Thursday, July 12, 2007

Finger Lakes Wine Industry Trends for 2007

As the second half of 2007 begins, and after visiting & tasting at about half of the Finger Lakes 90-some wineries (I know, I'm way behind in posting my winery visit reports) I thought I would write about some trends that I have taken note of during my travels and tastings this year:

1. 2006 Rieslings- I'm finding that a good number (not all) of the 2006 Dry Rieslings I've tasted have a very bold citrus up front that I find a bit overwhelming (it also overwhelms that classic Finger Lakes mineral finish for me) and tends to make the wine seem unbalanced in my opinion. Several winemakers have told me that the 2006 Riesling crop had high acidity, leading to the bold citrus. However, after retasting some of these Dry rieslings recently, I'm noticing that a little bottle aging is toning down the citrus a bit. Now, the Semi-dry Rieslings are an entirely different story. It seems as if a little Residual Sugar balances that acidity and brings out those terrific peach, honey, and lime flavors. For now, the Semi-Dry's get my vote.

2. Grape types - As each year goes by, it seems as if Cabernet Franc solidifies itself as the premier red grape in the Finger Lakes. The 2005 Cab Francs, in general, are truly spectactular. Finger Lakes wineries are putting out quality Cab Francs in a variety of styles and I'm particularly intrigued by a number of Semi-Dry Cab Francs (for those of us who aren't afraid of a little Residual Sugar). But Cab Franc better watch it's back, because Lemberger is being planted more and more and is appearing on its own and is favored in a lot of red blends. A few wineries are making a good attempt at Syrah, but I think the verdict is still out on it. Also, Rougeon & Dechaunac seem to be popping up more. A core group of wineries has emerged that are dedicated to the challenging task of producing quality reds in the Finger Lakes and I applaud their efforts. And I can't forget the Ports. In my opinion, the Finger Lakes makes some of the best American Ports for my money.

As for the whites, Pinot Gris seems to be the new starlet in the Finger Lakes. I have sampled several excellent and very complex Pinot Gris' this year. I sure hope this Pinot Gris trend continues. And of course, Dr. Frank Rkatsiteli mania continues with the rare grape creating a unique and quite good wine. Unfortunately, I don't foresee a lot of plantings of Rkatsiteli throughout the Finger Lakes. There's also a couple of Sauvignon Blancs being attempted. Also, I'm seeing Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Gewurz & Chardonnay and a lot of the white grapes being attempted in a lot of different styles away from the norm from dry to sweet to (some very good) sparkling wines & excellent ice wines (always big sellers, even at the high prices). One thing you do get in the Finger Lakes is variety and experimentation. The Finger Lakes is still a very young wine region and it's great to be able to watch it grow. I just hope it doesn't grow up too fast.

3. Improved Quality Overall - I'm noticing improved quality, especially from the "lower tier" producers. There seems to be a general effort to improve wine quality through education and the sharing of information. Just the sheer number and diversity of Finger Lakes wineries winning top awards in competitions this year is proof of the quality. But unfortunately, a few "top tier" producers have actually disappointed me this year. Although it may be a "stylistic" change that I will address in my next point.

4. Stylistic & Price Changes - I'm noticing a trend toward lighter-bodied wines. Now in my opinion, there's a fine line between light-bodied wines that are still full flavored and wines that are thin and lifeless. Some wineries tell me that these are more food-friendly wines that don't overpower food. I guess I'm a rebel these days, but I want to taste the fruit!!! As far as pricing, I hope the trend of some of the "top tier" wineries pricing like they are California wineries stops soon. I'm just a simple working stiff. I won't be able to afford Finger Lakes wine soon! But for now, this cheapskate still manages to find some great bargains.

5. Odds & Ends - I'm noticing that the tasting room personnel, in general, just get more knowledgable and helpful all the time. That, along with good wine, is what keeps people coming back. I'm noticing more wine dinners, special themed tastings, and special events at the wineries. I think events such as Glenora's Jazz concerts that attracts top-level entertainers is the kind of thing that will replicate in other wineries as the Finger Lakes becomes a world-class tourist destination and wineries look to become places where tourists spend a day and not just an hour. I'm noticing that the wineries are updating their websites with ecommerce capabilities and more information and better graphics, which is a great improvement from the static websites that proliferated the internet just a year ago. The Wine Trails continue to work to balance the bus groups vs. the individuals visiting the wineries, which I commend. There are still new wineries opening (I know of 3 opening in July), but I'm wondering how many is too many. One big problem trend that still remains is the lack of quality lodging in the mid-range pricing level. How the Finger Lakes balances its rustic charm against creating more modern lodging for the anticipated influx of more tourists is sure to be a growing challenge.

Well, Those are my thoughts. If you have any comments or additional thoughts, please share them by posting a comment. I do still moderate the comments because of the spammers, but I will post non-spam comments. Here's to a great 2nd half of 2007. I gotta get going and get to the rest of the Finger Lakes wineries. It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it!!!


Jason Feulner said...

Generally, I agree that things are on the up-swing for the Finger Lakes in all categories. There's still a long way to go, of course, before the balance of wineries are producing the best possible product. Thankfully, quality is no longer still limited to a few top producers!

I notice you didn't comment on Pinot Noir. I find a lot of West Coast pinot to be a bit powerful and not at all like the European offerings. A place like the Finger Lakes seems to have the potential to produce a pinot that is subtle and refined. Thus far, quality has been mixed, but I see the marketing potential of a European-style pinot to exceed Lemberger and other lesser-known varieties.

Great analysis and a great blog!

Jason Feulner

Finger Lakes Weekend Wino said...

Jason, I do share your hope that Pinot Noir can prosper in the Finger Lakes, but I am concerned that the financial and climatological aspects of growing Pinot Noir in The Finger Lakes may present a formidable challenge and I think the verdict is still out for Pinot Noir.
Jason is the excellent Finger Lakes correspondent on Lenndevours blog at