2015 Wine Symposium of the Finger Lakes, August 21-22



An event celebrating the excellence of Finger Lakes wines and wineries

Over the past 50 years, as West Coast wines have gained prominence and cachet, it’s been easy to forget that the Finger Lakes region is no newcomer to fine vintages. In fact, the Finger Lakes is emerging as the country’s pre-eminent cool-climate wine region.

“New York was selected this year by Wine Enthusiast magazine as the world’s top wine region, and its wines are increasingly being recognized for their excellence,” says Dave Bunnell, co-chair of the Wine Symposium of the Finger Lakes. “The Finger Lakes, with over 125 wineries, is leading the way, claiming approximately 80 percent of the state’s wine production.”

The third annual Wine Symposium of the Finger Lakes, which is scheduled for August 21-22 in Geneva, New York, is intended to celebrate the growth and success of the Finger Lakes’ wine industry, and help build on that energy to keep the local industry moving forward.

“If you think of most of the well-known regions that have a history of grape growing and winemaking, those regions all celebrate their success and the common attribute of having a ‘wine and food culture’,” says Bob Madill, executive director of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and the Symposium’s program chair. “That’s certainly true in Niagara, and certainly true in most of the California regions. These celebrations broaden the conversation, so it’s not just about winemaking, but also about the region’s diversity of wines and foods.”

Madill sees the Symposium as a chance to showcase the Finger Lakes region as one that offers high-quality wines. By placing them in a broader perspective against benchmark wines, speakers will demonstrate just how excellent and competitive these wines are, with Riesling as a case in point.

The event lineup includes a Grand Tasting on August 21 at Geneva’s lakefront Visitors Center during which the winners of the 2015 Finger Lakes AVA Riesling Challenge will be announced. The Riesling Challenge competition is a signature event of the Symposium, when some of the area’s top winemakers will judge the Rieslings in six classes. The Rieslings also will be available for attendees to sample at the Grand Tasting.

Symposium events on August 22 will include an opening session with a panel of wine experts followed by seminars aimed at giving wine enthusiasts a better understanding of the offerings of the Finger Lakes Wine region. 

A Primer on the Finger Lakes Wine Region

“New York state, prior to Prohibition, was the country’s most prominent wine region,” says Chris Missick, co-chair of the upcoming Wine Symposium of the Finger Lakes and co-owner of Villa Bellangelo winery. “The Finger Lakes played a key role in building this reputation, and the area became particularly well known for its sparkling wines. Remnants of those early days are still to be found at wineries in Hammondsport, Naples, and Penn Yan.”


Missick says the Finger Lakes’ micro-climates and unique terroir — a French term that encompasses a region’s soil, weather, and other characteristics — are now earning it recognition as one of the world’s best cool-climate wine regions. Riesling remains the region’s signature, but winemakers are successfully making red wine varietals despite the short growing season.


That’s a far cry from where things stood 40 years ago.


“Decimated during the Prohibition era, it has literally taken decades, and some help from state government, for New York State’s wine industry to recover,” Missick says. “It’s been slow going, and only began in earnest in the 1970s, with the passage of the state’s Farm Winery Act. But you can be assured that this revival is well underway and picking up steam, as proven in the many medals Finger Lakes winemakers now routinely collect at national and international wine competitions.”


The Finger Lakes is once again one of the country’s most important wine regions, and it’s becoming known not just as a tourist attraction, but as a source of high-quality vintages, most especially Riesling, aromatic white wines, and Cabernet Franc.


Madill says that Symposium organizers are starting to hear from key members of the wine industry and media interested in speaking at Symposium events. He sees it as a sign that the Symposium, and the region, are gaining traction.


Wine Symposium Champions Finger Lakes Wines


Geneva Growth and the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance organized the first Wine Symposium of the Finger Lakes in 2013. The first two years, the event was held on the Hobart and William Smith Colleges campus. New this year, the event is moving into downtown Geneva to better promote what Bunnell sees as its unique geographic position as a gateway to the wine region.


In another improvement, tickets will be sold on an a-la-carte basis, instead of a one-price full package basis, allowing attendees to pick the seminars and events that interest them most.


Bunnell says organizers wanted to create a less formal environment. “The format of the event is being modified to have broad appeal,” he says. “People will have more opportunities to choose how they want to engage with Symposium events, as well as opportunities to explore the City of Geneva.”


The Symposium is also planning events that should fit well with the summer season.


“I think that’s going to add a lot of interest,” Missick says. “There’s some activities planned — including an outdoor street tasting event in downtown Geneva — which are going to be really exciting.”


The Symposium will conclude with lunches hosted at downtown Geneva restaurant venues, and the evening wine tasting on Linden Street.


As a winegrower, Madill finds it exciting to have the Finger Lakes wine region’s growth and successes celebrated through the annual Symposium.


“It’s reaffirming,” he says. “The goal is to let people know that the Finger Lakes wine industry is not only thriving, but has really attained a magnificent stature among world wine regions. The Wine Symposium spotlights that stature, and invites more people to be a part of the celebration.”


For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.winesymposiumfingerlakes.com.

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