Old World Wine in the Finger Lakes: A Journey through France, Here in the Finger Lakes

Ah yes, the “Old World.” Here in the wine world, when we talk about Old World vs New World, the simplest way to think about it is: The Old World is Europe, and everything else is New World. So needless to say, here in the Finger Lakes, we are New World. In case you aren’t aware, The Finger Lakes, affectionately abbreviated “FLX” is a cool-climate American Viticultural Area (AVA), about four to five hours northwest of New York City, but with a large radius (about two hours) encompassing all of the Finger Lakes. Often, for Old World comparison sake, some parts of the region are compared to the Rheingau in Germany, some parts of Austria, and some parts of the Loire Valley in France. More, Alsace, Burgundy, and Beaujolais have also been thrown in the conversation as well.

Most often though, Old World countries (and their wine regions) are considered the originals, the masters, if you will. Quite often, for the sake of comparison, and also to have a well-known baseline, wine in the New World is often compared to wine from the Old World. Unless you’re in Europe, it can be quite pricey to visit many of the classic Old World regions: Burgundy, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Alsace, and more; however, it looks like the FLX is making a French play here, and for good reason too.

Many parts of France can be similar to parts of the Finger Lakes in terms of climate and terroir. Keep in mind, there is about a 9,000 square mile (23,300 square km) radius in the Finger Lakes and what we’re going to do is take you on a journey of the Old World – but here in the Finger Lakes. If you’re in the U.S. and looking for a more affordable way to taste Old World classics, here we go!

Heart & Hands Wine Company - Old World Wine Styles in Finger Lakes New York
Heart & Hands Wine Company. Image courtesy Adrian Prieto.

Burgundy in the FLX

Burgundy is up first: Burgundy is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Some of the most well-known, highly regarded, and often some of the most expensive Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is from Burgundy. But, what makes it so special? Is it the terroir, the terrain, the climate, the age of the vines, the fruit, the winemakers, etc.? Yes, the answer is yes. Much of Burgundy has a specific type of limestone soil. And, without getting too into the weeds, limestone is perfect for growing Pinot Noir! That’s why our first stop here in the Finger Lakes is at Heart & Hands Wine Company. You may have read about them previously on Winetraveler.

Heart & Hands Wine Company, in Union Springs, NY. For years, they only produced Pinot Noir and Riesling. Much of their fruit was sourced from various vineyards/growers throughout the Finger Lakes. However, they also have 14 acres planted, some of them older, some very young. When owners, Susan and Tom Higgins, started Heart & Hands, they went through extensive soil and geologic testing. What they found, though, was that the Onondaga limestone extended down along Cayuga Lake at this very specific location. If it seems like they are in the middle of nowhere – they are – but that’s intentional. Their estate vineyards are built on limestone, which, you guessed it, is also what you have in Burgundy. Now, there are many other external factors that contribute to the end product of the wine, but if you want a taste of Pinot Noir in the Finger Lakes most similar to that of Burgundy, look no further than Heart & Hands.

Heart & Hands also has Riesling, and now a Chardonnay as well. There’s a methode champenoise sparkling option, and a Rosé too; but to me, it’s the Pinot that steals the show. If you want a taste of the limestone, exclusively from their estate vineyard, look for the Mo Chuisle Pinot Noir, 100% estate fruit. This wine is beautiful and delicate with refined layers of red fruit and berries, and just enough Pinot-earthiness to round it all out. Additionally, four new “reserve” estate Pinot Noir options, from four different sites of their vineyard, are in the works.

Beaujolais in the FLX

Sheldrake Point Gamay Wine
Sheldrake Point’s Gamay Noir. Image courtesy Adrian Prieto.

Next: We’re moving onto Beaujolais. If you’re keeping up with geography, Beaujolais is just south of Burgundy in France, and ironically, we’re also going south, but across Cayuga Lake. Traveling around Cayuga Lake from Heart & Hands and down to Ovid, NY we find our next stop: Sheldrake Point Winery.

Sheldrake Point is located almost smack dab in the middle of the western half of Cayuga Lake. Sheldrake Point was started 22 years ago, with the first vintage in 2000. Sheldrake Point is an estate winery with 55 acres planted, including 10 vitis vinifera varieties. They have a great climate for growing some excellent grapes, one of which is a beautiful Gamay Noir. If you didn’t know, Gamay is King (or should I say “Queen?”) in Beaujolais. Depending on which Beaujolais Cru you’re tasting, and vintage, some will show much more feminine and delicate, which is my preferred style. Gamay isn’t widely grown here in the Finger Lakes yet, in fact, there are only a handful of producers and Sheldrake Point is one of them.

The 2017 Gamay Noir from Sheldrake Point is an absolute delicious Gamay. It’s savory and robust, yet subtle and poised, too. It’s dusty, chalky, but still full of clean fruit and is an excellent food pairing wine. For me, this Gamay is a staple in my home, and, it’s very affordable, coming in under $20 USD. In North America, there are a few Gamay producers in Canada, some in Michigan, Oregon, and Washington, and then here in the Finger Lakes too. Don’t miss out on this New World take on an Old World classic.

Winetraveler tip: If you’re looking for a great lunch close by, pop over to the restaurant at Thirsty Owl Wine Company, just 4.5 miles North of Sheldrake Point – and on the way from Heart & Hands Wine Company.

