Health Politics Rochester

Just legalize it: tales from Wine Country

I have a good friend whose name you surely know if you live in the Rochester area: Evan Dawson. I met him when he worked for 13WHAM as a reporter on their nightly news, and he’s now moved on to host his radio show, Connections with Evan Dawson all week on WXXI radio. I mention him because, as you may also know, he wrote a book called Summer in a Glass about Upstate New York’s wine region and the men and women who shape that industry’s fate.

It is a book rich with poetic turns of phrase; it is a book filled with impressions of the country, the people, the history. Very clearly, Evan has a deep and abiding respect for the industry and the products of its labour. It’s a great book and you should definitely read it.

Flash back to a grown-ass adult trying to buy a goddamned bag of weed in the same state: sitting in the cigarette-reeking back of some asshole 20-something’s mini Toyota pickup truck – not the “back seat,” just a subwoofer he never bothered to plug in – waiting patiently among the food wrappers, old clothing and personal hygiene implements for an overpriced bag of agricultural product no more harmful than the stuff Evan waxes poetic about in his book.

With apologies to Evan, we live in a state that doesn’t just allow you to make wine, beer and now hard alcohol: it fetishizes those things as though they were some noble thing. “Uncork New York,” as they say. Every festival in Rochester has a wine tent. There are stores throughout the Finger Lakes that don’t even sell wine, just all the wine accessories you could possibly want including tee shirts, bottle openers, earrings. Evan’s is, as you might suspect, hardly the only written document on the subject.

Matter of fact, there is a comfort care home down the road from me that can’t house more than five people; they’re having a wine tasting in a couple weeks. A home for five people, all of whom must certainly have been told to stop drinking alcohol thirty years ago, and they’re having a wine tasting.

I don’t begrudge the alcohol industry’s success in New York State. Hell, I even used to write a column for (585) Magazine called Over Drinks, dedicated to the topic. But as silly as it’s ever been for weed to be illegal when alcohol is legal, that goes doubly and trebly for a state that makes such a farcically big deal out of hootch. There are those who want or need marijuana for medical use, recreational use and research, but even attempts to make medical weed available have stalled.

If any state in the union ought to have promotions all summer long for it’s Marijuana Region, it is a state as hilly and sunny as New York. We have conditions to make beautiful, award-winning ganja to suit every palate and preference. Setivas. Indikas. Candy bars and sodas. And sure! Why not a weed-themed New York State tee shirt?

“New York State of Mind,” or “We Came, We Saw, We Smoked,” or “My Parents Went to Weed Country, and I Had to Buy This Shirt Online Because They Forgot.” Just as suggestions. Perhaps there could be a “Toke New York” campaign with billboards on the 90?

Either way, while half a dozen other states have a referendum on the ballot this November to legalize weed, our silly-ass pols sit in Albany trying to figure out which universities are going to get weed in pill form. And then get a drink of wine with dinner. Because thank you, New York.


Better wine through genomics: Rochester boffins discover wine grape bacteria

As world populations continue to climb and food sources become more and more crucial to protect from all threats, it is good to know that someone’s taking the wine seriously.

Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in cooperation with an international team of boffins, have isolated the genomic structure of bacteria which are commonly found hosted in Riesling wine grape vines. They have also discovered another bacteria commonly found populating sugarcane crops. The information for these two pests has been submitted to the GenBank: a National Institutes of Health database of genomic structures. From there, other researchers can use the RIT team’s research to further their own studies:

“We assembled millions of short DNA sequences into long sequences and made biological sense out of them,” Gan says. “Having the near complete genetic information from a bacteria will bring us to a new level of research.”

“We can tease out information based on the genome of the organism that live inside the plant,” Hudson adds. “The question is, why are these bacteria living in the plants? Are they destroying the plants or are they providing a benefit? Are they providing nutrients that are helping the plant grow, like plant hormones, phosphorous or nitrogen? Is it a mutualistic relationship where the plant and bacteria are both benefiting?”

