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American Wine Regions: The Finger Lakes

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30/10/2019 “Our wines have become the darlings of the sommelier community. They’re great food-pairing wines” Finger Lakes Wine Alliance’s Carmela Barbagallo

The Finger Lakes has enjoyed a very rapid ascent. Named America’s best wine region in 2018 by USA Today, this region in north-west New York State won again in 2019. So what makes it so special? For the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance’s Carmela Barbagallo, it’s a combination of climate, collegiality and a desire to share the wonder of a region where grapes were first planted in the 1960s.

“The first winemakers here set the scene and continually refined their own skills,” she says. “And now they're supporting newcomers as well. It’s really a collective effort.” There are now more than 100 winemakers in the region, which owes its name to a family of long, thin lakes that regulate the temperature, keeping it cool in the spring and warmer in the early fall. Winemakers like Herman J Wiemer, Boundary Breaks and Domaine LeSeurre have made the area a growing favorite for switched-on sommeliers.

Why are the Finger Lakes getting talked about now? Wine-making started a while back 

“We’ve had growers here for a long time, but I think what has created the current interest is working together. One thing we have here in the region that's really special is collegiality: the original growers support the newer ones, and move forward collectively. That’s a real strength. I've traveled to a lot of other wine regions around the globe and you don't see that, I feel, as much as you see that here. Here people see the big picture, travel together, partner together. 
“I think our wines have become the darlings of the sommelier community. They're great food pairing wines. We really appreciate the food and beverage professionals that are advocating for our wines and becoming ambassadors to our program.”

How do you promote the region?

“Lots of ways! One of the events we do is the Riesling Road Show, where we travel to Pennsylvania, Ohio and then to three cities within New York State. We're investing in meeting with customers. This has been going on for several years now, showing up in the market to meet our customers, showing them what's new each year. That's just one example of the marketing programs that we do to promote ourselves together. Wineries here really see the big picture, and are willing to partner with each other and share resources to get the word out about our region.”

You mentioned sommeliers. Are Finger Lakes wines good with food? Why? 

“Riesling, which is our main grape, is so versatile: just with that one variety alone, you can pair with almost any cuisine and it's an exciting pairing. It's not just a pairing that'll work: it’ll really excite your palette.

“We have these cool-climate reds and other whites as well, that work so well with bringing the acidity to the table: they complement but don’t overpower dishes. When you have really big, intense red wines, for example, if you're talking Chile or California, you can make some phenomenal pairings, but you can also tend to overpower the food. Our wines will help food to shine and just give the guests a really beautiful experience.

“And the price points are really good for restaurants. If restaurants are looking for by the glass offerings, we can service that market for them. The value you get for the money with our wines, it just makes it a good fit for restaurants.”

The Finger Lakes is known for Riesling. What sort of variety of Riesling do you produce?

“We have some very fruit-forward, and we have others where the minerality is the focal point. We have different types of soil. We have a complete variance of styles of Riesling here. For a long time, we were known as a sweet wine region, but that's kind of gone to the wayside, that belief, which is not true. We produce so many great dry styles. And then there’s ice wine, like that produced by Boundary Breaks.”

Are there any grapes that are growing in popularity in the Finger Lakes?

“Cabernet Franc is our most grown red grape here, and Chardonnay is the second most popular white grape. One of the events that we do on an annual basis for the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance is our winemaker's masterclass, and this year we'll be focused on Chardonnay.

“We bring in a winemaker and a trade or industry person to talk about Chardonnay from all regions. We educate our winemakers by tasting world-class Chardonnays from all over the world and learning about the different styles. That's a really nice program.

“Our latitude is not so different from Burgundy. We go for clean style Chardonnay, often unoaked as well. We're going for a cleaner style, probably along the lines of Chablis.”

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