Archive for June, 2015

The Frank Factor: How one man transformed wine in the Finger Lakes

June 5th, 2015

The Frank Factor: How one man transformed wine in the Finger Lakes
By Visit Finger Lakes (Flickr: Sunrise overlooking a vineyard) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Joseph Temple

In Upstate New York, between Rochester and Syracuse, stands one of the country’s oldest wine regions known as the Finger Lakes.   Discovered by American explorers during the Sullivan Expedition, the area today is second only to California in terms of overall grape production.  Being a certified American Viticultural Area (AVA), the eleven lakes—some with depths of over 500 feet—moderate the harsh winter temperatures, giving the adjacent vineyards an opportunity to produce some outstanding wines.

From Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon, dozens of Vitis vinifera grapes are cultivated across the Finger Lakes.  However, the region’s crown jewel is clearly Riesling.  Eric Asimov, wine critic for The New York Times writes, “Nowadays, top [Finger Lakes] producers are not simply making good Finger Lakes rieslings, or good American rieslings. They are making seriously good world-class rieslings, in a multitude of styles.”

With endorsements like that, it’s hard to believe that just sixty years ago, the situation was almost entirely different.  Back then, European rootstocks that currently dominate the landscape were nowhere to be found.  Instead, North American Vitis labrusca and hybrid grapes such as Baco Noir, Catawba and Concord were the order of the day.  Believing only native varietals could withstand the frigid upstate weather, the idea that grapes synonymous with Alsace and Bordeaux could not only grow but also thrive in the Finger Lakes was considered crazy talk.

Vineyards in the Finger Lakes wine region
A Finger Lakes vineyard on Seneca Lake, New York.

So when a Ukrainian immigrant named Konstantin Frank arrived in 1952 and began espousing a philosophy that harvesting Riesling was just as feasible as harvesting Marechal Foch, most Finger Lakes vintners dismissed him as nothing more than a delusional crank.  Little did these New Yorkers know that Frank was equipped with a PhD in viticulture from the University of Odessa where his doctoral thesis was on the subject of growing high-quality grapes in cold climates.  And what better place to implement his theories than the Finger Lakes?

Working alongside another grower, Charles Fournier, Frank was determined to get these noble grapes past the winter months while working as the Director of Vineyards Research for Gold Seal winery in Geneva, New York.  Trying many different varieties and techniques through trial and error, he saw Riesling as the ideal Finger Lakes wine, sharing many similarities in terms of climate with Germany and Austria.  The real problem was poor growing techniques throughout the region, which he intended to fix.  His grandson Fred Frank states:

“Today, all 50 states now have wineries and a lot of that knowledge started with Dr. Frank introducing the European wine grapes to the East Coast. He was very giving with his knowledge. He wanted the industry to prosper. Many of the early neighboring states growing vinifera owe their start to Dr. Frank and his guidance and knowledge.”

Starting his own winery in 1962, which still exists to this day, Konstantin Frank had proved all the naysayers wrong.  Arriving in America with little money and speaking hardly any English, he was able to transform both the Finger Lakes and vineyards across the country.  Today, his pioneering spirit can be seen in the snows of Minnesota and Quebec to the southern states plagued by Pierce’s Disease.  Winemakers who thrive on adversity and challenge, growing grapes under less than ideal conditions are proudly carrying on his legacy of defying the odds.


Asimov, Eric. (2011, Oct 11). From the Finger Lakes, Seriously Good Wines. The New York Times. Retrieved from
Barnes, Christopher. (2014, July 6). Dr. Konstantin Frank, The Innovative Finger Lakes Winery. Grape Collective. Retrieved from
Dawson, Evan. Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes. New York: Sterling Epicure, 2012.

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Ask Sid: Alternatives to Chablis?

June 3rd, 2015
Ask your question here The International Wine & Food Society

Chablis alternatives too expensive

Question: I like the classic pairing of Chablis with oysters and other fresh seafood but notice the prices are rising. Would you please suggest a cheaper alternative?

