Category Archives: FLXtra

Cool Climate is Dead in Old Europe

I just attended the wonderful and stimulating FLXcursion global Riesling conference in the Finger Lakes (FLX) region of Upstate New York where I also presented a seminar on Tuesday, 23rd July. I got a lot of requests to post at least my introductory comments, so here they are.

Welcome to the Wrong Side of the Tracks seminar at the FLXcursion conference about Riesling in warm and warming regions around Planet Wine in the 21st century. I suggest we all belong to the reality-based community and that means there’s no place here today for nostalgia or wishful thinking. The title of this seminar is appropriate, because it’s seriously shocking. I know I’ve got a reputation for liking to shock people, and it’s true I enjoy doing that, but this is shocking solely because of the massive change that recently occurred in many Riesling regions.

We all know the climate is warming, but I think most of us think it’s a slow process and for Riesling it is mostly positive. I felt that way too until I took a long hard look at the recent weather stats and came to the conclusion that Cool Climate is Dead in Old Europe. Global warming just abolished cool climate viticulture there (though not in the New Europe of wine, by which I mean places like Poland, Denmark and England). This is particularly clear if you look at the Riesling regions of Europe. I must stress that what I’m talking about here is the weather in certain Europe regions during the last decade. How this new climatic pattern affects the aroma and flavor of the wines from these regions is another matter entirely, and with today’s tasting we’ll be seeking answers to that question.

This seminar has a global theme, so it is also about understanding what’s happening in Riesling regions far outside Europe with very different landscapes and the implications of warming climates there. If you taste those wines with an open mind, then I think you find many Rieslings from rather warm regions that show characteristics (for example, fresh fruit and floral aromas, crisp acidity and sleek body) we consider reliable markers for cool climate wines. Clearly, in spite of the warm conditions there this type of wine is possible, but in those regions too, the situation is changing fast. For them too the question is what happens next.

Now on to the stats. Let’s start with how things were at the end of the 20th century. The first table shows the long-term average heat summations (on the Huglin Index) for a selection of winegrowing regions around the world, some important for Riesling, others not. This picture, plus a bit of warming, is what most wine industry people around the planet regard as the current situation, but even then we tend to make some serious mistakes. For example, Clare Valley in South Australia is frequently declared to be cool climate, but it has a heat summation of 2388, which is higher than Barossa at 2342! This common misjudgment results from the fact that Clare is the largest Riesling region in the Southern Hemisphere and because the fresh aromas and crispness of Clare Rieslings make us wrongly assume the region must be cool.

Now let’s turn to the 2018 vintage in Europe. The second table shows what happened in Geisenheim in the Rheingau (the location wine university and research station) last year. The heat summation for Geisenheim in 2018 is marked in red. Note that the Rheingau is not the warmest winegrowing region in Germany by far. Southern Rheinhessen, the Pfalz, Southern Baden and Central Württemberg are all significantly warmer. In 2018 Geisenheim had a heat summation of 2277 compared with an average of just 1623 during the period 1961-1990. What a huge leap! A Huglin Index of 2277 means Germany was warmer than Eden Valley and almost as warm as the Clare Valley, the two premier Riesling regions of South Australia!

The third table shows how a rather similar situation is developing this year. Here is the weather report for June 2019 for Norheim in the Nahe Valley, one of the “classic” cool climate Riesling regions of Europe. I chose Norheim, because it’s the closest weather station to Weingut Dönnhoff and to Gut Hermannsberg where I work as Riesling Ambassador. Cornelius Dönnhoff (a member of my panel) tells me the Norheim weather station is positioned close to a cliff that may push the highs up by as much 1°C, so you may want to adjust these figures accordingly.

Globally, June 2019 was the warmest June ever recorded by a margin of 0.1°C. For Europe it was the warmest June ever recorded by a margin of 1.0°C, and in Norheim June 2019 was fully 3.9°C warmer than the average for the late 20th century. Even if you correct down the measured high of 39.6°C in Norheim, then,it still tops the month’s high of 37.1°C in Bordeaux and that of 37.8°C in Madrid. The 297 sunshine hours during June 2019 in Norheim are also extraordinary, since they are 42.4% more than the average for the late 20th century. July 2019 started cooler in the Nahe like most of Germany, but today’s high in Norheim is 32°C and the predicted highs for the next four days are 37°C, 38°C, 37°C and 34°C!

