Here me out, I will certainly get to this question. But first, mea culpa.
It’s rather pathetic that with as often as I am in New York I visited the Finger Lakes for the first time a couple of weeks ago. One can easily argue that this is one of last places you’d want to be in the winter but there are at least four months out of the year when the sheer beauty of the area is not dampened by temperatures unfit for someone who lives in California. Also, I have to admit that the trip was not planned in advance, not more than 24 hours, but conceived after other travel plans to the Catskills fell through. Now that I’ve completely endeared myself to just about everyone who lives and works in this part of New York, let’s move on.
From a geological standpoint, this region is fascinating and it is hardly surprising that the surrounding universities have renowned agriculture and science departments. Glacial lobes created the 11 lakes at the end of the last ice age, 17,000 years ago. Cayuga and Seneca are the largest and most of wineries are scattered around these two bodies of water. Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is based at the southern end of Cayuga and more than any other institution, it wields huge influence over the area. Seneca is bookended by Watkins Glen in the south You can go on a walking tour of the waterfalls in town. I didn’t, opting instead to catch up on sleep, but next time I’m in the area – and there will be a next time – it will be part of the agenda, for sure.
Geneva, home to Hobart and William Smith College, is at the northern tip. Seneca is the deepest lake in New York State and it very rarely freezes over. The eastern bank, locally known as the “banana belt,” is warmer and many consider it the best spot in the entire region for red grapes. Notably, Seneca’s southernmost vineyards are actually colder than those further north where the lake is deeper.
Researchers in the 1980’s found that the underlying bedrock was much more eroded than previously realized and that before, during and after the glacial periods it was filled in with sediment. Long, winding sand and gravel ridges known as “eskers” were also discovered underneath the lakes. Most of the region has what is called “Honeoye” soil, well draining loamy topsoil on top of limestone or shale.
If you haven’t already heard, Riesling is king of the whites; Cabernet Franc is the queen of the reds or something like that. Gewurztraminer does well here as does Chardonnay, which is used to make sparkling wines in addition to still. Pinot Noir and Gamay, grapes that also thrive in the Loire Valley, are well suited to the Finger Lakes terroir. Gruner Veltliner and Blaufrankisch are a little trendy. I tasted a few and as makes sense, the better producers seemed to have more of a handle on these grapes. Numerous hybrids are grown but they are usually reserved for the less expensive wines and seem to be falling out of favor.
After a quick three-day trip, two hours which were wasted in a midnight traffic jam in New Jersey, I’m hardly an expert on the area but learned quite a bit. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about its similarities to the Loire Valley. Very few producers are making wine that is on par with even the above average Loire vignerons yet I really do think the potential is here and not far from being realized. No one exemplifies this more than Bloomer Creek.
Bloomer Creek Vineyard
Nearly everyone I met said that it is impossible to be organic or make natural wine in the Finger Lakes. However, Debra Bermingham and Kim Engle of Bloomer Creek Vineyard doth protest. If their wines didn’t have so much inherent purity and intricacy I’d just mention this as a point of interest and move on. Yet, that would be a massive disservice as this is one of the best producers in North America.
Engle and Bermingham planted their first vines 30 years ago, and they haven’t used herbicides or insecticides over the last 20. They made their first commercial wine in 1999 and since 2008 have used ambient yeast fermentation exclusively. There’s the dateline.
Located in Hector, a town on the east side of Seneca Lake, Bloomer Creek has a tasting room but it is way less commercial than the others and they have very limited hours. That is not to say they don’t welcome visitors but with just one employee they’re a bit short-handed.
Up until now all of the fruit has come from two adjacent vineyards on the west side of Cayuga Lake. The Auten Vineyard was planted first, 20 years ago, and is on shale while Morehouse Road is now 16 years old and is on limestone. They use Scott-Henry trellising, a split canopy system devised at the Henry Winery in Oregon that provides greater sun exposure and airflow.
