If you think of yourself as someone who loves wine, and, maybe as importantly, someone who cares about the American wine industry, then Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes, Evan Dawson’s warm but incisive examination of New York State’s most important and fastest-growing wine region, is required reading.
Dawson’s portrait of the Finger Lakes, which dominate the landscape and history of New York’s southern tier through central and western New York, is a personal one. He spends countless hours walking the hills, learning the nuances of the various valleys and lake shores, and appreciating the complexity and challenges that constitute grape growing in this often harsh, always beautiful land. And while he does these things, he comes to know, intimately, the lives and stories of the men and women who have dedicated themselves to making the region a forceful presence in the modern wine world.
In his thirteen profiles, which focus on growers, wine makers, and winery owners, Dawson lays bare the beating hearts of Finger Lakes wine. These individual tales are not simple human-interest pieces. They are also filled with enough oenological minutiae to satisfy the geeks among us, as well as help the uninitiated understand what actually goes into turning fruit into wine, and the strenuous labor this task demands. And the author does this not through simple observation, but by pulling up his own boots and going to work at all stages of the winemaking process. So much easier to write about cold fingers and aching back muscles when those fingers and back muscles are your own. Wine making must be a labor of love, Dawson explains, or nobody would be willing to tolerate the strains and struggles it takes to do it.
One of the things I appreciate most about Summer in a Glass is Dawson’s insistence on telling the whole truth. This book, while full of admiration for the region, its wines, and the people behind them, is no paean. He talks about intransigent growers who resist the obvious need to change tactics, to embrace modern viticulture, from canopy management and green pruning to soil analysis and harvest schedules. He does not shy from the flaws that are to be found in every corner of the region, from vine to vendor. Dawson is objective in pointing out, as some of the better growers and producers have said, and for which they have taken no small amount of abuse, that many members of the Finger Lakes community are their own worst enemies – locked into tradition, habit, and the belief that they can’t change the profile of their wines or the makeup of their vineyard without alienating their loyal customers. Of course, this is patently not true, as Dawson points out, and a number of the more successful wineries have demonstrated.
I’m also glad that he tenaciously puts the lie to the still widely held belief that the Finger Lakes offer nothing more than a few good rieslings. When discussing the book with a friend of mine, who is a student, lover, and collector of wine, he admitted that he only knew of white wine coming from this part of New York. He had no idea that quality red wine was being produced there. I thought to myself, if he doesn’t know much about the Finger Lakes, how can we expect the rest of the wine-drinking world to know?
Summer in a Glass engages you from page one on. Readers will be immediately caught up in the stories Dawson shares of the people who are working hard to rescue the Finger Lakes from the errors of its past. His commitment to understanding these individuals, their histories, their particular approaches to wine, and their hopes for the region and their craft is evident on every page.
Maybe if more wine lovers pick up Dawson’s book, the Finger Lakes and its wine can start to get some of the attention they most certainly deserve.
If you’re interested in doing exactly that, click here. You’re going to be glad you did. Cheers!
21 thoughts on “If I Can Make It There, I Can Make It Anywhere…”
Tom – I don’t make this comment lightly: This is perhaps the single most thorough review of the book to date, and there have been many. It’s extremely gratifying for the author when a reader not only enjoys the book, but truly gets it. You certainly did that. I always caution readers that I’m a journalist, not a cheerleader, though I don’t hide the fact that I chose the most inspiring regional stories. But it’s not a hagiography. There are warts in every pretty place, and that’s part of what makes them human.
Thanks for a truly thoughtful review.
I received “Summer in a Glass” as a Christmas gift—been meaning to pick it up since its publication. My husband and I are HUGE fans of the Finger Lakes! We’ve been visiting from Western PA annually (now two-three times a year!) since discovering the region in the late ’90’s, and have thus experienced the expansive growth of the wine and tourism industries there. I look forward to immersing myself in Evan’s book as soon as I complete the marathon, “Atlas Shrugged” (politics definitely go better with WINE—maybe I’ll read them concurrently)!
Karen, good to know you have such a nice gift waiting to be read. I’ve not lived in WNY for a long time but I now kick myself for not spending more time in the Finger Lakes when I did. Thanks for reading The Grape Belt. Say hello to the FL for me! If you have any favorite wines, pass them along. I’m always looking to learn more!
Where do you live now? I’m guessing, from the three hour difference in posting times, you’re somewhere in California? I see you’re originally from “the shores of Lake Erie,” as am I—just a different shore (Cleveland). We did some of the Chautauqua Wine Trail last winter for the first time. Frankly, we were mostly unimpressed with most of the wines we tasted, save a few. Hubby and I gravitate toward a preference for dry reds (from all over the world, and all types—currently fans of Argentina’s Malbecs)—we are neither oenophiles nor collectors—we just LOVE wine and particularly enjoy discovering yummy, economical ones (of which there are PLENTY). Wine tasting has become a fun hobby over the years, and the Finger Lakes Region, with its beauty and ever-increasing number of wineries, is a favorite destination at just four hours away. One thing is certain regarding wine, though—the more we know, the less we know! It’s fascinating to me!
