Category Archives: Finger Lakes Life

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Seriously, we are good.  Last year was a drought year for the Finger Lakes but this year has been one of the wettest on record.  Upstate NY had the wettest March and April ever on record according to National Weather data.  Just in the past 30 days over 10 inches have fallen.  For the last 90 days we are between 8-12 inches above our normal average.

Weather data for July 25th, 2017 90 Day departure from normal.

Weather data for July 25th, 2017 90 Day departure from normal.

So you see that little purple blob in the middle of the map?  That is where I live.  The Grey at the top is Lake Ontario and this is the highly pixelated view of rainfall as a departure from normal for Western NY.  What does this mean?  Very little sun and LOTS of water.  The rivers are overflowing.  Lake Ontario is 28 inches above its long term average even after record outflows are being sent into the St. Lawrence seaway.  The massive flooding of roads and new water ponds in fields brings to mind that once, well before the glaciers carved out this amazing terrain, this area was covered with a massive in-land sea.  Flash flood warnings are a nearly daily occurrence.  That high level of moisture results in intensely humid days similar to the ones I grew up with in the deep south.  The growers have to be totally on their game to keep the fruit clean.  Downy Mildew is having a field day in vineyards which have been caught unaware.  Luckily, the fruit that I work with looks clean so far.  The fruit is still green and hasn’t even thought about veraison yet so the vintage can still be saved.

Flash flood warnings are a nearly daily occurrence.  That high level of moisture results in intensely humid days similar to the ones I grew up with in the deep south.

I’m putting in my August weather order now.  We need sun and heat and no more rain.  The vines have plenty of water reserves to draw from and are growing like weeds.  Hedging is a must but that can end up compounding the issues because of lateral shoot formation which further closes the canopy.  Closed canopies can lead to further fungal infections and it all just becomes a vicious cycle.  Closed canopies can also have an effect on next year’s harvest due to high levels of shading on the buds.  I hope this fate is one which most if not all growers can avoid.

In the winery, we are a little less than a month from starting harvest for the hybrid whites.  We are trying to make room in the tanks and making sure we have plenty of harvest supplies. I placed an order for more barrels today, having just located another fun red variety to add to the 240 Days line up.  What is it?  You’ll have to wait and see!

Stay tuned…


Mama’s Goin’ to See a Man Who Turns Poop into Dirt

How else do you describe compost to a three year old when I was trying to explain the process to him.  He laughed at me and said “That’s silly!”  Yes, I was thinking it was pretty silly when I found myself on a back country road during an evening snow storm last week all because I wanted to talk to a man about custom composting.  After several moments of reflection, I came to my usual conclusion of “Yes.  I’ve lost my mind.”  Strangely enough that is somewhat comforting but also seems to be the most logical reason for most of my personal decisions lately.

Anyway, little did I know that I was going to go speak with a Geneva living legend named John Hicks.

I met Hicks, pictured above, at his office outside of Seneca Castle, NY.  He is 82 and has his hands in more pies than anyone I have ever met.  He mentioned at least 6-8 other businesses that he owns or is involved in while I was talking with him regarding compost.  He still runs full marathons and has his medals proudly collected on the wall behind him and he mows lawns on the weekends. He’s a retired DEC manager, ex-marine, and wealth of general life knowledge.  I only spent an hour or so with him and I can imagine how amazing more time would be.  One of the Johnisms that I came away with was “I work hard to be lazy so I’m always working.”  Boy, do I know how that feels!

We immediately bonded over our mutual love of soil microorganisms and we talked about the Biodynamic compost process compared to his worm composting process.  Yes, my goal is to end up with quite a lot of Biodynamic compost by this fall.  If we are going to start down the Biodynamic path, it’s best to do it from the start I think.  I’m not willing to accept that if we may never be able to be certified, there is no point in doing any of it.  John immediately understood what we are trying to accomplish and is excited to help us out.

In reality, I found out that John turns very little poop into dirt and uses mostly organic vegetable waste and leaves for his composting.  He uses the worm castings from a previous batch to get a new one started and then after 6 months once a batch is complete, it gets sifted into a finely textured velvety mass of fresh soil.  He also collects “worm tea” from the trenches and sells that as an easily applied, organic additive for lawns and gardens.  He points out that healthy lawns will eventually choke out weeds however he does note that with these treatments “You won’t get more weeds but you will get bigger weeds.” The good news there is a bigger weed is easier to find to weed out (no pun intended).