Instead of chemicals, Bloomer Creek uses fish, seaweed, and compost preparations in the vineyards to help combat disease. A tractor mounted hydraulic hoe removes weeds and this is about as high tech as they get. Don’t expect to see sterile, neat rows either as buckwheat, rye and clover run wild. Copper and sulfur is applied to control fungus and mildew.
Bloomer Creek manually harvests all of its grapes and ferments in small lots, with blending coming later on. Most of the wines are not fined or filtered. The reds are hit with five to ten ppm of SO2 during fermentation and a touch of sulfur is added before bottling.
In 2012, they planted a new site, Barrow Vineyard, which means high rocky hill and burial mountain. Appropriately, Debra’s mother’s ashes were scattered around a cedar tree in the middle of this 12-acre plot; depending on how metaphysical you want to get, this vineyard is likely to have unique terroir. The view is stunning, not that there are any bad looks in the Finger Lakes, but as far as final resting places go, it is on par with the spooky spots on the California coastline or Central Park, at least in my book.
Debra Bermingham in Bloomer Creek’s Barrow Vineyard
Debra is also an artist. Her work has been featured at the DC Moore Gallery in Chelsea and currently, she has a show at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. I did not have a chance to meet Kim, but supposedly the picture of him on the website looking like a gentleman farmer is pre-hipster ironic. At any rate, both Debra and Kim seem to be pretty unconventional people and this spirit is apparent in the wines.
They take issue with most of the other wineries who seem to think that you cannot make stable, delicious wines without playing god. While there might be a sense of isolation now, Debra is optimistic about the future of natural winemaking in the Finger Lakes. “Part of the excitement of being a pioneer is getting to be part of the history of what this area will be about.” I hope she’s right.
It turned out to be an epic tasting. Here are my notes.
Bloomer Creek Vineyard Pétillant Chardonnay, 2012, Finger Lakes AVA, ($24)
Hand harvested from 15-year-old vines, de-stemmed, crushed and fermented in 55-gallon stainless steel barrels for ten months. Unfined and unfiltered. 1% residual sugar, 11.5% alcohol
Petnats are all the rage at the moment in many places but not in the Finger Lakes, where most sparkling wines are méthode Champenoise or charmat. Nonetheless, this wine is what I expect from petnat – it’s straightforward and refreshing – with hints of apples and a clean finish.
Bloomer Creek Vineyard Pétillant Cabernet Franc, 2013, Finger Lakes AVA, ($28)
Hand harvested from 15 – 20-year-old vines grown on silty loam. Whole clusters and crushed grapes were fermented in 55-gallon stainless steel tanks for five months, transferred to bottle to finish fermentation, disgorged, splashed with a little SO2 and capped without fining or filtration, 12.1 alcohol
The Chardonnay petnat is a fine summer sipper, but I’d take the Cab Franc with me all the way through the fall and into the frigid Finger Lakes winter. Mineral driven with raspberries and a little spice, it goes where no other American Pétillant that I’ve tried has gone before. Seriously.
Tanzen is a German word, and Bloomer Creek uses it for its wines made from Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and the Edelzwicker.
Tanzen Dame Dry Riesling, Auten Vineyard, Clone 10, 2013, Finger Lakes AVA ($28)
Hand harvested, fermented and aged in stainless steel barrels for five months, unfined, lightly filtered and has in total about 30 ppm of sulfur, 10.5% alcohol
This clone is a Martini Monte Rosso selection meaning it originated in the fairly new Moon Mountain AVA in Sonoma that is hardly a place where anyone would think to grow Riesling today. Go figure. Composed of grapes from a one-acre parcel planted in 2011, the fruit is young but the wine shows youthful promise. Roughly kabinett level in terms of sweetness, it is super refreshing with crunchy fruit, a touch of honey in the nose and a dry, vibrant and mouth-watering finish.
