Finger Lakes Wine Festival- New York Wine & Culinary Center
By Ron Kapon, Contributing Travel Editor
The 11 Finger Lakes are located in the west-central section of Upstate New York. The lakes are long and narrow. They reminded early mapmakers of human fingers, hence the name. The two longest, Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake, are among the deepest in America. Both are close to 40 miles from end to end and about 3.5 miles wide. At the north end of Seneca Lake is the city of Geneva, home of Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. At the south end of the lake is the village of Watkins Glen, New York, famed for auto racing and waterfalls. The nearby Seneca Lake Wine Trail featured 32 wineries. The city of Ithaca, New York, site of Ithaca College and Cornell University, is located at the southern end of Cayuga Lake. The Finger Lakes region is a central part of the Iroquois homeland. The Iroquois tribes include the Seneca and Cayuga tribes, for which the two largest Finger Lakes are named.
The author with contestants in the Toga Contest.
Hazlitt Vineyards booth showing Red Cat Wine.
The Finger Lakes area is New York's largest wine producing region. Over 100 wineries and vineyards are located around the lakes (90% of the total New York State wine are produced there). Steep slopes surrounding the lakes provide a natural means for rainwater and air drainage during the spring and summer growing season, and the depth of the lakes moderates the region?s cool autumns with gentle, warming fog, thereby extending the growing season. The main grape varieties grown are Riesling (perhaps the signature wine of the area), Chardonnay, Gew?rztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc (Ice Wine), Seyval Blanc and Vitis labrusca (American native) varieties such as Concord and Niagara.
The New York Wine & Culinary Building.
A class at the NY Wine & Culinary Center.
I was invited to lecture at the 16th annual Finger Lakes Wine Festival held at the world famous Watkins Glen International. My two lectures were entitled, "Confessions of a Non Wine Snob" or 73 years of drinking wine and traveling the globe in search of the good life and the perfect wine course! Over 900 wines from 80 wineries were available, along with culinary classes (courtesy of the NY Wine & Culinary Center, as well as a variety of local restaurants), cooking demonstrations (using NY farm products), wine seminars (presented by the NY Wine & Grape Foundation) and lots of live music. There was a lot of food for sale, along with craft beers and handcrafted items, gourmet foods (lots of NY farm products), cheese, jewelry and wine merchandise. The cost was $35 for a one-day pass and $45 for both days admission. If you were the designated driver the cost was only $15 and you received complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. I also liked the fact that the County Sheriff?s Department staffed a tent inside the main entrance where one could check their alcohol level and also a courtesy checkpoint at the departure exit. There were additional costs including: pace car rides- $10; the Friday night Toga Party- $20; Saturday?s banquet- $65, breakfasts on both Saturday & Sunday- $30 and the Riedel Experience- $199 (includes a reserve bottle of wine and a 5 piece Riedel glass set). There was no charge for parking but if you wanted to bring your camper to stay overnight it was $60. Two other innovations I appreciated were sweetness level signs with color-coded placards atop the back of the winery booths. A blue sign meant the wine was dry, a light green it was semi-dry and a pink for sweet. The other great idea was wine claim checks. One can buy wine they liked and not have to carry them around all day. Inside the main entrance at the Welcome Tent they fill out a claim check and give one half of the label to the winery when they purchase wine. At the end of their visit they stop at the Wine Pickup tent for their wine.
The weather was quite warm on Saturday with some rain on Sunday. Most of the events took place under tents. My lecture topic was perfect for this festival as most attendees were definitely "non wine snobs."
A selection of NY State spirits in the tasting room.
Map showing the Finger Lakes.
I have been trying to visit the New York Wine & Culinary Center since it opened in 2006. A partnership between The New York Wine and Grape Foundation, Rochester Institute of Technology, Wegmans Food Market and Constellation Brands, the center is located in Canandaigua, NY. This small city is located on the north shore of Canandaigua Lake and is a major tourist destination during the summer months. After my Saturday seminar I drove a bit over an hour through part of the Canandaigua Wine Trail and arrived at the center. Executive Director Alexa F. Gifford was away so AJ Shear, Communication Manager for Ontario County?s Finger Lakes Visitors Connection and Chrys Baldwin, Director of Education for the Culinary Center acted as my hosts. I visited the tasting room with its selection of New York wine, beer and spirits as well as the demonstration theater where chefs prepare dishes before a live audience. When I visited a bachelorette party was in the hands-on kitchen cooking along with a chef. I had lunch in the restaurant, which also has outdoor seating overlooking Canandaigua Lake. There is also an outdoor garden available for parties and events. In addition, there is a private dining room and reception gallery available for private events. The gift shop features souvenirs and culinary and wine-related items. Admission to the center is free. However, some programs require a fee and advance registration. The Center is a 501c3 non-profit organization and their mission is to promote NYS agriculture by featuring NYS wine and food in their classes, events, restaurant and tasting room.