Wine Talk

Snooth User: tabednar

Simi and the Finger Lakes

Posted by tabednar, Nov 5, 2011.

Hey Guys,

I am delirious from working 38 hours the past two days but had a second of down time. I was talking to a patient of mine sometime late at night and we started discussing wine. He told me some interesting things that I more or less wanted to fact check against the brains of snooth.

First he claimed that his brother/uncle or some relative of his was one of the first to introduce stainless steel vats to wine making in the California area by introducing the idea to Simi winery.

Secondly, he was talking a great deal about wine in the Finger Lakes region. He stated that the region used to make very average table wine for the longest time. Then, a women decided to smuggle a root from France in her underwear and brought it this area for grafting. The graft did so well that the root could grow, if I heard him correctly 40-50 feet down into the ground and would reach very nutrient rich soil and glacial waters.

Anyone have any knowledge on this? Just curious more than anything. Thanks!


Reply by EMark, Nov 6, 2011.

I don't have any information to support and debunk these stories, but I agree that they are both pretty good.

Reply by joebernardinoATyahoo, Nov 6, 2011.

How many women from France were there?

Also the story I heard was that it was Dr. Konstantin Frank who revolutionized the New York State wine industry by introducing European grapes to the area in the early 1960s. Since he was a respected winemaker in the USSR (Ukraine and Kartvelian Georgia) he knew how to make grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grow in less than ideal conditions. The wikipedia article says about the same thing.




Reply by ScottLauraH, Nov 7, 2011.

I have also heard and read the Dr. Konstantin Frank theory about the Finger Lakes area.  The stainless steel vats, I don't know, but I will definitely research that. 

According to Kevin Zraly in his 25th Anniversary Edition of the Windows on the World Wine Course, Dr. Frank came to the United States from Russia to experiement with Vitis vinifera.  Apparently nearly everyone thought he was crazy but one Charles Fournier of Gold Seal Vineyards, who gave him a chance to prove himself and he was able to successfully produce Riesling and Chardonnay.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 12, 2011.

I went to school in the Finger Lakes area, Cornell to be precise, and the wines were almost universally dreadful there in the 80s.  A few were drinkable but not desirable. Coming from California and having friends and family who introduced me to some of the greats of this area, I was sorely disappointed by the wines made there.  We drank beer and some red Romanian wine, if I recall, as impoverished students.  Not Finger Lakes wine.  The big wine companies were Taylor, who were bought out by Coca Cola at some point in their history and tried to make wines in Cali, and Canandaigua, who made crap out of concord grapes.  I'm sure there was Riesling somewhere, but it isn't my favorite and wasn't something you could find easily. I have heard that the Rieslings from up there are rivalling some of the best outside of Germany, but just can't bring myself to hunt them down. 

How the heck does anyone know for sure who brought the first stainless vats?  I could make the claim that my father sold the first centrifuges in the wine industry (a much more dubious achievement) becuase he sold some to Frank Indelicato back in the day, and no one could prove it wrong, but I think it would be overstating the matter.  This sounds like puffery to me, but let him have his fun.

Reply by JonDerry, Nov 13, 2011.

My wife and I have some friends interested in taking us on a finger lakes wine tasting tour. The plan's been shelved for now, but I think we'll do it in the next year or two, should be interesting, especially with all this back story.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 13, 2011.

It's not the easiest place in the world to get to.  Nearest major airport is probably Philly, tho NYC is about the same and gives more options.  You can fly into Ithaca or one of the other airports (Palmyra?) but it won't be direct. Buffalo is a few hours drive and, well, it's Buffalo.  And Rochester isn't very major, so I can't see flying there then driving an hour and a half or so.

Don't even think of going in the winter, as it's one of the snowiest places on earth.  Spring is muddy and the weather is unpredictable.  (Two of my years there it snowed in May!) Summer it rains and is warm, even hot, and humid as all get out.  Fall is clearer, but not without rain, too, but on the whole the nicest time to be there.  Summer is also okay, since the rains don't last too long, and there are recreational opportunities in and near the lakes, and the colleges are all out of session, so the campuses are deserted and kind of sweet old-fashioned schools.  (Cornell is huge, but there are lots of smaller schools around the lakes.)

We've considered going back for the summer program at Cornell, since there are classes for kids and it's mellow then.  But the travel has so far seemed excessive, even though we have decamped for Nepal without much complaint.

Reply by joebernardinoATyahoo, Nov 14, 2011.
Edited Nov 14, 2011

Being a Western New Yorker I would love to find reasons to encourage you to come visit us but I admit it is no easy task. Rochester is actually 40 minutes away from the northern gateway to Finger Lakes wine country and easy to fly in and out of. If you fly into Rochester it should be easy to get a ride out to the Finger Lakes from one of the many wine tour companies. Buffalo is less than 2 hours away. But if it's a choice between Finger Lakes or... California, Columbia Valley, or Long Island even, i don't know...