Bordeaux & Alsace in the FLX

We’re heading west now, to Bordeaux and also west to the next Finger Lake, Seneca Lake. Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake are the two largest Finger Lakes, running North and South, like two index fingers. Going around the lakes takes a bit of time, but going between them is much shorter. From Sheldrake Point on Cayuga Lake, to Hector Wine Company on the east/southeast side of Seneca Lake, it’s a quick 25-minute drive.

Hector Wine Company Finger Lakes
Photographer: Chandra Russell.

Hector Wine Company sources their fruit from Sawmill Creek Vineyards. Here, in what’s affectionately known as the “Banana Belt” of the Finger Lakes, the climate is measurably a little warmer than most of the region. This small temperature difference, though, can have a noticeable impact. Because of this, the fruit from Sawmill Creek is highly sought after and highly regarded, and this warmer climate and ripe fruit is exactly what’s needed for a balanced Bordeaux style blend like Hector Wine Company’s “Essence.”

With every vintage, the Essence blend changes, but it’s consistently the big three (of the 5) Bordeaux red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The 2016 is an almost even split: 34%, 33%, and 33%. The previous vintage, 2015, had a much higher amount of Cabernet Sauvignon. This 2016 though has some serious aging potential, as 2016 was also a dry, warm vintage in the Finger Lakes, which may have added to some higher sugar levels in some wines. The 2015 Essence was one of my favorite red wine options coming out of the Finger Lakes, so make sure to try this Bordeaux style blend.

Another Old World favorite to look for at Hector Wine Company: Pinot Blanc. In the Old World, it goes by Pinot Bianco (Italy), and Weissburgunder (Germany and Austria), but is perhaps most well-known from the Alsace region in France, which has bounced back and forth as being part of Germany and France over hundreds of years. Some versions in France and Germany have more body and cream, and Pinot Blanc is often compared to White Burgundy, also known as Chardonnay. The Pinot Blanc from Hector Wine Company undergoes malolactic fermentation, which increases the body and creaminess of the mouth feel, without having an overly oaky white wine. It’s a beautiful, refined Pinot Blanc, almost a “Chardonnay-light,” if you will.  There are only a handful of Pinot Blanc options in the Finger Lakes and year in and year out, I’m consistently blown away by this Pinot Blanc.

Edelzwicker translates to “Noble Blend” and it is a classic, Old World Alsatian blend. White, fragrant, aromatic grapes (traditionally, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Muscat) are used to make a traditional blend or sometimes a field blend. Bloomer Creek’s Edelzwicker has both Riesling and Gewürztraminer, and Grüner Veltliner, instead of Pinot Gris or Muscat.
“Bloomer Creek’s Edelzwicker has both Riesling and Gewürztraminer, and Grüner Veltliner, instead of Pinot Gris or Muscat. Image courtesy Meg Herring.”

Since we’re in Alsace and Germany, we’re going to stay in the same region as we move further south along Seneca Lake. One-mile south of Hector Wine Company is Bloomer Creek Vineyard. Bloomer Creek is the husband and wife duo of Kim Engle and Debra Bermingham. Upon first glance and scrolling on their website, one of the first titles you come across is, “Old World Winemaking in the Finger Lakes.” Some of the wine styles at Bloomer Creek are decidedly Germanic and Alsatian, with Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and one with a striking resemblance to Alsace: Edelzwicker.

Edelzwicker translates to “Noble Blend” and it is a classic, Old World Alsatian blend. White, fragrant, aromatic grapes (traditionally, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Muscat) are used to make a traditional blend or sometimes a field blend. Bloomer Creek’s Edelzwicker has both Riesling and Gewürztraminer, and Grüner Veltliner, instead of Pinot Gris or Muscat. Previous vintages had Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Cayuga White. Cayuga White is a highly respected French-American hybrid, a cross between Schuyler and Seyval Blanc, and it is native to New York and the Finger Lakes. It does well in cool climates, and creates light, dry and semi-dry wines. Additionally, Bloomer Creek has many standout Riesling options, my favorite is their Spatlese equivalent.

We’ve taken a ride from Burgundy to Beaujolais, and from Bordeaux to Alsace and all without the need of a passport. You should come see for yourself what the Finger Lakes has to offer, you might be surprised to find yourself experiencing the Old World in this New World location.

Winetraveler tip: If you’re at Bloomer Creek, make sure to make a reservation for lunch or dinner next door at The Stonecat Café. They boast not only a great FLX wine list, but a significant local menu as well.

More Tips, Tricks, Education & Itineraries on the Finger Lakes Wine Region

Barnstormer Winery – A Unique Approach To Winemaking in the Finger Lakes

5 Amazing Seneca Lake Wineries To Visit If You Love Dry Red Wine

3 Historic Wineries To Visit on Kueka Lake

Seneca Lake Wine Country Itinerary & Guide (Hotels, Transportation, Wineries & Activity Recommendations)

How To Explore the Finger Lakes Wine Region According to a Master Sommelier

9 Outstanding Wineries in the Finger Lakes if You Love Sparkling Wine

How To Spend a Relaxing Weekend in Aurora New York

FLX Weinery – A Finger Lakes Restaurant Destination

10 Exciting Finger Lakes Outdoor Activities To Experience

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