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What’s Rochester Drinking? John Fanning spills the tea.

Over the last decade, the Rochester and Finger Lakes craft beverage scene has blossomed, from an ever-increasing number of wineries, breweries and distilleries to a renewed interest in cocktails. Throughout these changes, John Fanning has been there helping to expand the craft beverage scene with his own work as owner of Solera Wine Bar and Cheshire, and fine-wine buyer at Marketview Liquor.
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Interview by Kate Meyers Emery
Photo by Hannah Betts

John Fanning of Solera and Cheshire in Rochester.

Over the last decade, the Rochester and Finger Lakes craft beverage scene has blossomed, from an ever-increasing number of wineries, breweries and distilleries to a renewed interest in cocktails. Throughout these changes, John Fanning has been there helping to expand the craft beverage scene with his own work as owner of Solera Wine Bar and Cheshire, and fine-wine buyer at Marketview Liquor. Edible FLX writer Kate Meyers Emery sat down with John to get his take on local industry trends.

Edible Finger Lakes: What inspired you to start Solera Wine Bar?
John Fanning: When I moved to Rochester almost 15 years ago, I’d lived in quite a few places around the world. To me, a wine bar was just a normal part of the fabric of a community. It was not an incredibly novel idea; it just hadn’t been done here before. The restaurant scene here in Rochester was also so much further behind what it is today, so the idea was just to have a classic, well-designed, cozy space where folks could enjoy both the atmosphere and an always-changing selection of out-of-the-ordinary wines by the glass. 

EFLX: What’s going on in our local craft beverage scene that you’re excited about?
JF: Well, the idea that a fairly well conceived cocktail menu served by well-trained bartenders is now a prerequisite for opening a new joint, where in the past it was a novel concept, is pretty exciting. The days of not even being able to serve a passable Manhattan in Rochester seem to be winding down. Wine wise? Parkway Liquor and Pinnacle Wine are both buying some really exciting stuff, while restaurants like Rocco, Cure, Roux and Avvino are working hard to have really fun wines on the list. We’re always a couple of years behind the curve from major cities, and we’re just starting to see “natural” wine start to gain a bit of traction locally.

It’s going to be interesting to see how people deal with it, it can be a complicated “movement” as there is a thin line between a gorgeous wine that was made naturally, and a downright flawed wine that flies under the natural banner. If nothing else, it’s something different and exciting to follow, and if the end result is that more wines with personality, with less intervention, and from family-owned estates are getting poured, it can only be a good thing.
Joe McBane of the Tap & Mallet is a great friend and has allowed me some access into the crazy new world of beer. It’s madness: the demand, the can releases, the frenzied expansions and opening of new breweries. I enjoy it thoroughly, but as a bit of a purist at heart, I’m not quite sure I’m heading down the Milkshake IPA or Peanut Butter Porter road.

EFLX: What are some of the trends we’ve not quite caught up with, but that you’d like to bring to the greater Rochester area? 
JF: Well it’s not a trend, but I’d just love to see more people open-minded and excited about wine! Marketing has never been my strong suit, and I prefer time with my kids these days rather than bartending, but I do feel that a true appreciation and enthusiasm for wine is still a bit behind the times locally. Of course I’m biased, but I feel there is nothing more fascinating, moving and just plain fun than the world of wine. Locally it seems that cocktails and craft beer are being seen as exciting and fun, while wine is still viewed as a touch cryptic and stodgy. 

EFLX: If someone came into Rochester for the first time, and could only order one drink, what would you suggest they get? 
JF: Anthony, a wonderful bartender at The Cub Room, makes a drink called the Mexico City Sour and I find it just stunning, the best original cocktail I’ve tried anywhere in recent memory. And we’ve been told more than once that Cheshire has the best Old-Fashioned they’ve ever tasted.

Kate Meyers Emery is a Finger Lakes wine evangelist, writer and educator. Read more of her work at VinifeROC.com, and follow her wine adventures on Instagram at @kmeyersemery.

Hannah Betts of Lives Styled is a photographer and interior stylist. She lives in Rochester with her husband, who is an artist, and their 4-year-old son. Follow all her work on Instagram @livesstyled.

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