Fast Chat: A Finger Lakes native on that other New York wine region

Eric Elkin at Sparkling Pointe, where he serves as wine club manager. (Credit: Randee Daddona)

Growing up in Geneva, N.Y., Eric Elkin always had an awareness of wine. Not only was he raised in the Finger Lakes, but his mother hails from Champagne, France, where her family worked in the industry. 

This upbringing provided a fertile training ground for Elkin, now the wine club manager at Sparkling Pointe Vineyards & Winery in Southold and co-owner with his wife, Bridget, of The Inn at Bridge and Main, a bed and breakfast in Greenport.

We recently chatted with the 32-year-old about the differences and similarities between the two New York wine regions he’s called home and asked him for recommendations for a visitor or Long Island Wine Country resident looking to venture up north to the Finger Lakes.

Wine Press: Tell me a little bit about your upbringing and how that’s helped shape you as a wine professional.

Eric Elkin: I grew up in Geneva, which is at the North End of Seneca Lake. My siblings and I have all worked in the wine industry in some capacity. My wife, Bridget, and I and spent years in San Francisco exploring various California wine regions and when we moved back to the East Coast in 2012, we spent time in Geneva helping my brother, James-Emery Elkin open his wine bar.

WP: What’s the name of his place?

Elkin: Microclimate Wine Bar. It’s an interesting concept. They take wines from the Finger Lakes and pair them with wines of the same variety or style from around the world. It’s a concept that could play well in any wine region because it celebrates local wine while contextualizing it globally. It’s an idea we’ve explored bringing to our region here on the North Fork.

WP: In a recent conversation we had, you spoke passionately about synergy between Long Island and the Finger Lakes, which really led to me wanting to do this interview.

Elkin: Some think of neighboring wine regions competitively but I see it as an opportunity for collaboration and knowledge sharing. These are two very different regions that are united by the fact that we’re experiencing simultaneous growth and increased interest locally, nationally and, to a certain extent, abroad. We also face many of the same challenges expanding our market presence. For wine drinkers less familiar with East Coast regions, they think about New York wine as if it were homogeneous but the Finger Lakes are as far from Long Island as Burgundy is from Bordeaux. Both regions stand to gain by paying attention to each other’s successes and shortcomings.

WP: Do you see much crossover in terms of the types of each region?

Elkin: Both regions’ viability is rooted in proximity to water and its moderating effects on climate. The Finger Lakes area draws a broader audience and has done a good job of growing their national profile, which is evident in some of the positive press they’ve received recently from publications like the Los Angeles Times and Harper’s Bazaar. Long Island’s close proximity to New York City and the surrounding suburban areas plays a big role in the volume of people we see but both regions are increasingly wine destinations and share clientele. In both places, guests include a mixture of wine enthusiasts and novices, some seeking an educational experience while others see it as just a social outing. There’s high-quality wine made throughout both regions and producers aim to make that the primary attraction regardless of their geographical location.

WP: What are some other differences you see between the two regions?

Elkin:  Land is much cheaper in the Finger Lakes so startup costs and production costs are potentially significantly less. The wines vary considerably in price but tend to be a bit less expensive. That said, there are many wines being produced on Long Island that are well worth drinking and can be purchased for $20 or less. The North Fork sees a huge amount of day trip traffic while the vast majority of winery visitors in the Finger Lakes are spending a weekend or week in the region. That’s one of the biggest differences.

WP: And that also leads to some of the problems we have here in terms of traffic, which I’d imagine is much different there.

Elkin: Yes, and some of that’s also infrastructure. They aren’t limited geographically the way we are. We have water a mile in either direction on this part of the island. We’re faced with a limited number of roads and limited lodging.

WP: Geneva has changed a lot since your childhood, hasn’t it?

Elkin:  Absolutely. Geneva has become this really hip town. While beautiful, growing up it felt lacking in opportunities, a little down and out. It’s been much easier for people to embrace the growing wine and tourism industries because the economics were so enticing. Many young entrepreneurs who grew up in Geneva or attended college there are returning to start their small businesses. Lower startup costs are certainly a factor but there is a palpable energy that comes with this type of transformation, which is inspiring and helps promote community. The wine and tourism industries have been a major catalyst for these developments and the local government has championed these efforts from the start.

WP: Aside from being around the vineyards, was there some sense of comfort in moving to the North Fork, where it felt like home?

Elkin: You know, Bridget has thought of the North Fork as home for most of her life but when we first moved here in 2015 I found it hard to figure out the community with its mixture of multi-generational locals and transient residents. I quickly started to see such a strong pride everyone has for this place and a constant dialogue on the issues that affect us. People participate because they care about the North Fork. We love it here and much of what I enjoy most about Geneva can be found on the North Fork as well.

WP: How are things going at Sparkling Pointe?

