by Brian The Timeless Winer
Hello! I am Brian, the Timeless Winer, of the Vineyard Trail Traveling Winers. Normally, I blog about my thoughts on the vineyards, wineries and wines that we have discovered while trailing across the U.S. But, as happens when you aren’t paying attention during a meeting, I was unwittingly tasked by my Masters (Elizabeth and Miki) and their thug (Tom Joe) to try my hand at travel writing even though I have only visited the area once, (all too briefly) during our 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference in Corning, NY.
(Please bear in mind that I am not a travel writer. I don’t work for a vineyard – although I would – nor do I work for a tourist bureau of any type.)
I am however going to impart some useful – or useless, depending on your perspective – bits of information (UBOIs) about the Finger Lakes region, and its lakes, in particular. I hope that you will become intrigued by the area, or, at the very least, be mildly amused.
And here we go!
The Finger Lakes region is located in the western part of central New York and there are 11 lakes to be found there. Supposedly, the lakes got their name from early map makers who thought they resembled human fingers. (Way too much time ‘exploring’ with the boys in the mountains, if you ask me.)
Anyway, there are 11 lakes, and moving from East to West they are Otisco, Skaneateles, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Honeoye, Canadice Hemlock, and Conesus. All of the lakes run North to South, rather South to North if you really want to be exact, as their tributaries all flow toward the North.
There also are a couple of ‘wannabe’ Finger Lakes. Cazenovia Lake would LOVE to be one. (Casenovia, Casanova, get it?) And, Oneida Lake, but neither of them is up to the exacting standards required.
The lakes were formed by, you guessed it, Canadian Landscape Raiders. Disguised as glaciers, they came down from the Hudson Bay area about two million years ago looking to score some good topsoil for their greenhouses. Knowing that the really good dirt is to be found in river valleys, they used their patented ice plows to conduct unlicensed strip mining operations in the existing valleys, making them wider and deeper. The unused debris was piled up at the northern ends of the valleys and created dams, blocking the rivers and allowing them to flood the valleys thus covering their tracks. Voila! The Finger Lakes were born.
Later, the area of the lakes was predominantly occupied by the Iroquois Confederacy. They were made up of the Seneca and Cayuga, who named the two largest lakes. Not to be outdone, the Onondaga and Oneida who lived in the East, picked up a couple of lakes to name (probably playing fast and loose in a card game). The tribe farthest to the East was the Mohawk. No lake for them as they folded early and just couldn’t last. (Ah, how I amuse myself!)
Being a far-seeing group, the Iroquois took one look at the early colonists and saw they were as shifty a bunch as ever who got the boot from the motherland. Recognizing the French Canadians as also shady, but marginally-better-than the English group, they lured both groups into playing a marathon checkers match to keep them too busy to colonize the region for about two hundred years. (Note: Stay out of their casinos)
Well, the Iroquois watched the game, but you know how volatile a crowd of checkers hooligans can be. Before anyone knew it, the tribes were taking sides on the players, with some siding with the British while others sided with the new kids, the Americans. Before they knew what was up, the Iroquois were broke and sent to the poor house with a few blankets and shiny beads. The Americans were on the march West and, by Divine Right, put the grabus on the region in about 1790 or so.
Hopping forward in time, now. Skipping all the tedious farming, religious fanaticism that raised its head and political creepiness, we come to the part dear to our hearts, the wine industry of the Finger Lakes.
Today, when you think of wines from New York you are generally thinking of the Finger Lakes region, whether you know it or not. There are other wine-producing areas, of course, but The Finger Lakes is the state’s largest wine-producing area.
While there are 11 lakes that comprise the Finger Lakes, as far as wine is concerned, it can be narrowed down to six: Seneca, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Keuka, Conesus and Hemlock. There are over 100 wineries and vineyards located around them. In fact, two of America’s oldest wineries are O-Neh-Da Vineyard, est. 1872 on Hemlock Lake, and The Pleasant Valley Wine Company, est. 1860 on Keuka Lake.
Production is predominantly from Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, and Riesling. Knowing a good thing when they tasted it, the growers also keep many varieties of American native (Vitis Labusca) cultivated. The wines are fabulous.
Okay, I think that’s about it for me. Lots of information from the Internet (I washed up afterward) and a bit of levity with a jaundiced look at history which I hope you enjoyed. I told you I’m not a travel writer except about wines and vineyards that I get to go to. If you want to find out about the Finger Lakes wines on a deeper level and maybe set up a wine trail for yourself, then I strongly recommend you visit one of the websites about the area.
Remember this, wine trails are for fun and adventure for the senses. No one is going to say that they have a mediocre wine in their bottles. They are all award-winning or going to be winners. It’s supposed to be that way, so pick your own winners. Don’t let the hype keep you from visiting an out of the way, small production winery or vineyard. You will be most welcome there.
I can’t wait to go back to the Finger Lakes and explore. Timing is everything. Perhaps our paths will cross. I’ll be looking for you over the rim!
And now, my personal rant: