Once Finger Lakes wine tasting room opens near Geneva on Seneca Lake
“Wait, what was that?”
My husband and I were driving the Finger Lakes on one of the many getaways over the past year, and spotted something that looked new and promising. My husband had to turn around so I could check it out.
I looked out the windows, but no one was there. Assuming it was a new cellar, I Google searched for all the terms I could think of, but it remained a mystery for months.
Finally, a press release announced Once Finger Lakes, a new tasting room at Penn Yan. A few days later my friends and I visited him on a sunny Thursday afternoon.
The word Once – pronounced AWN-Say – means “eleven” in Spanish, which is the number of lakes that make up the Finger Lakes region. The menu focuses on premium vineyards from several lakes. Visitors have the choice between 40 wines from 10 cellars, served on the fly, tasting, glass or carafe.
“We think they give a good idea of ââwhat the Finger Lakes are capable of doing,” said Antonio Arias, founder.
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Several themed flights are offered, either four wines for $ 16 or “flights and bites”, $ 25, which combine the wines with complementary bites. While most of my friends have chosen their own tastings from the wine list; I chose a themed flight focused on sparkling wines, served with beautifully presented bites.
The flight was a great overview of the types of sparkling wine found in the Finger Lakes. A Blanc de Blancs by Dr Konstantin Frank and a CuvÃ©e Brut by Dr Hermann J. Wiemer were well-made representations of traditional approaches. A trendy sparkling (short for natural sparkling) from Silver Thread was a cloudy peach color. These wines, bottled while the juice is still fermenting, can be quite funky, but this one was clean and nice. And Hosmer Naomi, made entirely from Riesling, was a prime example of the region’s iconic grape as well as the fun carbonated wines that have become increasingly popular in recent years.
Wines are available for retail purchase. I brought home a bottle of Silver Thread and Hosmer Naomi pet-nat; they’ll be great summer drinks.
The outdoor patio, which offered panoramic views of Seneca Lake, was the perfect setting to relax and sip wine. Seating is also available at the picnic tables on the lawn and at the high tables indoors.
Antonio Arias is originally from Mexico, which begs the inevitable question: How did someone from Mexico end up in the wine industry in the frozen Finger Lakes? The surprising answer: via Australia.
Arias graduated from the Universidad Iberoamericana de Mexico with a chemical engineering degree. He became interested in wine while visiting his mother’s family side in Spain.
After graduating from college, he wanted to learn the business side of the wine industry, and Australia was the perfect place to do so. “Australia is the one that does it the longest,” he explained. He obtained a Masters in Wine Business from the University of Adelaide.
While in Australia he worked for a tasting room in the Barossa Valley that featured various wines from the region. He also set up his own business to import Australian wines to Mexico.
In Adelaide, he fell in love with a woman originally from the Finger Lakes who also studied at the University of Adelaide. Meaghan Frank, who would become his wife, has since become the fourth generation to run the Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera wineries in Hammondsport.
Arias moved to the Finger Lakes in December 2013. Going from the hot Australian summer to a particularly harsh Finger Lakes winter was a bit shocking, he said, and he was ill for almost four months.
Once acclimatized to the Finger Lakes, he obtained the WSET Level 4 Intensive Diploma in Wines and Spirits. He also worked for Wegmans, most recently as a wine buyer for stores. He considered opening a tasting room with a concept similar to the one he had worked in in the Barossa Valley.
He found the perfect property – about eight acres in all – that was previously a cornfield. âIt was way bigger than what I was looking for,â he said, but he couldn’t pass up the location. It sits on one of the main thoroughfares which passes many Finger Lakes vineyards and is 12 minutes south of Geneva.
Construction began in January 2019, but was halted for months during the coronavirus pandemic. Finally, work resumed and the tasting room opened in mid-April.
Wines chosen for the quality, the stories
One thing Arias knew from his experience in Australia is that people love to hear interesting stories behind wines. This is why he chose the vineyards not only for their quality, but also for the stories they have to tell.
Dr Konstantin Frank Winery and Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, for example, represented pioneers and innovators in the region.
On the other end of the spectrum are smaller brands that are relatively new to the Finger Lakes wine scene. Trestle 31 is owned by Nova Cadamatre, who is also Robert Mondavi’s Senior Director of Winemaking. And Kelby James Russell Wines has a “super interesting story” that spans from Harvard to music to wine.
Several wineries reflect some of the international influences that have come to the region. Peter Weis, owner and winemaker of Weis Vineyards, is from Germany. Sebastian Hardy, winemaker at Living Roots Wine & Co., makes wines in his native Australia as well as the Finger Lakes. And at Forge Cellars, co-owner Louis Barroul brings 14 generations of wine expertise from Gigondas, France.
Arias hopes newcomers visit the tasting room to get an overview of the area and decide on places they would like to explore further.
If you are going to
Once Finger Lakes is located at 655 NY Route 14, in Penn Yan, 12 minutes south of Geneva. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. every day. Find more information online and book tastings at oncefingerlakes.com.
Journalist Tracy Schuhmacher focuses on food in many ways. Send story tips to [email protected] Follow her on Twitter or Instagram like @RahChaChow. Thank you to our subscribers for their support of local journalism.