The Influence of European Winemakers on the Finger Lakes Wine RegionHammondsport, NY – In recent years, the Finger Lakes has garnered acclaim as “one of the greatest Riesling regions of the world” and “America’s premier cool-climate wine region.” Some of that success has been shaped by a handful of European Winemakers who have blended the best of old-world traditions, training, and experience with new-world innovation, a willingness to experiment and to share ideas, and the flexibility to adjust to any given situation. On April 11th, Explore Steuben and Finger Lakes Countrysides are premiering on YouTube the new documentary video exploring The Influence of European Winemakers on the Finger Lakes Wine Region.

In 1829, a reverend intent on making sacramental wine planted the first vines in the Finger Lakes region in the small town of Hammondsport. Eventually, several of his parishioners were inspired to grow grapes. By the end of the 19th century, there were over 25,000 acres of vineyards around Keuka Lake. At first, the sweet native grapes were primarily sold in NYC and other markets as table grapes, but eventually the area gained a reputation for its sparkling wines. However, by the time Prohibition ended in the 1930s, only six wineries remained.

While winemaking in the Finger Lakes is still in its infancy, at just over 160 years-old, in recent years the region has garnered significant acclaim as “the prime wine region of the Eastern U.S.” and “America’s preeminent East Coast wine region.”

You could say the upward trajectory began when Charles Fournier, chief winemaker at the renowned Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin in Reims, France, was brought to the Finger Lakes following Prohibition to oversee the sparkling wine production at the Urbana Wine Company (later known as Gold Seal). Fournier introduced several notable French-American hybrid grape varieties to the region and provided Ukrainian immigrant Dr. Konstantin Frank the opportunity to ignite the Vinifera Revolution, forever changing winemaking in the northeastern United States. Today, while Dr. Frank’s descendants and the winery that bears his name continue to set the standard by which all other Finger Lakes wineries are judged, a few other wineries founded by winemakers originally brought to the region to make wine for Dr. Frank’s, continue to elevate the quality of wine being produced and the experiences visitors can enjoy.

French winemaker Morten Hallgren has spent the past two decades making exceptional wines at Ravines Wine Cellars. Called a “pioneer of the Dry Riesling” for which the Finger Lakes region has been gaining acclaim. French winemaker Sébastien LeSeurre, who worked at Dr. Frank’s before starting Domaine LeSeurre winery with his wife and fellow French winemaker, Céline, on the east side of Keuka Lake, focuses on crafting terroir-driven, food friendly wines. Right next door you’ll find the 2022 New York State “Winery of the Year,” Weis Vineyards, which was founded by German winemaker Hans Peter Weis after spending a decade working for Dr. Frank’s. Weis was also recently named one of Wine Business Monthly’s “Hot Brands” for 2023. Over on Seneca Lake, another German winemaker and grower, Johannes Reinhardt, who worked at Dr. Frank’s when Hallgren was there, founded Kemmeter Winery over a decade ago his wife Imelda. German winemaker Hermann Wiemer, another vinifera pioneer, was actually the first winemaker at Bully Hill Vineyards, but eventually his desire to work with Vinifera grapes led him to start his own winery on Seneca Lake. When Hermann retired from winemaking, he left his winery and his legacy in the capable hands of Oskar Bynke and Fred Merwarth—Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s “Winemaker of the Year” in 2021.

Wineries in the Video:

  • Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery
  • Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard
  • Ravines Wine Cellars
  • Domaine LeSeurre Winery
  • Weis Vineyards
  • Kemmeter Wines

You can learn about these exceptional winemakers, their wineries, and a shared philosophy of transparent winemaking in the new documentary video The Influence of European Winemakers on the Finger Lakes Wine Region which premieres at 11am ET on Thursday, April 11th on YouTube:



Dave DeGolyer, Director of Communications

Explore Steuben

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