The sign at the bottom of the hill says Domaine Leseurre Winery. Half way up the hill sits a small, unassuming, yellow, frame building overlooking Y-shaped Keuka Lake, one of the jewels of New York’s Finger Lakes Region. Recommended to us by a neighboring winery, my wife and I scale the steep drive knowing little more about the winery than it is owned by a French couple. The acreage in front of the tasting room (which doubles as a home) is bare, still being cleared. Behind the building the land is dotted with tree stumps. As yet, there is no evidence of grapevines, so ubiquitous in the Finger Lakes.
We stand at the entrance and look down the hillside to the lake, blue in early spring, a single boat in the distance, steep hills on the opposite shore, trees still barren yet ready. “We didn’t even know we had a view,” says Celine Leseurre, one of the owners, with a lilting French accent. While pouring samples of their excellent wines, she explains that they are clearing the land by hand because back-hoes might damage the soil in permanent ways, so delicate a process is the growing of grapes. Her husband, Sebastien, pops in briefly, welcomes us, speaks with his wife so fast that my high school French doesn’t stand a chance. Sebastien is from the Champagne region and Celine is from the Pyrenees in southwestern France. They met in New Zealand and married in the U.S. Between them, they have traveled to thirty-two countries learning the fine art of wine making. In 2011 they put down roots in Keuka Lake. Buying the finest grapes from the region, they are already producing wonderful wines, but, to date, they have not planted their first grapes.