Throwdown: Finger Lakes Wineries
September was Finger Lakes Riesling month, and began the season of wine tours and apple picking. Adding to our Throwdown series, we went to Finger Lakes wine country and put two wineries head-to-head. Apples to apples. Or in this case, grapes to grapes.
25 minutes away, we found Three Brother’s Wineries and Estates, located on the northeastern shore of Seneca Lake. We did tastings at both locations to figure out which had the better atmosphere, service, and of course, wine.
In the mid 1800s, Sheldrake Point was a popular resort destination, and what is now the site of the vineyard operated as a 160-acre dairy farm. Fast-forward to 1997, when wine expert Greg Sandor and his colleagues purchased the lakeshore farm in hopes of turning it into a prominent Finger Lakes winery. The plan was a success, and Sheldrake Point Winery now produces nine varieties of grapes and over 7,000 cases of wine. It was named N.Y. State Winery of the Year in both 2009 and 2010.
Three Brothers Wineries opened nine years ago and has expanded every year since. The original vineyard was planted in the early 80s as Newland Vineyards, which was bought by Dave and Luanne Mansfield, and their partner Erica Paolicelli in 2006. Three Brothers now has three wineries and a microbrewery all on the same estate, offering a bit of everything at its Geneva, NY location.
The Setup and Atmosphere
The drive to Sheldrake Point Winery alone might make it worth the visit. It took about a 20-minute drive along the Cayuga Lake coast to reach the winery, and every mile was photo worthy. Once on location, the 44-acre vineyard provided a great view of the lake, and as the staff told us, Sheldrake Point is one of the few Cayuga Lake wineries with its own dock.
The grounds were extremely well kept, and the beautiful gardens that surround the tasting rooms were the result of the owners’ landscaping vision, the staff told us. The tasting room itself was homey and inviting with plenty of wine-related diagrams and posters on the walls to explain wine-jargon for non-experts like us.
Three Brothers has three separate wine tasting rooms next to its 30 acres of vines, each modeled after one of the Mansfield brothers’ personalities. All within walking distance, each tasting room offered a different selection and feel. Here are the three wine rooms at a glance:
The Stony Lonesome room has a beautiful view of the lake, and feels classy, a place you might go with co-workers. It offers a premium selection of estate reserve Rieslings, whites, and red wines. The Passion Feet Wine Barn is a place you might go to with your closest girlfriends, offering sweet whites with names like “Scandelicious,” and “Flirtation.” The barn displays shirts and plaques with phrases like, “I Am Mom, What’s Your Superpower?”
Lastly, we enjoyed the laid-back feel of the Bagg Dare wine company. The tasting room is in a barn, and has a performance stage outside built on a broken truck. We were offered samples of the company’s hot sauce to add to the whole experience.
Sheldrake Point offered a few different specials, but I went for the six wines for $6 deal. This offered the most wine for the least amount of money. I tried Sheldrake’s most popular wine, their 2015 Dry Rosé, made from 100% Cabernet Franc grapes. While this wine has won Sheldrake gold at different wine competitions, I thought their 2013 Gewürztraminer and 2014 Ice Apple wines were by far the best. The Gewürztraminer won 90 points in both Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast publications. For $18 per bottle, this floral wine could make a white-wine lover out of anyone. The Ice Apple wine is the perfect dessert wine. Made from a blend of local apples, drinking this selection is a great way to bring in the fall season.
At Three Brothers, we went for the $15 “Tasting Passport,” which gave us five selections at the four tasting rooms (including the brewery). The wine we tasted was flat out delicious. My favorite was the estate reserve 2013 Barbera wine, a red with an oak and smoky undertone. We really enjoyed the Bagg Dare blush wines like the “Skirt Lifter,” and “Dog Head Red”. Stony Lonesome had four degrees of sweet Rieslings, none of which were too sweet; they were just right. Lastly, we couldn’t help but fall in love with the “Scandelicious” wine slushy, which was mixed with a berry pomegranate slushy mix. It was fun and added something unique to the whole experience.
Sheldrake Point wins this one on taste alone. But Three Brothers is not far behind, due to their huge variety. Both wineries offered bottles from $10- $30.
Our server at Sheldrake Point told us that they don’t accept huge parties of young people anymore because of some “bad experiences” that happened two years ago. This is understandable.
However, we felt that the staff was selective on who received good service. Because we were less informed than our older tasters a few feet away, it seemed as if we were less deserving of quality service. However, they were friendly and still attempted to make our experience positive.
The servers poured much less wine in our glasses at Three Brothers. But because we got to try so many wines and beers, we did not feel cheated. Three Brothers also has complimentary crackers and pretzels at each tasting location, AND we got to keep the glasses. This added to their overall atmosphere of hospitality. The passport came with a sheet that let us rate wines, making it a more interactive experience.
The staff at Three Brothers made us laugh and wanted to talk to us about our lives, which made us feel at home. We felt like they wanted us to come back.
Three Brothers has the added bonus of the War Horse Brewing Co. on its site, which had one of the best Belgian wheat beers I’ve ever tasted. We went for a simple wine tasting, and ended up with so much more. It was a pleasant surprise. If we wanted coffee, we could have gotten that from Three Brothers as well. Indeed, they have a coffee shop attached to the brewery. It was a bit confusing at first – three wineries and a microbrewery all at one place? But after we got over our initial dizziness, our afternoon became a fun event. Though we went to Three Brothers on a Monday, it was still relatively busy. Three Brothers is packed on Saturdays, and is growing a crowd on Mondays and Thursdays.
Sheldrake Point is a hidden treasure. It is quiet and away from the world, a perfect place for a romantic date. If you’re looking for a place that is less commercial and touristy, Sheldrake is for you. As one of our tasters said, Sheldrake is trying to keep the loyalty of their customers, not attract new ones.
Bottom Line: Sheldrake is a great stop along wine trail; Three Brothers is the only stop you need
Walking away from Three Brothers, we realized that Sheldrake has the basics covered – beautiful location, great wine. However, Sheldrake has some things to learn from Three Brothers.
While they are aimed at different audiences, we couldn’t help but notice that Three Brothers was, simply put, more welcoming. The staff members seemed happy to have us there, despite our age, and were eager to tell us about the wines and ask about our experiences and backgrounds.
You see, wineries are about much more than the wine itself. It’s about how you feel when you walk away. When I walked away from Sheldrake, I felt like I had spent an afternoon well. When I left Three Brothers, I wish I could have stayed longer.