WINES OF THE FINGER LAKES, by Peter Burford. Burford Books Inc., Ithaca, NY. $18.95. Paperback. 192 pages, illustrated.
In his publishing career, Peter Burford of Burford Books Inc. in Ithaca, NY, estimates he has published "thousands" of books. On Saturday, he'll be officially releasing another -- the first he personally has written.
"Wines of the Finger Lakes" is an ambitious undertaking. Packed as the region is with wineries of all sizes, a variety of terroirs, and a mix of farmers-turned-winemakers, winemaking as a second career, and second- and third-generation winemakers maintaining traditions, it is not an easy place to explain to the uninitiated.
Burford, who humbly says he is neither wine writer nor wine expert, takes on the self-assigned task with a good mix of approaches.
In a redundantly-titled initial chapter, "First Beginnings," he describes how winemaking came to the Finger Lakes in the person of young Episcopal clergyman William P. Bostwick who, in the early 1830s in Hammpondsport, planted Catawba and Isabella grapes to use as the source of sacramental wines.
He goes on to delineate the growth from those first plantings to today's abundance when the Finger Lakes is the largest wine-producing area in a state that has grown to become the country's No. 3 wine producer, behind California and Washington.
In between, readers will find the stories of the early major companies such as Pleasant Valley, Taylor, Urbana and Widmer's, profiles of more than 50 current wineries both old and new; succinct explanations of the principal grapes grown in the region and the wines produced from them; even "A (Very) Short Course In Making Wine."
While the history and the explanatory chapters make for informative reading, it is in the profiles of the individual wineries that we strike gold. Many are filled with interesting tidbits about the ventures and the adventurers.
For example, that a logger and a Cornell University staffer collaborated on what became Damiani Vineyard and began producing wine just a dozen years ago. That Chateau Lafayette Reneau, founded more than three decades ago and named for founder Bob Reno's grandfather, will be keeping its independent identity under new ownership despite Bob's passing in 2013. That some vines at Atwater Estates Vineyards planted in the 1920s still are producing wine-quality grapes. That Ruth Lucas convinced husband Bill to give up his career as a tugboat captain and move to Cayuga Lake in the 1970s to found Lucas Vineyards, the first vineyard on the shore of that lake.That when the Peterson family, owners of the Swedish Hill and Goose Watch wineries, bought the Finger Lakes Champagne House in 2005, they renamed it Penguin Bay Winery as a nod to their financial support of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, and particularly the Humboldt penguins exhibit there.
These personal touches and many others show the extent to which Burford researched his topic. This book is an excellent reference tome that should be added to your collection, or simply read as a pleasant way to learn more about a region of natural wonders.