One researcher is Professor Andre Hudson, whose work with protein folding structures in algae has been previously reported on by DFE.

The research into these two pests goes well beyond applications to wine or sugar cane. The Methylobacterium and Novosphingobium bacteria studied in grape vines, for example, is a pest that feeds on the xylem inside plants. Xylem is the vascular system of a plant, allowing nutrients and waste to pass through the plant as necessary. Understanding the nature of this bacteria may unlock secrets that help grow a wide variety of other crops more efficiently.

Rochester Science

Wine Science: the legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank and Finger Lakes wines

Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars is celebrating its 50th anniversary on July 1st of this year. Not only is this a landmark milestone for the winery, but also for New York Wines as a whole. It was Dr. Konstantin Frank who perfected the grafting of vinifera grapes onto native rootstock in order for European grapes to be grown in New York State.

Prior to the perfection of these grafting techniques (where the root-stock of native grapes are fused to the vines of traditional European wine grapes), New York wineries primarily used the native grape types in their wines. While many of the wineries still use these native grape types today, they did not have the reputation of their European comrades. By growing grape types which Europeans and other wine regions were familiar with, New York was finally able to compete on a level playing field and build the reputation they have today.

European wine grapes (vinifera) are susceptible to a parasite which is native to the United States called phylloxera. This small green insect devours the leaves and roots and ultimately kills the vines. The native grapes are resistant to the pest and were thus easier to cultivate. The first way to circumvent the phylloxera was to make French/American hybrids. Wines made from these hybrids won awards but these vines were not as popular as the ones made from vinifera, and in the Finger Lakes the need was to also create more winter-hardy roots to tolerate the cold temperatures common in this area.

By perfecting the grafting technique in the 1950s, Dr. Frank was able to improve the quality of the grapes and thus the wine. One of the keys to his success was the hilling of the dirt around the graft to protect the vine where the European grape vine and resistant root-stock came together at the graft. As a result of this technique, it is possible to grow vinifera grape types in the Finger Lakes. One of these types is Riesling, for which the Finger Lakes have developed their reputation for award-winning wines.

Dr. Frank was a scientist and ran his winery almost as an experiment station of his own. He planted every type of grape he could find because he wanted to know what worked and what didn’t. This led to an amazing collection. Dr. Frank even brought the rkatsiteli (ar-kat-si-TEL-lee) grape to New York. The grape is rarely planted anywhere other than Russia.

Even with Dr. Frank’s work, it has been an interesting Spring already, and the weather could make for some challenges in the wine industry. Most of the effect is going to be seen in the orchards, where the fruit yields have already been hit badly. This may not be the greatest year for fruit wines. In the vineyards, however, at most 10% of the grapes are gone. The most important thing is the fruit set. If the buds were not frozen, then there wouldn’t be any damage to the crops. However, if they did freeze we may see uneven ripening and some decreased yields. There’s no way to know for sure at the moment because the vines are still in the budding process. What a year for a 50th anniversary!


CMAC Concessions: Junk Food and Out of State Wine

So, I’m checking out events for this year’s summer festivities – YES and Steely Dan are BOTH coming to town, holy shit, holy shit – and I notice the CMAC concessions page:

CMAC Concessions.

CMAC. The “C” stands for Canandaigua, right in the middle of Upstate New York wine country. And guess who is serving up wine at the venue? Why, California producer Mondavi, naturalmente. And Arbor Mist, the company that makes Mad Dog 20/20 seem almost legitimate. And what else?

Well, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is never frowned upon, nor are Zweigels Hots. But c’mon! Why not some local beers and cheeses? Some tastes of the region? At least something that makes a vague play at being healthy might be a nice touch.

I’m sure there must be some bullshit reason for all of this. Guess who doesn’t give a shit what that reason is?