Tanzen Dame Dry Riesling, Auten Vineyard, Clone 10, 2nd Harvest, 2013, Finger Lakes AVA ($28)
Hand harvested, vinified in 55-gallon stainless steel barrels for eight months from both whole cluster fruit and crushed grapes, unfined, lightly filtered with about 30 ppm of total sulfur, 11.3% alcohol
The 2nd Harvest is roughly the equivalent to a spätlese, even though the residual sugar is under 1%. This wine was a little shy at first but as it sat in my glass, it started to undress, revealing its contours without showing a lot of flesh. Mineral driven with honey and stone fruits, it needs time for sure, but you can drink it now.
Tanzen Dame Dry Riesling Auten Vineyard, Clone 10, 2nd Harvest, 2012, Finger Lakes AVA ($40)
Hand harvested, vinified in 55-gallon stainless steel barrels for eight months from both whole cluster fruit and crushed grapes, unfined, lightly filtered with about 30 ppm of total sulfur, 11.3% alcohol
While 2012 was one of the warmest vintages in the Finger Lakes on record and this Riesling is hardly lacking acidity, it is not as svelt as the 2013. A little awkward at first, the fruit made a late appearance, in the form of green apples and after an hour or so it started to fill out.
Bloomer Creek Tanzen Dame Dry Gewurztraminer, 2013, Finger Lakes AVA ($20)
Hand harvested from 15 – 20-year-old vineyards on lima silty loam, destemmed, cold soaked for 48 hours, vinified in 55-gallon steel barrels for seven months, unfined and unfiltered. 12.3% alcohol
Two days of skin contact not only enhanced the already aromatic nature of this grape but also gave some texture to the wine. While not in your face, it is unmistakably Gewurz with unapologetic lychee and rose petal aromas yet it shows restraint on the palate and a good backbone of acidity.
Bloomer Creek Rose, Pinot Noir, 2013, Finger Lakes AVA ($20)
Using both whole clusters and crushed fruit, the rose was vinified in 55-gallon steel barrels for seven months at cellar temperature and bottled without fining or filtration. 12.1 alcohol
Some of fruit came from ungrafted 25 plus year old vines. That’s ancient for the Finger Lakes. Sadly, phylloxera has taken its toll, so Kim and Debra had to replant most of the Pinot Noir. The tighter clusters are reserved for the red wine while the other fruit is lightly pressed and turned into the rose. While this is a refreshing quaffer, it also has a little more going on than the standard picnic rose with floral notes and rose hip tea in the nose but I wouldn’t over analyze…just enjoy.
Bloomer Creek Pinot Noir, 2010, 2012, Finger Lakes AVA ($30)
Bloomer Creek’s sources its Pinot Noir from both the Auten and Morehouse Vineyards and contains some of the fruit from the oldest vines. Hand harvested, partially destemmed and fermented with whole clusters in one ton open top fermenters for two to three weeks at cellar temperature, stems were added back in during fermentation, left on its gross lees for ten to eleven months in French older French oak, blended and bottled unfined and unfiltered. 2010 – 12.6% alcohol, 2012 – 12.2% alcohol
I went back and forth between the ’10 and ’12. Tight at first, both opened up in the glass, but the ’10 jumped out ahead and the 2012 never quite caught up. Debra said that 2010 was “warm and glorious.” As a rule, Finger Lakes Pinot Noir is closer to German spätburgunder stylistically than West Coast Pinot Noir but I’d put Bloomer Creeks somewhere in between. The 2010 reminded me of McKinlay from Oregon with dried blueberries, cherries and floral overtones. The 2012 seems to be on its way there but is less developed.
Vin d’ete Cabernet Franc-Gamay, 2012, Finger Lakes AVA ($22)
Cabernet Franc 60%, Gamay 40%. Partial carbonic maceration with whole clusters added to crushed grapes in open top fermenters, aged in 60-gallon Hungarian oak and stainless steel barrels for ten months, unfined and unfiltered. 11.5% alcohol
When the sun does not shine down on Cabernet Franc – literally – Bloomer Creek makes Vin d’ete instead. In days gone by some would have called Vin d’ete a “wimpy wine” but now that lighter reds are having their day, I would expect to see this in natural wine bars, especially in New York. Brambly and bright, drink it lightly chilled.
