With Dead 7 behind me, I can finally resurrect (get it?) this blog and finish discussing the joys of The Finger Lakes before you all go out and stock up on rosé for the season. In our last installment, I discussed the fantastic wineries surrounding Keuka Lake. One winery I did not mention – for good reason – was Heron Hill.
Part of the reason the Finger Lakes (and to a certain extent, Long Island) are still maligned or ignored is the tour bus culture that once plagued the region. Tour buses are not an awful idea in theory – it alleviates the need for a sober driver (sorry Taylor) – but when people are given a chance to D.R.A.N.K, ooh boy you know they will keep the cups flowing. The Finger Lakes are generous tasting rooms – a few spots we visited offered us enough wine to to make even a small elephant tipsy – and those who want to get drunk for cheap can do so very easily. Many cellar doors now require reservations for larger groups or ban tour buses altogether to avoid the sloppy bachelorette parties or Columbus Day weekend college masses.
Heron Hill’s Keuka Lake cellar door is as close to a tour bus paradise as possible. Situated in between its hillside vineyards, the winery is stunning from the outside, albeit reminiscent of Epcot’s Tuscan architecture. The vaulted ceilings and incredible views make this winery an undeniable ‘experience’ for visitors, but one which feels more about showmanship than the wine itself. As we wandered in, a slovenly hoard of tour bus visitors piled out, some carrying – gasp – beer cans with them. The staff, understandably stretched from the ten or so people who had just pounded their wares, took a while to adjust to our modest group of four. We were presented with menus that contained over thirty different wines. This is not impressive. Heron Hill is not a massive estate: there is no reason for them to be producing every grape that ever graced the shores of the East Coast. We sampled a substantive amount of what seemed like their best wines and were sorely disappointed in the quality. Of the two styles of Chardonnay I tasted (Oaked and Stainless), only the Stainless was even serviceable. The 2013 Merlot Reserve, a chalky mess, was desperately overpriced ($49.99) and the presence of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir was just silly. Interestingly, the only wine I genuinely enjoyed was their 2012 Baco Noir Reserve ($19.99) a French-American hybrid which was moody, spicy and had hints of wild strawberry and smoke.
Let’s move on to things you should check out during your next FL tiki tour:
Hermann J Wiemer
My only exposure to Hermann J. Wiemer‘s wines before this trip was their half bottles of Dry Riesling which persistently feature on Astor Wines’ shelves. I’d always found the outrageous price tag ($20, for 350ml of New York Riesling?!) offensive, so I was expecting the winery – one of the oldest in the region – to be horribly pretentious. I was not wrong. I will fully concede, however, that these wines are fucking delicious.
HJW takes pride in their Rieslings and does the exact opposite of Heron Hill: it grows only a small amount of other grapes (like Gewurztraminer, Gruner Vetliner and Cabernet Franc) and releases them when they are truly worthy of the brand. Where it puts its money and soul is the Riesling, where they run the scale from bone dry (definitely get your hands on a bottle of their 2014 Reserve Dry Riesling) to late harvest (Auslese). Notably HJW does three single vineyard Rieslings: its Magdalena, Josef and HJW Vineyard. Each of these different vineyards have slightly varied terroir and the subtleties shine through in the wine. Tasting through the 2014 releases, I was floored by how unique each of these wines were and how they revealed a character that separated them from the Rieslings of Mosel. HJW takes his German history seriously in his wine making traditions, but these wines are unmistakably Finger Lake productions: the acidity is higher and the fruit characteristics are less noticeable, leaving very racy and complex wines that will change all of your assumptions about the grape.
Dan tried the 2013 Gewurztraminer and insisted we take it home. There is also a TBA (trockenbeerenauslese, aka LEMONADE in a bottle) and if you get your hands on it, save it for that special moment when you have slayed your man, aired out all his filthy laundry, proclaimed yourself queen of the nation, and are ready to grace his sorry ass with a droplet of forgiveness. #flawless
And that’s a wrap folks! I would be remiss not to briefly mention the Finger Lakes Cider House and all of its juicy glory, but we’ll save a rundown of cider for another day. Moral of the story is: Finger Lakes is bangin’, you need to visit to try some of its secret glory, but what you can find in your local markets is probably the best stuff to come out of the region, so don’t be afraid to dive in.