Sunday, September 13, 2015

Straight Outta Corning (NY)-- Highlights of #WBC15 Part I

As much as I love the camaraderie of WBC (see my post on that here), I don’t particularly love the noise and cacophony the event generates especially when it comes to wine tasting. I need some quiet time to contemplate the wines. I’ve even suggested WBC offer isolation booths for tasting in this post here.  But one thing I’ve learned over the years is even though the WBC hotel is convenient and the locus of all the after parties, I prefer to stay off site if possible just to maintain some sense of sanity.

This year I stayed at the Inn at the Gaffer Grille just above the Gaffer Grille and conveniently located just a few blocks from the conference hotel in downtown Corning, NY. My room was quite spacious with a small sitting area, galley kitchen, and a very comfortable bed. Oh and the rate I paid of all this was far, far, less than the Radisson. I highly recommend it.

I arrived on Wednesday and met up with Robert Larsen and Laura Fontana of Rodney Strong Vineyards and Regine Rousseau first time attendee and scholarship winner. We went to The Cellar for an opening glass of Riesling, then ended up at the Gaffer Grill for dinner. You know you are in the presence of fellow wine lovers when you spend more time looking at the wine list than the menu and select the second and third bottle of wine before your entrées arrive.

After dinner we strolled across the street to Hand + Foot for a nightcap. Over the next three days I would go toe-to-toe at Hand and Foot seven times. I guess you could say I had affection for the place or maybe it was an affliction. But I was instantly at ease there. I felt like Goldilocks, everything from the food, to the wine and cocktails, the music, and especially the welcoming vibe of the staff was just right. Hand and Foot became the ad hoc blogger hangout and Friday night the place was packed with badge wearing conference attendees.

I had the day to myself and took advantage of the time to wander about downtown Corning and visit many of the art galleries, shops, and a few of the restaurants including Pocoleum and Donna’s that had a great collection of vintage corning ware and pyrex on shelves above the tables. In addition to the many art galleries, hair salons seem to be plentiful in Corning, so if you arrive with your hair mussed you are in luck as the town had at least six hair salons that I passed on Market Street.

Galleries abound. One of the many works of glass art.

Center way Square Plaza was full of activity--on Thursday there was a farmers market and free music. Friday there was more live music, and on Saturday an Indian festival with music and a belly dancing demonstration was taking place.

The only weird thing about Corning is late at night it felt like a movie set, like it was a façade. At one point Regine and I both compared it to the Twilight Zone episode where a man gets off a train to find he is in a tiny town that turns out to be a kid’s doll house. Some of the storefronts seemed like they were not really open for business, just widow dressing. But the places that were open were more than welcoming and full of real life and hospitality. I walked back to my room at the Gaffer Inn many times late at night when I was the only person on the street and I felt perfectly safe.

Wines of Virginia Dinner--
I had the pleasure of attending the Early Mountain Vineyards dinner hosted by Frank Morgan at Hand + Foot. The last time I tasted through any wines of Virginia was in 2010 when I hosted a blogger tasting with Frank Morgan prior to WBC11. Dang, what a difference five years can make.

I was very impressed with the wines presented at the dinner, particularly the Veritas Viognier, Linden Chardonnay, and the Barboursville Cabaret Franc. I guess Virginia is not a region I can write off as being on the wrong coast anymore.

Sommelier Neal Wavra did an excellent job leading us through the wines and answering our (my)  questions about the region. And the dishes Hand + Foot matched with the wines were pitch perfect. Each course elevated the wines to their full potential and enjoyment from the fried buttermilk-brined poussin, to the country ham, hush puppies and boiled peanuts. The entire meal was a delight of Southern inspired flavors. Yes, there was kale, and it was divine with bacon and white beans.

Opening Reception Centennial Park -- 
Excellent set up with local Corning restaurants and winemakers pouring Finger Lakes wine. Ever since Penticton raised the bar on what makes a memorable event, subsequent locations have had their work cut out for them, but Finger Lakes set the tone for the weekend and delivered with grand style.

Len and Judy Wiltberger, Keuka Spring owners
One of my favorite wines at the reception was the Keuka Spring Gewürztraminer 2014, Dynamite Vineyard. Actually I liked all the Keuka Spring selections that owners Len and Judy Wiltberger poured, including the captivating Dry Rose that was a blend of Lemberger and Cabernet Franc; and the Vignoles, a hybrid grape that I’d never had before.

Canadian Wines After Party--
Canadians and Canadian wine. What more do you need for a great time? Add Jeff the Drunken Cyclist aka Sabering Fool into the mix and you get some drama (and blood) along with a decibel level approaching a jet take-off, and security knocking at the door.

Liquidity and Time

Inn at the Gaffer Grill 
Gaffer Grill
Keuka Spring Winery

Stay Tuned for:
Part II Straight Outta Corning WBC15
Part III Straight Outta Corning WBC15


  1. Looks like you had great digs for WBC! Thanks for coming to the Virginia wine dinner. See you in Lodi.

  2. I really wish I had had an extra day for exploring the town, and now you've made me wish it all the more. Going back to the Finger Lakes will definitely happen sooner than I expected before the WBC!

    1. I’m planing on going back too! I did not go on any of the pre or post excursions and want to see more of the Finger Lakes region. Corning will be my home base for further exploration.



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