Bloomer Creek Café Red, NV, Finger Lakes AVA ($17)
Cabernet Franc 75%, Corot Noir and Noiret 15%, Merlot 10%. Hand harvested, crushed and destemmed, two-week open top fermentation with the stems added back, aged in older French, American and Hungarian oak with its lees, unfined and unfiltered. $12
The Café Red is meant to be exactly what it says it is – an inexpensive, easy to drink bistro wine. Light and juicy with high toned fruit, this is Finger Lakes glou glou at its finest.
Bloomer Creek White Horse Red, 2010, Finger Lakes AVA ($45)
70% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot. Hand harvested, mechanically crushed, with stems and some whole clusters added back during fermentation, open top fermentation for two to three weeks, aged in older French oak barrels for one year on the gross lees, and bottled unfined and unfiltered. 12.5% alcohol
A night of Bordeaux debauchery with the ’82 Chateau Cheval Blanc as the centerpiece inspired Kim and Debra to make White Horse Red. It is notably earthier than the Cabernet Franc with leather and horsehide in the nose merged with black fruits and cocoa powder on the palate. A long, moderately tannic finish suggests it’s not taking a dive any time soon. My best guess is that it will hit a high point in five years, give or take, when it is about ten years old.
Bloomer Creek Cabernet Franc, 2010, 2013, Finger Lakes AVA ($30)
Hand harvested from 16 – 25-year-old vines, partially destemmed and fermented with whole clusters in one ton open top fermenters for two to three weeks at cellar temperature, stems were added back in during fermentation, left on its gross lees for ten to eleven months in French older French oak, blended and bottled unfined, unfiltered and unsulfured. 2010 – 12.4% alcohol, 2012 – 12.6% alcohol
A lot of Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc smells like bell pepper and while I don’t mind that, Bloomer Creek’s is pleasantly different. If they can’t get the grapes as ripe as they would like they make Vin d’Ete instead. I tried the 2010, which was showing a ton of fruit – not in an obnoxious way – and a dash of black pepper next to the 2013, which had a matrix of spice, floral tones, blueberries and pepperoni. Both wines have a way to go but decanting should help if you lack patience.
Hermann J. Wiemer
Hermann J. Wiemer is one of the oldest wineries in the Finger Lakes. I’ve had their wines over the years – 25 to be exact – and have regarded them as the benchmark by which to judge others. Now, they are carried in California by Farm Wine Imports, an extremely discriminating company that has a strong preference for natural leaning wines. Compared to Bloomer Creek it might be a stretch to call Wiemer “natural” but when it comes to their growing and vinification practices, they are head and shoulders above nearly everyone else in the area.
Hermann J. Wiemer purchased a farm in Dundee in 1973 and planted the first vineyard on a shale plot in 1976, now known as the Hermann J. Wiemer or HJW Vineyard. From a winemaking family in the Mosel, Wiemer – the man – caught the bug early on and worked and studied viticulture and enology in Germany before immigrating to the United States in 1960. When he started his label, it was the 6th winery in the Finger Lakes.
Fred Merwarth, Wiemer’s assistant, and a friend of his from Cornell, Oskar Bynke, bought the property in 2003 and started moving in a sustainable direction. While they are not entirely chemical free, horse manure and cover crops are used instead of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, and spraying is kept to a minimum.
Today, the winery works with two other vineyards in addition to the original site: Magdalena and Josef. HJW has the coolest microclimate and even within the vineyard there is some variation. Last winter, some rows went down to -17 whiles others were a balmier -13. It has thin, gravelly topsoil on shale and is 800 feet above sea level.
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard Riesling, 2012
Josef, named after Hermann’s father, which is closer to the lake is slightly warmer. First planted to Gewurztraminer in 1967, Wiemer actually grafted some of the older vines for the Taylor Wine Company in on this land in 1977, and he bought it in 1996. It has gravel topsoil on shale rock.
