5 Reasons Why We Love the Finger Lakes Wine Industry

It’s not hard to understand why a job—for some, any job—in the Finger Lakes wine industry would be a dream come true. Wine Club Manager Whitney Elrod and I certainly think so; we’ll let you in on how we picked this great place to make our careers—these 5 reasons why we love the Finger Lakes wine industry:

1. THE WINE!
Obviously.

What makes the wine of the Finger Lakes so special comes down to the versatility of our climate. Cool climate, old world vinifera thrive in our region, and cool climate means high-acid grapes—an equation that spells “food friendly.”

Wineries in the Finger Lakes can cover the style spectrum, making everything from bone-dry Rieslings, to sparkling wines, sweet Ice Wines, marvelous dry red wines, and even ports. Not many wine regions in the United States can boast that range.

Next time you are wine tasting in the Finger Lakes, you just might notice that tasting room fees in this region are very affordable (around $5 for a small flight) compared to other world wine regions. In addition, in the world of wine, a bottle of Finger Lakes Riesling is often a very affordable choice.

2. COMMUNITY.

This one is Whitney’s favorite aspect of the Finger Lakes wine industry. She says, “I have never felt this sense of community in any other region”—and having worked in three other world wine regions (California, New Zealand, and Washington State), she is uniquely suited to judge.

Finger Lakes wine region colleagues work AND socialize at an industry tasting.

What makes the community of the Finger Lakes wine industry? An overwhelming sense of openness and collaboration, encompassing even the most novice tasting room staff on up to venerated winemakers and winery owners. Finger Lakes winemakers don’t “hide” their recipes or methods; our community relies on each other for support and education. The Tierce Riesling is a great example of collaboration between Fox Run Vineyards, Red Newt Wine Cellars, and Anthony Road Wine Company.

Our togetherness is somewhat legendary in these parts. There are a number of industry tasting groups, notably one that is specific to winemakers. This very structured group is hosted every other week, year round (except during harvest, of course!); these winemakers taste in silence, take notes, and then discuss. It is all about evaluating the wine, sharing information, and learning from each other.

A number of wineries in the area either help plan, or encourage their employees to plan, a staff excursion to visit other wineries. It makes sense to get to know your neighboring wineries to have tasting room staff be informed about what is nearby. This way, when visitors ask, we can make the best recommendations. Building these relationships make the Finger Lakes wine region a true community. We truly believe the adage that ‘a rising tide raises all ships.’

Perhaps best of all, many industry friendships are forged when working together. For example, Whitney and I bonded over years (and long hours) behind a tasting room bar. There is also a blurred line between work and socializing; pouring wine at events may be part of the job, but it’s also when we get to see and catch up with old friends.

3. THE LAKES.

The beauty of the Finger Lakes region is world-renowned, attracting thousands of tourists all seasons of the year. (View of Cayuga Lake from the Sheldrake Point vineyard.)

These eleven glacial lakes are WHY we can make wine in this region. The microclimate and terroir of our sloping landscapes are better for drainage and angling sunlight, and the waters of the lakes are perfect for keeping temperatures moderate. Sheldrake Point even has its own phenomenon called the Sheldrake Effect. Read all about it here.

The beauty of the Finger Lakes region is world-renowned, attracting thousands of tourists all seasons of the year. For those of us who live and work here, the magic of the Finger Lakes cannot be overstated. In what other wine region can you swim on your lunch hour, or go by boat down the shore to get an ice cream cone?

 

4. THE CULINARY SCENE. i.e.: FOOD.

Second only to tasting wine in the Finger Lakes is eating in the Finger Lakes.

Both Whitney and I own the well-known cookbook, Finger Lakes Feast, by Kate Harvey and Karl Zinsmeister. The book’s introduction says it all:

“Very often, it begins with wine. Once good wine starts to emerge from a region, tastemakers commence visiting. Soon great chefs move in. As they sprinkle restaurants amidst the farm vineyards a third shift takes place: a whole infrastructure springs up in support of fresh handmade food.”

Finger Lakes wine with Finger Lakes-made chocolate.

The Finger Lakes wine region is a cradle of the American farm-to-table civilization. That ‘food infrastructure’ means farmers of orchards, livestock, and heirloom vegetables; the foragers who contribute wild cultivars; the butchers and chefs who learn to handle these foodstuffs for a voracious public; those of the cottage industries who make cheeses, honey, maple syrup, butters, and sausage; and craft bakers and chocolatiers who help lay a resplendent table.

It’s no wonder that in Finger Lakes winery tasting rooms so many locally made food products are available. We support our neighbors who make honey, cheese, maple syrups, chocolates…and we enjoy eating it all, too.

Would you rather come taste for yourself? Join us for this special Sheldrake Point Winemaker’s Dinner happening at the New York Wine and Culinary Center in May (and stay-tuned for more about this, and other upcoming local winemaker’s dinners, coming in our May 6 blog post).

5. MAKING HISTORY.

Being a part of the Finger Lakes wine industry today is exciting! The region is gaining more international recognition, and more wineries are opening and making incredible products every day. Compared to other world wine regions, the Finger Lakes may be ‘young,’ but we are hitting a stride.

In December 2013, Wine Enthusiast magazine used our Riesling Ice Wine to highlight the Finger Lakes wine region.

Growing up in Penn Yan, there were a number of kids from ‘wine families’ in my school—these were the kids of winery owners, winemakers, and vineyard workers. My parents often had Riesling on our dinner table when I was young, and my first winery job was in the late 1990s, so I have had some connection to the industry my whole life. It has been an incredible experience to see how much the region has changed and grown in that time. Whitney and I could not be more excited to be part of this growth arc.

Finger Lakes wineries are every year making delicious red and white wines. More and more Finger Lakes wines are appearing on renowned wine lists around the world; wine writers are talking about the region, the wine, and the winemakers; professionals and sommeliers are seeking out our wines; and visitation to the region rises every year.

These are just 5 reasons why we love the Finger Lakes wine industry. There are many more and we could go on—all are tied together by a common thread: love. People for each other, for wine, and for the land. We are all in this together. That means you, too.

A Finger Lakes native, Kyle brings longtime Finger Lakes winery experience to Sheldrake Point. After over five years combined at both Fox Run Vineyards and the Seneca Lake Winery Association, Kyle joined Sheldrake Point in March, 2016. She has earned degrees in Hospitality Management and Interior Design, as well as her Sommelier Certification via the Court of Master Sommeliers, and holds the WSET 2 Certificate. She is a founding board member of the Finger Lakes Chapter of Women for WineSense, and teaches wine education classes at the New York Wine and Culinary Center.