When I was a kid, I wanted to be a farmer and an astronaut. I saw that movie Space Camp ('86) and wanted to be Lea Thompson, up in space before my time with an injured Kate Capshaw, trying to find more oxygen and a way home to Earth. When that didn't happen, I became a competitive horseback rider (show jumping, thank you), listened to Reba McIntyre, volunteered at FarmAid, and took my Birkenstock-and-designer-jeans-wearing self to a preppy (but fabulous) liberal arts school in Ohio to study poetry from a poet with a "healthy awareness of the physical or emotional connections between humans and nature." 4-years later, I left with an expensive poetry degree and a wonder for the environment that helped lead me to the Finger Lakes wine region of New York state last weekend (well, OK... a good friend that I hadn't seen in 5-years and the promise of "industry discount" wine tastings helped pull the trigger on the flight to Rochester).
What ensued was a weekend full of... well, total awesomeness. Even though it's mid-October, Central Park stays pretty green with trees full of leaves until well past early "fall." So when my puddle-jumper prop plane dropped below the clouds above Rochester, the fall foliage was a total shock. Trees! LOTS of them. With colors ranging from gold to maple to crimson and everything in between. We drove from the ROC to Keuka Lake, and started our wine tasting tour with abandon. First of all, it SNOWED on Friday. I literally thought the shock of fresh air and vast horizon had me seeing things, but it really snowed.
The first stop was Hunt Country Vineyards, where my friend Dave has worked for the past couple years doing wine tastings in the tasting room. Johnny D lead us through tasty whites and smooth reds with a pairing of perfectly scrumptious local cheeses (best breakfast ever!), and we strolled into the winery for a tour and barrel tasting from the winemaker himself. We visited 3 more wineries that day on Keuka Lake (Dr. Konstantin Frank, Heron Hill, and Ravines) and were graciously invited by Jonathan Hunt (Hunt Country Vineyards' winemaker) and Caroline Boutard-Hunt (organic gardener-extraordinaire) to their home for dinner.
Dinner was deeelicious (homemade beef stew, fresh-from-the-farm mixed green salad, cheesy polenta I could have eaten for days - the polenta was from Caroline's parents farm in Oregon - and stuffed apples with Corn Hill Creamery Tahitian vanilla ice cream for dessert). We paired the meal with red wine and an amazing Cream Sherry that I'm now obsessed with (we killed the bottle), and I couldn't have been happier to spend the time with such kind people.
On Saturday we got up and made the long drive to Seneca Lake's Grist Mill to start the day with to-die-for egg sandwiches on homemade buttermilk biscuits. Um. Yum. From there we had our most epic wine-tasting day, hitting up 7 wineries in under 5 hours (Red Newt, Lamoreaux Landing, Lakewood, Hermann J. Wiemer, Anthony Road, Red Tail Ridge, and Fox Run) and purchasing a case of the areas finest Riesling's and Gewurtztraminer's, with a splurge on a fantastic Late Harvest Chardonnay at Hermann J. Wiemer. We re-fueld with Italian food and more NY wine at Esperanza Mansion and got into some late-night Tawny Port from Fox Run back at the lake house (amazing) before hitting the sack as wine-tasting rock stars.
On Sunday we woke to SUN and a gorgeous blue sky, and headed to Keuka Springs for our last pre-noon tasting. The afternoon finished with a long walk through Hunt Country's property before I exercised my well-stretched credit card and bought just shy of another case from my new-favorite east coast family vineyard. In California it's Talley Vineyards but in New York State the Hunt family has my wine-loving heart.
It was a great getaway that left me feeling miles from Manhattan ready to dig out my Birk's, throw on overalls and join Caroline and her friend Heather in the garden, and the flight home was bittersweet. But a friend put it best today: love it or hate it Manhattan is home for now, and everyone likes a good sleep in their own bed and a return to familiarity - even if dreams are filled with barking farm dogs and the rounded hay bales of Upstate New York.
p.s. Special thanks to the Vaala family for letting me crash and being the perfect hosts!