I’m sure that some of you are now saying to yourselves, “yes, but there are still some vintages in Europe that are much cooler,” because that’s what I also said to myself. Unfortunately, we are wrong.

The fourth table shows the mean temperatures during April – October (the growing season) for the last six years and selected earlier vintages in Geisenheim. When I started getting interested in Riesling in the early 1980s I could still buy wines of the great 1976 vintage rather cheaply and I can still remember that very warm dry summer in England. Only much later did I learn that the summer of 1947 was the warmest of the 20th century. The mean growing season temperatures in Geisenheim for those exceptional vintages were 15.7°C in 1976 and 16.9°C in 1947, far above the average for the late 20th century of 14.5°C.

Now let’s turn to the figures for the last six years. For example, wine industry people inside and outside Germany generally regard 2013 as a cool vintage, because the harvest conditions were cool and the wines have high acidity/low pH that makes them taste sleek and taut. However, 2013’s mean growing season temperature in Geisenheim was 15.5°C, almost as high as that of 1976. Since then the figure for every year equaled or exceeded that for 1976. In 2018 the record of 1947 was smashed by a margin of 1.1°C ! I rest my case and pose the question, where do we go from here?

Posted in FLXtra, Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | 2 Comments

“I dwell in possibility” – Nancy Irelan, FLX Rebel Winemaker with a Cause

Nancy Irelan

Since early March 2019, when I began work for the Gut Hermannsberg (GHB) wine estate in Niederhausen in the Nahe region of Germany, the focus of this blog has certainly shifted. Here’s proof that it is by no means limited to stories about GHB.

Recently winemaker Dr. Nancy Irelan of Red Tail Ridge estate winery in Seneca Lake/FLX (Finger Lakes) in Upstate New York was recently on the list of semi-finalists for one of the James Beard Awards – the “Oscars” of food and wine in America – but she didn’t make it to the finals, much less has she won the award itself. I’m sure that she doesn’t see it this way, but I think you could say that once again she has been damned with faint praised. You see, again and again during the dozen years since the winery released its first wine people have said nice things about her, but nobody ever publicly celebrated her special form of genius. Maybe it’s because she never did or said anything outrageous enough to abruptly drag the world wide web’s attention to her. Maybe it’s because she’s a strong-willed, highly intelligent and extremely articulate woman. Maybe’s it’s because she doesn’t neatly fit into any of the established roles for women winemakers. Strangely, I’m pretty sure that if she were a movie director then she’d have a better chance of wining an Oscar, than she has of wining a James Beard Award as a winemaker!

But let’s begin this story in 2004 when Nancy and her husband Mike Schnelle, then an accountant and now a self-taught grape grower, purchased a 34 acre parcel of wooded land on the west side of Seneca Lake.  At this point, the year of my first visit to the region, the reputation of the FLX was a pale shadow of what it is today. The first planting was 3 acres of various clones of Pinot Noir that went into the ground in the spring of 2005. However, a huge storm of the kind locals call a “gully washer” hit just a couple of days after it went in and the rain washed all the young vine stocks out of the ground. Mike was alone at the estate, because at this point Nancy was still Vice President for Victiculture & Oenonolgy RD for Gallo in California. He called her in a panic and she told him how he would have to try and find the vine stocks – they were all at the bottom of the hill – and replant them all by hand.  He did that and in 2006 they picked their first crop, just half a ton of Pinot Noir grapes. Nancy turned them into a Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine (to this day sparkling remains of Nancy’s strong suits), “it was yummy,” she says, “sadly it’s all gone now, but one bottle.” Winemaking is a double-edged sword and winemakers have to lick that blade repeatedly.

Fast-forward to October 2014 and my first visit to Red Tail Ridge. I was up in the FLX from NYC with my then girlfriend and she insisted we had to visit Nancy. She was right to overrule my skepticism and our first meeting was one of those connections with a winemaker that changed how I think about wine, although in a very non-dramatic way. At this distance in time it’s hard to say exactly what lead to that, beyond stating the simple fact that Nancy is a very thoughtful winemaker who bases her decisions on strong science, but who’s goal can be expressed in one old-fashioned word that she makes liberal use of: delicious! I say old-fashioned, because in the natural wine scene “authentic”, “naked” and “real” have taken over the role “harmonious”, “elegant” and “delicious” play in the regular world of wine. And the natural wine scene’s disdain for the regular world of wine has made those words look increasingly like expressions of out-dated reactionary concepts.

