Postcard From the Finger Lakes
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We nearly passed Shalestone Vineyards before realizing that the tiny roadside tasting room was the highly recommended winery. Inside, we found owner and winemaker Rob Thomas and his wife, Kate, pouring for visitors. Thomas spent many years as winemaker for Lamoreaux Landing before leaving last fall, though he still consults for them. The sign outside his handcrafted building emphatically declares "Red is all we do" -- a novel concept for this region. He has 5 acres planted mostly to Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. He also has some Pinot Noir, though he claims he didn't have any luck with it until 1997.
The Shalestone name comes from Thomas' vineyards, where the vine roots only have about 6 to 8 inches of soil before they hit slabs of shale, defining the character of his wines. His devotion to the concept of terroir is also demonstrated by beautiful rocks displayed on the tasting counter and the sign outside the winery, which is made of an entire piece of shale that's roughly 350 million years old.
Thomas bottles Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and is currently offering a non-vintage Pinot Noir. He also makes a Bordeaux-style blend, called Red Legend, from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as a dry rosé called Jem. "I really think every cellar should have one or two quality rosés, not the sweet stuff," he comments. His wines were surprisingly rich, full-bodied and flavorful, while many of the reds we tried on the trip seemed almost watery. Unfortunately, he only makes about 1,000 cases a year and has no plans to expand. "I just want to keep my wine list small, with all top-quality wines," he explains, expressing the wish that more wineries in the region would focus instead of marketing what the tourists want. "If 10 or 15 wineries would do this, we could build up our reputation."
That night, we opted for a healthy meal at an Ithaca institution, Moosewood Restaurant, known for vegetarian cuisine that appeals to nonvegetarians as well. The small menu changes daily, and the staff comes up with a seemingly endless variety of vegetable and fish dishes that draw on ethnic regional specialties around the world. Here, you won't have to eat tofu unless you want to, nor will you have to skip dessert, which can be both nonfattening and tasty. In addition, there's a small selection of mostly local wines by the glass and bottle.
With many wineries open later on Sunday, we started off with a nonvinous detour. The Finger Lakes region is known for its dramatic gorges, and Taughannock Falls, right along Cayuga Lake, makes a perfect diversion from the 12 wineries on this trail. An easy stroll runs along a river through a high-walled gorge to the base of the 215-foot falls, a stunning display of water power set in a stone amphitheater.