Elkin: Things are going really well; we’re excited about the quality of the 2017 vintage for sparkling wine. I’m fortunate to work with so many people who share a real passion and love for wine and the business. The wine club has been a part of our success and we currently have about a thousand members. My time is largely dedicated to correspondence with our club members and handling our shipments and wine club events.

Working the grape harvest at Red Newt Cellars in Hector, N.Y. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

We also asked Elkin to recommend, in his own words, places to visit in his neck of the Finger Lakes.

His hometown of Geneva is the launching point for this ideal getaway.

Tuck this information away for your next trip north.

WINERIES

Riesling rightfully garners the most attention as producers from the region have continuously produced world-class expressions, but a culture of experimentation backed by a strong agricultural heritage has seen other varietals do very well. With over 100 wineries, it’s always hard to narrow down the list, but here are a few favorites that are a short drive from Geneva, plus a handful of others well worth visiting or finding their wines for purchase.

Hermann J. Wiemer

Dundee, N.Y.

One of the most critically acclaimed wineries in the region, its lineup includes a number of different Rieslings, great traditional method sparklers and notable cool-climate expressions of chardonnay, cabernet franc and pinot noir.

Billsboro Winery

Geneva, N.Y.

Winemaker and Long Island native Vinny Aliperti owns the winery with his wife, Kim. He started out on the South Fork of Long Island, where he apprenticed for three vintages (1997-1999) at Wölffer Estate under Roman Roth before moving up to the Finger Lakes.

Ravines Wine Cellars

Geneva, N.Y.

Another winery achieving significant critical success, their dry Rieslings are among the best in the Finger Lakes.

Also worth noting: Red Newt Vineyards, Shaw Vineyard, Heart and Hands Wine Company, Sheldrake Point Winery, Boundary Breaks Vineyard, Forge Cellars, Bloomer Creek Vineyard, and Keuka Lake Vineyards and Winery.

LODGING

When visiting the region, Geneva serves as a great home base. This small college town is situated at the north end of Seneca Lake in the heart of the Finger Lakes wine region. Geneva is home to dozens of small shops and eateries, which have seized on the increased attention wineries have brought to the region and spearheaded the town’s resurgence over the past 15 years. The downtown consists of only a handful of blocks, but offers something for everyone after a day spent traveling around the lakes.

If you are looking for something intimate and within walking distance to downtown, check out the Chapman House, the Bragdon House or the suites at the Park House. Just outside of town is the historic Belhurst Castle, which offers an array of accommodations and sits overlooking the lake. Airbnb serves as a great alternative, and for those traveling in larger groups, consider a lakeside cottage rental.

FOOD

FLX Table

Geneva, N.Y.

Chef/master sommelier Christopher Bates and his wife, Isabel, offer a seasonal five-course menu in a space designed to make you feel like you’re at a dinner party. Twelve guests sit around the same table and can take advantage of the owner’s expertise to participate in pairings that include some of the world’s most collectible and sought-after wines.

Red Dove Tavern

Geneva, N.Y.

Philly natives opened this cozy gastropub almost 15 years ago. From the start, their menu has relied heavily on local food purveyors, and a constantly rotating draft beer list anchors a strong bar program.

Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca

Lodi, N.Y.

Top-notch traditional Austrian cuisine in a restaurant overlooking the lake. Great wine list featuring many local options that perfectly complements the menu. It’s a great lunch stop while you’re out visiting wineries.

MORE DRINKS

Microclimate Wine Bar

Geneva, N.Y.

Located on charming Linden Street in downtown Geneva, the wine list is built around a series of tasting flights, which pair a local wine with the similar varietals or styles from around the world. Some food is also served.

Linden Social Club

Geneva, N.Y.

Also located on Linden Street, this cocktail bar is perfect for a pre- or post-dinner drink. If you’re scheming on a light meal or late-night snack, the menu consists of Baja-inspired small plates.

Lake Drum Brewing

Geneva, N.Y.

Crafting ciders, sours and other beers in collaboration with local artisans. Started by a young couple who attended college in Geneva at Hobart and William Smith. They fell in love with wine and the town and started this growing business a few years later.

FLX Live

Geneva, N.Y.

A small music venue in downtown Geneva also started by HWS graduates.

OTHER ACTIVITIES

Watkins Glen State Park

Provides an up-close look at the geology of the Finger Lakes, which plays such an important roll in shaping the style of wines you’ll enjoy during your visit to the region.

Corning Museum of Glass

This non-profit museum displays 3,500 years of history in celebrating one single material: glass.

National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls

What better place to celebrate women than in the town that hosted the first women’s rights convention?

Daytrip to Hammondsport

A really charming little town at the south end of Keuka Lake with plenty of great wineries close by, including the venerable Dr. Konstantin Frank.