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.25…oh where have you been???

A huge mea culpa…even a mea maxima culpa from Trader Bill on this beautiful (snowing in Minneapolis) Thanksgiving Day. May a pox be on the stores like WalMart that feel the need to be open on this day that should reserved for family and friends.

This could be a huge season for internet sales as not only are many stores posting their sale items today – some with free shipping – Amazon has hired 100,000 (not a typo) part-time employees for the weekend (at least). That number alone is a large company, right?

Now to the reasons TB hasn’t updated the blog in a month: how could he have writers cramp…er…block…after that 4,200 mile journey to visit wineries in New York, Vermont, and Ontario Canada (sorting through the ones on the way, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania will take some time and possibly another trip as only wineries that make vines from vitis vinifera vines are what we are about (i.e. no fruit wines, but will consider some who use cold weather grapes like the Marquette).

So besides having work and personal things to tend to, I read two incredible books, the first on the wine warehouse fire at Mare Island, where I was stationed. That book turned out to be much more: a history of winemaking in California from a very interesting perspective of the author! More than that it reveals the dark, sordid side of the wine industry. Highly recommended: Tangled Vines by Francis Dinkelspiel (available on Amazon Prime in hardbound OR as I would recommend, a Kindle edition).

The second book was given to me by Meagan Frank at her family’s winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York; Finger Lakes Wine and the Legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank, by Tom Russ. I couldn’t put it down as it is rare that one reads a book on a family history that is objectively written, i.e. warts and all. Dr. Konstantin Frank was the East Coast version of the great Andre Tchelistchieff, and might have been as well or better known were it not for two things.

First, the obvious: he was in New York state where he immigrated to from Germany/Russia (the Ukraine), also like Tchelistchieff. They became good friends and collaborated from time to time. Both had even more impact on the business by training promising young people who later became winemakers on their own thanks to the recommendations provided to these students who excelled in the view of these experts.

TB had the privilege of meeting Tchelistchieff in San Francisco back in 1981 at a Bordeaux wine tasting he and Anthony Dias Blue held – illustrating how primitive the California wine industry was even at that time. Fifteen years after Robert Mondavi, followed by Alice Waters and Julia Child, piqued the interest in California wines, only 30 people were present! For Andre the list of protege’s is long because of the rapid growth of the California wine industry, while the most memorable name associated with Dr. Frank is Kevin Zraly who went on to start the Windows on the World Wine Course and School, and at a very young age of 25 and became wine director of the famous Windows on the World restaurant that sadly disappeared with the twin towers in 2001.

The second is that Dr. Frank was a genius…however he was opposed to American wine grapes (correctly as they are not wine grapes unless you consider Welch’s wine, yet even today most of the grapes in New York are of the Concord variety…it takes a lot of grapes to meet the needs of Welch’s.  Furthermore, he was violently opposed to French hybrids, and crusaded against them as they could cause disease. This theory was refuted by science but even then he continued to preach against them openly,  thus alienating some recognized East Coast winemakers. Part of this flaw was the need to be in total control at all times, making him a great teacher but not allowing those who stayed on, including one of his sons and later the other. Finally, he was forced to let go of control of the winery and today it remains in the family with grandson Fred Frank as president, and now his daughter Meaghan learning the business (she gave me a private tasting and I found her both charming and knowledgeable).

Here is a link to the complete book, but you should consider buying it:    Dr. Konstantin Frank

Ok, TB so that is what you were doing, but that is no excuse. Besides personal issues noted above, reading the Finger Lakes book threw me for a loop. I had intended to begin with Long Island wineries (don’t turn up your nose!), both North and South Fork, then proceed to the Hudson River, then the Finger Lakes which have many different microclimes and soil conditions. From there to Ontario and the great ice wine producers, and again making some surprisingly good wines. Due to the book, I feel I have to begin with Dr. Frank’s winery and the Finger lakes, then Long Island, and finally the Canadian wines. So watch for blog updates and if you are still with TB, click on follow so you will know when there is an update (nothing is worse than going to a blog or website that has not been updated, right? Right! Unless what the blogger says is a waste of your time. TB will do his best to keep them interesting…and shorter than this one!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, friends and readers!

Trader Bill

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.