Nancy has strong beliefs, not least in the central importance of deliciousness to the wine industry, but she’s never rigid in her thinking. Taking several leaves out of the natural wine scene’s book she makes an excellent skin-fermented dry white wine called “Miscreant” and Pet Nats (short for Pétillant Naturel). However, she also makes elegant dry Rieslings with bright citrus and stone fruit aromas in a style no natural winemaker would accept. Their generosity has a lot to do with the warm site and the limestone soil (unusual for the FLX) there. In the 2016 vintage it also has to do with the warm year she seemed to effortlessly master. You could say much the same about her Chardonnay too, a rare star for this grape variety in the FLX. And those Pinot Noir vines have matured to the point where they give silky and subtle red wines that no Burgundy lover would consider radical or revolutionary. Nancy is a self-confidently liberal winemaker who rejects all forms of dogma and the idealization that so often accompanies it.

Rebel with a Cause grapes

I used to repeat in mantra-like way the statement, “Red Tail Ridge wines are unspectacularly excellent”, but then along came a red wine called Rebel with a Cause, a blend of Blaufränkisch (aka Lemberger and Kékfrankos in its native Hungary) with Lagrein and Teroldego. It is spectacular in many ways, beginning with that blend. The first of those grapes has a small tradition in the FLX, but the latter pair of Northeast Italian varieties have zero tradition anywhere in North America. The idea of pushing these three together is radical in the extreme and for this reason the name is a perfect fit. As luck would have it I was at Red Tail Ridge on the 3rd October 2016 during the fermentation of these grapes (pictured above with Nancy’s hands) and could follow the development of this wine almost from Zero Hour onwards.

Of course, radical winemaking ideas is one thing and a delicious wine is quite another. Thankfully this bizarre marriage born in Nancy’s fertile mind is a very happy one, though not without a stunning tension that make the 2016 Rebel with a Cause one of the most exciting new reds I’ve tasted anywhere on Planet Wine. And during the last three years I tasted about 25,000 wines from all the wine continents. Just how is it delicious? What grabs me most is the forest berries and wild herbs character and strong, but there’s also the strident yet balanced tannins and vibrant acidity which together give it so much structure. This isn’t a red for the faint-hearted who need a smooth as silk landing, nor is it for those who demand plenty of (reductive) funk in their wines as proof that they’re “natural”. Once again, some people will fail to take her seriously and that’s the reason that the image on the label of Nancy preaching from a pulpit in the vineyard is spot on.

Stuart Pigott Riesling Global

Posted in FLXtra, Home, ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | Leave a comment

New York Wine Diary: Day 1 – The Best 2015 Rieslings are New High Point for FLX

No doubt you’re wondering what Tony Cardova, brewmaster for the War Horse Brewing Company belonging to the Three Brothers winery in Geneva in the FLX (Finger Lakes in Upstate New York) is doing pictured at the top of a Riesling story on this wine blog? Well, amongst other beers, Tony brews a Riesling wheat beer and a Riesling sour beer, and these were amongst the many new products I tasted during the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance trade presentation of the 2015 Rieslings when I was up in the region during the last days.

The fine weather meant that the wine presentation could take place in the garden that separates the various buildings that make up the Three Brothers complex (there aren’t actually three brothers, rather three wine brands each with a strikingly different marketing concept and its own space). However, I had to go into the bar of the brewers to taste those beers. Good as the Riesling wheat beer is, with a somewhat more fruity citric taste than is normal for this category, it was the Tarty McFly Riesling sour beer that got me, because it has a crispness genuinely reminiscent of Riesling wines. So beer and wine can share some common ground, in spite of all the important differences between them.

The wine tasting was important because it was the first time that I’ve been able to sample a bunch of FLX Rieslings of the new vintage from different producers next to each other. Undeniably, some of the best wines (Boundary Breaks and Sheldrake Point, both of whom haven’t released any 2015 Rieslings yet) were rather closed, because they were bottled just a couple of weeks ago. However, the overall conclusion was very clear: the best 2015s are the most exciting FLX Rieslings made this century, and that in spite of the tough competition from the best 2014s!

