Vol 4 No 8 A Short Drive to Canada and NY

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.

Trader Bill

(c) 2018


Vol.1 No. 29…Long Island wineries

While the Finger Lakes excel in white wines, and some surprisingly good reds, especially Cab Franc’s, Long Island, is comprised of two branches forming a claw, North Fork and South Fork, each with a different micro-clime and soils. I had some very nice wines, both red and white, in both areas.

Paumonok, is on the North Fork and was a McNeill favorite. Again, the Cab Franc was the standout. I could not visit that but I did visit several others and were impressed with some of the wines…most notably the Cab Francs.

Also on the North Fork, a very unusual one called One Woman winery. Seeing the little red house reminded me of the Heitz Cellars tasting room on Hwy 29, in Oakville. I was fortunate enough to meet her, Claudia Purita, a pleasant looking woman with hands that showed a lot of work in the vineyards. Her face also showed her time in the sun. But she was fiercely proud of her vineyard and wines, and that stood out to me…way out! Again, her Cab Franc was the standout.

A friend took me to Roanoke Vineyards tasting room where ran right down the list. They are the only winery I found that besides their North Fork vineyards bought grapes from Roman Roth on the South Fork. He was ‘discovered’ by Eric Asimov, a writer for Newsday and the New York Times and a very accomplished wine aficionado. He was the first writer I know of to be bold enough to write about Long Island wines…favorably. I now have faith in his judgment.

We sampled all their wines – all vitis vinifera grapes, no American or French-American Hybrids, a good thing. Their wines and the ones labeled the ‘Grapes of Roth’, were made with Roman Roth of Wolffer Estate Winery on the South Fork.

With that segue, we will cross Shelter Island, where we stayed in a nice house near a friend. Being an island, it requires taking a ferry over, traversing the island, then another ferry to the South Fork and Sag Harbor. Sag Harbor is a beautiful little town with little indication that there are vineyards close by – very close. We chose two:

Wolffer Estate is perhaps the largest vineyard and winery in the area. They too, use all vitis vinifera grapes and make the full range of wines you would find in California. Of particular interest are the Rieslings, as Roman Roth is a German and the day we visited was preparing for a festival wearing his Lederhosen and trademark Alpine hat.

He is a very nice man who is all about wine. He is as serious a winemaker as you will find anywhere in California, and very proud of his wines…especially the Rieslings. There is much attention to detail both in the winemaking and in the beautiful winery.

The other winery we visited was Channing Daughters which is further west. The name puzzled me but the founder Walter Channing, a successful venture capitalist, and artist whose works adorn the winery, named the winery after his daughters,

Rosie Orlando, my server, poured wines for me. I said I want to try the ones you think are the best and she didn’t disappoint me. We began with a Rosado, one of seven ‘pink’ wines they make,  with the right amount of acid to make a wine with a nice finish. Then another nice Cab Franc and a Refosco and a a North Fork Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a pleasant wine with soft tannins. All the above were priced at $20 – very fair. Next, Sculpture Garden a 91% Merlot blend that was unusual in that it had  6% Teroldego, and 3% Blaufranckisch. The grapes are foot stomped (?), punched down by hand, and then aged 24 months in older French and Slovenian barrels. This is a big wine the could last eight years or more and needs decanting as it throws off sediment.

The final wine was a 2010 Envelope, 62% Chardonnay, 28% Gewurtztraminer, and 10% Malvasia Bianco. A stunning wine.

All these wine represented good value and most were in the $20-25 range.

In summary, I felt that all the wines I tasted on Long Island were good to very good and a pleasant surprise.


©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 1, No. 27…the long road to New York

One of the reasons it has taken so long to write up the wineries in the trip was my visit to Dr. Konstantin Frank winery. I was given an information kit containing a biography of Dr. Frank, and it has altered how I want to cover the New York wineries I visited.

Before we get to that, in driving from Minneapolis to New York, we went through, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. I saw a few winery signs along the way but most made fruit wines or didn’t use vitis vinifera grapes and that causes me to lose interest. I may take another trip however to visit select wineries known for producing quality wines.

Not that there is anything wrong with the Marquette grape, developed by the University of Minnesota in 2004 and they explain it this way “is a cousin of Frontenac and a grandson of Pinot Noir” by crossing v.riparia grapes and others creating a complex hybrid that endures cold weather well and can fend off dampness and mold.

I have had several Marquette wines and found them quite tasty if well-made. The problem is the costs of small production wineries which can cause the prices to be high relative to some widely-recognized varietals. Some of the experimenters here though are following the steps of Dr. Frank and planting vinifera grapes like riesling, which is a good start.

Dr. Frank was born in Germany and grew up in the Ukraine, before the Russian Revolution. His history parallels that of the great Andre Teleschieff who made the famous B.V. cabernets of the late 60’s thru the 80’s. He visited Dr. Frank and they exchanged ideas. Had Dr. Frank been in Napa Valley, I am sure his name would be as recognizable to oenophiles as his counterparts. The Doctor was so enthusiastic on vinifera grapes that he advised many vineyard owners in order to spread the word.