Update: Its been pointed out that, duh, Constellation is running the show, so that would explain the choices. Partially. But for fuck’s sake, give me the Clos du Bois Merlot or Alice White Shiraz over any bullshit from Mondavi any day of the week and twice on Steely Dan night.


The Wine and Culinary Center

We wnet to the Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua this afternoon, and the facility is an impressive one. I wish we’d been there for one of the cooking lessons, because there’s a “lab,” for lack of a better word with about $40 grand worth of cooking equipment in it. Each range is a nice, fancy stainless number with probably 15,000 btus combined heating power. Every table top is dark marble. Each station has an LCD, for video or Internet, I’m not sure. Overall, the place is just beautiful.

But you gotta pay for that somehow, and disappointingly, the way they do it seems to be cheaping out on their wine tastings. The way they organize their tastings is inventive: they’re bought in packages of three to five selections that center around a theme. This makes tasting the wine in contrast an interesting and informative process. But the problem is that they call these tastings “flights.”

Now, where I live, “flights” mean something. They’re generally beer flights and the phrase has replaced the old term, “colts.” That means they’re a fairly decent amount of beer, maybe a third of a normal 16 ounce bottle, 7 ounces or so. But in this case, the WCC’s version of “flights” barely wet the wine glasses they’re poured into, and they’re not huge glasses.

Considering the fact that we could have gone to any number of actual wineries and tasted way more wine for free, this seems like kind of a rip. Perhaps one good change might have been to rename the “flights” to something else. But either way, the tastings were way too small to be a justifiable tasting, because a single taste doesn’t inform you palate enough, in my opinion.


Booze Nooze You Can Yooze

OK, childish post title. So, sue me.

But in addition to the announcement of some weird beer happenings, there is also this: Lendevours reports today that the fight over grocery stores selling wine has spilled over into the wine festival circuit in New York. Meanwhile, Sarah and I shopped at the Penfield Weggies Sunday, and they had a guy soliciting petition signatures supporting the sale of wine in grocery stores. That’s right, a Wegmans guy.

Overall, I’d say I’m fairly agnostic on the whole affair. As a personal issue, buying wine at the grocery store along with all the other fixin’s for a good meal makes sense to me. At the same time, do you really want the sixteen year old who got drunk on Natural Ice last night to be your only reference when purchasing a bottle of French wine? I don’t think I’d be anywhere near as knowledgeable about wine – and I’m not that knowledgeable about wine – if it weren’t for the kind and patient folks at Schubert’s Wine on Park Avenue.

And while we’re discussing it, how does this fight relate to the recent tagging of Marketplace Liquor for selling wine gift bags? ((Can’t find a link right now, and don’t feel like looking deeper)) Back around Christmas time, Marketplace was fined for selling gift bags to throw wine bottles into, because they’re considered grocery items according to some arcane law or another. Sarah and I went there expecting to find martini rimming sugar a few days ago, but that’s a grocery item as well.

So, are these two events related? Was this some in-the-paint elbow throwing between the grocers and the liquor store owners? And if not, will the laws preventing liquor stores from selling grocery items be relaxed if the opposite is allowed?


Do Kids in Cotes du Rhone Think the Local Stuff is Piss Water?

If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, LENNDEVOURS is a great semi-local blog that discusses wines and wine making. There’s some really fascinating stuff that’s totally worth a read. You can check out their stuff right here on this blog, in the Blog Updates widget to the right.

But this article by Evan Dawson on why wine continues to have an elitist stigma in this country got me to thinking. He’s right that one reason that wine is so ubiquitous in Europe is because there are so many wine regions that if you live in France, you’re probably right by a great winery. If wine is everywhere around you and people you know work at wineries, there’s probably going to be a certain obviousness about drinking wine. But does that mean drinking the wine from your own region?

And that made me think of Genesee Beer, whose work is cherished in other parts of the country but not here. We’re major beer drinkers here in Rochester, yet the local stuff gets short shrift. Personally, while I don’t drink much beer these days, I always liked Twelve Horse Ale when they still made it.

