FLX-cellent: Time to Visit the Finger Lakes

In the fall of 2015 I spent an idyllic few October days in upstate New York exploring the Finger Lakes wine region. It’s a beautiful area full of interesting, lively Riesling, cool Cabernet Franc, and lovely Lemberger. (Plus MUCH more.)

Atwater Estate Vineyard on Seneca Lake / photo courtesy Finger Lakes Wine Country

I revisited the region virtually via the latest episode of the What We’re Tasting podcast. My guest was Alexander Peartree, who is The Thuse‘s tasting director and reviews the wines of New York State.

Have a listen:

Wait, you’d like to know more about the Finger Lakes? Whoa, I’ve got some blog posts for you. Let’s go.

Exploring the Finger Lakes Wine Region

Discover five wineries on my podcast recorded in 2015 at “Harvest House.” Perched right on Seneca Lake, it was most idyllic. I asked folks from each winery one question: What makes the Finger Lakes so special?

I also spent a day working at a winery, Villa Bellangelo. That was great. So was going to FLX Wienery, one of my all-time favorite wine country restaurants.

Even further in the FLX time machine, here’s my 2014 conversation with Kris Matthewson of Bellwether Wine Cellars.

And let’s take it back to 2012 (!) when I experienced Pinot Noir (my first FLX wine) and both Blaufränkisch and Dornfelder from Red Tail Ridge.

Alright, this should definitely whet your appetite/palate for the Finger Lakes. This region also makes me appreciate how big a dang state New York is. I’ve been to the Hudson Valley probably a dozen times and Troy once. Outside of that, a mind-numbing number of times in Westchester and a few wonderful visits to the North Fork of Long Island. I can’t believe I’m closing in on three years in New York City. One of my goals for my fourth is to spend a lot more time outside of it, exploring this cool state.

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Villa Bellangelo: A Day at a Finger Lakes Winery

My first visit to the Finger Lakes was a memorable one. I was a media guest stationed at “Harvest House”: an awesome huge spot on Seneca Lake with intriguing and original features. (Cue the taxidermy.) I was beyond impressed with the people and the wines. The day I spent at Villa Bellangelo was particularly emblematic of those feelings.

Does it hurt that this is the view from the office/winery? No. This is a lovely area to make–and drink–wine.

Villa Bellangelo: A Day at a Finger Lakes Winery

But when I think of my time in the Finger Lakes, this is an image I’ll also have in my head:

Villa Bellangelo: A Day at a Finger Lakes WineryAssistant Winemaker Daniel Bissell (left) and Head Winemaker Nathan Kendall (right) methodically and thoughtfully working away inside the winery. In this photo Kendall is answering a question from a fellow Harvest House guest who was with me at Villa Bellangelo. (Hi Gaby!)

It was really cool hanging out with these dudes all day. There was a touch of “hurry up and wait (for grapes)” happening which gave me time to pepper Bissell and Kendall with questions and have a lot of fun absorbing the atmosphere.

The winemaking attitude here is very blue jeans-and-flannel. The grapes don’t get rapped on the knuckles by a winemaker’s ruler whenever they get out of line or show an independent streak. The overall feeling is one of chillness, though certainly not cavalier.

After some morning duties we headed to lunch at FLX Wienery, which is awesome. They stock a ton of cool beer, local wine, and a super-geeky fridge full of crazy-cool bottles. You could spend A LOT of time here and possibly get in some trouble. (#ProTip: Get the cheese curds.)

I’ll be here if you need me, #forever. #FLXwine #FLX #harvesthouse

A photo posted by Jameson Fink (@jamesonfink) on

Villa Bellangelo: A Day at a Finger Lakes Winery

OMG Jameson don’t look but a giant Seneca Lake Marlin is right behind you. AND OMG Nathan, it’s about to pierce your head!!!!

I must give a shout-out to the 2014 Villa Bellangelo Chardonnay, with its perfect amount of oak. And to the 2103 Villa Bellangelo Cabernet Franc, which is kinda gulpable yet has intrigue and yummy character. This was the first of many impressive Finger Lakes Cabernet Francs. So fun and fresh, made for immediate lunchtime consumption when served on the cool side. (There are more serious, cellar-worthy examples, BTW.)

Oh, and the Riesling grapes we were waiting for did arrive. The way the late afternoon sun hit them was pretty magical. Another thing of wonder was the weather. When we first arrived at the Finger Lakes and headed to Hearts and Hands Wine Company, it started snowing! Winemaker Tom Higgins gave us a crash course in how the weather there can make things really difficult for grapes and vines. Some years it gets so cold the trunks crack in half. Concerning the high personal, emotional, and financial stakes when it comes to running a winery in this climate, Higgins said, “When the vines are knocked down it takes your heart away.”

Villa Bellangelo: A Day at a Finger Lakes Winery

I also had a similar experience to my time at Villa Bellangelo the next day at Red Newt Cellars. It was fun to watch Head Winemaker Kelby Russell along with Megs, Page, and Mark, go about their daily routines in a spirited manner. They have forged a quirky, self deprecating chemistry that was right up my alley. Even though the weather was a bit gloomy, the people I spent time with were a bright spot.

If you love Riesling, Red Newt Cellars is your jam. They have an astonishing variety of sites and styles embodied in numerous bottlings. My favorite was the 2012 Sawmill Creek Vineyards North Block. Of this wine I wrote, “Sexy texture.” Which is kind of embarrassing but that’s how I felt. For bargain-hunters, it’s hard to beat the 2013 “Circle” Riesling. And the 2012 Notophthalmus, a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling, was super-complex and almost milky. (Note: This wine is dairy-free.) It reminded me of a fine white blend from Alsace. Finally, sample older vintages in the tasting room, like a duo of 2007 Gewürztraminers. (What.)

Stay tuned for a fun podcast. I recorded a bunch of interviews at Harvest House before dinner got (well) underway. Consider this the dawn of my Finger Lakes adventures!

Villa Bellangelo: A Day at a Finger Lakes Winery

Sunrise over Seneca Lake

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