Luke Petrinec/Steuban County CVB
As a member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), I was fortunate to attend a webinar on the Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes presented by Kevin Costello, president and CEO of the Steuben County Conference and Visitors Bureau, and Dave DeGolye, the bureau’s communications manager. I was only somewhat familiar with this wine region, so was pleased to learn more about its wineries as well as to be introduced to all its fascinating museums; delightful small towns; and abundance of outdoor activities.
Located in upstate New York just over four hours from both New York City and Philadelphia and an easy day’s drive from Washington DC, this scenic area has won accolades from the likes of Condé Nast Traveler, Rand McNally, and USA Today. The Finger Lakes AVA wine region boasts more than a hundred wineries, with with four main lakes (11 in total, with 650-plus miles of shoreline), influencing the local microclimate by moderating cold temperatures and reducing the risk of frost, similar to Germany's Rhine District; this yields cool-climate wine such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer. There are 14 wineries near Keuka Lake (top),the only one which has the shape of a “Y” instead of a finger) in Steuben County. My fellow writers and I received complimentary wines for review from three of them: Weis Vineyards, Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, and Domaine LeSeurre.
Weis Vineyards was founded in 2016 by Hans Peter Weis and his wife Ashlee. Born into a long line of winemakers in Zell, Germany, Weis worked in California's Sonoma County before moving to the Finger Lakes area. From the beginning, their dry German-style wines won awards at the likes of New York Wine & Food Classic Competition and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Located on the east side of Keuka Lake, a 19th-century one-room schoolhouse serves as their tasting room. I received a bottle of Weis 2019 Dry Riesling and found it a fresh, assertive wine with aromas of citrus and stone fruit, bright acidity and minerality on the palate, and a robust finish.
Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery lies on the southwest hills of Keuka and was established in 1962 by Dr. Frank, who in the late 1950s planted the first vinifera vines (native European grapevines) in this area, with grapes including Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Rkatsiteli, an ancient Georgian varietal that can be traced back to 3,000 BCE.
He succeeding in creating fine cool-climate wines, and various wineries followed thanks to his success. The winery is now run by the family’s fourth generation. I was delighted to receive a bottle of the Rkatsiteli, as I had not tasted this wine before, and enjoyed the bold citrus and wet slate aromas, with flavors of stone fruit, pear, and a light touch of herbal tea. The wine also has a nice, full body and a pleasant, acidic long finish.
Domaine LeSeurre Winery is owned by Céline and Sébastien LeSeurre, he from a six-generation family of grape growers and winemakers in Champagne, where he studied viticulture, and she from Toulouse near her grandparents’ vineyard in the Pyrenees, and captivated by her sommelier classes. They produced their first vintage in 2012 and opened their tasting room on the east side of Keuka Lake in Hammondsport a year later. The fusion of their French-style winemaking and New World wine experience delivers an elegant wine. I was sent a bottle of their unoaked 2017 Chardonnay to taste. This wine is aged in stainless steel for nine months, with bâtonnage (stirring settled lees/sediment to add more complexity) and has a touch of floral on the nose, citrus and honey on the palate, and a crisp minerality on the finish.
Other Fab Finger Lakes Attractions
Most famously, Steuben County is home to the Corning Museum of Glass, a world-renowned collection of glass art and artifacts from around the globe including pieces dating back as far as 3,000 years. Established in 1951 by the Corning Glass Works company on its 100th anniversary, the museum also serves as an esteemed library on the scientific and technologicL aspects of glass, and you can also learn here about how Corning scientists invented fiber optics and developed windows for the U.S. space shuttle. There's an acclaimed glassworking school here as well, and classes and glass-blowing demonstrations are offered to the public.
Avgeeks and the general public alike, meanwhile, will love the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum of aviation and transportation in Hammondsport, a half hour north of Corning. Curtiss was a noted early motorcyclist who in 1908 received the Scientific American Trophy for taking his “flying machine” over 5,000 feet up in the air - just four and a half years after the Wright Brothers’ inaugural flight. He also became known as “the father of naval aviation” after designing the first seaplane; building the Navy’s first aircraft; and training its first pilots. Along with a collection of 22 vintage planes, the museum showcases exhibits covering motorcycles; cars; and the history of women in aviation.
Three others of note: Corning's Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate displaying exceptional Native American and Western art from luminaries such as Frederick Remington and Charles Russell; the Erie Depot Museum in Hornell, 45 minutes west of Corning, which contains history and artifacts of the Erie Railroad (1832-1960), whose routes ranged from New York City out to Illinois and Indiana; and Hammondsport's Finger Lakes Boating Museum, whose mission is to preserve boating history, such as steamboats and handcrafted wooden boats, as well as offer classes on boat restoration.
In addition, Corning, Hammondsport, and the surrounding area are packed with art galleries, jewelry stores, antique shops, boutiques, churches with Tiffany glass windows, and restaurants with creative fare. Hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities are also plentiful in this picturesque region, flush with waterfalls, verdant hills, and scenic parks.
Bottom line: Corning and the southern Finger Lakes are definitely on my short list to visit in the near future. For more info, check out CorningFingerLakes.com.