Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 22, 2022
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sipping over the border

New York's surprising Finger Lakes

We begin a two-part series on summer sojourns into neighbouring American vineyards with a snapshot of the surprising Finger Lakes region of New York. It's surprising because so many of the area's good Pinot Noirs, Rieslings and Gewürztraminers lurk among so many other pedestrian wines, like the hugely popular Hazlitt Red Cat Catawba, that seem to be throwbacks to the '60s and '70s.

The Finger Lakes are within a half-day drive from just about anywhere along the St. Lawrence-Lower Great Lakes corridor. And with the June launch of a Toronto-Rochester ferry, the first vineyards at the north end of Lake Seneca are now only three hours from downtown Toronto -- minus the harrowing QEW and border-bridge lineups.

The wineries are hoping the new ferry will bring a surge of Canadians. The region is somewhat isolated, and its wines are not well represented in urban markets on either side of the border, so it relies on summer tourism for most of its sales. Ontarians, however, won't be bringing much home thanks to border taxes that virtually double the US retail price.

The Finger Lakes vineyards hug the slopes of three large, very deep lakes -- Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga -- that rarely freeze in winter and provide a warmer microclimate that protects from winter frost. Many vineyards are based on limestone, slate and very stony soils, often mirroring those in Germany and Burgundy.

As a general travel strategy, you should allot half your time to Seneca Lake, which has the most premium wineries. You can divide the rest of your time between Keuka and Cayuga. Plan time in each town at the south end of Ithaca, Watkins Glen and Hammondsport lakes.

Here are my picks of the best wineries to visit in terms of quality, listed from east to west.

On Cayuga Lake, Ottawa-raised Bob Madill has created a little slice of gastronomic heaven at Sheldrake Point Vineyard & Café, a modern, airy premise. Madill is the founder of the Finger Lakes Pinot Noir Alliance, so be sure to try his Pinots and Cab Francs.

Nearby Goose Watch is a scenic property where Derek Wilbur specialises in esoteric varieties like Viognier, Lemberger and Pinot Gris, plus rare hybrids like Traminette, Villard Blanc and Chambourcin.

On the eastern shore of Seneca Lake stop at Lamoreaux Landing, a modern estate/wine boutique and art gallery. Mark Wagner's plush and fairly expensive Riesling, Gewürz, Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs await.

At tiny Red Newt Cellars, David Whiting is making some of the most expensive and exciting wines in the area, including fabulous reserve Riesling and Gewrz, prototypical Finger Lakes-style Pinot and Cab Franc, and red blends like top-end Vindescens. Debra Whiting runs a 64-seat bistro and serves some of the best food in the region.

Chateau LaFayette Reneau winemaker Tim Miller has turned out a huge list of award winners with Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir among his portfolio.

On the western shore of Seneca Lake, don't miss Hermann J. Weimer Vineyard, a pioneering, vinifera-only estate winery making classy Gewrz, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from old vines.

Anthony Road is a white-wine specialist with a new winery and winemaker, the fastidious Johann Reinhardt. The 2002 Rieslings are classics, and the botrytis-affected Late Harvest Vignoles (a hybrid also called Ravat) is breathtaking -- the best wine in the region.

Fox Run Vineyards, under the winemaking leadership of Toronto-raised Peter Bell, is perhaps the most complete premium winery. It sports a broad portfolio with no holes in terms of quality or value. Bell aims for varietal precision and balance, with excellent Gewrz, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cab Franc and Lemberger.

On the steep hills above the west shore of Keuka Lake, the newly rebuilt Heron Hill Winery offers a great view of the lake. The wines up until 2001 have been average, but accomplished Ontario winemaker Thomas Laszlo has made some good 2002s.

Dr Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars is the heart and soul of the Finger Lakes, a pioneer of vinifera-only viticulture to create sparkling wine, Riesling and Pinot Noir. From vines over 40 years old, Willi Frank has maintained a high standard. The specialty is Rkatsiteli, a grape originating in eastern Turkey.

For further info contact the New York Grape & Wine Foundation (tel: 315-536-0719; or


This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.