Book Review: Summer in a Glass

New York’s Finger Lakes wine region is growing up fast. In fact, says Evan Dawson, author of Summer in a Glass (Sterling Publishing, 259 pp.; $19.95/hardcover), winemaking there has just about come of age. A region once known for its “candy wines” tailored to consumers more enamored with soda pop than Burgundy, the Fingers Lakes is now producing top-notch Rieslings and Gewürztraminers and has great potential for Pinot Noir.

“The iconic image of the Finger Lakes is a summer’s day,” he writes, “dotted with Adirondack chairs on the water’s edge, a happy homeowner holding a glass of world-class cool-climate wine.”

Dawson spent two years working his way through the Finger Lakes, trying his hand at every job a winery has to offer, from crushing grapes to pouring in the tasting room. But to tell the story of this region’s evolution, he doesn’t rely only on his experiences – he goes right to the people who made it happen.

A morning news anchor at WHAM-TV in Rochester, Dawson has a reporter’s knack for getting the personal story behind the public persona. We meet Johannes Reinhardt, who left his family’s winery in Germany in the middle of the night to eventually make his way to Anthony Road Wine Company on Seneca Lake. Despite his brilliant winemaking, his future remains uncertain. A foreigner without a green card, he is at the mercy of the U.S. Labor Department.

Then there’s the prickly but ultimately likable Hermann Wiemer, another German, who explains how getting sacked by his boss, Walter Taylor of Bully Hill Winery, set him free to pursue his passion for growing vinifera grapes in the Finger Lakes.

Grape grower Sam Argetsinger speaks passionately of the Iroquois philosophy of the land. Where Dawson sees grapes, trees and corn, Argetsinger sees the Standing People: “They stand among us, and they absorb everything that’s going on in that spot. They absorb the season. They absorb the rains and the drought. And they absorb our energy. Everything you say, everything you feel when you’re working in that field, is absorbed by the Standing People.”

There are plenty of memorable wines here – a 1966 Dr. Frank Riesling, a 1994 Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling, a 2005 Ravines Meritage – but what makes this book so entertaining is the cast of characters whose dogged determination, hard work, vision, individualism – and sometimes downright crankiness – have made the Finger Lakes wine region what it is today.

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