Oenophiles at last year’s Finger Lakes Wine Symposium in Geneva.
Joshua Greene, editor, publisher, and acclaimed wine critic of Wine & Spirits magazine, the industry bible with headquarters in New York City, had never given much thought to the more than one hundred wineries surrounding Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, and Canandaigua lakes in upstate New York.
“I was oblivious to Finger Lakes wines,” he said. But his first exposure, a Riesling from the award-winning Dr. Konstantin Frank vineyards in Hammondsport, pleasantly surprised him with a complexity that showed “this wine can really age.” Many discriminating sips later, Greene now can’t say enough good things about the Finger Lakes, which he considers one of the world’s great wine-producing regions, the cold-climate equivalent of California’s Sonoma County.
Although he samples and evaluates fine wine from five continents, Finger Lakes cold-climate vintages have won a preferred place in his heart, and on his shelf. “Most of what I buy for drinking at home or with friends is Finger Lakes Riesling, particularly from Wiemer and Ravines,” he says, and he has consistently rated Finger Lakes wine as some of the best cool-climate wine he has come across.
“Seneca Lake is really deep,” he says, “[so] you get temperature consistency right along the shore, you have these really beautiful places to grow grapes on either side.”
The wine critic will have a chance to share his enthusiasm with an appreciative audience at the Wine Symposium of the Finger Lakes on June 13 and 14 in Geneva. Greene is the scheduled keynote speaker at the second annual celebration of the region’s grape-growers and winemakers organized by Geneva Growth and the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, with support from the New York Wine and Culinary Center, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and the City of Geneva. For $150, wine enthusiasts can enjoy two days of seminars and wine tastings with international wine and food experts, “taste cool-climate wines from around the world, try wine and food pairings, and learn why wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes have gained international respect.” The event was sold out last year.
Greene is glad to be back.
“I’m excited to be visiting the Finger Lakes again,” he said. “With so much emphasis on eating and drinking local, New Yorkers are blessed to have one of the world’s great terroirs in our backyard—not only for wine, but for exceptional food as well. The Wine Symposium is a moment to consider Finger Lakes Riesling, pinot noir, and cabernet franc in the context of cool-climate wines from around the world.”
Greene’s career was foretold when, as a boy of thirteen traveling with his family in the northern province of Galicia in Spain, he took his first sip of wine, with lunch. He fell into wine tasting nearly by accident. After graduating from Princeton University, I came out of college with a plan to write fiction,” he says, “and supported myself by waiting tables and serving wine as a ‘sommelier.’ That was my title at the Wheatleigh Hotel in Lenox, Massachusetts, when the Simons had just bought the property and I was the only server who knew how to use a waiter’s knife.”
Following that, he moved back to Princeton and was approached to manage a magazine called Winestate’s Wine & Spirits Buying Guide. He accepted, and immediately shortened the name to just Wine & Spirits, trademarked it, and started to build a base market around New York. Soon, the publisher moved back to Australia, and Joshua finally bought the magazine in 1989.
At the start, though, he didn’t write for the magazine, focusing more on organizing wine tasting events and panels. It wasn’t long, however, before he grew intrigued by blind tasting, seeing those initial visceral reactions to a wine as “immensely valuable,” and “[spending] a lot of time trying to describe those reactions and those patterns.” Shortly after, he became not only the publisher and editor of Wine & Spirits, but also its prime wine critic.
Greene now touts the Finger Lakes’ unique combination of soil and climate that gives the region its own advantages over wines from hotter climates. “Tasting the wines up [in the Finger Lakes] is a true consistent terroir which is not what you see in most New World wines,” he says. “This is an area that has consistent soils: there’s potential for distinctive terroir expressions.”
He believes the Finger Lakes winemakers are moving in the right direction. “It’s definitely expanding,” he says, and is slowly but surely gaining a foothold in the psyche of the American imbiber. But Greene takes umbrage at those who would say that the Finger Lakes are “the Napa Valley of the east.” While Napa Valley has become a playground of the rich, he says that the Finger Lakes are more like the Sonoma of the east, because “there are lots of great food producers” and “old world values of agriculture” that come with great food and great wine having a unity of origin.
As Riesling is the Finger Lakes’ signature varietal, the symposium will start on Friday with a Grand Tasting of gold medal winners from the Finger Lakes AVA (American Viticultural Area) Riesling Challenge from 4-7 p.m. at the new Visitor’s Center on Geneva’s lakefront. Following this will be Dan Eaton, the Rochester chef and host of YNN network’s Cooking at Home show, with cooking demonstrations that utilize the crisp minerality of local wines paired with hors d’oeuvres to whet the appetite of onlookers, as they sample wines with glasses provided by famed German Glasmacher Riedel. Afterwards, there will be a welcome speech from Master of Ceremonies Michael Warren Thomas, the noted Finger Lakes lifestyle radio host, and an awards ceremony for the winners of the Riesling Challenge.
On Saturday, moving to Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Scandling Center, the festivities will continue at a comfortable 9:30 a.m., with a seminar delineating the principles of food and wine pairing, specifically with cool- climate wines from around the world. Soon after will be a seminar by New York Sommelier Thomas Pastuszak, L.A. wine writer Dan Berger, and Ron Giesbrecht, professor at Niagara College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute and former Henry of Pelham winemaker. These various speakers will talk about white, red, and sparkling wines in cool climates, especially as regards the Finger Lakes and their place in the national pantheon.
The symposium will finish with a luncheon and keynote speech by Greene. The keynoter is looking forward to eating as well as drinking in the Finger Lakes. “The food is fantastic…What’s cool about the Finger Lakes is that they do have their own culture, that will evolve into distinct wine and food cultures.”
For more information on the symposium, and ticket reservations, see www.winesymposiumfingerlakes.com.