WTM Wine Talk | Meaghan Frank: A Finger Lakes Wine Legacy / by Joanna Snawder

Meaghan Frank and Joanna Snawder enjoying a sparkler from Chateau Frank. Photo credit Gabriel Manzo

Meaghan Frank and Joanna Snawder enjoying a sparkler from Chateau Frank. Photo credit Gabriel Manzo

If you know anything about the winemaking history of New York’s Finger Lakes Region, then you are probably familiar with Dr. Konstanin Frank. He relentlessly pursued his belief that Vinifera could grow there, against the better judgment of all who were considered experts on the area.

Meaghan Frank, an unlikely heir apparent, is the great-granddaughter of Dr. Frank and current General Manager of Dr. Konstanin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, New York. She holds two wine related Masters degrees: one from the University of Adelaide in Australia and one from Cornell in Ithaca, NY.

WTM: When did you first realize who your Great Gand-father was and his significance in the Finger Lakes?

Meaghan: Sitting in a Wine Appreciation class, during my senior year at Cornell. My bachelors was unrelated to wine. I took that class as an elective. It was a huge seminar class of 700 or so people. One entire lecture was on New York and The Finger Lakes area. Konstantin was a big focus. That was when I put it all together. Everyone wants to think that their family is no different than others. That lecture made me realize what a pioneer Konstanin had been and how he paved the way.

WTM: When did you realize you wanted to work in wine?

Meaghan: If I said I always knew this would be my future, I would not be telling the truth. My siblings worked at the winery throughout their childhoods but I was always working elsewhere, I never had an interest in joining the family business when I was younger. The "aha moment" occurred during that wine appreciation class. That class really broadened my view of the world of wine and since then I've wanted to learn as much as I possibly can! I guess you could say I've caught the bug.

WTM: How did you get started in the wine industry?

Meaghan: My father saw my interest in wine and encouraged me to apply to the University of Adelaide in Australia for their Master of Wine Business program. That was really the beginning of my wine career. I moved back in 2013 to the family farm in the Finger Lakes and am exhilarated about the potential of our region.

WTM: What has been the most dramatic change in the industry since you first started?

Meaghan: The attention to the Finger Lakes region has been insane, even in the past few years. My grandfather Willy used to say "you can't even give away Finger Lakes Riesling on the streets of Manhattan!" and today we have Somms asking for it.

Sparkling Wine from Chateau Frank. Photo credit Gabriel Manzo

Sparkling Wine from Chateau Frank. Photo credit Gabriel Manzo

WTM: What do you love most about your work and why?

Meaghan: It sounds corny but I love working with my Dad. He is very patient with me and lets me take risks even though I am new to the business. We are a good team and complement each other well.  It is very rewarding to work in a family business environment because I know that all of my actions are building upon the future for my (future) children. In addition, I love listening to customers tell their stories about my great-grandparents and their visits to the winery back in the 60's. It really brings me back to the real reason of why we are continuing on his legacy.

 WTM: What do you think would surprise someone about your wine region?

 Meaghan: How deep the Finger Lakes are. Keuka Lake is 187 ft. deep, which is where we have our oldest vines. We also have plantings on Seneca where the lake gets to be 618 ft. deep. These deep glacial lakes moderate our climate. They are not too bad to have for a view either.

WTM: What challenges does your region face?

Meaghan: The cold winters and wild fluctuations in temperatures. You really have to be crazy to make wine in the Finger Lakes. It is one of the harshest locations to grow vinifera. However, the harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph!

WTM: Can you make a single prediction about the future of your wine region?

Meaghan: Traditional method sparkling wine will be the next big thing. Riesling will always be our #1, but our climate is perfect for traditional method sparkling. This style of wine is growing in popularity among American consumers every year. We make 6 traditional sparkling wines, an operation that my grandfather started back in 1985. I feel that in a few years, many more producers will be focusing on this style of wine.

WTM: What do you think will surprise someone visiting your wine region (winery, etc)?

Meaghan: The charm and authenticity of the region. The area is largely untouched by big business and developers and due to this, a sense of authenticity remains. The state parks, charming B&Bs, great restaurants and customer-service focused wineries all contribute to this. We have over 100 wineries!

Additionally, I think many would be surprised that the FLX also makes fantastic red wines. We have staked our reputation on Riesling (for good reason) but the red wines of the region tend to be gems in their own right. At Dr. Franks, along with many wineries in the region, we focus on Pinot Noir, Lemberger, Cabernet Franc and Saperavi. All of these cool-climate red varieties are not widely replicated in warmer climates which gives us an opportunity. Our reds have great depth, acidity and are very food friendly.

WTM: What was the first wine you remember tasting?

Meaghan: Dr. Frank's Gewurztraminer Reserve. It has a bit of botrytis and is intensely floral and perfumed. It is still one of my favorite wines.

A rainbow over Lake Keuka. Photo credit Gabriel Manzo

A rainbow over Lake Keuka. Photo credit Gabriel Manzo

WTM: What do you like to drink at home?  

Meaghan: High acid whites.

Is anyone terribly surprised?

Joanna Snawder is a contributor for Wine Tourist Magazine and writes regularly for her blog, Wine is my favorite snack. You can also find Joanna on Twitter and Facebook.