Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Sense of Seneca

This is my third Wine Bloggers Conference and it's been the same story at all three: the surprise winery visit is a guaranteed highlight. The conference sets up a series of side trips and the delegates just board a bus without knowing what their destination will be. The toughest task is trying to coordinate your crew so that you all get on the same bus. Like herding cats I tell you.

We were likely the last bus to load and some of our folks more-or-less just ignored where they were being directed to get on our bus but the gang somehow managed to stay intact - and, as luck would have it, I think we happened on to a lovely outing.

As with the Pre-Conference Excursion, our bus wound its way back to the shores of Seneca Lake - although this time we travelled up the eastern shore to the Banana Belt that we'd previously heard about. The "tropicality" of the sub-region was manifested more as rain forest than equatorial sunshine however - at least for a brief portion of our visit to the vineyard. A little shower did nothing to dampen our moods or the vista though. Everyone's biggest concern was that the rain might be watering down the wine in our glasses.

The theme to our excursion was "Senses of Place" and we were first greeted in one of the Hazlitt 1852 vineyards by principals of four local wineries - Hazlitt 1852, Keuka Spring, Heart & Hands and Sheldrake Point - two from Seneca Lake and two from neighbouring Cayuga Lake. Much to my delight, our hosts each poured a Riesling to provide a sense of the terroir as they discussed the region and their particular directions and aspirations for their viticulture and winemaking.

The next step to happiness was a walkabout tasting at Hazlitt's dining pavilion. Each of the four wineries offered a couple of different wines while providing a chance for a little one-on-one discussion.

There were a couple of standout wines on my dance card: the Hazlitt 1853 Cab Franc and the Heart & Hands Polarity, the latter being a "unique white wine made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes" (at least that's what the winery website calls it - sounded like a Rosé to me, but a tasty one at that).

Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to try all the hard ciders and craft beers that were also on offer before we were called to the dinner table.

1977.  2012 Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards Cabernet Franc  (Finger Lakes - New York)

Although this Cab Franc wasn't one of the wines that was served with dinner, as mentioned above, it was a favourite for the day and I certainly requested enough refills to qualify this as the one bottle to add to The List. Turns out I'm not the only person to take a hankering to the wine. Within a couple weeks of our leaving the Finger Lakes and WBC15, this wine ended up winning the Best Red Wine at the 2015 New York State Fair. Not that I had any extra room in my luggage - or on my Customs declaration - for additional bottles, but I do wish I'd have had a chance to visit the tasting room and pick up at least one bottle of this full bodied and richly flavoured wine to bring home.

A four course menu was prepared by local restauranteur, Dano Hutnick, and paired with a wine from each of the four wineries present. From chilled tomato soup and seafood stuffed cabbage to pork cheek goulash and home grown apricot napoleon, chef aimed to emphasize what was local and fresh at the moment. Our host wineries continued to show their versatility and poured Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and a Riesling Ice Wine.

As leisurely and enjoyable as our outing had been, we were corralled back onto the bus as a reception at the Rockwell Museum had been planned back in Corning. Proving that our hosts were more than just pretty faces, they kept a (by now) much livelier crowd both occupied and amused with craft beer and Riesling tattoo stickers. I tell you, there's never a dull moment at these Wine Bloggers Conferences.

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