I left my meeting with John with a jug of his worm tea, a bag of worm produced soil, and a much better feeling about life in general.  We shook hands, excited to be new partners on a unknown adventure for either of us.  I departed back on to the snow covered roads although by that time the snow had finished falling so the ride home was far less treacherous than the ride there.

If you are interested in learning more about John’s worm teas and composts go to his website

Two Nights of Kinship at Kindred Fare

  One of the things Brian and I miss most about living in Napa is the wide variety of amazing food available there.  It was always a struggle to decide, when we were going to go out, where we should go because there were so many great choices, many of which did not need reservations 6 months in advance.  So of course, when a new restaurant in the Finger Lakes comes on our radar we have got to go check it out.

I had heard great things about Kindred Fare in Geneva, NY from many of my friends so I decided to try it, sight unseen, last week with visiting colleagues from San Francisco.  It was a Tuesday night and the crowd was full but not packed which was a good sign.  The wine list is a nice mix of local stars and global examples of mostly cool climate wines which are complementary to the restaurant’s farm to table offerings.  The list is curated by Bob Madill, a local fixture here in the region, likely best known as a tireless Finger Lakes ambassador and one of the founders of Cayuga lake treasure, Sheldrake Point Winery, who is currently working with Glenora.  My colleagues had never visited the area before and I felt that this restaurant, representing the rising foodie scene in Geneva plus their local wine offerings would be a perfect introduction.

  The kitchen sent out an amuse bouche of baked potato with two cheeses which was a lovely start to the meal.  For our appetizer we ordered the flatbread which had braised duck, caramelized onions, and delicious melted cheese topping a fantastic flatbread crust.  It was wonderful.  To pair, we chose the Ravines Single Vineyard Chardonnay (Stone and Chalk) from the White Springs vineyard.  To choose a Riesling would be obvious, but at this point, even the farthest wine lover here in the US has heard that we make good Riesling here.  Chardonnay from the Finger Lakes was an unknown to my two friends so it was a good choice to demonstrate the versatility of the region.

All three of us happened to be duck lovers so we each chose the Roast Duck with plum sriracha, mushroom, bok choy, peanuts, cilantro, and daikon-carrot pickles.  To pair we chose the Red Newt Glacier Ridge Pinot Noir (Elegant and Floral).  This one was exciting for me since I had just finished espousing my passion for Pinot Noir in the Finger Lakes and although many that I taste currently are not where they need to be yet, this one was showing very well and complemented the duck completely.  Yes, we were the three duck table! Dessert was a fantastic bread pudding which is one of my personal favorites.

I immediately went home and began talking about the dinner with Brian and how amazing it was.  As a twist of fate would have it, my mother in law was in town due to my son being sick that week and with him having to stay home from school, we needed backup.  She, always a fan of date nights, suggested that we should go out ourselves the next night.  Thus, I ended up walking back into Kindred Fare the very next night for a second fantastic dinner.  This time we tried the Boundary Breaks clone 239 Riesling (Zesty and Fruity) which was delicious and highlighted everything that I love about the variety.  It was a bit more sweet than expected but still went well with the meal which started off with a mixed bread basket and house made chunky style hummus.

I chose one of the nightly specials, the Coq a Vin (Roast Chicken with red wine based sauce) with various roasted vegitables.  Brian got the Braised beef shank goulash which was a meal choice that I had toyed with both nights that I had been there.  According to him, the meat fell apart at the touch of a fork and had a kick but was not overly spicy (that is why I didn’t order it myself since I try to stay far away from anything with heat spice).  It was mouthwateringly good.  We finished off dinner each with ice cream.  I chose Blood Orange and Brian chose Chicory.  Both were amazing but after the first taste swap neither of us were keen to share.

That is how I ended up two nights in a row at one of Geneva’s newest foodie destinations and I am actually contemplating going back this Friday as well.  Amazing food can be found in the Finger Lakes if one is willing to drive a bit to find it.  I find myself a bit envious of my friends in Geneva, which has become ground zero for the culinary revolution happening here, since they are so close to the action.  I highly recommend a visit to Kindred Fare if you happen to be in the region!