While it kills me to shill for Mark Zuckerberg and the data-brokers at Meta, occasionally I come across a Facebook group that seizes the digital zeitgeist.
One such community is the Finger Lakes (FLX) Wine Aficionados. A more prolific, passionate and welcoming group of wine lovers, you just won’t meet. These folks are huge proponents of #buylocal and unabashed fans of wines from the burgeoning Finger Lakes (FLX) region. By joining the group, you’ll not only instantly have 1,500 like-minded friends, but your social media stream will be generously stocked with group-sourced FLX wine recommendations – 24/7.
When I joined the group, I was immediately struck by just how nice and well-behaved the members seemed to be. At a time when many media platforms are turning off comments, or hiring ‘civility’ managers, this group of Aficionados seems to ooze camaraderie and positivity.
I will admit, I was a tad skeptical when my cousin flipped me the link and I saw the word Aficionado in the name. I’ve always thought of aficionados as wine snobs: self-congratulatory types who (no-doubt) drink Claret and try to impress with their wine knowledge.
But FLX Wine Aficionados are quite the opposite.
This community is less about ego and more about discovery and fun. Wine certifications and seasoned wine knowledge are optional. What you’ll find in this group is a healthy balance of wine newbies, wine geeks and wine virtuosos, all super-eager to share their latest FLX find, favourite winery experience and DIY #winepairing success.
Another cool Aficionado fact? The wine community has embraced the moniker so much, that member @AH is having FLXWA pins made to showcase the local love. Wear the pin to a participating winery and Aficionados can potentially score a discount or other exclusive offering. But don’t even try to quote me on this! Terms and conditions, pin size and pin design are still a work in progress (see poll). More digital democracy in action.
You gotta know somewhere, Mark Zuckerberg is smiling.
Aficionados take pride in the meteoric success of the region
One of the comments I see most often in my ‘joy’ scrolling (the opposite of doom 😊) is just how much the cool climate wines from the Finger Lakes have improved, which helps explain the meteoric growth of the region and the corresponding, organic growth of this FB group.
From ~80 wineries in 2000 to 150 today, the wines here get better every year and the region is increasingly attracting cool climate winemaking star-power from around the world.
New York’s Finger Lakes AVA was established in 1982, with sub-appellation status achieved for Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake in 1988. It’s the eleven, glacier-carved, finger-like lakes that make this growing region so unique. The “lake effect” or unique microclimates along the sloping hillsides combine with glacial soils, lake depth and a huge range of bedrock geology to create a fascinating patchwork of distinct, cool climate “terroir”.
The region is vast at 4,000 square miles and there’s no shortage of stunning views. To get between the three key wine-growing lakes – Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka – however, you need to do some serious driving. And it takes longer than it looks (see Hermann J. Wiemer tale of woe below!). So, pre-planning and a designated driver (DD) is definitely in order.
Worth noting, the roster of European varietals expands every year, but there’s increasing international recognition for outstanding Riesling and Cab Franc. I happen to love a medium bodied, lower-alcohol red and there are some definitely some exciting new Austrian and German varietals being served up in the FLX.
The person who will yay or nay your request to join, is wine lover and site admin Wayne Schutz. According to Wayne, 95% of his wine consumption is from the Finger Lakes with the other 5% from Long Island. (Such a homeboy!) Wayne figures he’s at about twelve wine club memberships, enough that he needs multiple spreadsheets to keep it all straight.
Aside from Wayne, who are these Finger Lakes wine-loving zealots?
Wayne says the group is almost 100% American. Two-thirds of the 1500+ members live in New York State and most reside in the FLX region (including Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo). I’m one of three Canadians and there’s a smattering of French and Swiss wine lovers on board.
Facebook demographics (yep, we’re all data points) suggest 55-64 year-olds are the thirstiest FLX wine lovers, followed closely by 35 – 44 year old’s. Millenials have a minor presence (see IG) and of course, Gen Z wouldn’t be caught dead on FB, with the data reflecting that (hello TikTok)!
Based on what I can glean from Aficionado exchanges and photos – the most engaged site members are boomers who have the time and money to drink well, and travel this expansive wine community. That’s NOT TO SAY (don’t spam me) younger consumers aren’t represented. It’s just the overwhelming presence on the site seems to be folks with a few bottles under their belt (#gathering).
The other fascinating trend is gender, suggests Wayne. About two-thirds of the group’s members are women, “which might explain the respectful, posting behaviour,” he jokes.
Genuine Community Interaction
And that’s really why I wanted to talk to Wayne. As someone who’s done a lot of work with kids in the digital ‘respect’ arena, it’s nice to see such a warm, considerate community and so many great connections being made.