Magdalena, named after as you might have guessed, Hermann’s mother, is also near the lake but since it is further north it is yet warmer than Josef. A pretty big swath of grapes are planted including reds. Another major difference from the other vineyards is that it has limestone, not shale. Merwarth feels that this gives the Riesling a distinct fruit profile of lemon that eventually becomes more tropical. On the contrary, he’s noticed that Riesling from shale soil vineyards start out with a lime profile that turns into green apple.
The white wines undergo native ferments and starting this vintage the red wines will as well. Sulfur is added at the end of fermentation after filtration and before bottling. Merwarth told me that total SO2 never exceeds 100 ppm.
I started out with a dry Riesling flight and we went from there. Here are the highlights:
Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Magdalena Vineyard, 2013, Lake Seneca AVA ($36)
Hand harvested from 15 year old vines, whole cluster pressed, seven month cold fermentation, unfined and unfiltered, .8 residual sugar, 12.5% alcohol
Vibrant with tart, barely ripe peach and a long, clean finish, the aloof immaturity is part its charm but if you’re a Riesling nerd you might want to try this wine again in a few years when it grows up.
Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Magdalena Vineyard, 2014, Lake Seneca AVA ($36)
Hand harvested from 16-year-old vines, whole cluster pressed, seven-month cold fermentation, unfined and unfiltered.
The ’14 is really tightly wound but it has great acidity and intense minerality so I’d bet the farm I’ll never have it’s going to be great by the end of the decade.
Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling, Josef Vineyard, 2013, Lake Seneca AVA ($39)
Hand harvested, some vines going back to the 70’s, whole cluster pressed, seven month cold fermentation, unfined and unfiltered, 4.3 % residual sugar, 11% alcohol
The 2013 Josef has considerably more residual sugar than the Magdalena and is much flashier at the moment, exuding an array of stone fruits and minerals. It reminded me a bit of a southern Rheingau spätlese and considering that there is a lot of shale in that part of Germany, especially near the town of Nierstein, that makes complete sense.
Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling, 2014, Lake Seneca AVA ($18.50)
HJW Vineyard 65%, Josef Vineyard 23%, Magdalena Vineyard 12%. Hand harvested, whole cluster pressed, seven-month cold fermentation, unfined and unfiltered,09 residual sugar, 12% alcohol
Right now this vineyard blend is pretty exuberant with tropical, stone and citrus fruits, racy acidity, and a long, tangy finish. It should drink well through the end of the decade.
Hermann J. Wiemer Reserve Riesling, 2013, Lake Seneca AVA ($29)
HJW 46%, Josef 37%, Magdalena 17%. Hand harvested, whole cluster pressed, seven-month cold fermentation, unfined and unfiltered, .8 % residual sugar, 12.5% alcohol
The “Reserve” is made from the warmest sites in the three vineyards and is meant to be akin to a spätlese trocken. Minerally, with citrus and tart stone fruit, it is very old world…I’d probably place it somewhere on the Rhein if I had it blind. Ideally, stash away a few bottles somewhere cool and forget it’s there until Chelsea Clinton runs for president.
Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling HJW, 2013, Lake Seneca AVA ($39)
Hand harvested from 38 year old vines, whole cluster pressed, seven month cold fermentation, unfined and unfiltered, .8 % residual sugar, 12.3% alcohol
Anyone who enjoys tart green apples will love how this wine is showing at the moment. The tightest of the dry Rieslings I tasted, it may also be among the longest-lived. The acidity is intense which in combination with a penetrating minerality gives it a crunchy, angular texture.
Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Gruner Veltliner, Josef Vineyard, 2014, Lake Seneca AVA ($36)
Hand harvested from three to five year old vines, whole cluster pressed, seven month cold fermentation, unfined and unfiltered, .05 residual sugar, 12% alcohol
HJW’s Gruner Veltliner is the most on target I’ve had from the Finger Lakes with plenty of acid, a touch of white peach and a feint note of bee pollen. Planted in 2008, 09 and 11, the vines are still maturing but all indications are that at Wiemer at least, Gruner is a keeper.