OH—some favorites in the Finger Lakes: My husband loves the Finger Lakes Rieslings, and tastes them everywhere we go up there (I must say, there are only a handful of wineries we haven’t been to…seriously). He’s particularly partial right now to Hermann Wiemer’s semi-dry—he has partial cases left of their last two vintages. White wine for me in the FLX: Lakewood’s Chardonnay. It’s an oaky, buttery one, which is the style I like. Shalestone is known for their reds, which is all they do, and they do them well—pricey, but excellent—love their Red Legend blend. Some consistently favorite wineries for the experience and/or the wines besides those mentioned: Damiani (good reds, too, and Dolce Bianco is a summery, white blend), Atwater, Ventosa (gorgeous Tuscan-style winery), Billsboro (so far the only Pinot Gris I like anywhere!), Red Tail Ridge, Lamoreaux Landing, Red Newt, Ravines (like the tasting experience there-quite pricey but good wines), Rooster Hill, Americana, Goose Watch, Lucas. Some new ones with great potential: Magnus Ridge (just opened last summer—another beautiful Tuscan winery), Zugube, J.R Dill. We’ve only been to Canandaigua Lake once, but loved Inspire (formerly “Imagine”) Moore boutique winery. Awesome place and wines!
You can’t help but “chill” in the beauteous FLX—every time we go we have different but totally enjoyable experiences, and we always discover new wines…and each year, even the same wines are new because of different growing conditions. We consider the Finger Lakes our second home! Cheers!
Karen, I now live in the SF Bay Area, having moved out here with my family 15 years ago from the Hartford CT area where we were living at the time. I’ve not lived full-time in WNY since college; stayed in NYC after college and then to New England. Miss the Northeast but can’t complain about too much of Northern CA.
I’m grateful for all the suggestions and recommendations you make. As we speak I’m going back and forth with a few wine writers in NYS who are putting together their own list of suggestions. I plan to buy a case of FLX wine very soon; many of the wines you suggested are the same as what the wine pros are recommending. I think you can stop saying that you’re not an oenophile! 🙂
Too many of my WNY friends are drinking too much of the Lake Erie/Chautauqua wines, and while I don’t want to diminish the efforts of local growers and producers, they have a long way to go before they are competing with the FLX, the Hudson Valley, or Long Island. I want to get to know these wines so I can start steering my friends to greener pastures. Your comment are enormously helpful in this regard. Can’t thank you enough.
All the best,
Karen – I’m from Cleveland originally myself! I hope you enjoy the book. And I can tell you that while Atlas Shrugged is worth the read, you can always just skip to John Galt’s speech; those 54 pages sum it up nicely. 😉
REALLY?! I swear, that “Six Degrees of Separation” thing is actually just ONE or two when you start talking to folks! Where in Cleveland? I am a Cleveland Heights High grad—class of 1968. Hubby: St. Ignatius—class of ’73! AND—my son graduated from John Carroll in 2005. What a small world! Cleveland is still home—friends and family there, just three hours from Indiana, PA, where we’ve lived since 1985.
I’m almost halfway through “Atlas Shrugged”—both fascinated and freaked out by it (we’re almost living in this dystopia NOW, yes??)—but I don’t think I’ll wait to finish it to start your book—I need a break from the political cr*p before my head blows off! Your book sounds like just the antidote! Cheers!!
Grew up in Westlake; my older brother went to Ignatius. My dad is in Pepper Pike, my mom is in North Ridgeville. What a world.
There should be a link in the article to buy the book…..
Consider it done! Thanks for the nudge. A bit too hasty getting this out yesterday I think. Much appreciated.
No Problem. Geneva (Seneca Lake) is my home town, living south of Buffalo now. I grew up in one of the most beautiful area’s in the country. And to think just north is the Adirondacks, where I have been vacationing every year since I was 6. New York never really gets it’s due justice. Oh yeah, just bought your book.
I grew up west of Buffalo along Lake Erie. Have vacationed in the Adirondacks regularly since meeting my wife back in the early 80s. Little town called Northville on Sacandaga Lake: God’s country. Wish I had spent more time in the Finger Lakes when I still lived in NY. If you’ve got any favorite FL wines, I’d love to hear them. Always looking to learn more. Thanks,
There should be a link in the article to buy the book….
Fun extra info…I just found out that the author is an old friend of one of my friends from Fredonia…who is a Coniglio….a relation (I think…) of the transplants in charge at Coniglio winery. Small world.
Anon, do you I know you? Hope so! Love any WNYer who takes the time to read my blog. Much appreciated.
It’s Kylene… Just forgot to input my name… 🙂
Hard to think of better people than the Coniglios!
Evan is my favorite newscaster on our local ABC affiliate. He is also a political junkie, with lots of good commentary. I’ve been meaning to pick this book up. I think (seriously) that on one of your east coast jaunts you should venture out this way!
Kylene – That is wonderfully nice of you to say. I’m flattered. If you pick the book up, I hope it’s worth your while. We always appreciate feedback!