Savoring History at Serenity Vineyards

This VinifeROC is written by the incredible Maiah Johnson, a Boston native who spends her days as a marketing professional and nights as a wine connoisseur. It was a trip to the Finger Lakes that inspired her to learn more about wine, and it remains one of her favorite regions. Learn more about her on her blog and follow her on Instagram

If you ask a wine person to list the wine(s) that made them want to become part of the wine industry, they’ll get a romantic look in their eyes as they reminisce about the moment that rocked their world. For me, that moment came after a 2-hour tasting with Bernard Cannac, the winemaker at Serenity Vineyards. Benefitting from a quiet tasting room during the off season, my boyfriend, Andy, and I found ourselves tasting Chardonnay, Dry Riesling, and Seyval Blanc straight from the tank. To this day, I struggle to find words beyond “wow” to describe the experience. Since then, Serenity has become a mainstay in my Finger Lakes wine vocabulary.

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About Serenity Vineyards

When you hear the name Serenity Vineyards, you probably picture a spa-like experience with instrumental music primed for putting you in a trance. Serenity Vineyards is not that place. It’s a very salt-of-the-earth, everyman kind of establishment; serving outstanding wines that do not match it’s outward appearance. But to be very clear: that’s why I love it.

Established in 1977, Serenity boasts over 70 acres of land on the west side of Seneca Lake. A good portion of the harvest yield is sold as grapes or juice to wineries in the Finger Lakes and the surrounding northeast region; but a small percentage is siphoned off for Serenity’s production.

Hailing from southern France, the winemaker honed his skills across 9 vintages and several award winning wines in the Long Island area before making a move to Heron Hill in 2010. In many ways, Serenity has been flying under the radar, but the hire of Bernard in 2015 is likely to be a big turning point for them.

Tasting at Serenity Vineyards

Serenity focuses primarily on dry vinifera, growing Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir. Serenity also grows hybrid grapes Sevyal Blanc and Cayuga. The winemaker is often behind the bar, if he’s not hard at work on his wines. The bar itself is actually pretty neat – guests can sign the boards during their tasting, and eventually they become part of the decor.

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We started with the 2016 Seyval Blanc. Andy and I were supposed to split the tastings, but he drank the entire pour (rude). Bernard’s immediate response to my scoff was “not to defend him, but this one is very refreshing.” And that it is. With vines at 41 years old, this is a perfect summer sipper with hints of green apple and apricot; a nice round mouthfeel with a touch of citrus. You can taste what mature vines does to fruit in this wine, and it’s exciting.

The 2013 Chardonnay was next, which is aged in Hungarian Oak. For me, the notes of vanilla and olive jumped out immediately. It’s nutty, buttery, and toasty. This Chardonnay is also a perfect bottle to study how temperature affects the flavor of a wine. Pour your first glass super cold, then let the bottle warm up as you drink (it’s my favorite party trick).

We moved on to the Rieslings next (of which Serenity offers 3), my favorite being the 2015 Dry Riesling. This bottling comes from Block 5 – the only block with botrytis (noble rot). By late August, the berries looked like raisins, meaning a heavily concentrated flavor was on the way. It immediately gives you hints of honeysuckle, wild flowers, and peach. It’s rich like a dessert wine, but not sweet. As Bernard says, “this is a wine that made itself – I just watched it.”

Aged in French Oak barrels, the 2012 Pinot Noir has a nice, big mouthfeel. It’s spicy and ripe, with hints of tobacco, and cherry. I’m told 2012 was a great year for Finger Lakes reds (hot and dry) and this wine is a perfect indication of that.

It’s impossible to come to Serenity and not taste the 2013 Mirth. A 50/50 blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, this wine is peppery, smoky, with a bit of spicy barn-yardiness and a push of dark berries. Bernard’s tip: leave this wine open for a few days (the ultimate decant) and you’ll catch a glimpse of how it’ll look in 5 – 10 years.

Sweet Serenity promises to be a line of it’s own. Currently available in white and blush, this will soon be available in sparking and red options in the coming years. The white features a blend of Cayuga and Seyval Blanc, while the blush offers Cayuga and Merlot. As a dry wine drinker, the coolest thing about these playful wines is that while both are sweet in name, they are incredibly palatable for the dry wine drinker. I’m not even going to tell you the RS – just go try them first, then ask after.

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Planning Your Visit

Hours: They are open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. 7 days a week. In the offseason, open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday – Tuesday.

Tasting Fees: $5 for five samples from their standard list or $15 for a pairing menu of 5 wines with 5 cheeses.

Group Tastings: Advanced reservations are required for groups of 7 or more. I’d recommend calling ahead at 5 and above as a courtesy to the staff.

Wine Prices: Bottles range from $10.99 to $26.99. Added bonus: $2 from your tasting fee goes towards your purchase of wine.

Other Amenities: Feel like enjoying the land? Order wine by the glass and sit outside. Alternatively, tastings can also be served on flight towers and enjoyed at your leisure if you wish. Stanley (the Vineyard cat) will likely join you for a few belly rubs.

Final Thoughts

Just down the street from Anthony Road and across from Seneca Shore, Serenity is not far off the beaten path if you’re already enjoying a weekend on Seneca Lake. Spend some time digging a little deeper with Bernard and he’ll come alive as he explains his process. With a winemaker so enthralled by the land and his trade, it’ll be exciting to see how Serenity evolves over the coming years.

All Photos by Maiah Johnson

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