So, do the kids in Bordeaux have the same hang ups about their local concoction? And do androids dream of electric sheep ((It’s a book reference))? I dunno. Just extemporaneous blogging, here.

A Glass of Golden Deliciousness

Readers of this blog who are also wine drinkers will no doubt already be aware of the love affair my wife and I have with Montezuma Winery.  In a region dripping with wines – and good ones, too – Montezuma steps outside the norm to offer fruit wines and blends that really please the palette.  Among my favourites is their Golden Delicious apple wine, “a few” bottles of which we picked up this summer, and one of which we opened this evening.

Mmm. . .  Well, it’s delicious.

Diana Krall’s Wine List. . .

Diana Krall is an amazing singer, you should check out her stuff. I saw her once at the Jazz Fests they used to have at FLCC. So, this is all in good fun.

TSG has a copy of her stage rider for concerts. For those of you not familiar, a stage rider is basically a list of everything the artist expects to have provided for them at the gig by either the promoter or the event organizers (and as you can imagine, it’s an interesting fight between those two entities that determines who pays for what!). TSG just loves stage riders because they tend to show off revealing and sometimes embarrassing facts about artists.

But in fairness, if you’re on the road every day of your life, running yourself ragged so promoters and organizers get to make more money off you than you’ll ever see, I think it’s perfectly fair to expect a bit of pampering. Or just play the rock star like Van Halen back in the days and demand M&M’s in the dressing room, separated by color. It don’t mean a thang if you ain’t got style, baby.

So, TSG is a bit flushed with the fact that Diana Krall actually expects a specific wine list in the dressing room. Well, I would use the touring opportunity to taste local wines rather than specify stuff I’ve already had, but that’s me. What I find amusing is how white-trashy her selection of wines actually is. I mean, they’re all Cali and Oregon wines with a few French wines thrown in there to throw off the curve. She’s demanding cellars like Rosemount and Ravenswood, and all Merlot, Cabs, Pinots. I like Merlot, too, but Jesus woman! Stretch out a little!

And “Swanson Merlot?” Don’t they make frozen peas?

Ugh! And Chardonay! I use that to wipe down the sink in the bathroom.

So, if Diana Krall ever comes back around, someone please send her to Sonora Wine Bar and help her branch out a little!

Solera Wine Bar

I’ve been meaning to post something here about Solera since last weekend, when my wife and I got a chance to go there. But, I’ve been so busy with M.C. Legislature stuff, I’ve plum forgot until now.

When my wife and I went on our honeymoon, we experienced a place called “Vintages” aboard our cruise liner. This was our first experience with such a bar, and we loved it so much, we came back with stars in our eyes, talking about opening up our own wine bar here in Rochester. Well, like most such flights of fancy, that dream quickly dissipated. But fortunately for everyone who likes good wine in Rochester, somewhere else was a couple with more fortitude than we, and in October, Solera was born right in our back yard of The Wedge.

Montezuma Wineries

I just wanted to write a quick post about one of my favourite semi-local wineries, the Montezuma Winery in beautiful Seneca Falls by the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.? Do notice the abundant dragonfly theme.? Obviously, these are folks with taste.

There used to be a meadery in Sterling, where they throw the Ren Faires every year, which was related to this winery in some fashion or another.? It was there that my wife Sarah had her first meade or really any wine other than grape wine.? I’m something of a meade aficionado, owing to my experience at hippie fests and other gatherings, but not Sarah.

Still, we both fell in love with the mead that they had at this place, and when we were preparing to get married, we both agreed that we needed to have some meade for the reception.? So, we trekked out to Sterling only to find the place had closed and they were now in Seneca Falls.? So the next weekend, we went out to Seneca Falls and bought copious amounts of honey-hootch for the wedding.

You can buy their stuff online, and I highly recommend you do.? If I could have a tap that ran cold Golden Delicious, their apple wine, I would surely do it.