Dr. Frank emigrated to the United States after WWII and with his doctorate in agriculture specializing in wines tried to get work at the New York State Experimental Station. His was an uphill battle being an outsider, having a Russian-German accent, and wanting to convert the New York vineyards from Concord, and Catawba grapes to the European varietals. They were convinced, without ever having tried it, that those grapes would not grow in New York. He set out to prove them wrong, and even though he was correct, they didn’t want to acknowledge his success.

Besides, the native grapes were French-American hybrids, which Dr. Frank loathed.He even believed that they could cause disease and although that theory was disproved he continued to rail against them for the remainder of his life. The term French-American is a misnomer in itself, as at the time it involved using inferior grapes, many from Algeria, another reason for his disapproval.

I have been to many  vineyards and wineries in the U.S. and Europe, but can’t think of any other setting that is a beautiful as the Konstantin Frank winery is. It is not far from Ithaca and Cooperstown (a must stop if in the area at the Baseball Hall of Fame), and just outside Hammondsport. The area was known for mainly two things: Welch’s grape juice – Welch was a teetotaler – is still the largest user of grapes in New York state and that is why, despite all the improvements, there are still more concord grapes than all the others combined.  By the way, concord grapes don’t have enough sugar to make wine, the alcohol would be too low. Welch’s adds sugar to get a palatable drink.

After spending a Sunday afternoon at the winery, I was captivated. Rare for me, and since there would be no ‘real’ wine industry without the exhausting efforts of Dr. Frank, I reversed the order I visited in so following the Finger Lakes will be the Hudson Valley and last Long Island (both North and South Shore). That will be in the next issue, followed by Canadian wineries, hopefully getting it all in before Christmas.

Hammondsport is at the foot of Lake Keuka, one of the Finger Lakes, so named because the resemble the fingers of a hand – alhough there are more than five. The other two significant to the wine industry are Canandaigua, and Seneca where Watkins Glen sits at it’s foot. Lake Keuka has high cliffs and it on the westerly side where the Frank winery is located on sloping lands which provide great drainage, a ‘bench’ if you will.

The soils of Keuka and Seneca are much different, the latter loamy and imparting a different flavor to the wine. The Frank’s have one vineyard there to produce a second riesling and while both are dry, the difference is apparent.

I tasted the entire line of their wines, from the sparklers (all made in the traditional French manner – methode champenoise), three brut’s and a blanc de noirs under the Chateau Frank label and a two Chateau Frank Celebre’s, a brut and a rosé, then on to the whites, and finally the reds. My server-guide was Meaghan Frank, granddaughter of the doctor. I enjoyed all the wines but would like to point out a few standouts:

Rkatsiteli: a wonderful grape from Georgia, near the Ukraine where Dr. Frank did his early work. It can be high in acid so it is harvested late so the sugars can form and reduce the acidity. I have only seen it at one other winery: Concannon, in the Livermore Valley of California. Due to the difficulty selling it because of the name I believe they gave up on it.

Saperavi: a red grape, also called the Black Russian, is also from Georgia, and becoming more widely recognized. It is primarily used as a blending grape. I verified that Dr. Frank brought in this grape, and with the help of another Finger Lakes winery, Standing Stone it was classified as a grape.

Their rieslings were wonderful, dry, with a clean finish. The winery has several winemakers, each responsible for and hired for their specialty, which I believe is why the entire lineup is so consistently good.

I forgot to mention their ice wine and even more interesting their 2013 Late Harvest Chardonnay and Riesling at 18% and 12% residual sugar! Full bodies but not cloying. Excellent wines.

When we left, we were hungry and Meaghan recommended a restaurant just down the road at Bully Hill, which was began by Walter Taylor, of the Taylor Family winery, which produced wines until it was sold to Coca-Cola. Predictably, Coke, like so many corporations did not understand the wine business and it went into bankruptcy three years later.

The restaurant was excellent, paid their employees a living wage so no tipping, and the manager was at the cash register to hear customer comments. So much for the theory that you won’t get good service if tips are involved. Think about it: when do you leave a tip? At the end of the meal! The server has no idea whether you are generous or might stiff them.

I  also visited another winery specializing in German wines over on Lake Seneca, J. Weimer, which produces some excellent German wines, especially a Dry Riesling. These wines were well-made and the winery was very nice, albeit without the view from the Frank winery.

Lastly, on a recommendation from a friend, we visited Ravines Wine Cellars on the other side of Lake Keuka and farther north. Their wines were also very good. I particularly enjoyed the reds, something I hadn’t expected from what I read about New York wines. If you keep an open mind, you will be surprised at the quality as I was.


©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.