Saturday, April 09, 2011


Evan Dawson is the Managing Editor of The New York Cork Report. His new book is Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes. Evan is also a Rochester television newsachor and journalist. His style is direct, engaging, and captivating. He is passionate about wines of all kinds, but he is an engaged proponent of Finger Lakes wine.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am Evan's editor at Sterling Publishing.

Here's our intrerview:

What is the biggest challenge facing wine in your state today? The first problem is a lack of understanding about what NY state wine can be, and what it should. I meet people all the time who say, "So the Finger Lakes makes good wine, huh? Can they do Cabernet?" Part of why I wrote Summer in a Glass is because there is a serious need to tell the story of the Finger Lakes with clarity. The second problem is distribution. But the top producers are changing that, breaking into new markets and reaching new customers.

What is the difference between wine in your region from ten years ago to today? The Finger Lakes is the home of America's best Riesling, and it's not close. As I say in the book, if Riesling is Clark Kent, the Finger Lakes is a phone booth. It becomes Superman in upstate New York. And now, finally, you won't hear people in tasting rooms comparing Finger Lakes wine to Germany. There used to be this desire to draw a parallel. But in wine, imitation is the sincerest form of mediocrity. Finger Lakes winemakers know they don't have to try to mimic anyone else, and they don't have to apologize for their wines. The potential is there, and now there is a sense of place that is generating pride.

Where do you think wine in your region will be 10 years from now? I tend to think we're close to maxed out with the number of wineries in the Finger Lakes, and now it's time to raise the quality level for all producers. Summer in a Glass is a book that tells the stories of about a dozen wineries and winemakers, and while I could have included more, I certainly wouldn't have had compelling material to cover, say, 50 wineries. There's too much inconsistency still. But I'd bet that 10years from now, the overall quality will have reached a strong, consistent level.

What’s the trend in wine in your region that has surprised you the most in the last 2-5 years? Not exactly a trend, but it's more the evolution of what winemakers are trying to do with Riesling. For a while, everyone wanted to take Riesling super-dry. I mean, buzz-saw, make your tongue bleed dry. Now, producers like Wiemer and Anthony Road and Damiani offer a richer, lower alcohol style. And now others like Fox Run are giving that style a shot. So I'm surprised by the constant reevaluation of what works, but maybe I shouldn't be. After all, in the book I write about winemakers who are innovators. They're never satisfied.

Is there a new trend you expect to see in the next 2-3 years? More exploration of which red grapes will work. For example, Red Tail Ridge is doing exciting things with Teroldego. There are more.

Do you find liquor stores and wine shops have been a good partner for your state grown wines? What have been some challenges? Some are wonderful. Some work hard to educate customers about New York wine. Some are lazy and don't care if they sell New York wine. It's pretty well bifurcated.

How big a part do festivals and farm markets play in your state‘s wine distribution? Marginal, but not nothing. And I look forward to taking the book to festivals and events. I'm hoping readers will only learn about wine by accident, or without realizing it, when they read Summer in a Glass. Mainly they'll gain an understanding of how an unlikely group of people overcome incredible obstacles to lift up a region. So far the people who have praised the book the most are people who don't even drink wine.

What are the challenges of getting your wines covered by local press and the wine media? With the help of organizations like Finger Lakes Wine Country, it's improving. Certainly the New York Cork Report is not only paying attention but leading the coverage. But wineries need to better understand the power of telling their stories. Take Johannes Reinhardt, for example. Head winemaker at Anthony Road Wine Comapny. He deserves a good outcome in work and life, but there's no guarantee it's coming for him. He's one of the most honest people I've ever known, and he's been penalized for doing things in a forthright fashion. That's all I can say without giving away too much of his story, which is very emotional.

Are there any fears you may have too many wineries in your state? I wouldn't be surprised to see some close over the next several years.