“Are there are no keyboard warriors or flame throwers out there?” I ask Wayne. “Does no-one have anything bad to say about FLX wine or wineries or……..as admin overlord (lol), do you filter for negative comments”?
“I’ve really been surprised at just how positive and supportive this wine community is,” he laughs. “If you were on the site back in March, you’ll know there was some negative and unfair press levelled against one of the wineries. It was remarkable to see how the community came together to support the owners.”
Wayne says he of course filters spam. “But I think I’ve pulled maybe one comment in nine months. Most folks in this group understand these are small artisan wineries and this isn’t the place. If you have an issue, contact the winery management. They’re going to want to know.”
How about advertising by the wineries, I ask. “Your #2 rule is no promotions and spam and I’ve seen a number of promotional posts.” (A hot-button issue in other regional wine lover groups.)
“Yea. Our position on that is still evolving,” Wayne confesses. “We have a lot of wine-makers, industry folks and retail staff in this group. But the FLX wine industry is an industry and wineries need to make a profit to stay afloat. We want to discourage explicit sales. But targeted offers for aficionados is kind of a win/win. And some of these offers are really special and draw people in.”
So where to visit?
Lordy! There are so many options. According to the FLX Wine Alliance, there are now more than 150 wineries, with Seneca Lake leading the list (), followed by Keuka () and Cayuga (). (NOTE: I can’t seem to find anyone who actually tracks this….happy to update if you can help!)
On our 2 1/2-day visit from Toronto this summer, we barely made a dent in our list. But here’s a few wineries we enjoyed visiting:
Bright Leaf Vineyard – King Ferry, Cayuga Lake – Eastern Shore
Of course, I am leading with the amazing Bright Leaf Vineyard on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake, because – full transparency – this is my cousin’s vineyard.
Donna Wilson and her husband Mike planted their first vines in 2014, and opened the winery for business in 2018. An orthopaedic surgeon, Mike brings surgical precision to his viticultural pursuits. Donna’s early career as a paediatric nurse and then later in B&B hospitality, ensures the winery is running tickety-boo and her pizzas and charcuterie boards are to die for!! Lest I be accused of bias, which I fully admit, I am linking to a blog post Wayne Schutz wrote on Bright Leaf Vineyard in 2016.
Bright Leaf Wines are best enjoyed from an Adirondack chair (pure bliss) while viewing the sensational west-facing vineyards that cascade down to Cayuga Lake. They offer weekly summer Wednesday concerts, picnic tables and a warm, inviting indoor fire place for cooler days.
On the other side of the vineyard, looking south, is their son Caleb’s Caper Creamery and Farmstead goat farm, where goats churn out some seriously delicious chevre. Another reason to order the charcuterie.
My reco? Start your day in Ithaca at the famous weekend farmer’s market and then head north to King Ferry. Life doesn’t get much better!
My Bright Leaf Wine highlights include:
Bright Leaf Vineyard – 2019 Chardonnay $16.00 13.2% ABV
This is a delicious, juicy, unoaked Chardonnay that’s delightfully refreshing. It’s all about the fruit here, and aromas include green apple, fresh pear and lemon citrus. Dry, the palate is crisp, with a hint of seashell minerality, and flavours of green apple orchard.
Bright Leaf Vineyard – 2020 Semi Dry Riesling $15.00 11.2% ABV
Yummy weight and texture on this wine with wet stone, honey-dew and lime citrus on the nose. It’s beautifully balanced with a hint of sweetness to counter the bright acidity. Enjoy crisp flavours of lemon and ripe stone fruit with a little exotic pineapple thrown in. Outstanding!
Bright Leaf Vineyard – 2018 Lemberger $18.00 13.3% ABV
I was excited to try this FLX version of the Austrian varietal Lemberger, otherwise known as Blaufränkisch in Germany. Bone dry, medium bodied and juicy, the wine does not disappoint offering a heady floral fragrance and red and black fruit aromas. The flavours are rich and ripe, with black cherry, blackberry, earthy notes and smooth, easy drinking tannins. This is a perfect charcuterie wine!
A flight of 4 wine varietals for $10
Kemmeter Wines – 1030 Larzelere Rd, Seneca Lake – Western Shore
Johannes Reinhardt at Kemmeter Wines is a winemaking legend in these parts and after an hour spent tasting his wines, you understand why. Johannes makes you feel special. The man cares deeply about his vines and his wine, elevating hospitality to a whole other level.
Johannes comes from a family of farmers and winemakers, growing up in the village of Wuerzburg in Franconia (Germany). In 1999 he was invited to join the intern program at Dr. Konstantin Frank. A year later, he was hired as the winemaker for Anthony Road.
Johannes’ dream of starting his own winery came true in 2013, when he and his wife Imelda purchased vineyards on the western shore of Seneca Lake (about 10 miles south of Geneva). Note: Imelda’s San’s Dumplings and Kemmeter Winery share the location.
Kemmeter wine highlights include:
Rose of Pinot Noir – $22.00
Delicious and dangerously drinkable. Cranberry, red cherry and tons of fresh strawberries. Don’t overthink it. Just pour, lift and enjoy. We’ll be back for more next spring!
SanSan Riesling – 2020 Finesse – Semi-Dry – $36.00
Beautiful depth and concentration here. We enjoyed three Kemmeter Rieslings and the soft palate and opulent mouthfeel was evident across all three wines. The San San offers complex aromas of lemon citrus, stone fruit and substantial mineral heft. Juicy ripe stone fruit, wet stone and refreshing acidity make this such a delight.
Kemmeter Wines – Pinot Noir Trio – (NV) – $39.00
Elegant, floral, spicy with heaps of gentle earth aromas. Trio is a mix of 2017, 2019, 2020 vintages. It also boasts a collection of vineyards and vine clones, bringing great acid and tannin structure to the mix. Deeply fruited with strawberry, plumb and tart cranberry. There’s a discernible forest and earthy expression with finely textured tannin.
Heron Hill Winery – 9301 Country Route 76, Hammondsport, Keuka Lake – Western Shore
Respect for the land and sustainable farming is central to Heron Hill viticulture and winemaking. The wines are bottled with solar energy and going green includes educating consumers about the importance of environmental balance. For me, understanding a winery’s environmental impact is increasingly part of my purchase decision. Heron Hill’s longstanding commitment to watershed management and reducing or eliminating their use of chemical inputs is key. You’ll also want to visit this Keuka Lake winery for the views. It’s a truly sensational location!
Ingle Vineyard 2019 Oaked Chardonnay – ABV – 13% $27.99
Fermented in a mix of French, Hungarian and American Oak this lovely wine boasts aromas of baked apple, ripe pear and flinty minerality. The flavours are bin apple, vanilla, cedar and refreshing acidity.
2017 Ingle Vineyard Pino Noir – ABV – 13.3% – $22.99
Sourcing grapes from estate vineyards on neighbouring Canandaiga Lake, this Pinot offers a pretty floral nose and earthy, forest floor undertones. On the palate, it’s balanced with refreshing acidity, raspberry, cherry, tart cranberry with a savoury, almost smoky veil.
Standard Tasting includes 5 wines for $12
Dr. Konstantin Frank – 9749 Middle Road, Hammondsport, Keuka Lake, Western Shore
Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery is located on the southwestern shores of Keuka Lake. Wine lovers and Aficionados can thank Dr. Konstantin Frank for his grape-growing science which proved the cool, or more accurately, cold climate of New York State, could support European, vinifera grape growing. His early experiments and entrepreneurial spirit were largely responsible for the wine-making revolution in the Finger Lakes Region. Along with his friend André Tchelistcheff who settled in Napa Valley, these two Russian immigrants led terroir expression in American wine making.
Big shoutout to our wine educator, Katie who introduced us to the wonderful story of Dr. Konstantin Frank. Again, amazing hospitality to be enjoyed here.
Dr. Konstantin Frank – Margrit Dry Riesling – $34.99
A lovely floral, tropical, round Riesling. Juicy peach, pear and lime citrus flavours with a hint of petrol. Loads of refreshing acidity with a stony mineral finish.
Dr. Konstantin Frank – Blaufrankisch 2019 $24.99
I wish we could buy more, is a constant lament when we visit the Finger Lakes region. This Blau is a perfect example of that regret. Wonderful concentration with a pretty nose of strawberry, cherry and spice. On the palate, it’s all about the ripe, juicy flavours – bing cherry, blackberry, warm baking spice with some grippy, generous tannin. This is drinking beautifully now, but could easily be cellared for another five years.
Tastings are $15 pp
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard – 3962 NY-14, Dundee, Western Shore
The Art of German Engineering – while a famous tagline for Volkswagen – also apparently applies to wine. We booked a tasting, were late arriving and consequently, were bumped from the schedule. It was 100% our fault and in fairness, the winery warned us not to be late when we booked and reiterated this message, the day before our tasting.
At Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, wine tasting is a precision art.
The good news? We were able to purchase a glass of Riesling and enjoy it in the garden. Not such a hardship, but fair warning, give yourself extra time to travel to the wineries.
Feature Photo Credit: Finger Lakes Wine Country
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Super! Nothing about the first place? 😀
Cathy #RepealBill124 #COVIDisAirborne Doyle 😷🐀 ☕️ Sent from my iPad