines. The Merlot was light in fruit and body and was very smooth. The Cab Franc was medium bodied with hints of plum and cherry. Billsboro offered a 2008 Cabernet Syrah and a 2008 Pinot Noir while Fox Run offered a 2007 Pinot Noir and a 2007 Cabernet Franc/Lemberger blend. Both the Billsboro and Fox Run Pinot Noir were comparable to Shaw’s. I particularly enjoyed the peppery finish of the Cab Franc/Lemberger.

Hors d’oeuvres were served throughout the evening. There was an assortment of artisan cheeses served with crackers, pâté, a fruit conserve, and a jalapeño pepper jelly. There was also watermelon cubes topped with goat cheese, smoked sausages, and salmon with goat cheese. Chef Carlo gave a cooking demonstration where he prepared pan seared scallops over pickled cabbage slaw. I’m sorry I didn’t take better notes on the food since it was delicious. This was due in part by me focusing on the wine and taking pictures and not paying enough attention to the food. I hope Chef Carlo forgives me. If I get the opportunity I will ask him for details.

Jeff did a great job organizing the event, the wineries brought excellent wines for us to sample, Chef Carlo served up an array of wonderful appetizers and gave a great cooking demonstration, and Chef Don provided entertaining and informative commentary. I’m looking forward to more wine tasting events by Finger Lakes Wine Trail Card.

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