August 20, 2010

Summer Road Trip - New York: Wine Tasting

The green field in front of Madison Barracks
Since I was a kid, I have known that New York had a wine region. On the rare occasion that I found myself eating in a restaurant with my parents, my Dad might order some wine, but he would ask where it was from, California or New York. After living in California for ten years, it seems silly to think that any American wine, other than a Californian wine (or Oregon or Washington) would ever make its way onto a wine list, and even more, be compared to a New York wine, but growing up in a Mid-Atlantic state, I guess this was not too unusual. He always avoided New York wines, something about the yeast they used that made him ill. Of course, since then, there has been an explosion of wineries across the country. Working in the wine industry for three years, I got to know many wines from all over the world and I mostly considered the West Coast to be the only serious wine growing region in the country. Sure, and maybe here and there, New York could be considered too, after all, I had tasted a couple of New York wines that were good. In general, the wines I have tasted from other states have been, um, well let's just say, they are doing the best they can (I have had AMAZING sparkling wine from New Mexico, even special ordering the Gruet non-vintage Brut rose for my wedding reception). But I like to approach new wine tasting experiences with an open mind, so when I heard that the wine tasting festival, "Taste of New York", was going to be held in Sackets Harbor that Saturday, I was intrigued.
Behind Madison Barracks: Lake Ontario
Sailboats on Lake Ontario
Our day started early, when a potential dog sitter for Merle came over to see if he was a suitable client. Our plan for tomorrow was to kayak out to one of the islands in the Saint Lawrence river to camp one night, so we needed someone to dog sit for Merle. When you walk out of Therese and "Susan's" front door there is a green field from military times and around the back of their building is Lake Ontario. Therese has a great routine of playing ball with Merle in the huge green grass field. He will play fetch forever. Sometimes she will take him to the lake and throw the ball in the lake for him to fetch. Merle loves this too. Sometimes he can not contain himself and will go for a swim when he is not allowed. Therese does not like this, she is a disciplinarian. Upon walking outside we enjoyed the views of the lake and watched some sailboats racing. This part of the lake is actually a bay of the lake and you can see farmland across the bay. It was a beautiful morning, not too hot, not too cold, not too humid and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. A nice breeze was making it a great day for sailing. Susan, seemed wistful, wishing we were sailing Hobie Cats today, rather than in the sparse wind we hard on Thursday.
Lake Ontario
Taste of New York Wine Festival
Less crowded tent
We decided to walk to the wine festival in town and did so along the lake, past Madison Barracks marina, a small marina will a small stony beach, available to the residents of the barracks. We walked along the pleasant streets with colonial and modern houses, yet all unique all inviting, all quaint in their own way. We walked downtown to the end, across from the Gazebo where the wine tasting festival was taking place under a large, white tent. There were already a lot of people there. There was a line, taking money and checking IDs.
Once inside the tent, it was so crowded it was making me crazy. We had to wait five or more minutes at each winery's table to taste their wines. The first winery seemed to have a dozen different wines to taste. I looked around, ALL the wineries seemed to have a dozen or more wines to taste. There was no way I could taste them all. So I looked at the tasting list, when I could finally get close enough to the table to see it, to see what they were tasting. "What to taste, what to taste, what are these grapes?" I thought. The woman pouring wine looked at me impatiently, like I was supposed to know what I wanted already. Out of nervous pressure I said, "I'll taste something red."
"Dry or sweet?" she asked.
"What?" I was thinking, "they have sweet red wine?"
Kids outside the tent
"Dry." I said, a little startled sounding, and she poured me a taste of wine in a itsy bitsy plastic cup. I tasted it. It was sour, thin, fruity, but it had a strange taste, like too much alcohol or like it was way too young to be pouring and needed to age another couple of years, yet if they did that it would completely fall apart and then just taste like an old wine that passed its prime three decades before. Hmm... interesting. Maybe I am just a wine snob. Maybe it is not so bad. Maybe this is the best they can do with the less-than-optimal growing conditions and weather. Maybe this is inexperience. Maybe this is the unique New York terroir. Maybe this is the unfamiliar grape varietals. Maybe this is just a Taste of New York. At this moment, I decided to accept it for what it was and even though I could not forget all the experience I have had with hundreds and probably thousands of wines I have tasted, I could at least taste these wines on their own merit, for what they were, instead of what I might have thought they should have been. Now I am having fun.
View of Downtown Sackets, from the tent
Returning Sailboats
We went from table to table, winery to winery tasting wines. I learned to ask for dry wines and avoid any sweet wines. I learned to ask about the amount of residual sugar and taste only those with the lowest percentage. I learned to taste grape varietals I had never heard of before such as Baco Noir, Cayuga, Chelois, Delaware, Fronternac, Niagara, Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc and Traminette. And I discovered fruit wines. Yes, fruit wine. I remember hearing about Strawberry wine when I was a kid, but I had never had any. Here, they had blueberry, cranberry, peach, plum, cherry and pear wines. There was one winery that only made fruit wines. Montezuma Winery had a cranberry and blueberry wine and they were both good, in fact, they were both really good. As wines, they just were too different to compare to typical grape wine, but as finely made beverages they were really, really good, so good, in fact, I bought two bottles of their cranberry wine, and one bottle of their blueberry wine. Therese also bought one of each and a bottle of their Honey Mead.
Therese & "Susan"
After going around the entire first tent's wineries we decided it was time for lunch. We watched some sailboats heading in and a party start to get lively inside the Gazebo next to the marina. We wandered back to Sackets Harbor brewery, since they have good lunch and outdoor seating. We sat outside, where Therese and I sipped iced tea, trying to settle our overly-wined palates, while Susan had a beer. I had an amazing Cuban pulled pork sandwich for lunch.
Gazebo party at the marina
After lunch, we went back to the wine festival, but my original enthusiasm had waned and I wasn't sure how much more wine I could taste. But taste on I did, slowing down at each table and finally, giving up. The wine just started to taste worse and worse and some of it just tasted downright awful. Instead, I started tasting fudge of all imaginable flavors, melon, peanut butter, hazelnut, cotton candy. I did find a maple sugar producer who had amazing New York maple syrups and heavenly maple fudge. I bought some of the maple fudge; it was sticky, gooey, creamy, soft, and not too sweet. The air filled with Beatles music when a band started playing in the Gazebo. It has been a long time since I've heard "Day Tripper".

