Finger Lakes Wine Festival Wrapup: Part 2

I’d like to add some comments to the video I posted on Friday. Ahem…

The Finger Lakes Wine Festival sounds like a great idea. For me, it sounded like a great way for me to taste all kinds of wines from Finger Lakes producers that I don’t often get a chance to taste. In case you don’t know, I do the bulk of my buying and tasting of local wines in the tasting room, where I can talk to employees and taste all the wines I want. Some of these wineries are an hour, hour-and-a-half away, so I am admittedly weak on, say, Keuka Lake. So on paper, this festival which brings in hundreds of wines from across the Finger Lakes (and some other regions like the Niagara Escarpment) looks like a great idea.

Apparently they will give these things to just about anybody!

Apparently they will give these things to just about anybody!

I should have realized when the shirtless guy screamed “Let’s get hammered!” on the way in. I should have realized when the first person dropped a glass and hundreds of people let out waves of “OHHHH”s for about a minute. I should have realized when I saw a woman hold out her glass for a pour (still attached to her neck by a lanyard) and simply say “Sweet.” I should have realized that this was that kind of party.

And hey, I’m not above “that kind of party”. There is very little that I am above, especially when it comes to alcohol. But, since I was (somewhat) on the clock, I was spitting, and there is just something about being the only sober person in a sea of very drunk, rambunctious people.

I found some comfort in the Riesling Room, set up by Finger Lakes Wine Country. It was a quiet, roomy place to do some serious tasting of some great Rieslings and even listen to some talks about growing and tasting Riesling, with a $3 entry fee on top of the admission price. I’m certain that the $3 contributed to the muted atmosphere. Even in the Riesling room, though, it was still “that kind of party”, featuring a short survey of about 5 Finger Lakes Rieslings of varying levels of sweetness that resulted in stickers saying “I like it sweet”, “I like it dry”, and “I go both ways.”*

What?  It means I like my Riesling both dry AND sweet. Oh.  Well, I can see why you would think that, but my taste in wine actually has nothing to do with my sexual preference.

What? It means I like my Riesling both dry AND sweet. Oh. Well, I can see why you would think that, but my taste in wine actually has nothing to do with my sexual preference.

Most wineries were pouring from the bottom of the list. Usually, in tasting rooms, the wines are presented from dry to sweet, and things like Catawba, Niagara, etc., are the sweet stuff. In retrospect, why would a winery bring its really good stuff if everyone there is just going to slug it down, not appreciating the hard work that went in to growing, harvesting, vinifying, blending, cellaring, and bottling the wine?

The dichotomy of Finger Lakes wine culture (and perhaps wine culture in general?) had hit me square in the face. Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards is a great example of this dichotomy in action. They make Red Cat, the biggest selling wine in New York State. They move 100,000 cases a year of the stuff, which is marketed as “hot tub wine”. There is a Red Cat mascot (of whom I unfortunately didn’t get a picture) parading around the festival like Donald Duck in Frontierland.

However, Hazlitt also makes some very good {vinifera} wines. In their enormous tent (as seen on the video), they had set up a “Winemaker’s Corner” where I found winemaker Tim Benedict, bedecked in Hawaiian shirt and wide-brimmed beach hat, pouring the vinifera wines. While the line for Red Cat and others was packed, the winemaker’s corner seemed rather lonely. I found violets in the Cabernet Franc, a good balance of fruit and flowers in the dry (0.4% RS) Gewürztraminer, and light petrol over a nice Semi-Dry Riesling.

Thinking of this, is it any wonder that when I enter a tasting room I am often asked if I like “Dry or Sweet” wines? Is this the tasting room staff’s way of determining if I am either (a) a wine snob or (b) part of the unwashed masses demanding that my wine taste like grapes? For the record, my response is always “I want to taste everything.” In fact, I even had a dry Niagara at the Festival (it… reminded me why people make Niagara sweet).

Some writers argue that New York state should focus on vinifera wines if we are to be a major player on the world stage. I agree in that I like many vinifera wines better than hybrids, but one reality of the Finger Lakes is that growing vinifera grapes is time-consuming and expensive because of the care they require in a cool, moist climate like this. Furthermore, the benefits of selling the cheap stuff are likely not limited to the financial. How many wine lovers are brought into the wine world drinking Blue Nun or Manischewitz or white Zinfandel? True, many will continue to pound the plonk for the rest of their lives, but some will rise above it, expanding their palates to more interesting, more complex wines. If even a few see cheap, sweet wine as a gateway between soda and Sauvignon, then so be it.

