Pointing the fracking finger: Finger Lakes Wines

Sep 24th, 2014 Jayne Pearce Consume & Educate

For an apprentice expat living in the US, placing the Finger Lakes Wine Country on a map required a bit of care. I knew wine had been grown within New York State for a long time - since 1829 in fact - but proximity, knowledge and the need for a tasting or two required further research. With the help of a Book and Wine combo club I initiated  a long time ago called ‘Wines & Spines,’ I found the perfect excuse for my choice of wine. The book ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt is mostly set in New York City and gave me a great opportunity to open a Fingers Lake Wine or two for the curious Wines & Spines members. My research also took me towards an exploitation of another kind. Fracking could have a major impact on the Finger Lakes wine industry, should it ever get the go-ahead.


New York State is the third largest wine producer by volume in the USA after California and Washington. The Finger Lakes Wine Agricultural Viticultural Area (AVA) produces the vast majority of the wine out of New York State with Lake Erie; Hudson River and Long Island AVA’s producing smaller amounts. My first challenge besides locating this productive wine region on a map of the USA was sourcing some of the wine. Despite there being more than one hundred wineries and vineyards in the Finger Lakes Wine AVA spread over 11,000 acres, getting my hands on that elusive bottle or two was proving tricky. Bevmo and other larger chains with national reach came up dry so I headed to my tried and trusted local supplier Beltramos  for a bottle of  the Finger lakes Wine Ravines 2012 Riesling ($17) and the Ravines 2011 Cabernet Franc ($18). These wines from Ravines Wine Cellars are located on the steep eastern edge of Lake Keuka which is one of eleven glacial lakes on a thick, productive bed of shale. Besides Keuka lake, Seneca, Cayuga and Canandaigua lakes are the other three main lakes out of the eleven and within the AVA that produce ideal growing conditions for grape growing. The lakes provide micro-climatic warmth to the vines during the winter chill and keeps frost to a minimum during the delicate bud burst phase.


Although the European originated Vitis Vinifera grapes forms a large part of Finger Lakes wine production today, this partial transition from the North American frost hardy and somewhat ‘foxy’ (methyl anthranilate) tasting Vitis Labrusca vine is a relatively recent move. In the 1950’s it was proved that the Vitis Vinifera grapes could tolerate the cold climate if grafted on the native Vitis Labrusca rootstock.  Since this transition, the Finger lakes Wine country has grown in popularity with Vitis Vinifera grapes such as the Alsace-inspired Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewurtztraminer and Cabernet Franc being successfully grown as well as Vitis Labrusca grapes such as Concord and Niagara. Anyway, back to the wines and the Riesling did not disappoint with its Alsatian floral lightness style with citrus and a touch of mineral and sliced green pepper. The Cabernet Franc changed a great deal after some airing with initial raspberry and violet followed by a gamey meat nose that was quite pleasant. I’d say both of the wines were on the lighter bodied side so could easily be drunk alone or with some appetizers such as hams and cheeses.

It seems these large under-lake shale deposits are also potentially attractive to other industries. Hydraulic fracking exploitation in the Finger Lakes area has become a real concern and is currently pending review from the New York State administration. Fracking has generated alarm among the local wine industry whose environmental concerns include the possible chemical pollution of the water which could ultimately affect the wine quality. General local opinion appears to be divided, however, as the natural gas extraction project would provide employment and booster the local economy.  While the State administration review the environmental impacts, towns and municipalities have been given the immediate right to pass their own localized fracking bans or moratorium. Let the wines speak for themselves - for now.

Read here for more information on fracking in the Finger Lakes. The official Finger lakes Wine Country website provides useful winery, restaurants, accommodation and local information within the area.

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