If you like minor league sports or women's pro soccer you could come see a couple of baseball and/or soccer games along with the wine tour. The AAA Red Wings at Frontier Field is a top notch ballpark experience. As far as the wines go, the whites and bubbly has really come a long way. So far the Riesling is the only varietal taken seriously, but the Chardonnays have been pretty good the past few years as well as bubbly made from Chardonnay, Riesling, or other grapes such as Cayuga and Seyval. It is a real struggle to get your average wine drinker to take Cayuga and Seyval seriously as they are hybrid grapes created in the 90s, but they are making some really good wines from them now.

The Finger Lakes reds are not much to speak of, there is some decent Cab Franc, a bit of reasonably well made Pinot Noir, the last 2 vintages of Lemberger/Blaufrankisch are promising and beginning to take off in popularity and quality, and there is some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which is mediocre at best. My favorite wineries are Miles, Glenora, Rock Stream, and Deer Run. Dr. Frank's/Salmon Run is the most popular but my gripe with them is their wines are overpriced.


Feel free to ask me anything else you might be interested in, one thing we might have going for us in western NY is we are eager to expand our tourist appeal, anything to improve the lagging rust belt economy. We have been getting a lot of tourists in Rochester and the Finger Lakes driving down from Ontario and other parts of Canada, and with their Canadian dollars there has been good cash flow to improve facilities (tasting rooms, bed and breakfast, etc.)



Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 17, 2011.

JoeBernarndino, thanks for that.  Glenora has been around quite a long time, if I recall.  I personally enjoy minor league ball, went to games in Wichita when my folks moved there.  The manager at the time was Felipe Alou, and you saw players on the way up and down.  Once you get to the Finger Lakes, the summer activities are fun.  Although Rochester is easy enough to fly into, coming from the West Coast, not going to be a lot of flights directly from here. 

Back to the Simi Winery question, here's an article about their history.  No mention of the stainless steel tanks.

My estimate of travel time from Rochester was to Ithaca, which is not at the nearest point of the Finger Lakes to Rochester, I grant. Just being a little Cornell-centric.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 17, 2011.

Wow, and then Bully Hill's wines show up on the right column.  Started by the scion of the Taylor family after they sold their properties and he was prohibited from using his last name, he put out a red wine that was not totally awful called "Billy Goat."  On the label, it said, "they may own my name, but they can't get my goat."  Some memories!

Reply by dmcker, Nov 17, 2011.

Hey Fox, I don't see any problem with considering Nepal or even Tibet (or Bhutan or hill-country India) over Ithaca (apologies to any up-Staters, but...)!  Someone tried to talk me into going to school there, but I guess I wasn't feeling it. ;-)

And good rundown, Joe. Thanks.


Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 18, 2011.

Yeah, Nepal was amazing, we took our kids who were 4 and 6 then for a wedding of some friends--he's from a prominent family in Kathmandu.  It was easy once we got there because they set us up in an apartment and we had a driver. 

Upstate/Southern Tier/Western NY is just in the wilderness, as much as any place in the eastern US can be.  It can be really amazing and beautiful because of that, but the weather is forbidding for much of the year, and it's just damn hard to get there. Tompkins County is literally the beginning of Appalachia, too. Good place to go hide out for four years of college (or, in my case, 2 1/2) without the distractions of urban life, and Cornell is big enough to draw its own cultural events.  I figured back in '84 or so you could live there pretty well on about $3k a year if you only saw movies at the university.  I last spent time there in summer of '90, and rented a room in a house for $225 for the whole summer. Yes, $75 a month.  With a kitchen, nice place with cable TV, good location... the place is empty from June to late August.  And peaceful and, as they say, gorgeous.

Reply by dmcker, Nov 18, 2011.

But is that where you'd want to spend summers now?  ;-)

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 18, 2011.

D, like you, when faced with two temptations, I like to choose the one I haven't tried yet.  Next summer trip will probably be to Italy, where we will rent a home somewhere, then a foray into Switzerland for a little exploration of other professional opportunities.  Wish we could go for the whole summer, but that seems unlikely at this point, so a month will have to do. If you have any great recommendations for a nice area of countryside within striking distance of a city with great culture, and a lead on a good rental (preferably big enough for two families), I'm all ears.  Naturally, great local wine is a plus... but it's Italy, so how hard is that going to be?

Reply by dmcker, Nov 19, 2011.

Which part of Switzerland?

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 20, 2011.

The international law and human rights part, not the banking part. 

Reply by dmcker, Nov 21, 2011.

So you mean Geneva, not Zurich (though there are, of course, banks all over the country). Or...?

There is wine to check out there, too, you know.  ;-)

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