In fact, one of the innovative wines at the event was the 2014 Riesling (medium-dry) from Bellangelo that has only just been released. Making wines like this that need this kind of maturation before release is a new idea in the FLX and I feel sure that this is an important new development. In this case it enabled quite a strident acidity and a flinty-funky note from extended lees contact to become well integrated, and a serious aromatic and textural complexity to develop.

At the front of the pack of 2015s I tasted was the Dry Riesling from Dr. Konstantin Frank, the founder of the vinifera wine industry in the region and in the Eastern Seaboard states. This has really intense floral and herbal aromas that literally leap out of the glass at you, and for all its power the wine remains as sleek and sinewy as a marathon runner. The acidity is energizing, but far from sharp. Anyone who doesn’t yet know what the mineral aspect of Riesling tastes like is directed to this wine! It has all the virtues of the 2015 vintage in the FLX with none of the down sides. They resulted from the wet early summer when Botrytis (in this case ignoble rot) from getting an early foothold on the grapes in some vineyards. That either resulted in full-blown rot later in the summer or the imminent threat of rot forced an early harvest before the grapes had achieved full ripeness.

The big surprise of the tasting was the new wines from Lakewood Vineyards on the west side of Seneca Lake. These have long been good wines, but since Ben Stamp joined his father Chris in the cellar they took a jump up. “I like wines that teeter on the edge, wines with tension,” Ben told me, and that is an excellent description of the winery’s 2015s. They also have the ripe passion fruit, peach and citrus aromas that are typical of the vintage.

It’s a little known fact that Three Brothers produce almost 120,000 bottles of Riesling per year and are therefore one of the major players in the FLX with this variety. They have a simple, but radical marketing concept for these wines which is directly linked to the IRF (International Riesling Foundation) taste profile on the back label of each wine. It divides the Riesling taste-spectrum into four bands: dry / medium-dry / medium-sweet / sweet. The Three Brothers 0 Degree Riesling is dry, the 1 Degree Riesling is medium-dry, the 2 Degree Riesling is medium-sweet and the 3 Degree Riesling is sweet.  They are all unashamedly fruit-driven wines and the 2015s are very clean with a lot of charm.

2015 is a vintage with which the FLX is going to win friends and influence people, also NYC, DC and beyond! Watch this space for more information as more wines are released.

Posted in FLXtra, Home, ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA | 1 Comment

FLXtra: FIFTEENTH EDITION! – The Riesling & Co. Wrap

Since this is the last time FLXtra is appearing this season it’s time to do a Riesling & Co. Wrap, and to report on all the important things that didn’t make it into the “paper” so far. This isn’t because they’re less worthy than the stories published so far, but there was a limited amount of time I had for writing and often one or two potential stories would slip by on a single day for no better reason than the complete lack of time to hammer them into the keyboard. As you’ll see though, each has something in its own way.

The tasting rooms of the FLX are an eye-popping and brain-rattling experience. Sometimes there’s a bizarre disconnect between the gaudy and raucous buzz out in a tasting room and the elegant, subtle wines. I even encountered a bit of this at Hermann J. Wiemer, the region’s established number one producer of high quality wines!  Nowhere was this disconnect more radical and disorientating than at Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards in Hector on the East side of Seneca Lake where Michael Reidy, pictured above, is the winemaker. This is actually two wineries in one, the larger of the pair being situated in over in Naples where a branded sweet red wine called Red Cat is produced in vast quantities. That’s the product drawing most of the let-it-all-hang-out crowd to this tasting room and pumping up the feeding-frenzy energy there to the point where you think that it can’t go any higher…but then it does! The small, but well-equipped wine behind this zoo is like an oasis of calm where Michael has been quietly crafting some excellent Rieslings since 2010.

The Hazlitt’s 2014 Dry Riesling and the candidate for the 2014 Dry Riesling Reserve are the best wines he’s made to date although the 2012s and ’13s were already very good. They’re quite substantial, ripe and creamy wines (the Reserve is more powerful and has more extravagant grapefruit and pineapple aromas), but at the finish the characteristic driving acidity of the region comes through. There’s also a 2014 Semi-Dry Riesling with a Mosel-like vibrancy and aromatic charm. After tasting these, and the impressive 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (it has some paprika and passionfruit, but is no NZ-SB-clone thanks to the ripe melon aroma and moderate acidity) it was hard to believe that Michael started in just such a tasting room back in 2004. Later he went to Cornell University to learn the science of winemaking and on graduation he decided to stay in the region, “because you could see that we were in the knee of the curve.” He’s now one of the winemakers responsible for pushing the FLX up the steep section of the curve it’s now on, also with the Hazlitt dry reds for a description of which there’s sadly not adequate space here.

