Well after nearly making it up here to visit wineries last summer, we (my wife and I that is) finally succeeded and day 1 was excellent. After a delicious home-cooked meal at the lovely B&B we are staying at, The 1922 Starkey House, we headed for a morning hike through the incredible gorge at Watkins Glen State Park, at the southern end of Lake Seneca. 800 stairs, 700 vertical feet and 1.6 miles up through the winding trail that follows the deep gorge was definitely enough to get our thirst on. I really recommend you visit and do the hike.
On we went to our first winery, Ravines, in Hammondsport on the eastern side of Keuka lake. I had their Pinot Noir last fall when I saw it in a local wine section of our new wine shop in town. I had even written a tasting note to put on the blog but I believe this was right before I went to the Harvest festival and then Bordeaux so it got lost in the excitement. So I picked up another bottle, so that perhaps this time I will get around to it.
We did a tasting through five of their wines, which cost us only $2. The winery building is set up off the road on a hill so the view from the tasting room overlooks the slopes below and the entire Keuka lake and the slopes leading uphill on the other side. The 2012 Dry Riesling was quite nice, and the 2011 Cabernet Franc as well, but our favorite, and maybe it had something to do with the bright sun and hot temperatures was the 2012 Dry Pinot Rosé. It is made in the saignée method and has nice aromas of strawberry and a medium body. The dry Provence style is really the preference in this family so this fit the bill and was just $14.95.
We also bought two local cheeses and some crackers and went out to the tables and chairs on the lawn in front to enjoy the rosé and our snack. Sitting under the umbrella, with the delicious wine and cheese, overlooking the lake was a great way to start our winery visits.
After a 30 minute drive around the southern tip and up the western coast of the lake we arrived at the one and only Dr. Konstantin Frank winery. If you are not familiar, Dr. Frank was a German man who came here in the early 1950s after running large vineyards in Ukraine and lecturing on viticulture and agronomy, in hopes of making wine in the USA.
He was the first to push for growing vinifera vines in this area, though many thought he was crazy trying to do that in the harsh northern climate. While the region was known for only local varieties that could handle the cold, he excelled at cold-climate wines and knew the region had potential to make great vinifera wines as well. He also recognized the similarities to the Mosel region of his native Germany and the moderating effects of the lakes and the ideal growing conditions of the slopes that surrounded them. He got a job at the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment station at the head of Lake Seneca and began to put word out. He finally got the attention of Dr. Charles Fournier, former winemaker of Veuve Cliquot fame who was now making Gold Seal Champagne in New York. He realized Dr. Frank might be on to something and made him his director of research. With his help, eventually Dr. Frank proved that it could be done, and the region is now known for quality in several vinifera wines, particularly Riesling.
We were told that these vineyards also had the oldest plantings of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir, but I don’t know if they meant in this area or in this country. Their tasting room also overlooks the lake, but from the other side. We got a good view of where we were at Ravines just before. Their FREE tasting took you through about 5 rounds of wines, with one sweeter option and one drier option from which you could choose. It worked out perfectly having my wife with me as we could each get one and try both. We started with two “Chateau Frank” sparkling wines – one a sweeter Sekt (German) style, and one a drier French style, both made in the traditional method. I preferred the Sekt, called “Célebre” which costs $20.95.
We then went through a Pinot Gris, Semi-dry Riesling, a Muscat Ottonel, reserve Gewürztraminer and a “Rkatsiteli,” which is one of the world’s oldest vinifera varieties originating in Georgia (the country, not the US state) and dating back to about 3,000 BC. It is a bone dry white that is very popular in Russia. Of all the whites, the Semi-Dry Riesling, the Dry Riesling and the Muscat Ottonel stood out, with excellent quality and richness in the case of the Muscat.
The reds we tried included a few from their “Salmon Run” line as well as a few of their estate Dr. Konstantin Frank wines. The Salmon Run wines are less expensive wines made from local fruit but not their estate. The Salmon Run “Coho Red” was a light, sweet and fruity Gamay-based wine that would be nice for a beach wine but not my preference for much else. I did enjoy their 2010 estate Merlot and 2010 Cabernet Franc.
Dr. Frank’s original home and winery next door to the tasting room is a lovely stone house covered in vines (not grape vines) and its cellar are where their wines are still aged today. We left with a full case of wine, and a few other nice souvenirs. They have the most amount of medals in the region. You can see some of those in the photo on the right.
Our last winery stop was at Heron Hill Winery. This is just south of Dr. Franks and is situated higher up on the slopes, with vineyards stretching far below down to the lake edge. Their tasting room was voted one of the most spectacular in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine. It was a beautiful day for wine tasting and to celebrate our independence and the tasting room was full.
We managed to get spots and tried 6 wines each. Our favorites were their 2011 Muscat, their 2011 Semi-Dry Riesling, the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Franc, and their 2011 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc dessert wine, which was lush and rich and not too cloying at all. We bought one of each of these. We also enjoyed a nice meal at their café, and the incredible view below.