Earlier this summer, I volunteered at a three-day event in upstate New York that supported the Finger Lakes wine region’s place on the global Riesling map, FLXcursion, the brainchild of Oskar Bynke, co-owner of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, and Kelby Russell, Head Winemaker at Red Newt Cellars and Winemaker for Empire Estate.

In April, 2018, Oskar and Kelby were on a plane returning from an event promoting Finger Lakes wines and discussed an opportunity to piggy-back on the upcoming 2019 Riesling Rendezvous, a riesling-focused event that started nearly two decades ago. Riesling Rendezvous is held every three years, hosted by Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Estate, and last held in 2016 in Seattle, Washington. In previous years it was held in Germany and Australia on a rotating basis.

Another global celebration of Riesling that inspired FLXcursion is City of Riesling, which was held every other year in Traverse City, Michigan, most recently in 2018.

Photo: Tom Ende Photography

The purpose of all of these events is to bring together experts and producers from around the world, exploring the versatility of the riesling grape, to discuss challenges and possibilities of advancing riesling wines as well as creating global alliances among producers and Riesling enthusiasts.

The organizers of the 2019 Riesling Rendezvous were happy to coordinate, but then later canceled their event stating as Oskar noted, “You are it in North America.” So Kelby and Oskar decided to move forward with the event and with a tremendous amount of local support they created FLXcursion.

Following a format similar to Riesling Rendezvous and City of Riesling, the event consisted of a Grand Tasting (open to the public), and exclusive seminars led by producers, scientists, media and other industry professionals.

Kelby and Oskar wanted it to be somewhat of an adventure on different levels. A roving conference. Not all in one place.

The conference was centered in Geneva, NY on the north end of Seneca Lake, but seminars took place in many wineries including; Boundary Breaks, Ravines Wine Cellars, Red Newt Cellars, Forge Cellars, Sheldrake Point Winery, Heron Hill Winery, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Anthony Road Wine Company and Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard.

This was an opportunity to show off our beautiful Finger Lakes area, with lake views and beautiful natural landscapes. They also wanted to make sure there was a fun factor to the event, with lots of music including Jazz on the Lakefront, riesling-speed dating and the creation of lasting camaraderie of attendees.

Photo: Tom Ende Photography

I was kept very busy, opening, sorting, checking and pouring wines for the event. The wines were well selected and offered delicious examples of wines from many areas of the world. Great tasting rieslings were from Galen Glen Vineyard (Pennsylvania), Jim Barry Wines (Australia) along with delicious wines from Eroica (Washington), Brooks (Oregon), Donnhoff, Selbach and Loosen from Germany and of course many great Rieslings from the Finger Lakes.

There was also a surprise wine for me, a lovely Riesling from Israel made by Sphera in the Judean Hills!

The event was sponsored, but the seminars were not, allowing for neutral wines and providing a diverse mix of speakers including Cornell professors, sommeliers, media and producers.

Using their Rolodexes, and leveraging their contacts they were able to get some stars of the wine industry to speak at the seminars, including Nova Cadamatre; MW, Patrick Comiskey; Wine & Spirits Magazine, Anna Katharine Mansfield; Cornell University, Mary Ewing Mulligan; MW, IWC, WSET, Stuart Pigott; Riesling Critic, David Schildknecht; Vinous Media, Tom Barry; Jim Barry Wines, Cornelius Donnhoff; Donnhoff, Ernst Loosen; Weingut Dr. Loosen, Johannes Selbach; Selbach Oster, and many others.

Photo: Tom Ende Photography

The event was a huge success, selling out early, with more than 500 participants, which included the conference attendees and the public who attended the Grand Tasting. There were 165 conference attendees of which roughly one third split between winery attendees, sommeliers/wine buyers, and wine writers. There were 50 wineries present at the conference, from six states, two Canadian provinces, and seven countries

For some interesting statistics, I reached out to Peter Becraft, winemaker, Anthony Road Wine Company, who was a very important part of the wine logistics, managing 25 volunteers who processed 135 different wines; which is just over 1050 bottles that had to be opened and checked.

For the Grand Tasting there were 320 wines, 1280 bottles. An impressive 5,000 glasses were used, some purchased, some rented. There were a total of 100 volunteers across all the various committees.

This event was completely run by volunteers, another example of the wonderful camaraderie in the Finger Lakes region, a community that supports each other. People exhibited a lot of pride in our wines and our region.

When asked if they plan to do it again there was a resounding positive, “We can’t not do it again” said Oskar, whose response was echoed by Kelby and Becraft.

So be sure to look for it in 2-3 years, because you won’t want to miss it!

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