Although it is a big jump in terms of personalities and winemakers from him to August Deimel of Keuka Springs, pictured above at a Fourth of July party in Geneva, it makes sense, because he too is Cornell trained and a master of the science of wine in more sense than one. When I finally got to talk with him at some length I quickly began to wonder if his years at St. John’s College in Santa Fe didn’t have a far more fundamental influence on his thinking. As he put it, “four years without a single lecture!” but endless discussions. This reminded me somewhat of my time at the Royal College of Art in the Mid-1980s, which in retrospect shaped my thinking in an entirely comparable way.

When August arrived at Keuka Springs in May 2012 he immediately put his mind to cracking Gewürztraminer as a dry wine, one of the most horrible challenges in all of winemaking. Few young winemakers anywhere in the world are interested in pursuing this white whale, and to my serious amazement with his 2014 he has already nailed it! The most remarkable of these wines is the barrel-fermented, bone dry 2014 Dynamite Vineyard Gewürztraminer that is discretely aromatic for this grape (turkish delight rather than full-throttle lychee), but has a stunning textural complexity of a kind I usually associate with elegant high-end Chardonnay. I had no idea this was even possible with the thick-skinned, bitter and low acidity Gewürztraminer grape! Although August’s regular 2014 Gewüztraminer is a somewhat more conventional wine it manages to be pretty dry, beautifully balanced and not have too big a build, that is within the heavyweight champion of the world context of this grape. I also really liked the Keuka Springs 2013 Humphreys Vineyard Dry Riesling, a wine that manages to be strong and delicate at the same time and can’t wait to taste the 2014. At the other end of the white wine spectrum is the full-throttle, super-succulent 2014 Vignoles, a witches brew of pineapple, citrus and darker more mysterious flavors; the best wine I ever tasted from this hybrid grape!

The problem with August’s story is that to tell it properly I would really need to give him an entire full-length blog posting. Because that won’t work this time I’m forced to scratch the surface and to try tease you by saying that I think he’s a winemaker with a genuinely revolutionary vision for the FLX that will surely lead to many more surprising wines like those just described during the coming years. Dear Somms of New York Wine City (NYWC), please wake up to this guy NOW, rather than several years too late. Many of these wines are screaming to be on the tables in your restaurant NOW!

The reason that the Somms of NYWC will have to wait at least another year in order to get the chance to be excited about what Nathan Kendall, the new winemaker at Villa Bellangelo on the West side of Seneca Lake is doing is that the first of his daring new Rieslings won’t be released for more than a full year. I managed to taste them blind at a tasting of 2013 and 2014 dry and medium-dry FLX Rieslings (maximum 20 grams per litre / 2% unfermented sweetness) staged at Villa Bellangelo on the afternoon of Fourth of July. In this context, both the 2014 Dry Riesling and the medium-dry 2014 Bellangelo Riesling tasted crazy young with a funky yeasty aroma (technical term reduction), but had a serious textural quality as well as lemon-lime freshness, and ended on a salty mineral note. The yeasty funk was controversial amongst the dozen or so winemakers who joined me at this tasting, but I feel confident that in another year this will have waned substantially, and these Rieslings will make many people talk and some swoon. Nathan’s gained the reputation of the gift of the gab, but as you can see from this picture above he’s also a very thoughtful guy; another complex personality I sadly cannot fully explore here.

At least equally controversial at the Fourth of July FLX Riesling tasting were the wines from Bloomer Creek on the East side of Seneca Lake. Here the thing which ticked some of the tasters off was the fact that these wines had spent a long time on the deposit of dead yeast left by the fermentation (technical term gross lees) without much sulfites to protect them from oxidation. However, after seeing how stylistically consistent the three 2013 Rieslings from Bloomer Creek were even the naysayers had to admit that the wines have a totally distinctive style and pack a lot of flavor for only 11.5% alcohol. I love the notes of dried pear and peach, the hint of floral honey and the richness of wines like Bloomer Creek’s 2013 Morehouse Road Dry Riesling have, and I applaud the fact that they taste like nothing else in the region. The photograph below shows Debra Bermingham (also a talented painter who deserves a blog posting for her work) and Kim Engle of Bloomer Creek with a dog I’m nicknaming the Third Man, not least because this scene looks like something out of a movie!