Old McDonald's Farm
Here I was going to tell the story about McDonald's, the farm, not the fast food place, and not Old McDonald-had-a-farm, but the ice cream place. But I have decided that it would just be me opening up some unnecessary, drawn out, negativity and I don't want to do this, for the same reasons I don't watch Nancy Grace, it is just a way to waste your life away. I will say this, something I learned again about myself, I think it is the experience like the one I am not telling you about, where I feel like the beaten dog, kick me while I'm down, I don't ask for much and you still deny me so little. I am not the type to ask people to make an exception for me. I obey the rules, follow directions, willingly suffer when I am to blame. But when I do everything right, I except others to do right by me, because this is what I would gladly do for them.

View of the Barracks from Sackets Harbor
The next matter at hand was dinner. The next day we were supposed to kayak out to an island for camping, kayaking back the next day, but the weather forecast was scattered thunderstorms, so we canned that idea. I was sorely disappointed (again on this trip) but to make the best of the situation we decided to trade camping in a storm for gallivanting around a foreign, French-speaking city. We would go to Montreal. I was very excited and less disappointed. But to get our camping fix, we decided to have our campfire and roast our hot dogs and S'mores on the Madison Barracks marina beach. That is where we would have dinner.
Sackets Harbor at Night
We had appetizers of River Rat cheese and maple fudge while waiting for the sun to set. Only when night was fully upon us did we make our way to the stony beach. It was dark with only a sliver of moon. There was a small, rock-enclosed fire ring and we began collecting dry twigs and sticks for kindling. Soon, our fire was roaring. In the distance, across a bit of the lake, we could see the twinkling lights of Sackets Harbor and we could hear the last few songs of the Gazebo Beatles band. We roasted our hot dogs and our marshmellows while the night became quiet, except for the crickets and the small lake waves crashing gently along the stony beach.

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