For all our natural beauty and wine industry dynamism, the Finger Lakes are perennially mentioned as a “best-kept secret” when it comes to wine, food, and tourism. Two weeks ago that secret officially got out.

From July 21-23, Geneva was the center of the vinous world as 150 winemakers, wine writers, sommeliers, and experts from across the globe came into town. The occasion? The first ever FLXcursion: A “roving” conference that celebrated Riesling wines from across the world, while taking visitors across the Finger Lakes for three remarkable days. And thanks to everyone in this community, it was a phenomenal success.

The festivities began with a bang — and the most scenic backdrop possible — a public Grand Tasting on the Seneca Lakefront. Featuring over 300 wines from producers attending the FLXcursion, this tasting was an opportunity to try rare Rieslings from around the world, poured by the person who made them. Meanwhile, courtesy of Stomping Grounds, a book fair was organized to feature the attending wine writers and autographed copies of their work.

From there the conference started in earnest. A Welcome Dinner at the stunning Finger Lakes Welcome Center treated attendees to the regional classic, chicken BBQ. Two full days of seminars followed, with 13 expert-paneled seminars occurring across nine wineries. A “Riesling Crawl” one evening featured five different wine regions, each buying out a restaurant in downtown Geneva, allowing conference attendees to visit them all and taste their way around the Riesling world. And at the conclusion, a Farewell Dinner at Kindred Fare was a fitting send-off to new friends, wines, and insights.

But what was the motivation? Simply put, when Oskar Bynke and I first started brainstorming, it was because we believed the Finger Lakes deserved an “International Coming Out Party,” a chance to claim our place in the wine world. In the afterglow of the event, it’s clear the event exceeded even those lofty expectations. Whether from London, Shanghai, Germany, or Australia, whether winemaker, writer, or seller, the response has been overwhelming: The FLXcursion was an epoch-defining moment for the Finger Lakes.

The Finger Lakes dared to invite the best in the world to our home, put our wines on the same stage, and prove that we belong.

Just as important, however, is that it was more than our wines that impressed. So too did our hospitality. Many of the attendees have been to conferences organized by professional event planners at great expense, but there is no substitute for what a community united by local spirit can do. It suffuses a conference with something that cannot be purchased: joy.

And for this, we have more people to thank than we can possibly list. How do you procure, polish, and deliver 6,500 wine glasses? How do you inventory, distribute, and test over 2,500 bottles of 332 different wines? How do you set up an epic wine tasting on the lakefront? All this was the result of an unprecedented outpouring of volunteers that made sure the FLXcursion was all that it could be.

With that said, we do have some special thank yous to give:

To Farm Credit East, before any other major sponsors signed on, you put your full support behind the wineries of this region and the FLXcursion to make sure this dream came true.

To Wegmans, it is clear that we found a partner that perfectly shared our vision for the FLXcursion and only seemed more motivated by our own ambitions. What Grand Tasting has ever had specially selected, locally made, cheeses and garnishes meant to pair with its wines? Or passionate cheesemongers with the same passion for what they were sharing as the winemakers surrounding them? To live in the Finger Lakes is to love Wegmans, but it is clear you feel the same way in return.

To Geneva Community Projects, it is no exaggeration to say that you provided the foundation and community support upon which this entire conference was built.

To the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, your members ensured that the best of our region was always brilliantly represented.

To the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, your support helped us prove that the FLXcursion was a coup for the entire state Wine Industry.

To the City of Geneva and myriad city employees who worked with us, your expertise allowed us to make Geneva the center of this conference and show why we “Love Geneva.”

And to the Finger Lakes community, we are forever in your debt. While driving the wine writer Dr. Jamie Goode back to his hotel very late one night, he marveled at our community’s passion and support, at how much more energy he felt here than in much larger conferences in much larger cities.

We couldn’t agree more. We’ll see you for round two!

Kelby James Russell and Oskar Bynke are co-organizers of The FLXcursion and passionate fans of the Finger Lakes. In their day jobs, when they aren’t up until 1 a.m. conference planning, Oskar is co-owner of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard and Standing Stone Vineyards while Kelby is the winemaker for Red Newt Cellars and Empire Estate Wines.

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