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Finger Lakes Wine Country

Wine Bloggers Conference: It’s more than a conference. It’s a community.

By: Leeann Froese

The Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) is more than a workshop and a meeting place to discuss everything wine related. It is a gathering of people from all over North America who convene to celebrate each other’s passion, expertise, wine region and most importantly, friendship with one another.

WBC 2015

Hosted at a different wine region each year, the WBC lasts for nearly a week and invites bloggers, industry professionals and the host region's vintners to participate.

Sure, there's definite content: workshops and panels in board or conference rooms with a gamut of wine-centric presentations, AV materials and education, but unlike other wine trade conferences, there's so much more that happens on the periphery.

Attendees include those from visiting wineries and representatives from various wine regions that travel to the event to bring a taste of their wine country to the Wine Bloggers Conference.

Outside of conference rooms, attendees participate in field studies that include: excursions to the host region's surrounding wineries for a meet-and-greet with winery principals. As well, an exclusive sneak peek and tasting of newly or soon-to-be-release vintages. Always, the red carpet is completely unfurled and a grand time is had by all.

One of the best parts about WBC is the “after-hour tastings” hosted in various hotel suites. This is a perfect time for WBC participants to get together, be social, and taste wines that are off the program. As everyone is keen to learn about each other’s wine region and to share a taste of their own, these hotel suites become crowded quickly and force people to literally rub elbows and interact as they mingle and taste.

But no one minds because we are all united by the desire to experience and share as much we can, especially in limited time.

It's a unique community. Even if it means being sleep deprived, the group doesn’t stop stop learning, tasting and socializing for the duration they are at WBC. (And sometimes if you've had too much wine, you might find yourself facing the content of the following day with a headache...)

Happy bloggers rub elbows tasting Canadian wine. Clockwise, from back, center: Ben Heskett, Christine Campbell, Michael Pinkus, Jeff Kralik, Madeline Puckette, April Yap-Hennig, me and Robert Larson

From Portland, Penticton, Buellton and now Corning, this has been the fourth consecutive conference that I've attended WBC. As much as I appreciate and am blown away by the effort, hospitality and welcoming spirit that the host region puts into hosting this conference, the most special part about WBC is its people.

The people that assemble the program from each gracious and passionate region can be summed up as one thing: amazing.

Case in point: most recently in Finger Lakes and Corning NY, we were coordinated by Paul Thomas of Seneca Lake Wine Trail and Beth Peluse from Zephyr Adventures for the pre excursion in Seneca Lake, and Laury Ellen Poland from Finger Lakes Wine Country led the charge with Zephyr for the main conference in Corning. Each of these people successfully "herded cats" to ensure those of us that made the trip were not disappointed.

The workshop content varies each year and so do the wine regions (showing the thumbprint of where they were made), but what's common is the hard work and passion in putting the conference together.

And truthfully, to me all of that does not actually even really matter at its core, because it's what happens outside the bottle that is the most important.

The bond and socialization that wine invites is the most important part for me. I love that this conference experience is shared by like minded individuals.


This conference offers the ability to get together with the same people annually, as we collect from different corners to learn and be united by something we all love. Year over year, social bonds strengthen and long distance friendships blossom, to be nurtured by the in-person gathering WBC invites.

Wine is inherently social, so it's no surprise that the social aspect is a major part of this conference.

I cannot wait for the annual opportunity it gives me to connect with my friends from San Francisco, Portland, New York, and all points in between. Real in person bonds are strengthened and then we stay in touch socially throughout the year before we reconvene at the next year's conference.

After shyly navigating my way through the first conference that I attended in Portland, where I didn't really know what to do or who to talk to, after four conferences I now feel like I have some legitimate, real, strong, and lifelong friendships, and that these people will be with me, and I'm part of a community. And I am very thankful for this. My life is that much richer for it so thank you for that, WBC.

And while I want to express how great it feels to annually see those who are very strongly growing into 'my people’,  it's also worthy to note that there are many new friends joining this amazing community each year.

If you see a face that's not familiar, be sure to go and say hello to them. They might be a seasoned blogger or they might be someone who is encountering the conference for the first time. A friendly face and someone who can help with the lay of the land is appreciated.

And as I settle back into being back at home, I reflect on the notes of others:

Meg Houston Maker noted there is no substitution for in person smiles, and Christine Campbell of Girls Go Grape says, "I love that wine, learning and friendship are all part of the Wine Bloggers Conference."

I could not agree more.


And I am not alone. April Yapp Hennig of Sacred Drop took the picture above and called us her crew, and just today Christine Campbell posted this tweet:


Yes - activate friendship indeed! Until 2016, the #WBC friendships continue to blossom online.

I feel so blessed to have this conference as an annual opportunity to taste and learn, and also continue to build those friendships and the community that is WBC.

Sujinder and I thank you #FLX #WBC15

See you in Lodi #WBC16 #GoWBCCanada #withTownHall!

So A Genie From the Finger Lakes Grants You Three Wishes…

by Sujinder Juneja Following two successful conferences in Santa Barbara, California and Penticton, British Columbia, in August 2015, I will be participating in my third-in-a-row Wine Bloggers Conference #withTownHall; this year in Corning, New York and hosted by the wineries of the Finger Lakes AVA.

Seneca Lake Courtesy of Finger Lakes Wine Country

Although the region has been growing grapes (a mixture of native Vitis Labrusca, European Vitis Vinifera and French-American hybrids) since 1829, it’s still a small and arguably emergent region, with production levels such that few of their wines make it all the way to the left coast. I am very excited to finally get a chance to gain a better understanding of what makes these cool-climate wines, and the Finger Lakes region itself, so unique.

