Sparkling waters, vibrant blue skies, lush vineyards and kickin’ wines – the Finger Lakes region of New York has it all. It’s no secret that this is our favorite wine region. We’ve just returned from the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC15) which was hosted by the wineries of the Finger Lakes with a base camp in Corning, NY. Let us tell you the tale of our wine-soaked adventure, beginning with our pre-conference excursion hosted by the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Here’s our first installment.
Milking The Villa Bellangelo Experience For All It’s Worth
There are 35 wineries on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail and more than 40 wineries on the lake if you include those “going rogue.” Try as we might during our frequent visits to the area, we haven’t been able to visit them all. The pre-conference tour enabled us to visit some old friends and sample some great wineries we had missed.
We were parched after driving six-and-a-half hours from Toledo. When we boarded the excursion bus in Corning, we were pleased to discover that dehydration wouldn’t be a problem. Winemakers from Seneca Shore Wine Cellar and Rock Stream Vineyards provided some chilled whites and rosé.
This was our first visit to Villa Bellangelo, and we couldn’t be more impressed. Owner Christopher Missick and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail (SLWT) pulled out all the stops. The tasting room was awash with wine including a selection of reserve Bellangelo Riesling, sparkling wine, and a 10-year vertical of Finger Lakes Cabernet Sauvignon from King’s Garden Vineyard served up by owner and winemaker Mike Oleksyn. To accompany the wine there was an assortment of antipasto, artisan bread and cheese. To reassure us the cheese was real there was a goat on the patio ready for milking!
Cabernet Sauvignon In The Finger Lakes – It Can Be Done
Standout wines for Green Dragon and I were the Bellangelo 2012 “1866 Reserve” Riesling and the Bellangelo 2012 “1866 Reserve” Meritage. King’s Garden Cabernet also scored high with us – with the 2008 Reserve being particularly tasty. Growing Cabernet in the cool climate of the Finger Lakes is a challenge, but Mike Oleksyn shows it can be done with the proper care and attention. His Cabs quickly sell out each year.
The experience at Bellangelo was outstanding and this will become a regular stop on our future visits to Seneca Lake.
Why Seneca Lakes Wine Trail Is One Of The Best In The Nation
We declared upfront that we love the Finger Lakes. The SLWT is one of the best wine trails in the country because of the outstanding wine, the proximity of the wineries to each other, incredible scenery, tasty cheese, farm-to-table food and the explosion of the craft beer and spirits industry.
The elements blended together at our next stop, Ventosa Vineyards. This is at the top of the lake and on the northeast corner – much farther away on the trail than we usually go. The extra journey is well worth it.
Ventosa has an exceptional perch overlooking vineyards rolling down to the sparkling Seneca waters. The focus of the evening was on the women of Finger Lakes wine. It was accentuated with superb cuisine, perfectly paired wine and a made-to-order sunset.
Finger Lakes Women Making Their Mark On The Regional Scene
At our location, not very far from Seneca Falls which is considered to be the birthplace of women’s rights, she laid out her journey which exemplified the changing of women’s roles in the wine industry. Trading the “traditional” role of tasting room management for the cultivation and winemaking side, she has become an icon in Finger Lakes winemaking.
Ventosa has benefited from the talents of Jenna LaVita who is winemaker and vineyard manager. She earned extra cash by selling bottle cap earrings until she seized the opportunity to move into the winemaking role at the age of 23.
The popular Three Brothers Winery is the focus of partner Erica Paolicelli, who explains there really aren’t three brothers. “The Finger Lakes wine industry wouldn’t be the same without strong, creative women,” she said.
Liz Leidenfrost is a third generation owner/winemaker and the self-proclaimed diva at Leidenfrost Vineyards. Since the 1940s the Leidenfrost family has grown grapes on its estate on southeast Seneca Lake. Today Liz is a vital part of the award-winning winery’s success.
A Superb Farm-To-Table Finale By Chef Heather Tompkins
As the sun sank low over Seneca and shafts of sunlight pierced through the treetops, the magic continued. Another outstanding Finger Lakes woman was responsible for a gourmet tour de force. Heather Tompkins is executive chef and co-owner of Opus Espresso & Wine Bar and Char Burrito Bar, both located in Geneva, NY. Her creative meal was stellar.
The opening candy beet-melon-arugula salad was paired with Three Brothers 2014 Pinot Noir Rosé and Leidenfrost Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine. The wines paired sumptuously with the pumpkin seeds and goat cheese in the salad.
Mere words pale in describing the next dish, which was a sweet corn-Muranda Cheese Cheddar studded Risotto Cake with Summer Tomato, Fennel Coulis and Jalepeno-Orange Marscapone. The pairing for this was the Ventosa 2012 Pinot Noir and the Standing Stone 2013 Gerwurztraminer. Depending on which element of the dish you had on your fork, it paired perfectly with one or the other wine.
The entrée was a grilled petit Finger Lakes Farms filet mignon and scallop. This paired with Three Brothers 0 Degrees of Riesling and Ventosa 2011 Cab Franc. The Cab Franc is an obvious choice with the meal and it blended seamlessly with the steak. Riesling isn’t a standard red meat pairing, but when it is this good, throw convention out the window.
The meal wound down with Red Jacket Peaches-Ginger Galette with chocolate. This was paired with Standing Stone Gerwurztraminer Ice and Leidenfrost Cabaret Port-style wine. The Green Dragon has become a Port fan and she reveled in this wine. We had the bonus of enjoying it with Liz Leidenfrost.
Our excursion was only half over as we enjoyed some special bottles in the tasting room and then spent the night in Geneva but that’s a tale for another blog post.