Used to be a ‘new’ Jersey Girl   : now A Colorado Girl

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Trip to the Finger Lakes Day 2: Wine Tastings at Keuka Lake

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Panoramic view from Bully Hill Winery

Warning! Wine Overload Ahead!

Keuka (pronounced Kook-a) Lake was definitely our favorite of the lakes we visited. It had a cozy, homey feel to it, mostly due to its narrowness and thickly wooded hillsides. Keuka is shaped like a slightly crooked Y with long narrow fingers. To the Seneca natives that lived in the region long before the white man arrived on the scene, Keuka meant “canoe landing.” The early settlers tried to change the name to Crooked Lake but it didn’t stick. Many places around the lake still reference “Crooked Lake” in their names. Whatever you call it, it’s just plain beautiful.  We started on the west side of the lake and worked our way south.


Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey


Small vacation (and permanent) homes lined the lake’s shore. Most had boat docks, and some had decks that literally hung out over the water.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

We left the highway that hugged the shore and headed straight up (literally) the hill toward the wineries. The thick woods gave way to bits of meadow and rows of vines.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

 

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey


A few clusters of grapes were still clinging to the vines.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey


Some land did double duty and a few hay bales shared space with the vines.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey


Our first stop was Dr. Konstantin Frank, known for their award winning wines and champagne. Their tasting room overlooks the lake. Too bad it doesn’t have a better view.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

 

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

 

 

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

The person pouring the various wines at our tasting was very knowledgeable. I don’t know exactly what you would call such a person. Certainly not a “pourer”; perhaps as husband Rick suggested “a tasting consultant”? The tasting varied from winery to winery too. Some charged a fee of $2.00 per person or $5.00 per person. Some were complimentary. Usually you could taste up to five wines, but if they saw you were serious about wine and not just there for the buzz, they generally tended to pour you a few extras. Dr. Frank’s happened to be one of those places where the tasting was complimentary. I think they had the best wines. Glenora’s were good too (we think their reds were overall the best of those we tasted), but Dr. Frank’s wines were more complex. There are also one of only two wineries to grow the Rkatsiteli grape variety, one of the oldest varieties known to man, from Russia and Georgia. Very intriguing taste.

We asked our “tasting consultant” about places for lunch and mentioned that we were heading down to Bully Hill Winery next for a tasting. She wrinkled up her nose and gave a shake of her head regarding their wines, but told us that their restaurant was excellent. She turned out to be right on both counts.

After Dr. Frank’s we continued on top of the hillside to this view of the lake.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Bully Hill’s location and view of the lake is nothing short of stupendous! Lunch was delightful and the best meal we had. A Maryland Blue Crab cake nestled on top of a grilled portabello mushroom with a side cucumber salad. Yum! We did the tasting and found the contrast between upscale, classy Dr. Frank’s wine discussion and the comedic, canned spiel of the man behind the tasting counter at Bully Hill (I refuse to call him a tasting consultant!) about as black and white as you could get. Okay, he was funny, I’ll give him that. Well, funny almost to the point of being crass. Especially when he pulled out the souvenir underwear for sale in their gift shops and told a few borderline jokes about them. And, oh yes, they glow in the dark ladies and gents! They charged us $5.00 for this “show.” The wines, you ask? How can I put this kindly. Don’t bother. When he poured a sample of their Banty Red and we checked out its “nose” I just looked at Rick and tried not to laugh. When it hit my mouth all I tasted was grape juice. Pure and simple; not even fermented. What was left in my glass went not-so-discretely into the not-worth-finishing-bucket. ugh. They do have a sense of humor about it all and their labels are artistic and very creative. Needless to say, we walked out without buying any wine. No underwear either. I did, however, buy my sister a Christmas gift there and now I bet she can’t wait! (hehehe)

On to Pleasant Valley Wine Company where we just missed the tour. This is the oldest winery in the Finger Lakes region. Established in 1860, the winery proudly displays the designation U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1 and has eight remarkable stone buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But having missed the tour we didn’t see all the stone buildings but we had a “private” tasting since no one else was around. The tasting room is located in a old stone building (naturally) with a small wine museum. It was dark and castle-y feeling. When we walked up to the large bar for some reason I was reminded of the scene in the movie The Shining where Jack Nicholas walks up to the bar and the “ghost” bartender grins. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the lighting because the “tasting consultant” was certainly not scary. He was very nice and we learned (through the course of asking what the winters were like) that he had grown up in Hammondsport, moved to Dallas, TX and only recently moved “back home” and was hoping to “nurture his inner chef” by opening up a restaurant.