So when I was asked to pick the ‘top three’ things that I really wanted to learn while I was visiting (and tasting), here’s what I came up with:

I Love to Get My Hands Dirty

When people use the word ‘terroir’ to discuss the specific traits of different wine regions in the world, it’s important to note that the concept doesn't just refer to the soil. ‘Terroir’ translates loosely as a “sense of place” and refers not only to the complex geology within the soil itself, but also the geography (aspect, slope), the climate, the weather and even the surrounding flora and fauna that may have an effect on the agricultural crop in question.

Seneca Lakes Courtesy of Finger Lakes Wine Country

Coming from British Columbia, which is also described as a cool climate wine region, one of the first things I want to learn about the Finger Lakes AVA is what makes its terroir so special for the wine that it produces. Both regions share a similar history of commercial wine development, each of them dating back to the mid 1800s when grapes were first planted by the clergy for use in sacramental rituals. Each region experimented with native vines and hybrids before moving towards increased plantings of the European Vitis Vinifera varieties, to varying degrees of success. I want to learn more about the geology and geography that adds to the bright and minerally flavours of the Finger Lakes wines.

The Right Grape for the Right Place

The fact that both British Columbia and the Finger Lakes have shared a similar path in terms of varietal experimentation forces me to think about the reasons some grapes are planted more than others. Some are chosen for their ability to ripen properly in a given climate, while others are chosen because they are more fashionable or commercially viable, even if the resultant wine suffers in quality. The more winemakers, grape growers and soil specialists I speak to, the more I realize that it doesn't make sense to plant consumer-friendly, but slow-ripening varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, in regions that simply don’t get the heat units to enable them to fully mature to produce balanced wines. It makes more sense to plant grapes and produce wine that matches the ‘terroir’ of the vineyard.

It’s been noted that the wines of the Finger Lakes region are fresh, with naturally high acid and low alcohol – you’ll have to look elsewhere for wines with rich intensity and depth of fruit. French vignerons are way ahead of the game, having studied their own terroir for centuries. That’s why you don’t see Cabernet Sauvignon in Burgundy and you don’t see Pinot Noir in Bordeaux. The grapes suit the land and produce the best possible wines. So although Riesling and Pinot Noir (both very fashionable varietals) have become the dominant plantings in the region, the second thing I want to experience about the Finger Lakes AVA is these less-recognized varietals which have been developed specifically for the region. When is the last time you sipped a Cayuga White or a Valvin Muscat? It’s my aim to try as many of these unique varietals as I can, hoping to find some new favourites in the process.

A European Invasion

The ForgeCellars Team, LR: Justin Boyette Louis Barruol Rick Rainey Courtesy of Forge Cellars

The third thing I really want to know about the Finger Lakes AVA is: what is it that is so exciting about the region that makes it attract some of the highest profile international winemakers to start their own projects there?

The first I heard about was Louis Barruol, owner and winemaker at Chateau de Saint Cosme in Gigondas (and one of my favourite all-time wineries), who is one of the most acclaimed and respected winemakers in the entire Rhone Valley, if not the world.

He recently partnered with local Finger Lakes investors to create Forge Cellars, a winery in the Seneca Lake AVA that focuses exclusively on Riesling and Pinot Noir. With more than 500 years of family experience making wines from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre and Viognier in hot Southern France, what made him invest in Riesling and Pinot Noir in cooler upstate New York?

Paul Hobbs and Johannes Selbach Courtesy of Weingut Selbach-Oster

More recently, a joint venture was announced between leading California winemaker and consultant Paul Hobbs and the Mosel Valley’s Johannes Selbach that saw them purchase a 67-acre site on the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake that will ultimately be planted with 45 acres of Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Blanc.

What is it about the Finger Lakes that drew these two titans of the wine industry together? It’s a big question, but I aim to find the answer.

August can’t come soon enough. Very much looking forward to exploring the Finger Lakes wine region from August 13-16 at this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference.

Looking ahead to the Wine Blogger's Conference

By Leeann Froese We are looking forward to sending two members of our team (myself and Sujinder Juneja) to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Finger Lakes, New York this August. This will be my 4th consecutive conference, and Sujinder's third.

Wine Bloggers Conference

Being named Wine Enthusiast's wine region of the year in 2014 made me very curious about what this region has to offer, because as world wine regions go the Finger Lakes Region is still relatively unknown.

This is not meant as a slight towards the region because I feel like our own home wine region here in British Columbia is also off the radar, and this is something we have in common. That same Wine Enthusiast article also named Canada / British Columbia / Okanagan as one of the gems to discover in the world. What will New York have to offer? In my minds eye it's not as hot as it is here in the west, and I have never traveled into this particular area south of Ontario so it will be new territory for me

Adam Strum, publisher and editor of Wine Enthusiast, writes "The New York wine industry has made a remarkable comeback in the past 30 years in terms of the quality of wines, number of wineries, and economic impact."

The Finger Lakes Wine Country boasts over 100 wineries centered around the region’s four main lakes: Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka and Canandaigua.

Vineyards at Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars - photo credit - Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars

British Columbia has more than 200 wineries, but like Finger Lakes, the Okanagan wine region is centered around Okanagan, Skaha, Vaseaux, Tuc el Nuit, and Osoyoos Lakes.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery's vineyard in the Okanagan Valley, BC

In both cases, these bodies of water offer a moderating effect to the landscape and allows for premium grape growing. Is this where the similarities end?

I am sure that both regions offer people who love what they do, and I look forward to learning what kind of tourism infrastructure and hospitality the Finger Lakes region offers. What other compare and contrast points will we find? I am feeling confident the wines will not be the same!

More on the Wine Bloggers Conference and the Finger Lakes region to come!