Festival will feature Seneca Lake wine, food
WATKINS GLEN--Twenty area wineries and 20 eateries in Clute Park ready to serve you. It's the 2019 Seneca Lake Wine and Food Festival.
A visitor hoping to sample a taste of the area's wine and food offerings would need to dedicate several days of stop-and-go driving to do the area justice. Because it's not only stopping at wineries. Consider all the restaurants, makers of artisanal cheese and other food-related businesses.
It's why in 2012, Jeff Dill, owner of J.R. Dill Winery in Hector, thought it might be fun to have wineries and food producers in one central space for a one-day festival. It was a leap of faith to try something new, he says now. Back then, about 600 people came to taste and sample--"It's obviously grown over the years," he notes. Participating wineries were immediately on-board with the idea, though it took a little longer to convince food vendors to join the festival setting. This year's Seneca Lake Wine and Food Festival will be Saturday, May 18 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Clute Park in Watkins Glen.
There are more wineries and eateries in 2019 than there were seven years ago, making the festival a sort of short-cut survey course and an opportunity to discover new favorites without driving around the lake to locate new wineries, chase down a great food-truck experience or visit a farm where cheese is made in small batches. Instead, participants can simply be at the lake, enjoying great wine, scenery, food, music and classes. This year, a ticket of admission to the Saturday festival further allows participants to extend the experience, with visits to favorite wineries on Sunday with no tasting fee.
For the past three years or so, the event has been administered by the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, allowing Dill a respite from some of the organization and a chance to do one of the other things he does best--work very hard. This year he'll be spending quite a bit of his time coordinating the wine-check service, which allows attendees to purchase wines they like and, instead of having to tote them around, have them packed and stored in a cool, dedicated space until they're ready to leave. Volunteers from two local charitable organizations--Spirit of Schuyler and Watkins Glen Rotary Club--will be helping; the festival is making donations to these groups.
Additionally, there are a few new festival features this year. "This time of year is bottling season so we did a new release thing to highlight the differences between every wine and every specific vineyard location," Dill says. Wineries are invited particularly to bring their new releases. A five-course wine and food pairing seminar presented by sommelier Joshua Carlsen from Stonecat Café in Hector will bring together foods from a variety of eateries around Seneca Lake enhanced by complementary wines. And the popular wine-and-cheese seminar composed by wine educator Heather O'Grady Evans will happen twice--one session highlighting the east side of the lake, the other its west side. These seminars are an add-on for an additional fee.
"Because I've worked with the Finger Lakes Cheese Alliance for 10 years, I know the products, and the wines," says Evans. "But the first thing I do is talk to each creamery and find out what's new, then I visit all the wineries. It's a puzzle--whites, reds, sparkling wines, new cheeses. I'll know which wines will pair well with which cheeses. We're talking about small batches of artisan cheeses with subtleties that do not happen with mass production. I always say the first rule is--there are no rules!
"It's important to experiment and play," Evans adds. "You've got to balance the creaminess and richness of the cheese and with the richness and acids of the wine. Everyone's palate is different, as unique as a fingerprint."
The atmosphere of playful experimentation is encouraged with live music, an outdoor setting with four large tents and several smaller ones. About 1,700 people are expected to attend this one-day, Seneca Lake focused event. This makes it a relatively intimate setting compared to the far larger crowds who will attend the Finger Lakes Wine Festival scheduled for later this season at the Watkins Glen International track, which features more than a hundred wineries and vendors from the region beyond the Finger Lakes.
"This is lots of fun," says Brittany Gibson, who attended as a participant before she became the executive director of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail late last year. "One of the things I truly love about it is it's specifically highlighting the diversity of Seneca Lake. It really shows you the full scope of what we have."
Tickets may be purchased in advance and printed at home through the wine trail website www.senecalakewine.com. Until Friday, May 17, advance tickets cost $15 for designated drivers, $35 per person for wine tasting, with limited additional opt-in tickets available for the seminars--check the website, as some may be already sold out. The website also offers a listing of wine and food vendors with links for those who'd like to research those websites in advance. Extra tickets will be sold at the gate the day of the event. Parking is also limited, but there will be shuttle buses available for those who park at the high school parking lot.