Answer: Yes the consumer now is recognizing the distinct terroir and fresh minerality of Chablis which is increasing the demand while crop levels have been reduced by difficult weather the last few vintages. Lots of other fresh clean unoaked whites from all corners of the world that will be a good alternative. Okanagan Crush Pad (@OKCrushPad) in the Okanagan are making some lower alcohol dry ones to seek out and experience. There is growing interest in Muscadet from the western end of the Loire Valley  around Nantes. Made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape these wines are much improved in quality many with extended time spent of the lees for extra texture and complexity.  Muscadet has vibrant acidity with citrus, apple, almost salty notes that will pair well with seafood. The prices still are undervalued. Try one.

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Australia’s First Families of Wine

June 1st, 2015

Australi's First Families of wine

Australia’s First Families of Wine ( was created in 2009 by 12 leading multi-generational winemakers representing 16 regions across 4 states. They have just concluded their 2015 tour of USA (San Francisco, New York) and Canada (Montreal Toronto & Vancouver) using a “Speed Dating” tasting format in each city. Each family spends about 5 minutes with a different smaller rotating group showing 2-4 wines. They generously showed with family pride some of the very best wines of Australia. Some highlights:

BROWN BROTHERS  Making wine at Milawa in North East Victoria since 1889. Pure fruit with no wood 2014 Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir from Tasmania and interesting take 2013 Tempranillo 18 Eighty Nine from Heathcote.

D’ARENBERG  Established in McLaren Vale in 1912. Hermit Crab 2014 Viognier Marsanne no oak and 2011 d’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache from 130+ year old bush vines.

DE BORTOLI  Third generation from 1928 in Victoria. 2014 Yarra Valley. Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2014 and Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2011.

HENSCHKE  First vineyards planted in the Eden Valley in 1860s. Henry’s Seven Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre Viognier 2013, Mount Edelstone 2010 60th Anniversary of ungrafted vines planted in 1912, and the remarkable 2005 Hill of Grace from 100% Shiraz with original vines over 145 years old.

HOWARD PARK  Cooler Great Southern region in Western Australia. Riesling Porongurup fresh 2014 with developing 2006 and Cab Sauv Abercrombie 2012 with 2008 matured 18 months in French oak.

JIM BARRY  Clare Valley in South Australia. The Florita Riesling 2013 with fresh natural acidity, The Armagh 2006 planted in 1968 low yielding very ripe fruit 15.6 alcohol, and stylish roasty 2002 McRae Wood Shiraz.

McWILLIAM’S  New South Wales back to 1877. Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2013 from higher altitude of 500-800 metres and Cab Sauv 2012 select blocks from Hilltops.

TAHBILK  Five generations with that iconic 1860 Shiraz block in Victoria. 2008 Museum Release Marsanne from world’s largest single plantings of this variety, Shiraz “1860 Vines” from Nagambie Lake made in 150 year old open oak vats (first release 1979), and delicious mellow impressive 1992 Cab Sauv Reserve.

TYRRELL’S  Established in 1858 in Hunter Valley. 2010 Vat 1 Semillon with no malo has brilliant honey character just starting to develop, and 2011 Vat 47 Chardonnay again no malo French oak brought back fond memories of their outstanding 1979 made by Bruce’s father Murray.

WAKEFIELD  Sold hotel business and into the Clare Valley by the Wakefield River. Single Vineyard St Andrews Block 30A Shiraz 2012 & the elegant 2009 The Visionary Cab Sauv.

YALUMBA  Established in 1849 in the Barossa near Angaston. 2014 Eden Valley Viognier 30 year vineyard ripens late to show personality, FDR1A Cab Sauv 78% Shiraz 22% 2005 “emery tannins”, & a just recorked wonderful 1996 The Signature.

CAMPBELLS of Rutherglen is the remaining member but didn’t show any wines in Vancouver.

Have you tried any of these producers? Do Families really make better wine?

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