Keuka Spring wins Governor's Cup

John Christensen
Len and Judy Wiltberger, owners of Keuka Spring Vineyards, and winemaker August Deimel accepted the award from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who hosted a tour of Seneca Lake Wineries Tuesday afternoon.

Penn Yan's Keuka Spring Vineyards' 2012 Riesling won the coveted "Governor's Cup" trophy at the 2013 New York Wine & Food Classic competition, held Tuesday night at the Glen Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen. Gov. Andrew Cuomo personally presented the elegant Governor's Cup, a large silver chalice, to Keuka Spring owners Len & Judy Wiltberger and Winemaker August Deimel.

The Governor's Cup recognizes the "Best of Show" or top prize of all 875 entries in the Classic, known as "The Oscars" of New York wine. This year's competition included 842 New York wines, 11 Hard Ciders and 22 Spirits from several regions across New York State including Long Island, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Niagara Escarpment and Lake Erie. The Keuka Springs Vineyards 2012 Riesling was also voted Best White Wine, Best Overall Riesling and Best Medium Dry Riesling on its way to the ultimate award.

Yates County proved a heavyweight in the competition. The "Specialty Wine Champion" award recognizes consistent quality among the increasing number of wines made from fruits other than grapes, or honey. The 2013 winner was Earle Estates Meadery's Raspberry Reflections. Best Rosé Wine went to McGregor Vineyard Winery 2012 Rosé D'Cabernet Franc, Estate Grown. The "Best Limited Production Wine" award, for wines produced with fewer than 100 cases, went to Keuka Spring Vineyards' 2012 Dry Rosé.

The awards were based on blind tastings by 22 expert judges; three from California, nine from New York, seven from other states, one from France and two from the United Kingdom. Judges included prominent wine writers, restaurateurs, retailers, and wine educators. Judging panels determined the initial awards, with top-scoring wines evaluated by all 22 judges for Best of Category and Governor's Cup awards.

Celebrating its 28th year, the Classic is organized by Teresa Knapp of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, and is open to all 337 New York wineries from all regions. In 2013, a total of 54 Double Gold, 98 Gold, 299 Silver, and 224 Bronze medals were awarded. In addition, "Best of Category" and "Best of Class" designations were awarded to wines rated as the finest in various areas. Double Gold medals require unanimity among a panel's judges that a wine deserves a Gold medal, whereas Gold medals require a majority vote.

Governor Cuomo arrived in Yates County with a three-bus entourage of guests from the beverage distribution and restaurant industries to tour Seneca's west side wineries as a lead up to the awards. Mother Nature lost no time in displaying the variety of weather summer offers in the Finger Lakes. Introduced at Anthony Road Wine Co. by New York Wine and Grape Foundation President Jim Trezise, the rain clouds of Tuesday suddenly cleared, and the sun shone as if on cue for Cuomo's speech on the bright future for our region.

Speaking on the economic climate in New York, Cuomo warned against lumping the state into the old designations of "Upstate and Downstate," advocating each region to be known for their unique "facets, assets, and liabilities." Naturally, the lakes and wineries of our region featured heavily in his description. He described the geography of the region and its moderating impact on vineyards and winemaking for the visitors, many of them from New York City.

Cuomo's main point centered upon the promotion of New York's winery tourism. He called himself "a partner in all the wineries in New York," and described his job to promote them as being like the head if the Chamber of Commerce for the whole state. "If the Governor is doing his job, he is promoting New York Business and the wineries we have all over this state," he said. The Governor described himself as " a partner in all the wineries," and joked about his motives saying, "the more they make, the more we make!"

Cuomo described the hard times Upstate has endured, but said "There is a new energy upstate. You can feel it all across the board," adding, "This energy, this new focus and direction is long overdue." Upstate struggled, he said and "for a long time felt they came second, they were overlooked and hadn't gotten the attention they deserved" and that had been part of what caused the struggle. "Thankfully, that time has past."

He urged his guests to have some wine and enjoy themselves. "Most of all, this day is about having fun and seeing a gorgeous part of the state on a beautiful day. God is smiling on us."

Again, as if timed, when the guests repaired to the pavilion tent to sample wines and locally produced foods and appetizers, the clouds returned with a terrific downpour. Nothing dampened the spirits of the guests as they enjoyed some of the best food and wines New York can offer.

Cuomo toured Anthony Road's production facility with owners John & Ann Martini, winewaker Johannes Rhienhardt, along with Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, state senators Mike Nozzollio and Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, just as he did at the next stop, Glenora Wine Cellars, with its owner Gene Pierce. After a working tour of the bottling, labeling, and boxing of Glenora's wines, Pierce presented Cuomo with a framed photograph of himself with former Governor Mario Cuomo when the current governor's father toured Glenora in 1993.

After sampling more wines, including some from the Hudson Valley and Long Island, the tour continued on to Lakewood Winery north of Watkins Glen for the next round of samples. Each stop's food and wine pairings served by a host of employees from many area wineries and

The day culminated at the Glen Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen with an elegant dinner to present the Governor's Cup for the best New York State wine to Keuka Spring Vineyard's 2012 Riesling, often considered the signature wine of the Finger Lakes.

The "Winery of the Year" award went to McCall Wines from the North Fork of Long Island. This is presented to the winery with the best overall showing based on the level and number of awards in relation to entries.

The other "Best of Category" awards, all eligible for the Governor's Cup, went to:

• Best Sparkling Wine

Sparkling Pointe 2008 Blanc de Noirs

• Best White Wine

Keuka Spring Vineyards 2012 Riesling

• Best Rose Wine

McGregor Vineyard Winery 2012 Rosé D'Cabernet Franc, Estate Grown

• Best Red Wine

Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Franc

• Best Dessert Wine

21 Brix 2011 Vidal Ice Wine

• Best Specialty Wine

Earle Estates Meadery Raspberry Reflections

• Best Spirit

Finger Lakes Distilling McKenzie Rye

Peter Saltonstall, former President of the Wine & Grape Foundation and owner of King Ferry Winery on Cayuga Lake, introduced Cuomo at the awards dinner, saying, "This event is proof the Governor delivers on his promises," as he praised Cuomo for helping to remove many obstacles to the development and progress of the wine industry in New York. Cuomo finished the evening lavishing praise upon Trezise and his team, the three host wineries and the Glen Harbor Hotel.

Keuka is the place to be

• This is the third consecutive year a Keuka Lake winery has won the Governor's Cup.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars 2011 Semi Dry Riesling won the coveted "Governor's Cup" trophy in 2012 The "Winery of the Year" award also went to Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars that year. In 2011 Keuka Lake Vineyards' 2010 Leon Millot won the cup.

• This is the second Governor's Cup for the winery.

Keuka Spring's 1998 Cabernet Franc earned the prestigious Governor's Cup in the past.

• This year's winner joins an exclusive list of 28 other wines that have earned the top award in the competition held by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.