Célèbrating with Dr. Konstantin Frank Célèbre Rosé NV

Dr. Konstantin Frank Célèbre Rosé

Dr. Konstantin Frank Célèbre Rosé

Wow… after all that snow, we’ve got some spring-like conditions and I’ve got some pink Finger Lakes sparkling wine from the one and only Dr. Kontstantin Frank, some fresh Gruyere Surchoix and Vermont common crackers to celebrate a fun little milestone. The wine is called “Célèbre” and today it is for a celebration of both warm air, sunny skies, and my new membership in the Wine Century Club.

In case you didn’t know, Dr. Konstantin Frank was a German man who came to the region in his 50s and was the first to grow and promote the culture of growing Vinifera vines in Central New York State, in the early 1960s. The New York wine industry was happy growing local varieties and remaining relatively obscure internationally. Dr Frank’s persistence and a new position in researching and experimenting with the old-world European varieties eventually put this region on the world wine map. He had a degree in viticulture and agronomy, experience as manager of a large vineyard in the Ukraine, and an ongoing interest in cold-climate viticulture. All of these helped land him a job at the Cornell Agricultural Experiment station in Geneva, New York. Despite much resistance to the idea that Vinifera could grow successfully in the climate, he succeeded in making believers then, and now. The region is now a blend of great wines made from Vinifera (particularly Riesling in many styles old and new) and many local stars like Cornell’s weather-resistant hybrid Cayuga, ice-wine star Vidal, Niagara and grape-juice-friendly Concord.

The Dr. Konstantin Frank winery has won about 79 gold medals since its inception, as well as awards for pioneering wine-making in the region.  The property, and the wine room are located on a gorgeous plot on a hill above the western coast of Keuka lake. The vineyards are now over 50 years old, making them some of the oldest vines in the country.  They are also the only winery I know to make the ancient varietal Rkatseteli —a racy, dry, peach-pear and honey-laden medium-bodied white.

In the glass, this lovely méthode Champagnoise rosé is a rich pink color with some orange hues. The bubbles are small and refined as a sparkling wine made in this method would display, with a nice consistent fizz stream. On the nose, wild strawberry and raspberry notes abound and on the palate these continue in the flavors therein. It is light and crisp, yet fruity. It also pairs very nicely with the dry hard cheese and the salty crackers. This sparkling wine is made with Pinot Noir and Petit Meunier — no Chardonnay here. I sipped this happily last July when visiting (more on Dr Frank here…) New York’s Finger Lakes region for the first time. I’m not a big bubbly drinker as it goes to my head too fast, but there is an occasion now and then that calls for it and I am enjoying this one again… which of course is why I bought it in the first place.

The Wine Century Club is a wonderful organization with many international chapters that celebrates the exploration of grape varietals. There are thousands out there, and while many of us have tried several, this encouraged me and the other members to go out there and try as many as possible. To fully explore the diversity and potential of the grape. There are several levels, with the initial application and membership beginning at 100 varietals. I am now working on level 2, “Doppel,” and eventually “Treble,” “Quattro,” and “Pentavini.” A few of my fellow favorite wine-bloggers are members and through their writings I discovered the club and began my quest. There are nearly 1,400 members around the world. I might just have to buy the t-shirt.

Next weekend I am heading back to the North Fork of Long Island for another anniversary celebration. I will be sure to review some wines I am yet to discover.  Can’t wait!

Finger Lakes Recap – Day 1: Ravines Winery, Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, Heron Hill Winery

Watkins Glen State Park, Seneca Lake NY

Watkins Glen State Park, Seneca Lake NY

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.

Ravines Winery 2012 Dry Pinot Rosé and 2010 Pinot Noir

Ravines Winery 2012 Dry Pinot Rosé and 2010 Pinot Noir

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.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, Hammondsport NY

Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, Hammondsport NY

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.

Just some of many medals awarded to Dr. Frank wines

Just some of many medals awarded to Dr. Frank wines

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.

View of Keuka Lake and Heron Hill Vineyards

View of Keuka Lake and Heron Hill Vineyards

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.