While traveling in the Finger Lakes, I fell in love with a doctor.
Well, more specifically, I fell in love with the wines that bear his name. The good doctor is actually no longer among us. Luckily, his children and grandchildren have carried on the family business.
Dr. Konstantin Frank came to the United States from the Ukraine in the early 50s. Armed with a PhD in viticulture, he set about revolutionizing grape growing in the Finger Lakes. By introducing European varietals to this region, using cold climate growing techniques that he had developed, he changed the face of wine production in New York State.
Our First Meeting
As I was strolling down Market Street in Corning, New York, I spotted a sign for a wine bar called The Cellar. Perfect, I thought. It was a warm day, the very day that we published my post about Toronto wine bars, and I had 45 minutes to kill.
Inside, I asked the bartender to tell me about some local wines, as this was the first day of my trip. She offered me tastes of a few different whites, and then…she introduced me to Dr. Frank. Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Dry Riesling, to be precise. It was surprising to me on two levels: first, I am a very dedicated red wine drinker, and virtually never opt for white. (Unless it’s champagne. Who can say no to champagne?) Second, I genuinely liked it. It was crisp, refreshing and, dare I say, exciting?
The bar was completely empty, it being only 4:00 pm, so Dr. Frank and I had some alone time. It was a good start to our relationship, as it left me curious and wanting to discover more.
The Second Date
Later that same day, I found myself dining on the patio at the Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen. It was a beautiful sunny evening with a gorgeous backdrop of sailboats docked at the edge of Seneca Lake. It was here that I began to learn more about Dr. Frank and tasted his Rkatsiteli, another white wine, this grape originating in Georgia. I’d never tasted anything quite like it before. I wouldn’t say that I loved it, but I was intrigued both by the taste and the story of it being such an ancient varietal, grown in places like Armenia for thousands of years, yet completely unknown to me. It was time to visit Dr. Frank on his own turf.
Sealing the Deal
Visiting the tasting room at Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, New York is a fun, delicious, and educational experience. The room itself is lovely, with huge windows allowing you to gaze across the vineyard and out to Keuka Lake while you sample the wines. The staff are so knowledgeable, friendly, and approachable that you can’t help but enjoy yourself. I put myself in their hands and let them give me an overview of what they do best. Turns out, they do a lot of things very, very well.
I tasted my way through about 12 different wines. I think. I actually lost count. I had more Rieslings, both dry and semi-dry, more Rkatsiteli, a Gewurtztraminer, some Chardonnays, and delicious sparkling wines, some of which have been served at the White House. I also tasted some reds, including a Pinot Noir and a Lemberger, but the whites were really the stars for me. It was a revelation for someone who had never really given white wines the time of day. Dr. Frank changed all that.
As I traveled across the Finger Lakes region over the course of a week, I began to experience the local wines as an extension of the landscape and climate. They sparkled like the lakes in the sunshine. They were crisp and cool, just like the weather. And they were as refreshing and clear as the wind blowing off the lake and over the vines.
Travel opened my mind to new taste experiences. Dr. Frank made me fall in love.