When it comes to The Finger Lake wine region, Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars is the genesis, the beginning, the stimuli, an icon. We were so thankful that we decided to include this stop on our wine trail through The Finger Lakes. We mean, what would it have been like if we didn’t. Kind of like going to Washington and not visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle. Who does that?! Or like going to Orlando with young children and not visiting Disney World. Seems unfathomable! Thank goodness that Miki (our eternal planner) included this stop on the trail or else she may have been fired from the team!
The Godfather to Finger Lakes World Class Wines
Yes, yes, that’s a pretty strong claim, but true. Dr. Konstantin Frank came to America in 1951, with a Ph.D. in viticulture and a family history of grape cultivation and winemaking for centuries. His family has roots all the way back to Catherine the Great, former emperor of Russia in the mid 1700’s, when she brought the Frank family to the Ukraine to grow grapes and make wine for the royal family. Generations later, Konstantin, continuing in the family trade, was able to successfully grow vinifera vines in the very cold climate of the Ukraine, something that didn’t necessarily seem feasible.
Upon arriving in the U.S., Dr. Frank eventually landed a job at Cornell’s Experimental Station in Geneva, New York. At this time in New York’s wine history, besides vitis labrusca, the only other vines that would grow in this region were the French hybrids. Or at least that’s what was believed. Dr. Frank was adamant that vitis vinifera could also grow in this region, just as it had in the Ukraine, if the rootstock were grafted onto vitis labrusca stock. It is all historical now. He was right, of course. This introduction to a new way of growing vines altered the New York wine industry in a very positive direction.
Although Dr. Frank passed away in 1985, his legacy lives on all over the country, and yes, at Dr. Konstatin Frank Wine Cellars. Next at the helm was his son, Willibald “Willy” Frank, who carried on his father’s dream and made it his own. While Dr. Frank was a scientist, Willy was a great businessman, turning the winery into a successful business that now ships wine all over the U.S. With Willy’s passing in 2006, the helm now turned to his son, Frederick “Fred” Frank. Also in integral positions are Eric Volz (grandson of Konstantin, cousin to Fred) who is the vineyard manager, and Meaghan Franks, Fred’s daughter, is currently the General Manager and hopes to take over at the helm when her father is ready to pass it on. Of course, many other family members are also involved at the winery in some capacity or other. It’s a family business, after all!
Funky wines for the funky palate
So here’s the thing. This tasting was fun, educational, experimental, relaxing, jovial…and just plain funky! Let us break it down for you…
It was probably one of the best tastings that we have ever had and know that this was all credited to our host, George DiTomasso, the Retail Manager, who has been with Dr. Franks for over 20 years. This is the fun, educational, relaxing and jovial part! George confesses that he loves his job, but what we noticed with George is that it went beyond ‘loving his job’. George loves wine. And food. And has an extremely knowledgeable mind. And he seemed to thrive, completely vibrant in his presentation of the wines and information, on sharing his passion for all three, without intention, we believe, but as if it was a natural part of him that would always shine through, easily and uncoerced. He effortlessly provided us the history of the Frank family all the way back to the 1700’s. He walked us through the tasting like a sommelier or head chef, listing fabulous sounding dishes that would go perfectly with each wine. And it turns out that he is pretty much “chef” material as he actually makes all these dishes! He dotes on his staff as the best employees and friends ever, and it was apparent from their exchanges that they felt the same. To sum it all up, we liked George A LOT! Heck, we even veered off our conversation to learn about the thread count of sheets and how to blanch and freeze fresh corn!
Now on to the experimental part. Yeah, yeah, we know……AND THE FUNKY PART! Why funky, you ask? Because it was soooooo cool at this winery to see on their tasting menu grape varietals that we have never tasted, of even heard of before. I mean, if you were in that situation and saw 4-5 grapes that were brand new to your tasting repertoire, would you say “I’d like to stick with the Riesling for the ten-thousandth time and skip the Rkatsiteli that I may never see again in my lifetime”? Uh, well NOT us! We were like, “Bring it on!” So, basically all we tasted at Dr. Franks were the funky grape varietals…..and it WAS more fun than Disney World!
2014 Grüner Veltliner – Grüner, meaning “green”, is a white wine grape and a primary grape in Austria, that is thought to date back to the Roman era, although under a different name at the time. Dr. Franks, having only planted this varietal 10 years ago, has one of the largest plantings in America which would seem to be no big surprise considering the origin of Dr. Frank prior to the U.S. With the initial smell you know it’s different. Miki commented, “I wanna like this one simply because it is so different!” On the mouth it is actually quite dry and has a slight pepper finish. Yes, definitely new and exciting and, in our opinion, worthy of a bottle purchase, or a “B” rating if you rate on our scale. So we did…buy a bottle, that is. George suggested pairings of asparagus, microgreens, gravlox, cooked salmon with dill sauce, or oysters.
2013 Rkatsiteli – This varietal is an ancient grape dating as far back as 3,000 B.C. and is a white wine grape from the Republic of Georgia. The vintage that we tasted had a very pungent nose that Brian and Miki couldn’t really put their fingers on, but thought perhaps ripe tropical fruit, where Elizabeth got green Granny Smith apples and must. Whatever the case, it was sharp, different and interesting. And then the mouth…totally not matching the nose. The mouth offers a natural high acidity, a creamy, full-flavored mouth feel, and just a touch of sweetness at the end. Of course, we brought home a bottle of this one also. George says he pairs it with Mediterranean plates such as pesto, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, olives and cilantro, Asian stir fry, or bok choy with oyster sauce.
2014 Muscat Ottonel – A vinifera like the others, but grown throughout Germany, and shouts fruit and floral intensity. This is quite an intense overture for the nose, but pleasant and welcome. Honey is also present on the palate with just a touch so as not to overwhelm. George recommends gouda, spicy quiche, or an orange Thai chilly sauce.
Message to George from The Traveling Winers: “Hey George! We SURE would like an invite to dinner. We’ll bring the wine!”
Don’t miss this winery! Don’t miss George!
The Winer’s Experience
|AMBIANCE||GROUNDS & SCENERY||TASTING ROOM|
|Dr. Franks is a very polished operation. It felt like they wanted the very best experience to be given to all guests||This winery has the most amazing view of Keuka Lake. It is high up on a high and overlooks a very large spread of trees, fields and the shimmering water.||There are multiple tasting rooms at Dr. Franks and none of them are small, by any means. Huge would be a better description. No elbows touching here.|
|WINE TASTING EXPERIENCE||CUSTOMER SERVICE||TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE|
|Our tasting was lead by George, the retail manager, and was very educational as he shared his thoughts on the different wines and varietals.||Although we were the first customers on the scene just prior to opening, the staff immediately ran around Helter-Skelter to quickly set us up with a tasting room host. Now that’s customer service!||Twenty-year veteran, George, displayed all his knowledge of wines and Dr. Franks.|
Vineyard & Winery Information
|Dr. Konstantine Frank Wine Cellars||9749 Middle Road, Hammondsport, NY 14840|
|Mon – Sat 9am – 5pm
Sun 12pm – 5pm
|MUSIC||WINE CLUB||TASTING FEE|
|Yes – check website for schedule||Yes||Free|
|No||Snacks||They have a large patio area that overlooks the lake which you can bring a lunch to enjoy with a glass of wine if you choose.|