Author: by Richard Figiel
Publisher: Excelsior Editions/SUNY Press, Albany, NY
The contemporary landscape of the Finger Lakes, their shores flanked with riesling, cabernet franc and pinot noir, would infuse Dr. Konstantin Frank with as much pride at his Vinifera Wine Cellars as it might fill Frances Willard with moralist loathing at her Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. There has never been a sense of dolce far niente in western New York’s vineyards, though the history of grape growing dates back long before European settlers, who found native grapes growing in thickets of vines and dreamed of civilizing, hybridizing and capitalizing on their abundance. Richard Figiel, a longtime wine writer who recently sold his Silver Thread Vineyard on Seneca Lake, tackles the history of this fast-evolving region in Circle of Vines. With one of the world’s largest wine markets downstate, growers from Nyack to Erie have long battled for relevance in the clubs, hotels, restaurants and shops of New York City, with more success, at times, selling table grapes and concord jam than fine wine. That calculus has changed radically several times in the last two centuries, as it is changing now once again. In his quiet prose, Figiel chronicles the battles between growers and the storms that descend upon them, the arctic chill racing down from the north, or the temperance movement that erupted out of Chautauqua and led to Prohibition. It’s compelling reading, whether you’re a wine drinker in New York or an American history buff.
This story appears in the print issue of December 2014.
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