By Claudia Taller
It all started with Dr. Konstantin Frank’s vision of growing vinifera grapes in New York. His dream of cultivating European-style grapes in a land where only native grapes had thrived became a reality in 1962, and it lives on at Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars and the other 15 wineries on the shores of Keuka Lake. Here, visitors can discover winemakers and grape growers carrying on the tradition in intimate settings.
Visiting Keuka Lake is a scavenger hunt-like adventure and the region encourages winery-hopping: what’s good for one is good for all. Jordynn Eddinger Gould, marketing director of the Keuka Lake Wine Trail, recommends starting your excursion on a Wine Wednesday, “when vineyard managers and winemakers create intimate experiences by taking people on vineyard walks and doing vertical wine tastings.” Winery tours are great overviews, but more personalized events provide context.
As you make your way along the west side of Keuka Lake, the white buildings of Keuka Vineyards, whose Vignoles appears on wine lists in New York City, come into view. Inside the tasting room Mel Goldman, the vineyard manager, says he planted the vineyard’s first Rieslings 20 years ago and, “lets the grapes speak for themselves.” Grapes are late-harvested to reduce acidity, no herbicides are used, and weeds nourish the soil. Non-interference is the philosophy of winemaker Staci Nugent. We leave with new ideas about grape growing.
From here, you can take your pick of award-winning wineries: Heron Hill, established by John and Josephine Ingle in 1977, sits high on a ridge overlooking the lake. Dr. Frank’s place is further up the road. Off the main road is Point of the Bluff Vineyards, and Hunt Country Vineyards and Vineyard View Winery pop up on the road to Penn Yann.
On the east side of the lake, Keuka Spring Vineyards hosts a Wine Education series, holiday barrel tastings, library tastings and lively events like “I’ve Gone Gerwürz!” “I’m obsessed with texture,” winemaker August Deimel admits. “Anyone can make a wine that smells good, anyone can make a Riesling, but what separates good wines from spectacular wines is how they taste in the mouth.” He eliminated oak barrels to allow the wines to be light on their feet and playful.
At Rooster Hill Vineyards, winemaker Paige Vinson works in the vineyard during the growing season, as often happens at small wineries. She sees making wine as a union of science and art. She loves her job because, she says, “you get to see the entire process from raw ingredients to a finely-tuned finished product.” She uses a variety of techniques and yeast strands, honing the science and embracing the artisanship.
Continuing east along the lake, McGregor Vineyard sits high up on the hill; visitors can sip wines such as Highlands Red at picnic tables inside the four-season room. At the bottom of the hill, Ravines Wine Cellars’ French bistro creates French-influenced wines with breathtaking views of the lake. With so many wineries clustered together, Cassandra Harrington, executive director of nearby Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, recommends that people try only one kind of wine for a day because, “it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not get a good sense of the wines.”
At these small Keuka Lake wineries, it’s likely that wine lovers will encounter owners, winemakers and vineyard managers – tending their vines and nurturing their own passion for making wine and creating intimate experiences.
Photo courtesy Finger Lakes Wine Country Marketing.