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The Press Deck - 7/31/2019 | Field Notes: NY Drinks NY Vineyard Visit - Pleasant Valley Wine Company

Field Notes...

From Paul Brady, Brand Ambassador

There may be none other as qualified to give a history on the sparkling wines of the Finger Lakes as winemaker Steve Difrancesco, of Glenora Wine Cellars. Add the hospitality of the Doyle family (in this case Mike and Patrick) of Pleasant Valley Wine Company and then you’re in the setting for said history that would, in fact, be impossible to rival. But that’s what the trade attendees of our inaugural NY Drinks NY Phase IX tour experienced -- the history, the place, and modern-day wines that represent that history as well as the terroir of today’s Finger Lakes sparkling wines.  

The first stop of our NY Drinks NY July visit was Pleasant Valley Wine Company for a presentation on the history of sparkling wine in the Finger Lakes, led by Steve. The visit and tasting also included wines from Pleasant Valley and their winemaker Beth Witt, as well as NY Drinks NY participating winery Nathan K. We tasted sparkling wines from all three wineries as well as a fortified wine from Pleasant Valley, and also received a brief history on fortified wine in the Finger Lakes -- a worthy topic of its own for a future tasting. 

I first met Steve in 2013 at a trade tasting in New York City at Terroir Wine Bar where I was then working. He was pouring the Glenora 2005 Brut, which for me has been a memorable wine all these years later -- that was most definitely the first traditional method sparkling wine from New York I’d yet tasted with that amount of bottle age. My recollection of that wine is simple: dry, textured, long... I was determined to stay in touch with Mr. Difrancesco. 

Pleasant Valley Wine Company was founded in Hammondsport at the base of Keuka Lake in 1860, and in 1873 took a gold medal from an international competition in Vienna for its Great Western Champagne (likely a blend of Delaware and Catawba), which was a major achievement for a non-European winery at the time. The history of Pleasant Valley Wine Company is well documented at their web site, and the schedule of tours open to the public of the historic facility can be found there as well. But let’s turn back to the modern sparkling wines and anecdotes of Defrancesco.

I’ve learned over the past several years that, in addition to his own thinking, palate, industry experience (Steve was a sommelier in Daytona Florida before he was a winemaker), and winemaking talent, Steve had an opportunity to learn first hand from the Champenois, working at Gold Seal Vineyards, where he began his winemaking career in the 1970s. There, Steve worked under Charles Fournier and Guy Devaux -- both French winemakers from large Champagne houses who were recruited to move to New York specifically to make sparkling wine after prohibition. While Fournier (another Finger Lakes maverick worthy of a rabbit hole deep dive) was not hands-on by that time, Steve has often spoken about how closely he was able to work with and learn from Devaux. And it was Steve who first told me the story of a Fournier sparkling wine, his Gold Seal Blanc de Blancs, that took the only gold medal from the  California state fair in 1950, making it the last year that that fair accepted wines from outside of California. 

During Steve’s presentation, we were able to taste his 2013 Brut from Glenora, a blend of 76 percent pinot noir, and 24 percent chardonnay. Wine writer and NY Drinks NY attendee Courtney Schiessl shared her tasting note: “With soft fruit on the nose, this is a clean, refreshing sparkler with excellent texture. Quite a complete, balanced wine.” 

It’s especially effective that we’re able to bring guests through wineries like Pleasant Valley Wine Company, which physically displays so much of what there is to unearth on the subject of wine’s history in New York. Add a subject expert like Steve to that equation and the right tone is set for the rest of the tour. Many thanks to the Doyles for always hosting and contributing their story, and you can read more about Steve’s career at the Glenora web page, where it reads: “Steve is a very friendly and personable winemaker, and he enjoys ‘talking shop’ with visitors and other winemakers. Hopefully, you will get a chance to meet Steve in person!”  

I hope so too.

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