Newsbreak, Wine, Wine Reviews

What Makes New York Wine, New York Wine?

What makes New York Wine unique? Wine has deep roots in New York State and a long history of winemaking. A recent panel discussion draws on three winemakers’ expertise from the Finger Lakes region, located in New York State, to explore the state’s wine industry today and tomorrow.

New York State Wine is on the Rise

What is the New York State of Wine? The purpose of the international tasting was to define the region’s profile with panelists from around the world. Responding to the audience, the panel discussed issues such as land use, climate, vineyard practices, and geographic designations that influence the taste, character, and quality of New York wine.

The Finger Lakes Region has made a name for itself, becoming one of New York’s most famous wine regions. With that said, many people don’t know much about New York wines.

Wine-making has a long history in the Finger Lakes area, and there is a lot of this going on today, especially with the planting of new vineyards. When is it appropriate to start labeling wines as New York State? What do we need to do to make that happen? How can New York State wines compete against California and other regions?

New York State Wines Map

New York State Wines map

These questions, and their answers, were the basis for our discussion with three winemakers while we tasted three distinctly New York State wines.

#1 Living Roots Bone Dry Riesling 2019 Finger Lakes, New York State

Sebastian & Colleen Hardy’s winery, Living Roots, is based in Rochester, New York, and they also have a winery in South Australia.

“The Finger Lakes provide insulation for the vines; it is very cold, especially in the winter – it also extends the growing season,” said Sebastian Hardy.

This bone-dry Riesling is full-bodied and rich from a single vineyard in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

“It is the first vintage of our Shale Creek wine. It is a steep block with shale soil and catches the afternoon sunlight. Riesling suits the Finger Lakes so well and can make so many styles. The slow ripening process is great for richer and riper flavors, high natural acidity – ripe citrus, stone fruit, wet stone, waxy. Texture to carry it when it is bone dry.”

The Living Roots Riesling has attractive aromas of pear and stone fruits and is well balanced by clean citrus flavors, with a crisp acidity that makes it ideal for drinking on its own or with white meats and seafood. The wine undergoes cold fermentation in stainless steel to preserve the bright fruit character and fresh acidity of Finger Lakes Riesling.

#2 Weis Gruner Veltliner 2019 Finger Lakes, New York State

Peter Weis is a 6th generation winemaker from the wine heartlands of Germany in the Mosel Valley. His winery is now on the Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes, New York. It is unusual because it is a “Y-shaped” lake, which people in the past called, Crooked Lake.

“When I came to the United States from the Mosel, I stopped at Sonoma for a short time. Surprisingly a lot of similarities and soil types.”

Weis makes a whole spectrum of styles from ancient red Saperavi to ice wine to wines made from hybrid Cayuga White, a grape that can handle frigid temperatures.

Much like the Mosel in Germany, Finger Lakes also has slate soil and limestone, enabling winemakers to source different grapes for different styles of wine.

“The climate is very similar to the Mosel – but what Mosel was like twenty years ago,” says Weis. It shows the effect of climate change on growing conditions in cool climate regions.

“The Finger Lakes is a home away from home. It was closer to home, distance-wise (from other wine areas such as New Zealand) and also in wine style.”

#3 Red Newt Cellars Cabernet Franc 2018 Finger Lakes, New York State

Local Rochester lad, Kelby Russell, journey in wine begins and ends in the Finger Lakes. Although it wasn’t always certain he’d end up back in the Finger Lakes. Growing up in Rochester in the 1990s and 2000s, when Kodak was collapsing, it was not the best time to find a job, and his parents thought he’d leave Rochester forever after university.

But he caught the wine bug. As he says, by mistake. He exchanged working in a winery in Tuscany with room and board and he never looked back. When he came back from abroad, he threw himself into Finger Lakes, then did a harvest in Marlborough, Tasmania, and Yalumba in Barossa Valley.

Working in Australia inspired Kelby to make reds that are a joyful and absolute pleasure to drink and have a certain spark to them. The patchwork of soils in the Finger Lakes means winemakers love to work with different expressions of Riesling this allows.

The 2018 Cabernet Franc from Red Newt Cellars is dark ruby and has aromas of roasted pumpkin, violets, and carmelized dark fruits. This medium-bodied wine expresses black cherry, boysenberry, and currants with hints of rose petal. The finish has a reasonable length of spicy black pepper on it.

Final Thoughts


New York is one of the most diverse wine regions globally, with over 400 wineries planted on thousands of acres of land from Seneca Lake to the Hudson Valley. Yet, despite all this diversity, a significant question remains unanswered: what exactly makes New York wine, New York wine?

In the 21st century, we have countless options when it comes to getting our wine fix. Understanding where New York Wine is today and where it’s going in the future requires a global perspective.

Wine-making has a long history in the Finger Lakes area, so there is a lot of this going on, especially with new vineyards being planted. It’s still in the process of being discovered.

As Kelby Russell from Red Newt Cellars says, “Finger Lakes always feels like the bridesmaid never the bride.”

But in 2020, this changed – and wineries found more people visiting the Finger Lakes from New York than ever before. More visitors put upward pressure on quality and cellar doors.

Through tastings and events, New York wineries network with some of the most influential winemakers in the world to deliver a glimpse into the diverse state of New York wine.

“Growing up in this area,” says Kelby Russell, “It means so much more to bringing the Finger Lakes wine region to the world.”

Photo by Jan Weber on Unsplash