It’s time for a bit of a history lesson, readers.
About 2 million years ago, gigantic glaciers began carving away across the west-central part of what is now New York State, leaving behind the Finger Lakes and gorges we know today. Seneca and Cayuga are the two deepest and widest of the eleven lakes and just so happen to be the home of some of New York’s, and perhaps the world’s (I’m being serious), best grape-growing regions.
30 years ago, Finger Lakes wine would have never been considered “world-class.” Early pioneers of the region started planting European varietals (Vitis vinifera) assuming that they would thrive in the region just as the wild grapes they found growing in virgin forests had. They were met with much hardship in the early years.
Year one of vinifera would be a success, but by the following couple years, their vines were plagued with fungus, disease and rot that would destroy their harvest. With no better luck, prohibition banned the production of alcohol from the 1840s to the 1920s putting many vineyards and wineries out of business. Grape growers switched to concord and other Native American grape production as means of economic float, leaving their passion for “European-style” winemaking behind. Grape preserves and juice became New York’s biggest products.
Today, the Finger Lakes region is home to over 100 wineries, producing 90% of New York’s wine. Both vinifera and the less “desired” native labrusca grapes are grown, pressed and fermented into wines that express the region's unique “terroir.” Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and some Cabernet Sauvignons dominate the enthusiast market. I am, however, a full-hearted supporter of the use of the less “desired” native labrusca grapes such as Niagra, Concord and Catabwa in wine production.
There seems to be a lot of cultural and social pressure amongst wine enthusiasts and the general public to be more sensitive to the tastes of “European-style" wines. We aren’t Europe. If the whole point of “terroir” is to present wines with a sense of place, why not use grapes that are in fact from the place (i.e. American grapes)? I have tasted and loved some very unique labrusca wines. The trick is to not taste them expecting a vinifera, using taste and smell descriptors associated with vinifera. These wines are different and deserve their own respect without being compared to an entirely different grape species! Don’t ridicule them by calling them “foxy.”
Anyway, off my soapbox.
The Finger Lakes wine region is continually growing and improving. Viticulturists and enologists are learning more every day about how to better grow grapes and produce wines that are sublime. There’s an old adage that goes, “if you can make good wine in the Finger Lakes, you can make good wine anywhere.” As much as I agree with this fact due to the harsh and often too short growing season here (grapes need sun and time to ripen), the Finger Lakes has just as much ability to produce amazing world-class wines as the Champagne region of France.
So do yourself and the world of wine a favor and celebrate the Finger Lakes as a prominent, world-class wine region. Support those growers and producers who put their products and their pride on the line every day to be judged against other wine regions of the world. Oh, and thank those glaciers for making this all possible.
The Loco Locavore