The short drive, 3,600 miles, or as I affectionately call it, the great circle route, went this way: we left Minneapolis on Oct. 9th, driving north and into Wisconsin to the town of Bayfield, gateway to the Apostle Islands. The problem was the ever increasing rain! By the time we reached our destination, not only was it pouring but there were 12 foot waves on Lake Superior…scratch the Apostle Islands. But the bright side was the fall colors, some of the most beautiful of the trip! It finally began to clear but we had to leave as the purpose of the trip was to get to Tarrytown, New York, for my goddaughter’s wedding. We will be back however!
Our next stop was Sault St. Marie which is on both sides of the border. We chose the U.S. side, crossing Lake Superior into Canada the next morning. SSM marks the convergence of Lake Superior and Lake Huron through a series of locks mainly used by ore ships. In case you don’t know, Superior is the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes. From there we circled Lake Huron to Toronto which is just east of Lake Erie, and on the shores of Lake Ontario. It is a strange but exciting city of exotic high rise buildings with no particular pattern. We spent two nights there, the highlight being the CN Tower where we had a long lunch as the restaurant rotated 360 degrees for spectacular views. After lunch, we ascended 33 more stories to the spire for even more spectacular panoramas. (Helpful hint: to visit the tower costs C$30 per person plus another C$20 to see the spire, BUT you can avoid the basic fee if you have a reservation at the restaurant which significantly decreases the cost of the experience. Highly recommended!)
From Toronto we drove the less than two hours to Niagara, but having visited the Falls before we focused on the Niagara-On-The-Lake region which is chock full of wineries. The number has increased dramatically since our visit a few years ago. There are now over a hundred of them of varying quality. I had hoped to visit two from our first visit, Malivore, which makes a really good Gamay, surprising given the latitude and lack of hot summers, and Stratus, a modern steel edifice that is also producing fine wines. The nearly 30% discount due to currency conversion makes them a great buy. Note that virtually all the wineries produce good to high quality whites but very few produce great red wines, and Ice Wines (Eiswein in Germany). Inniskillin is the best for ice wine (traditionally made from Vidal grapes), and in 2006 was purchased by Constellation Brands, which also bought another very good producer, Jackson-Triggs, which is much cheaper and a best buy.
The one winery we revisited was my favorite, Coloneiri, which is the most spectacular in the region. Imagine driving past fields and vineyards, seeing a sign to the winery, turning in and seeing a beautiful, and huge, chateau-like building, and there you have it: Coloneri! The family came from Italy and began building the estate over ten years ago and it is still not complete. At the time of my first visit I said to my host, “now I know what they mean when they say ‘if you cant to make a small fortune in wine, start with a large fortune’.” He immediately corrected me, saying, “a very large fortune”. The two sons and their wives continue to run the winery and produce a full line of red and white wines, all of which are very good. But it is the fullness of the reds. so reminiscent of wines from the Valpolicella region, especially Amarone’s, that got my attention, along with their motto, “it’s not just love, it’s passion.” I love that word and those who have it.
Realizing that it wasn’t hot enough to make vibrant, they take from 25-50% of the red grapes and dry them in racks in a greenhouse, a method known as ‘appassimento’. Trust me: it works!” Fantastico!
We would have liked to spend more time in the area but had to move on to the Finger Lakes where we stayed in Hammondsport, on Keuka Lake. Some of the best wineries in the region are there including Dr. Konstantin Frank, Ravines, and a new, small winery, Weis Vineyards. One I didn’t visit this time was Wagner which is on Seneca Lake. All are highly recommended!
I visited Dr. Konstantin Frank’s winery, my second time. Fred Frank, grandson of the Doctor, and I have been communicating since the last time I visited and met Meaghan, the fourth generation, rare in American winemaking. This family takes winemaking seriously along with carrying on the legacy of Dr. Frank, a Russian who emigrated here in the 1920’s and proved that vitis vinifera grapes, not just native vitis labrusca, and vitis riparia grapes or French hybrids, could be grown in the cold climes of upper New York state. These wines made wines from here unpalatable to those outside of the East Coast who had not experienced the great wines of France, and California. I vividly recall tasting some of them (and you still can today), and passing on them entirely. But Dr. Frank, despite tremendous opposition, persevered, and as a result of his passion, New York wines, both in the Finger Lakes, and on Long Island are high quality and able to compete with wines from California and other regions. Like I witnessed in Canada, there has been an explosion in wineries in the state, as elsewhere in the United States.
Dr. Frank also developed a lasting friendship with Andre Tchellistchef, who is regarded as the father of American, especially California winemaking. My book project, Wine and Passion, is dedicated to them and their legacy. Whereas Andre’s biggest battle was with the owner of Beaulieu Vineyards, Dr. Frank’s was with the state authorities and local wineries, both of whom resisted his advice. Their friendship also resulted in some California winemakers coming east, first and most notably Eric Frey, the Frank’s first non-family winemaker. One last contribution Dr. Frank attempted to make was to convince UC Davis that the AxR1 phylloxera resistant rootstock, wasn’t. He knew that since the deadly mite came from America that only American rootstalk would be resistant, not the AxR1. Their failure to accept this cost the industry millions of dollars when, as Dr. Frank predicted, the mite appeared in California. Like his friend, Andre, Konstantin was a remarkable man who won despite formidable odds against him. As a result their Pinot Noir vineyards and other vines are among the oldest in North America.
Many winemakers since Eric Frey have had their start here and gone on to work for other wineries in New York, California and other countries, so they now have a team of winemakers to insure quality and continuation of their passion for making fine wine.
It was with a sense of sadness that we left the Finger Lakes but we had to move on to Tarrytown for the wedding, but along the way I met with Kevin Zraly, one of the most influential people in wine today and one who has an enormous passion for wine. Kevin ran Windows on the World restaurant and has taught and published (with several revisions), the wine course of that name, the most purchased book on wine of all time.
Kevin’s passion and friendliness cannot be overemphasized, nor can his knowledge of what makes a good or great wine. If you live in New York and want to learn more about enjoying wine, I highly recommend his Advanced and Master’s Wine Classes. They are an incredible bargain and value, where tasting is key to your understanding of wine.
Well, friends, I have gone on far too long but will pick up rest with the rest of our trip.