The Finger Lakes wine region is an interesting area and it has the potential to produce stunning wines due to our climate. It sits on that border between possible and impossible when it comes to producing vinifera. The general area is too cold, but, thanks to a few very important features (terroir), that helps to moderate certain areas, we find pockets of land that are suitable for growing vinifera.
Obviously the lakes themselves are the most important. They act as our major moderator, and help to keep summer and spring (helping to delay bud break) cooler, and winter and fall warmer. If it were not for the lakes, we would not be able to grow vinifera here. But, its not just “the Lakes,” each one is different. Seneca is nearly 750 feet deep, and it’s so large, with such a high refresh rate, it will never freeze. On the other hand, Kueka and Cayuga, while both are deep, do freeze.
Each has an impact, creating really important, but still not fully understood microclimates. However, the lakes alone wont allow viticulture to work here. The steep slopes around them are important as well. Flat land allows air pockets to settle, where as steep land allows for air drainage, allowing cold air that would wreak havoc on vineyards to be drained away (usually towards the lake).
Our location within airpreasure and wind patterns is also necessary. With a general wind from the North East, we draw air from Canada. But its passage over the Great Lakes helps to pre-heat that air for us, bringing a generally warmer influence than other winds from the north would.
Our soil is also critical. With a subsoil sedimented under an ancient ocean, our shale subsoils are very important. Easily crumbled and fractured, they allow both root penetration, as well as water drainage to help dry out our soils in our relatively wet environment.
Lastly, our complex topsoils creates an immense diversity allowing for a myriad of variables when setting up a vineyard. When the glaciers carved our lakes, they tore and moved an immense amount of soil along the way. These were deposited randomly around the region, meaning you will find pockets of clay, sand, shale, limestone and more all over the Finger Lakes.
Often people see our challenges to viticulture (it is cold, wet, etc) first, and it is really hard to grow fruit here. They draw the conclusion that it is a bad place to try and grow wine… which it is. But, it’s also hard to grow fruit in Burgundy, Mosel, Germany, and frankly, nearly every one of the greatest wine regions in the world. That tensility between possible and impossible is perceivable in the wine, and it is captivating.
What’s the best way to experience Finger Lakes Wine Country?
Honestly, a trip here is amazing. Each season is unique and has its advantages, so pick the one that bests suits you. Come stay at one of our amazing B&B’s or hotels and visit the wineries.
I’d suggest staying in Geneva, as it has the best night life and is centrally located. Watkins (Check out the Burdett House B&B) is also great, and now the Stonecat Cafe has a B&B right next to their restaurant in Hector. Plan tastings (be professional), and divide your territory by day. Do the East side of Seneca one day and the West side another. Then proceed to Keuka and Cayuga. Make sure to eat a lot at Stonecat, F.L.X. Wienery, Graft, Hazelnut Kitchen, Pleasant Valley Inn, F.L.X. Table, Red Dove, Ports, Kindered Fare, and many others. Make sure you have a car or hire a driver. Get on the lake, visit waterfalls and hang out!