by Chris Clemens
I published the Finger Lakes NON-Wine Trail last April with the intention of highlighting some of the region’s non-alcoholic craft beverages. There were a number of spots on the list that only had items available near the grape harvest in autumn so I’ve been circling back around to revisit a couple. Now that fall is upon us and the grape harvest has begun, a bunch of Finger Lakes vineyards have begun pressing the fruit and making juice. Though most of the stuff pressed at the vineyards will ultimately be turned into wine, many people will choose to enjoy it as a really great locally sourced, no-preservatives-added grape juice. I recently visited Fulkerson Winery on Seneca Lake right in Dundee, New York on Route 14 to checkout their long line of juices and majorly increase my options.
Fulkerson has deep roots in the Finger Lakes. The land they operate on was first settled in 1805 by Caleb Fulkerson who made his way here from New Jersey. Today, the entire farm is now owned and cared for by the seventh and eighth generations of the family. They’ve had grapes on the farm since the early days, but in the 1960’s the vineyard was expanded and winemaking operations grew exponentially. One of the things that makes Fulkerson unique is that they grow the fruit, process on site to juice and then also do the winemaking. The wines available in house are made with grapes literally grown right out back. That means that Fulkerson is able to oversee the entire process from vine to glass.
With 110 acres of grapes growing on the property, much of what Fulkerson presses into juice is sold to other winemakers. Notable wineries across the state as well as home-hobbyists line up each week to purchase freshly pressed, unpasteurized juices made with a whole bunch of grape varieties.
Many of the wine varietals get their name directly from a grape. So, there’s a DeChaunac grape, a Riesling grape, a Chardonnay grape, etc. Each grape is harvested at a very scientifically designated time, and pressed into juice. In turn, a winemaker wanting to create a variety of Riesling would purchase a Riesling juice, and then send it through their own personal process to ferment and create their brand of wine.
Technically, the juice sold at most vineyards is not intended to be consumed as is because it’s unpasteurized. But, because of the acidity levels in a grape, along with the fact that grapes are pressed just hours after they’ve left the vine, it means that a fresh, unpasteurized grape juice is as safe to consume as you can get. It’s totally still possible to have a really great glass of juice that’s been pasteurized and had the legally-necessary preservatives added, but the fresh, unadulterated stuff is an outstanding flavor like no other.
The fresh, unpasteurized stuff will begin to naturally ferment after about 8-10 days. So, I put it in small bottles like these, and freeze it. Throughout the year when I’m not always up for driving around the Finger Lakes, I thaw it and drink super fresh, locally sourced, super healthy and natural grape juice.
Welch’s is probably one of the most notable commercially available grape juices we’ve got here in the U.S. If you’re a fan of the Welch’s red grape juice, you might find it interesting to know that not only does Fulkerson supply some of the Concord grapes to Welch’s for their juice, but they were one of the first to land a contract to do so!
Fulkerson also has a bunch of other items they grow on site. If you’re looking for a great Finger Lakes fall experience, you can pick apples, asparagus, and even Concord grapes before heading in to sample their long list of award winning wines. And, if you’re looking to bring that juice home to make your own wine, they also have a large stock of home brewing equipment and even host classes!
If you’re like me, you’re still wondering a bit about some of Fulkerson’s history. Legend has it, that when Caleb first arrived on this hillside overlooking Seneca Lake, he jammed his walking stick in the ground to stake his territory. That same stick took root and later, the mature tree’s destiny was to become caskets for both Caleb and his wife. They were buried in a small family plot near where that tree once stood, overlooking one of the best views of Seneca Lake and surrounded by grapes.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens