They call it an experience -- allow me to go one further with modesty removed.
It's the definitive Finger Lakes wine experience.
We were invited to take part in the recently-launched series of events at Dr. Frank Wines -- the 1886 Food & Wine Experience, in the truly unique 1886 Reserve Tasting Room (9683 Middle Road, Hammondsport), which was honestly an attraction unto itself. Simply put, if you're looking for a comprehensive winery event that incorporates an expertly-narrated flight of wines with paired foods, a guided tour of the triple-tiered building and cellar, and an intriguing educational viticulture presentation specific to one of the Finger Lakes' undisputed visionaries; this is that event to be enjoyed with your friends or significant other. While this blog post is likely to be TL;DR -- you can save yourself a touch of time by just booking your reservation to this ticketed event now. I'm confident in my claim that it's pretty much mandatory.
We were greeted with sparkling wine upon entry (a really refreshing 2013 Brut that we used to zero out our palettes between each taste of terroir) as an icebreaker poured by the host himself, Allyn Brand, the Senior Wine Educator. In his own words describing the event, attendees can look forward to "an expanded educational wine and food experience".
Well said, but still criminally undersold. The intimacy of the event (maybe 23 people at most) was its true charm, and Allyn was wonderful in crafting this engaging blend of storytelling through taste. His anecdotal history asides about Dr. Konstantin Frank peppered throughout the educational oration were a great diversion between acts and the presentation gave real insight into the craft and genius of the winemaking of yesteryear and how it still guides the vision of today. It was periodically raining during the event and so we weren't able to do a planned vineyard tour, but it was serendipitous in that it allowed us to spend an extended time in the time capsule of a wine cellar where Allyn visually shared the vine grafting process and philosophy to inform the group of exactly how Dr. Frank pioneered these techniques and brought his European expertise here and forged ahead in the Finger Lakes.
As for the flight of wines and accompanying discussion with Allyn as we enjoyed, it was a real love letter to the women of the Frank family -- we were gripped by the taste and the tales. Each of the offerings was named after a female from the Frank family, with background and stories spoken by Allyn not only about these pillars of the lineage, but with finely-distilled description about the actual terroir vibrantly expressed in each vintage.
They certainly saved the best for last, of the four in the flight. The 2015 Lena Reserve Red was beyond something to behold. Billed on their own website as "velvety smooth with notes of sweet cherry, black currant, cocoa, anise, and forest floor with a hint of smokiness," I shan't insult such a scintillating summary with futile attempts to trump it with my own. Love the label design, as well, but I'll force you to visit the product page to see it.
For brevity's sake and at risk of running out of room, I'll include the flight plan in the gallery below, which also outlines the sleeper hit of the event: the food. Never would I have ventured to mix melon, prosciutto, basil, and ciliegine together -- yet here we are and it's on my Hammondsport Grocery shopping list to try and replicate (unsuccessfully, I'm sure -- I'll post an update) what we had at the event. Dark chocolate flourless torte with raspberry drizzle, you say? Refer to photos but be forewarned -- you can't unsee it.
This and most events are priced at a remarkably reasonable $35.00 per person. That visitor-friendly price point granted attendees a flight of four, sparkling wine (which we may have refilled -- don't judge), tantalizing and creative compliments of food designed to add accentuation upon each corresponding wine counterpart, an engrossing educational program that served as sweet intellectual intermission to pace out the pourings, and capped by an excellent ending which gave us tour de force tastings (we literally lost count) in the newly unveiled 1962 Tasting Room by local legend and top tasting room talent, George DiTomasso, the winery's longtime Retail Manager. We chatted with other couples (some with stories of Spain wine touring) who had attended the event and George was a real treat in terms of keeping everyone energetic and engaged as we sampled a deeper dive down into the extent of the many treasures typed out on their tasting sheet (don't miss the 2016 Blaufränkisch, from their impressive range of reds).
I've been to many a winery during my time in the Finger Lakes and it's worth mentioning that there's a world of difference when you're in the hands of a true professional such as George, compared to the limited help of seasonal staff you'll find elsewhere. It's not a knock on some of the other wineries -- I'd just be remiss to not specifically mention what was an exceptional closing to the event and credit where it is due. Looking at the 1886 past and upcoming schedule, it appears that George also hosts some of the events, which I'll naturally recommend for reasons alluded above.
Pro-tip: While there is food on the agenda, make sure to enjoy a light brunch or lunch beforehand. The food is a compliment, not a course, and so you'll want something to offset what were very generous pours. It was a good problem to have. :)
As a Chamber of Commerce, we've got to commend this series of events and the tourist-attracting price point in a business context; it's really a great move. I wouldn't be surprised if this functions as somewhat of a loss leader in the interest of selling bottles at the conclusion of the event (of which we saw many transacted). The other marketing facet of this type of event is that it's the type of thing that can invigorate visitation by local residents (this writer) to visit the winery again if they haven't been in a few years. I'm baffled on a daily basis when I encounter locals who are blissfully content to have not been to some of the world-class wineries on Keuka "in at least 10 years". A special event of the 1886 variety should do well to remedy this apathy in the area, and presumably it will stimulate membership growth in their Wine Club, which I'm told is one of the better values in the Finger Lakes.
1886 Experience events are held on and near the weekends in the peak but also shoulder seasons of travel and tourism. Programming changes monthly; and looking at the upcoming schedule, it's hard to imagine a world in which we don't attend them all. And although Keuka is known for its outdoors and lake activity, this was a stellar indoor event. If you have to switch up your itinerary last minute during an unexpectedly rainy week, this is a great option and they were able to fit us in with less than 48 hours notice (no promises when we're into summer, however).
Five out of five. Ten out of ten. If you find yourself in the Finger Lakes, find your way to Dr. Frank Wines on the west side of Keuka Lake. California who?
Text: Patrick Gaffney | Photos: Clean Slate Web Design & Marketing