Hermann J. Wiemer Rosé Cuvee, NV, Lake Seneca AVA ($13.50)
Pinot Noir 60%, Cabernet Franc 20%, Chardonnay 20%. Saignée with barrel fermented Chardonnay, 11% alcohol
The “Cuvee” wines are cheap and cheerful and since that is what most people seem to want from rose, this wine will hit just about anyone’s spot.
Hermann J. Wiemer Gewurztraminer, 2013, Lake Seneca AVA ($25)
Josef and Magdalena Vineyards. Hand harvested from 20 – 47-year-old vines, whole cluster pressed, seven-month cold fermentation, unfined and unfiltered, 1.4% residual sugar, 12.5% alcohol
Partially sourced from the original plot planted in 1967, this is a delightful, perfectly balanced Gewurztraminer. Not too tart, not too sweet, it brims over with lychee, rose petals, apricots and citrus.
Hermann J. Wiemer Cabernet Franc, 2013, Seneca Lake AVA ($24.50)
Hand harvested from 10 – 15-year-old vines, ten months in older French oak punchdowns, fermented in 100 gallon lots, unfined and unfiltered, 13% alcohol
This cuvée is made from Magdalena fruit and purchased grapes from Seneca Lake. It has a classic black olive, roasted red pepper nose, with plum, berry fruit on the palate and a noticeable finish.
Hermann J. Wiemer Cabernet Franc Magdalena Vineyard, 2013, Seneca Lake AVA ($32)
Hand harvested, fermented in new and old French oak in 100 gallon lots, aged in Hungarian oak, unfined and unfiltered, 12.8% alcohol
A little disjointed at the moment, this single vineyard Cabernet Franc will undoubtedly come together as it has fruit, structure and balance, probably turning in a corner in three to five years.
Hermann J. Wiemer Cuvée Brut, 2011, Seneca Lake AVA ($32)
Chardonnay 65%, Pinot Noir 35%, HJW and Magdalena Vineyards. Hand harvested from 15 – 35-year-old vines, whole cluster pressed, cold fermentation, Méthode Champenoise, unfined and unfiltered, disgorged March 2014, 12% alcohol
The first HJW wine I ever tried was one of the sparklings though I’d be embellishing this story if I said I could remember which one. At any rate, I was young and dumb but remember thinking that it was much better than any of the sparkling wines being made in California at the time and pretty much, that still holds true. The Chardonnay comes from the coolest rows of the HJW Vineyard. Disgorged in January of this year, it has a yeasty, buttered brioche-like nose, with apple and almonds but in spite of the opulence, the acidity cuts the richness on the palate, and especially on the finish leaves an elegant mark.
Hermann J. Wiemer Blanc de Noir, 2011, Lake Seneca ($39)
Hand harvested, whole cluster pressed, cold fermentation, Méthode Champenoise, unfined and unfiltered
Composed entirely of Pinot Noir from Magdalena, Wiemer’s Blanc de Noir is a rare treat. Hyper minerally with traces of toasted almonds and cherries, it is pretty intense and requires more thought than the Brut, and probably food, too.
Hermann J. Wiemer Sauvignon Blanc Magdalena Vineyard, 2012 – BA, Seneca Lake AVA, ($52.50)
Hand harvested November 1 – 5, 2012, whole cluster pressed, cold fermentation, 17.4 residual sugar, 10.5% alcohol
Spicy, with lemon, pineapple and honey, this is a dessert wine I can drink in some quantity (meaning maybe a 2.5-ounce glass) as it has loads of acidity and finishes clean.
Wiemer Dessert Wines
Hermann J. Wiemer Chardonnay Magdelena Vineyard, 2010 – BA, Seneca Lake AVA ($37)
Hand harvested November 1 – 5, 2010, whole cluster pressed, cold fermentation, 17.6% residual sugar, 10% alcohol
Superbly balanced with searing acidity, vanilla mint, apples and honey.
Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Magdalena Vineyard, 2012 – BA, Seneca Lake AVA, ($85)
Hand harvested November 12 – 15, 2012, whole cluster pressed, cold fermentation, 29.4 % residual sugar, 7.2% alcohol
Now we’re getting into the territory of dessert wine where I can’t really drink much more than a thimble full. However, I would relish every drop here. With ripe apricots, lychee, guava and honey, this is as much dessert as anyone should ever need.
Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Josef Vineyard, 2011 – TBA, Seneca Lake AVA, ($135)
Hand harvested November 1 – 8, 2011, whole cluster pressed, cold fermentation, 38.7% residual sugar, 7.1% alcohol
Though balanced, I could only have a few sips of this TBA. This said, if you like dessert wines, this is hedonistically luscious, with stone fruit compote, lychee and honey.
My information on Shaw is pretty scant. I stopped off here on the way to Wiemer for a quickie. The person in the tasting room was pretty new and did not have that much information about the wines and my email has gone unanswered. This much I can say; the vineyard was a bit of an unruly mess and that is a good thing. It’s alive! A host of grapes are grown with rows of Gewurztraminer not being more than 50 feet from the Cabernet. I’ve been told that Shaw is better known for its reds but I thought that the whites were showing better and that the Gewurztraminer stole the show.
Shaw Gewurztraminer, 2012, Finger Lakes AVA ($23)
This Gewurz hits all the high notes of the grape – lychee, rose petals, apricots and honey – but also has secondary characteristics of orange pekoe tea, spice and melon and a massive underlying minerality. How much did I like it? I plopped down $40 on a bottle of the orange wine made from the grapes in 2013 without tasting it first.
Shaw Gewurztraminer, Vin Rustique, 2013, Finger Lakes AVA $40
All of the 2013 Gewurztraminer grapes went towards making this orange wine and it is quite impressive. I threw it into a blind tasting of older orange wines last week and it was among the favorites, right up there with Vidopivec, Radikon, Gravner and Kabaj. It is even more tea-like than the 2012, texturally as well, with lychee, apricots, honey and spice. A little sweet but with ample acidity, this might verge into dessert wine territory for some but it would also go well with spicy food and stinky, salty cheese.
Ravines is generally considered one of the higher quality producers from the Finger Lakes and I would put them on my short list. I met Morton Hallgren who along with his wife, Lisa, made their first vintage wine in 2003. They follow the sustainable principles espoused at Cornell. Morton is more concerned about specific vineyards and with Argetsinger, Ravines has one of the most coveted in the Finger Lakes.
Ravines Riesling, Argetsinger Vineyard, 2012, Finger Lakes AVA ($30)
Hand harvested, whole cluster pressed, cold fermentation, lees stirring, fined and filtered, .3% residual sugar, 12.5% alcohol
Sam Argetsinger’s family planted this vineyard on the east side of Seneca Lake more than 40 years ago and many of the original vines are still producing. It is composed of gravel on top of limestone and organic viticulture has been followed to a large extent.
Argetsinger, who was a friend of Hallgren’s, passed away in 2014 but Ravines is still working with the fruit and is the only winery sourcing from it. Minerally, with a hint of petrol in the nose, a firm chord of acidity and some richness on the palate, the pedigree is there but it needs more time, probably five years, before coming into its own.
Just to sum up, I really do believe that the Finger Lakes is one of the best areas in the world for Riesling. No, it’s not Germany but I’d venture to guess that if producers such as Bloomer Creek and Wiemer spread their influence, this region will be held in the same esteem as the Wachau and Alsace over time, maybe even Germany too. No doubt serious Gewuztraminer can be made here as well and Gruner Veltliner seems to have a future. On the red side, both Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir show incredible promise. Both of these grapes, especially the latter, serve in stark contrast to their West Coast compatriots with lighter body and more subtlety. Not least, the climate is right for both sparkling and dessert wines.
All of this brings me back to the question, could the Finger Lakes be the New World Loire? I would say absolutely yes. If you enjoy cool climate wines – bubbles, reds, whites with varying levels of sweetness and the enjoyable rose – don’t over look this incredibly beautiful area in New York State and if you collect wine on a limited budget, this region should most definitely be on your radar.