Finger Lakes Wine Festival Wrapup: the VIP experience

30 September 2009
By Tom Mansell

On both days of the festival, when the day was almost over, I found some respite from the madding crowd. A saving grace for me was the occurrence of impromptu “tweetups” organized by Morgen McLaughlin (aka @FLWineLady) in the Riesling Room. I use the quotation marks around “tweetup” because while some of the involved parties were active on Twitter, many had barely heard of it. The attendants were mostly winemakers, bringing their wares to taste among other winemakers, discussing Brix, clones, and other winemaking processes. This was the stuff I was most interested in, and I got to meet a lot of cool winemakers, including Jeff Houck of Lucas Vineyards, Jonathan Oakes (winemaker at Leonard Oakes and rising star in the Niagara wine region), Tim Benedict of Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, Aaron Roisen of Hosmer, and assistant winemaker Justin Boyet of Atwater Estate Vineyards. I even ran into New York Cork Report Niagara Escarpment Editor (and aspiring winemaker himself) Bryan Calandrelli.

The winemakers poured some very good wines and talked about different issues, like skin contact, different sites in the Finger Lakes, and the right Brix to pick Cayuga White at before it starts to develop the labrusca “foxy” character. Not much critique of the wines, but lots of casual discussion among peers. I was definitely in my element, asking questions when I didn’t feel too intimidated. This was what I was looking for, some serious wine talk.

seriouscat copy

Wine. Serious Business, right?

I don’t want yesterday’s post to be interpreted as negative altogether. I had a great time at the Festival, on both days, and while I didn’t taste every wine in the tasting guide (not even close), I think I got up to about 100. Considering the throngs of people, that’s not too bad. Sunday was a lot calmer than Saturday, and I did actually get a chance to talk with the pourers (and in some cases, winemakers) that were working. There were far fewer shenanigans on Sunday. It was actually quite pleasant.

In fact, I should give a shoutout to a winery that I hadn’t had anything from before that impressed me with just about every wine they poured, Keuka Spring Vineyards. I bought a half case from them, my only wine purchase of the festival. Big ups to the Crooked Lake Red, a red blend with a lot of character, featuring the Rougeon grape.

The Festival tries to appeal to all kinds of wine consumers, but it’s really just a big party. Some people like frat parties, some like cocktail parties, and some like tea parties. This year, Saturday was the frat party while Sunday was more like a cocktail party. There’s no reason for wine cognoscenti to thumb their noses as the proletariat guzzle their sacred drink. On the other hand, there has got to be a better way to get consumers interested in wine than relying on novelty and appealing only to the lowest common denominator. Underselling the high-quality wines while playing up the sweet and simple ones may be a good way to get consumers to drink wine, but what then? Maybe I was a bit off when I considered the “dichotomy” of our wine culture. Rather than a discrete separation there must be a continuum of wine consumers with varying amounts of knowledge and experience. Where do these new wine consumers turn when they want something beyond the simple? What happens in between wine naïf and wine connoisseur? These are probably the types that would attend talks and tasting sessions about enjoying wine (e.g., the Riesling Room). These are the ones that likely make up the bulk of the continuum, like a bell curve. Perhaps these are the ones that the wine festival should target. I like what Hazlitt did with the winemaker’s corner, and I like the idea of the Riesling Room. I would love to see more ideas like this.

There is a lot in play here, and the sample is likely skewed. After all, in terms of the Festival we are talking about a sample population willing to pay up front for all they can drink on a hot summer day. I’m out of my league here. I have said many times that I understand molecules, but that I don’t understand people. The system we live in is much too complex to be understood fundamentally, especially from someone like me who naïvely expects predictable and rational behavior. This could also be the reason I am so drawn to infomercials and Evangelical Christian radio programs.

Where was I? Oh yes, the Festival. I would go again next summer. If I go on Saturday, though, I’m not going to be driving myself and I’m not going to be spitting. Hell, maybe I’ll even go to the toga party. How does that Red Cat song go again?

PS:
If you’d like a completely different, more descriptive, and Thompsonian (Hunter S., not Lenn) take on the Festival, check out the reaction of my friend Brian, my compatriot and cameraman for the festival. Ithacork takes no responsibility for his views, motorcycle analogies, or spelling.


Science!
One of my biggest gripes at the Festival was the fact that almost every white wine I tasted was ICE COLD, probably because it had been sitting in an ice bucket or cooler all day. Whites coming out of the fridge are likely going to be around 39-40 degrees F (4C), but when wines sit in an ice-water mixture they get even colder. I’m not one of those who goes around saying that your all your whites should be served at exactly 45 degrees Fahrenheit, but 33 is cold, especially for those of us with more sensitive teeth (read: winos with hardly any enamel left…). If you serve ice-cold wine, you’re not only doing the taster a disservice by giving him a brain freeze, you are muting the aromas of the wine.

All right now, fellas.  What's cooler than being cool?  NOT serving your wine ICE COLD.

All right now, fellas. What's cooler than being cool? NOT serving your wine ICE COLD.

In a paper in the Journal of Sensory Studies, the temperature effect was studied extensively. In the cases of red and white wine, aroma intensity was found to be significantly lower at lower temperatures. This makes sense, since aroma compounds are generally less volatile at lower temperatures (in general, this effect is also non-linear). As for acidity and sweetness, contrary to what you might have heard, temperature in this study had no statistically significant effect on acidity or sweetness in white wines. (Ross and Weller, “Effect of serving temperature on the sensory attributes of red and white wines”, Journal of Sensory Studies, 2008).

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4 Responses to Finger Lakes Wine Festival Wrapup: the VIP experience

  1. Brian on 30 September 2009 at 10:39 am

    Thanks for the link to my verbose rendering of Wine Fest!

  2. Tnelson on 30 September 2009 at 6:28 pm

    I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case, great info…I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

  3. Aaron on 1 October 2009 at 12:06 am

    Brian’s review was also good, haha. “Bricks” hahaha!

    I know it wasn’t shown in the paper, but when wines are served ice-cold, they seem sweeter to me…maybe because I don’t get the whole olfactory thing to balance things out?

    Maybe I’ll do an experiment or something later? *shrug*

  4. Jeanne on 5 October 2009 at 10:33 am

    Thanks for your positive mention of Keuka Spring Vineyards! Happy you enjoyed the Crooked Lake Red and our other wines. Yes, come out to Keuka Lake (it’s only an hour or so-used to do the commute to Ithaca myself) to taste more great viniferas, hybrids, and blends and soak in the view.

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