Chris O'Gorman of Merryvale Vineyards judging the FLIWC last weekend.
By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Correspondent
When you host guests, I wonder if you do what my wife and I do. We take the opportunity to clean the house and put our most sparkling foot forward. If a guest happens to believe the house is always so pristine, all the better.
But shoving all the clutter in the closet is one thing; honoring your guests by using the finest dishware and opening your finest wines is quite another. And that, essentially, is what a handful of savvy Finger Lakes wineries did this past Monday.
You see, this past weekend saw the passing of another Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, held in downtown Rochester. A benefit to Camp Good Days on Keuka Lake, the competition attracts judges from around the world. On Monday, the judges who wished to stay spent the day touring five Finger Lakes wineries. I was fortunate enough to be asked to guest judge on Sunday, and I chatted with several judges before they embarked on their Finger Lakes excursion. Here is the recap of their day, which is an instructive model for doing things right.
First, the 24 judges headed to Thirsty Owl Wine Company on Cayuga Lake, because Thirsty Owl submitted the highest-scoring riesling to the competition. But instead of simply pouring their current releases, the judges were treated to older wines from the cellar. "The judges enjoyed the vertical tasting, and they found the 2003 to be showing the best," said Ron Dougherty, the Assistant Competition Chairman who joined the two dozen judges on the tour. (Chalk up another Finger Lakes Riesling improving with age).
The group then had lunch at Red Newt Bistro, but, according to Dougherty, the phrase "had lunch" is a sadly limiting euphemism, as it was much more than that. "Dave and Deb Whiting blew us away," Dougherty said. "Soups, sandwiches, local cheeses, amazing food that went on forever. We tasted Red Newt's two new single-vineyard gewurztraminers side-by-side, and the judges were seriously impressed. Bob Madill from Sheldrake Point Vineyards brought some of his winery's best, which only made the meal that much better. That might have been the longest lunch those judges have had in years!"
Behind schedule, the judges headed up to Hazlitt 1852 — "Most judges didn't realize that Hazlitt makes very nice dry wines in addition to their sweet wines," Dougherty said — and then on to Lamoreaux Landing, where the group was treated graciously to a wide selection of wines. By the time they made it to the final stop on the tour, Ventosa Vineyards on the northeast side of Seneca Lake, they were beyond late. "And yet they happily kept the door open for us," Dougherty told me. "The judges were interested in seeing a winery that is making Sangiovese in the Finger Lakes. Interesting stuff!"
The judging panel on which I sat included Chris O'Gorman, the director of marketing for California's very successful Merryvale Vineyards. He was part of the tour, and I asked for his impression of the Finger Lakes. "We have been treated so well," he said. "It's pure class. And most importantly, the wines are worth the time. Finger Lakes riesling and gewurztraminer now stands with the best in the world. There's no doubt about it."