A few years ago the boss of Guinness toured American micro-breweries and congratulated them for their enterprise, but he also gave them a spot of advice, which, paraphrased, was that they should concentrate on making just one great beer rather than on many indifferent ones.
Hosmer Winery, the first of our three stops along Cayuga Lake, had available for tasting at least two dozen varieties, and they produce a couple more. Knapp Winery & Vineyard Restaurant listed 38 wines and spirits. And Lucas Vineyards listed 24.
These statistics are worth mentioning because none of these wineries are major concerns: all exist on minimal acreage, so it’s a wonder how this many wines can be produced. After the tastings, somebody explained this by starting the undoubtedly scurrilous rumor that the native-grown grapes are supplemented with water and high fructose corn syrup.
And then none of the wines they sell are cheap. The least expensive bottles were $8.99 at Lucas, but the average is around fifteen bucks, topping out around thirty. Obviously, these places subsist on the tourist trade. Tastings are three to five bucks, so they’re breaking even there. But each shop sells tchotchkes or they have small restaurants. And everybody buys a bottle or two, just for the fun of it.
In short, and with exceptions, you’re not going to these wineries for the wine. Instead, the trip is ventured for the sake of the trip, for the beautiful vistas on a gorgeous day. And to see the shining gold and silver glint in the sunlight. These reflections are provided by the multitudinous medals lining the walls. Since these wineries are by Ithaca—which Utne Magazine once called the “Most Enlightened City in America”—every wine is a winner. Each goes home with a prize and a hug.
Following is a selection of my tasting notes.
A small barn with a vineyard not too much bigger. Specializes in the sweet stuff, especially Raspberry Bounce, a Faygo Redpop simulacrum.
2012 Dry Riesling. Smells like cheddar cheese from the supermarket. Sour. Except for the smell, indistinguishable from the 2011 Riesling, the “Double Gold winner.” $15.
2009 Lemberger. Dusty, sweet scent. Drank, but taste disappeared instantly. Immediately forgetful. $18.
2010 Cabernet Franc. Cheap barbershop cologne. Awful. Oh My God. Awful. $18.
Estate Red. Thin. Not sweet. Reasonable plonk. $10.50. (I bought two bottles; shared them out on bus.)
The only place we visited with a distillery. Tasting room nicely decorated with barrels. We had their barbecue of overcooked chicken. They like it sweet too, advertising Jammin’ Strawberry which will “flood your palate and bombard your senses.” I believed them and didn’t try it.
Cabernet Sauvignon ’11. Almost no smell? Sour, thin; dries the mouth. “King of reds.” $18.95.
Sangiovese ’10. What is this? Aha! Nail polish remover. Tastes of day old apple cider made with peels. $16.95.
Meritage ’11. Like flat, not-too-sweet root beer. $22.95.
Pasta Red Reserve. Smells like road construction. Too sweet. $10.95.
Brandy. Fumes good replacement for nose hair trimmer. Stings the tongue. Couldn’t swallow. Aged what? Two days? $24.95.
Serenity. Passable. Tasted like a bin red wine. $12.95. (Bought bottle, shared out over lunch.)
For no apparent reason, a nautical-themed winery (it’s nowhere near any water). Sorority hangout? The picture of medals is from here. The wines were pre-selected for us.
Miss Chevious. My Grandma Briggs would have liked this: but she never paid more than two dollars a bottle. Sour as vinegar. $8.99. (Apparently if you buy some, you won a sticker “I got Naughtie at Lucas”. Several bridesmaids parties had these. “Gold Medal Winner!”)
Blues 2010. Cheap. God. Muck. Undrinkable. $8.99. (Nobody in our party could finish.)
Semi-Dry Riesling 2010. Compared with neighbors and, yes, Off! Smells just like the bug spray. Didn’t dare taste. $13.99. (“Gold Medal Winner!”)
Butterfly. Smells like one of those junior artists paint set; kind which have ten paints in little joined plastic pots. Tastes exactly like Play Doh. $8.99. (“Gold Medal Winner!”)
Tug Boat Red. Smells and tastes like a red bank sucker, the kind tellers used to hand out to children. $8.99. (“Gold Medal Winner!”)
Cabernet Franc Limited Reserve 2009. Puts me in mind what a diet alcohol would taste like. (This wasn’t on the scheduled flight. I asked pourer if we could try something that wasn’t sweet. I asked for boldest, best red. He suggested this. “Gold Medal Winner!”)
I didn’t buy anything from Lucas, but took a nap in their grass out front while waiting for our bus.