By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Region Editor
The annual Finger Lakes Wine Festival draws tens of thousands of visitors to the region, pumping money into the local economy while helping to promote and support one the country’s largest wine industries.
So why don’t we take it seriously?
To come away with a well-rounded story about this year’s Finger Lakes Wine Festival, I should’ve gotten a VIP pass and media credentials. I should’ve had time to go the vintner’s room and participate in the various seminars and tastings. I would’ve needed the whole day to tour the tables to find the best wines of the show. Unfortunately I was again working on the other side of the table and was extremely limited in terms of how I experienced the event.
The fact is I had a blast writing last year’s post, poking fun at the toga party and the how porta-potties can provide metaphorical symbols of what I think of certain wine styles but I realize that there’s much more to the festival than quirky observations.
In the lead up to this year’s festival I thought it needed a fair shake so I intended to show both the good and the bad with video as the medium but with my vantage point being so narrow, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t seeing the best of the event. A quick look back at my video clips reveal funny yet unappealing snippets of inappropriate clothing, ice cream being eaten out of tasting glasses and crowded tasting tents.
I was reminded that I was basically reinforcing the opinion that this festival isn’t for fine wine lovers so I’ve temporarily scrapped it. So for now I want to clarify some of the misconceptions I have helped create in the past.
Yes, the festival is crowded and noisy enough that having meaningful conversations with the winery employees is not easy…on Saturday. Luckily Sunday feels like there are only half as many attendees so getting around and having satisfying tasting experiences is absolutely possible and is on par or better than many other events I’ve been to, including Food Network-sponsored wine tastings.
The idea that wineries only bring uninteresting and inexpensive bulk sweet wines is also inaccurate. It seems like more than 75% of the wineries bring some dry wines, including riesling and cabernet franc. This year I tried Tocai Friulano from Ventosa Vineyards, McGregor’s Rkatsiteli-Sereksiya and Cabernet Franc-Lemberger from Anthony Road. I was personally selling a $25 Pinot Noir and McGregor was tasting and selling their $50 Black Russian Red.
The assumption that the serious wine producers don’t participate is also isn’t true. Fox Run, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Chateau Lafayette Reneau, Red Newt and Atwater are just a few of several respected wineries that attend and obviously benefit from selling wine there. Sure, there’s no Wiemer or Ravines table, but two wineries do not represent a whole region.
The perception that the crowds can be unruly or misbehaved is not deserved as the overall party atmosphere is not much worse than what I’ve seen in tasting rooms on a Saturday afternoon, it’s just on a larger scale. For the most part even the most extreme tasters are still positive and trying their best to allow everyone to enjoy themselves.
There were a surprising number of dry wine drinkers at my table. We poured through more pinot noir than anything else and the biggest seller was a cabernet-merlot blend. Sure there were plenty of sweet tasters but they didn’t speak for everyone.
I do admit that the Finger Lakes Wine Festival will never replace actually going to a winery, meeting the winemaker or walking through the vineyards, but not everyone who supports the industry needs to do that.
The truth is, the event features wine as a collective experience of tens of thousands of people from all walks of life. If nothing else, the festival serves as a reminder that wine doesn’t have to be just for the few, but in reality is for the many. It deserves a hat tip for its success and interest it creates in New York wine.