So, is it just a sad truth of Finger Lakes wine that you’ve got to sell the simple, sweet stuff so you can make the complex, delicious stuff? Events like this seem to reinforce the fact that the average wine consumer in the Finger Lakes is the woman reaching out and saying “Gimme something sweet.” For the sake of this region, I hope not. Should events like the Wine Festival should attempt to educate consumers about the high-quality wines that the Finger Lakes produces? Or should they exist to sell product? What do you think?

Tomorrow: The VIP experience at the Festival, plus some Wine Festival Science!


*Sexual innuendo abounds in the wines presented at the Festival. Here’s a sampling of some of the wines and slogans offered:

  • “I got Nautie” (sticker)
  • “Spit or Swallow” (sticker)
  • “I go both ways” (sticker)
  • Naughty Virgin
  • Hot Sin
  • Forbidden Nights
  • Pecker Head Red
  • 69 Ways to Have Fun
  • Well Hung
  • Lonely Seaman
  • Seneca Steamer (OK that’s not outright innuendo, but you may have heard a similar term somewhere on urban dictionary)
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Published in: on 29 September 2009 at 1:15 am  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great summary, Tom. You’ve confirmed everything I expected FLWF would be, and why I’ve never gone. Thanks for taking it on in the name of science.

    BTW, the latest news headline on Hazlitt 1852 Vineyard’s website?
    “Red Cat is now coming as pre packaged Gelatin shots.”

    Enough said.

    Cheers,
    Dave

  2. […] Finger Lakes Wine Festival Wrapup: Part 2 « Ithacork: Wine and Science in the Finger Lakes ithacork.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/finger-lakes-wine-festival-wrapup-part-2 – view page – cached The Finger Lakes Wine Festival sounds like a great idea. For me, it sounded like a great way for me to taste all kinds of wines from Finger Lakes producers that I don’t often get a chance to… (Read more)The Finger Lakes Wine Festival sounds like a great idea. For me, it sounded like a great way for me to taste all kinds of wines from Finger Lakes producers that I don’t often get a chance to taste. In case you don’t know, I do the bulk of my buying and tasting of local wines in the tasting room, where I can talk to employees and taste all the wines I want. Some of these wineries are an hour, hour-and-a-half away, so I am admittedly weak on, say, Keuka Lake. So on paper, this festival which brings in hundreds of wines from across the Finger Lakes (and some other regions like the Niagara Escarpment) looks like a great idea. (Read less) — From the page […]

  3. I haven’t been to the festival in a few years, but I found it was still a good opportunity to talk to wineries I otherwise wouldn’t get to, and try things I’d otherwise never see. I didn’t bother tasting at the booths of wineries I get to every year or two.

    Speaking of which, let me know when you want to hit the Keuka wineries. I’ll drive.

  4. The Finger Lakes Wine Festival is what it is, a festival. Expect thousands of people and lots of consumers attending for a fun experience. Don’t forget however, that this weekend for many wineries, is their biggest sales weekend all year. One of the biggest challenges to getting more Americans drinking more wine on a daily basis is demystifing wine. Make wine more of an everyday beverage and remove the pretense and wine consumption will increase. I am not disagreeing with Tom but you have to remember what the average wine consumer looks like. Sometimes it is very different from yourself.

    Also the Riesling Room was actually a partnership with the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance (www.fingerlakeswinealliance.com), an organization we work closely with on a couple of projects.

    The provactive stickers are used at consumer-only tastings and are a huge hit.

  5. […] don’t want yesterday’s post to be interpreted as negative altogether. I had a great time at the Festival, on both days, and […]

  6. I’m with mhaithaca – organize an Ithacork-fan Keuka tour & I’m in!

  7. Tom,

    Ha…don’t take MY comment from yesterday as negative. I have come to better understand the Festival which is why I thought it was so important to begin the development of a more focused tasting experience (Riesling Room) at the event.

    We are very appreciate of the time you took to attend the Festival, come to our “tweet-up”, and do some blogging.

  8. Yes, the stickers may be silly but they were incredibly popular. Go figure…

  9. Thanks for the review Tom! Watching the video made me feel like this was the kind of festival it was…

    Also, I visited Ithaca on August 30th since it was on my way from Ohio (sorta). Sorry I didn’t catch you, but I did do something that probably woulda made you proud! I stopped by the Dr Konstantin Frank winery for a tasting…

    I apparently arrived mid pour and felt awkward since there was already an old couple there and I immediately ran into the bathroom (drove for 4 hours already)…when i came back, the couple was pretty exclusive…about ultra sweet wines. They were from Erie, PA, I think. I bought a case of good stuff from the winery, though..

    Now i’m curious about Hazlitt


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