This is where it all started. I took the above photo at almost exactly the moment when the story of my forthcoming e-book begins. Finally, ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra about the Finger Lakes (the FLX) in Upstate New York is almost ready for publication. Pictured above is the team responsible for the Empire Estate brand of dry FLX Riesling, Kelby James Russell, the winemaker of Red Newt Cellars on Seneca Lake and Thomas Pastuszak, the sommelier of the Nomad Hotel on Broadway in Manhattan. I took it just a few blocks from the Nomad Hotel at the launch of Empire Estate on the evening of Monday, June 15th 2015. The story of FLXtra spans the nine months from then until March 15th 2015, a period during which I experienced incredibly personal highs and lows as I researched the new generation of winemakers in the FLX.
Now the question is WHO are the Rock Star Winemakers that my book praises most highly and WHO is the winemaker pictured on the cover? This blog posting is low on text, but introduces you to some of the most important candidates.
The Dr. Konstantin Frank / Chateau Frank winery was the pioneer of high-end wines from the Vitis vinifera (think Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also Saperavi and Rkatsiteli!) in the FLX, and Meaghan Frank (on the left) is the fourth generation of the Frank family to direct the family winery on Keuka Lake. She’s pictured with her father Fred (on the right) at the 30th anniversary celebration for the Chateau Frank sparkling wines on July 5th last year.
Fred Merwarth (above left) and Oskar Bynke (above right) have done an amazing job of taking the already highly regarded Hermann J. Wiemer winery to the premier position in the states along the Eastern Seaboard of the US. Their Riesling are the benchmarks against which ambitious young winemakers measure their own achievements.
Tom and Susan Higgins (above left and right) left NYC and the computing business less than a decade ago to found Heart & Hands, a small winery on Cayuga Lake dedicated to Pinot Noir reds (for which they already have quite a reputation) and Riesling (for which they’re not so well known). Tom also introduced me to some of the extraordinary geology and wildlife of the FLX.
Bruce Murray is an even more recent arrival in the FLX from NYC where he was a market researcher. The first vintage for his Boundary Breaks Vineyard Rieslings was 2011, and it was amazing for me to see what he’s achieved on Seneca Lake without actually having either a winery of his own and working with a team of winemakers. Regular readers will already know how highly I regard the 2014 vintage wines from Boundary Breaks.
Mark Wagner of Lamoreaux Landing winery on Seneca Lake is an old hand compared with the new winemaking immigrants, but the steadily rising reputation of the FLX during recent years has a great deal with the consistent high quality of wines like his medium-dry single-vineyard Rieslings: Yellow Dog, Round Rock and Red Oak. And he’s also the inventor of the un-oaked style of Cabernet Franc rapidly gaining ground in the region.
Peter Bell of Fox Run winery over on the other (western) side of Seneca Lake not only made the first FLX red wines that I found completely convincing, for example, the stunning 2005 Cabernet Franc Reserve. He also played a vital role behind the scenes in training a large part of the new generation of FLX winemakers. For this alone somebody should give him a medal!
Julia Hoyle, now the assistant winemaker at Sheldrake Point winery on Cayuga Lake, was one of Peter Bell’s best students. She is one of the new winemakers to watch closely during the coming years, and already her example is inspiring other young women – some with no wine background like her – to enter the NY wine industry.
August Deimel (pictured above in a scene from FLXtra) took the more conventional route of the Oenology Program at nearby Cornell University, but I don’t think anyone could accuse August or his wines of being conventional. I thought that I was done with Gewürztraminer until I tasted those he makes at Keuka Spring Vineyards on Keuka Lake. His Dynamite Vineyard Gewürztraminer really is (dry) dynamite!
California star winemaker Paul Hobbs and Mosel star winemaker Johannes Selbach (pictured above right with Paul’s younger brother David, left) recently started the most daring new vineyard project in the FLX. They are pushing more envelopes simultaneously then I could cope with, but this is how you find out what’s really possible in a young wine region like this (the first vinifera was 1962!)
I wish there was space for everyone in this blog posting, but there isn’t, and I have to admit that the above selection was also influenced by photo quality. To find out who the biggest Rock Star Winemakers of the FLX are for me you will have to head to the Kindle Store on Amazon sometime from Sunday, May 8th and purchase ROCK STAR OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra for $4.99. By the way, only then will the full title of this most daring of my wine books be revealed. Perhaps you can sense my own excitement about this impending publication in the above short texts. WATCH THIS SPACE!