Seneca Lake Wine History

The hills surrounding Seneca Lake, the deepest (632 feet!) of New York's magnificent Finger Lakes, are home to dozens of wineries that produce grape varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc and Riesling. Joined by nearby Cayuga, Keuka and Canandaigua lakes, the area comprises New York State's largest wine-producing region.

Wine making in the Finger Lakes has a long history, beginning in the mid-19th century with the founding of a handful of wine companies in the Hammondsport area. The first winery on Seneca Lake - known as the Seneca Lake Grape Wine Company - was founded in 1866 and, at that time, was the largest vineyard in New York State. Despite a promising upstart, wine production throughout the Finger Lakes region dwindled during the early 20th century as a result of prohibition, competition from California and a pesty creature called phylloxera that feeds on the roots of grapevines. Additionally, the harsh winters of the Finger Lakes region made it impossible to grow Vitis vinifera grapes, which produce drier wines.

The luck of the region changed when Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian immigrant who became the pioneer of Finger Lakes wine making, successfully grafted Vitis vinifera onto the native rootstock plant. His work led to the growing of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon varietals, whose triumphant arrival reinvigorated the Finger Lakes wine industry.

Today, 11,000 acres make up the planted vineyards of the Finger Lakes American Viticultural Area, which includes the Seneca Lake AVA. Seneca Lake boasts some of the best wines and wineries of the Finger Lakes, including Glenora Wine Cellars and Wagner Vineyards, both in operation since the late 1970s. Glenora, in fact, was the first new Seneca Lake winery after the passage of the Farm Winery Act of 1976, which encouraged grape growers to increase production. Aside from the well-known Seneca Lake wineries, there are handfuls of smaller, family-owned wineries that dot the region. In fact, places such as Tickle Hill Winery and Arcadian Estate Winery are some of the best-kept secrets along Seneca Lake.

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