Pleasant Valley is known for their champagnes under the Great Western label. One we tasted we didn’t like very well, but the other was very good. We didn’t taste any wines (no charge for the tasting) except for dessert wine. Now, mind you, neither one of us is a sweet wine drinker but he thought we might like his suggestions of Keuka Blue and Chocolate Lab. All I can say is wow. Keuka Blue is port based, but with a slight blueberry flavor. Oh my. Then came Chocolate Lab (with a cute chocolate lab puppy face on the label), which is a concord grape wine with natural chocolate flavor. Oh. My. Goodness times three. I know it sounds strange having concord grape wine (all I can think of is the Mogan David wines—yuck) combined with chocolate, but you just have to taste it!  Then he went on to pour a splash of their late harvest Strawberry Zinfandel wine in Rick’s Chocolate Lab, and a splash of their late harvest Blackberry Merlot wine into mine. Swoon. Like I said, we are not sweet wine drinkers but this was a delicious combination!! Suffice it to say that we fell for it. Yes, we did purchase a few bottles at this establishment. From here we headed up the eastern shore of Keuka Lake.

Our last stop on our list was the McGregor Vineyard and Winery. We had read about their Black Russian Red wine made from two grape varieties (Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni) that are typically grown in Eastern Europe. McGregor’s is the only winery in North America to produce this wine, so we had to try it. Tastings are done seated at rustic tables and cost $5.00 per person. They do bring you a little plate of “goodies” to pair with your wine. They say it’s to bring out the flavors in the wine but frankly I think it’s because they want you to buy those very same goodies for sale in their gift shop. Anyway, I’m getting off the point. Once seated the winery dogs came to pay a visit. Chester, the Portuguese Water Dog, was quite the beggar. Little Max of the Heinz 57 variety liked to lay under the tables and snooze. We tasted a few whites that simply did not have the complexity or body to them that Dr. Frank’s had. McGregor’s also grows the same Rkatsiteli grape that Dr. Frank’s does only they blend it. We didn’t think it was as good either. Ditto on their Pinot Noirs. Just not enough there. The Black Russian Red was the last to be tasted and finally, something that did not disappoint. Very impressive. We only bought one bottle (the Black Russian Red) and it was the most expensive bottle we purchased on the whole trip.

On our way back I snapped these two photos from the car. I had been seeing this particular architecture in several towns and was curious about the style. Victorian? but not classically so. The squareness of the houses coupled with the cupolas on top are curious to me. (Oh boy. Coupled with cupolas? I must be punch drunk from all this writing.) What were the cupolas intended to be? I think these were in Seneca Falls, but it wasn’t the only town that featured them.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey


Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

And that, dear readers, concludes our trip to the Finger Lakes. I hope you enjoyed the ride! Sorry for such a long post about nothing much but wine, but I wanted to get it all done in one blog post. As it is it took me most of the day in fits and starts! I’m so cross-eyed now I can’t see, so if you find any spelling errors please forgive me. I’m hitting the “publish” button.

Next I’ll be sharing the last of New Jersey’s fall colors (well, one main color really—magenta pink) with you.

Comments:

It looks beautiful up there, Lynne, especially in the fall.  Nice photos and nice evocative explanation of your trip.  So, where are you buying the retirement home?

The houses are called Italianate.  1860 +/-.

Beautiful photos.  I enjoyed hearing about the wines as well.  I will probably not ever experience anything like that so its nice to be able to ride along with you.  Its nice to see colors besides white right now as well.  We have 21.5” snow down here in the “Fort City”  BBBRRR.

Jack, thanks so much. I was hoping someone would know what this style of architecture was. It was nothing like I had seen before. Italianate. Who knew? With as many Italians as we have around here you would think we would have some of the same. As for the retirement home we are still considering several locations, although we are still not sure about the lake effect snow scenario.

Debra.  you are kidding, right? Not quite 2 feet of snow in Ft . Collins?? Unheard of even for crazy CO in October. The weather was never good for Halloween, but this is a new record for nasty I should think! Glad you enjoyed the ride.

Sounds like a grand time!  Lovely fall views!

WOW! Thanks for the tour!

Really fascinating, and makes me want to go on a day trip there.  Unfortunately…it would be a 10 day trip for the day trip! Word verification is ‘close’ which it is not!

yep…we broke the record for October snow storms. Its pretty - but so heavy - there are lots of broken trees…still lots of leaves were ON the trees.

I always love your autumn photos so - and wine too, mmmmm

What a wonderful post, thanks for sharing! I’ve never been to the Finger Lakes region, so I think that will a place promptly added to the list. I’m definitely in a “New York State of Mind” now.

Jan, it was!

Becky, yes not exactly a “3-hour-tour” for you! As it is, it’s about 4-5 hours up there for us.

Debra, better you than me! I guess I’ll just keep complaining about our rain.

Letty, wine, grapes and fall all go together!

Maggie, glad you enjoyed. There are lots of beautiful places in New York State, and many of them just a short drive from us in the Hudson Valley. Try going up to Poughkeepsie (where I was born) and walk over the old (now renovated) railroad bridge across the Hudson!

I discovered Bully Hill wine when I lived in Central NY for a year…good stuff!

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