There were a number of individual wines at that Fourth of July tasting that deserve a mention. Of the 2014 Dry Rieslings those from Lucas (pretty), the 3 Generations from Lakewood (succulent and elegant), the KV Estate from Knapp (ripe and crisp with intense herbal notes), the wine from new-old kid on the Cayuga Lake block Randolph O’Neil (very cool both literally and metaphorically), the STV Vineyard from Silver Thread (ethereal and mineral) and Caywood East Vineyard from Wagner (a daring wine for such a big producer with notes of mushroom and lime) all impressed. I also like the 2014 Dry Riesling from Glenora (intense aroma of basil and super-fresh style), but it is mislabeled as “dry” with almost the maximum sweetness that was allowed for this tasting.

Because we focused so much attention on the 2014s that day – all the winemakers shared my curiosity about how these (often just bottled) young wines would show – that meant some of the best 2013s were acknowledged, but got a bit forgotten due to the 2014 beauty contest that followed them. I’m thinking particularly of the three medium-dry single vineyard wines made by Mark Wagner of Lamoreaux Landing in Lodi on the East side of Seneca lake. When they were a year younger I’d been slightly disappointed by them, but all have developed beautifully and they now have more power and length than most of their contemporaries along with great harmony. That, together with the track record of this producer over the previous years adds up to the fulfillment of the conditions I demand for wines to qualify as “classics”.

When I visited Mark, pictured above, on the Third of July I was able to taste his 2014s and this time I wasn’t disappointed in any way with the still embryonic wines. Of them the 2014 Dry Riesling is by far the most forthcoming, in fact it was as effusively and enticingly floral as the gardens of the FLX were at the same time. Of the three 2014 single-vineyard wines the Yellow Dog had quite an austere personality in spite of a lot of substance, and needs some months or years of aging to give its best. The touch of blackcurrant is already very distinctive though. The Round Rock was as closed up as a ship with all the hatches battened down bracing for a storm, but is built to take even a hurricane in its stride and has an uplifting freshness at the finale. The unquestionable star of the trio is the Red Oak, with a bouquet of peach, blackcurrant and hibiscus that is much more forthcoming than those of its siblings. There’s a great concentration of ripe fruit here, but after starting lush the wine slowly turns drier and drier, more mineral and more mineral as it extends in the direction of the Event Horizon of FLX Riesling…

To be continued!

 

Posted in FLXtra, Home | 3 Comments

FLXtra: FOURTEENTH EDITION! – Winemaker Julia Hoyle and the Future FLX

IMP. NOTE: I only ever accept hospitality from wine producers on the basis that I will offer them equally generous hospitality at some point in return. I stayed with Julia Hoyle from June 20th thru July 16th and the most valuable thing she gave me during this time was her thoughts. This was definitely a piece of Gonzo research during which I got much closer to her than I do to the winemakers I only sit across the table from for a couple of hours, and without that the following wouldn’t have been possible.

THIS STORY is about a woman winemaker called Julia Hoyle of Geneva, FLX, but it is and is also not a story about women winemakers. Julia was in full agreement what I did when a couple of years back I turned down a well paid commission to write a story about women winemakers in Germany, saying to the editor of the magazine, “it’s not a story any more.” “Yes,” she said, “that’s how it should be. I’m a winemaker who happens to be a woman.” I’d written my first story on that subject almost 20 years earlier and after I’d done a handful of them I realized that a seriously large number of the best winemakers in Germany were women, and the situation was moving steadily in the direction of female/male parity.

It was a shock for me to discover that in the FLX and the US of Wine the position of women winemakers isn’t nearly as positive as in Europe, and I have quite often experienced openly sexist attitudes towards them that shocked me. However, while I as in the FLX this time I slowly realized how many women winemakers there were. The most notable of them is Nancy Irelan who founded Red Tail Ridge together with her husband Mike, but she is solely responsible for the winemaking. The across the board excellence of her wines certainly puts her in the first league of American winemakers. Slowly, the wine scene outside the region is waking up to the scale of her achievements and that she did all this from scratch in just 10 years.  During that time there’s been a big change for women winemakers in the FLX and Julia is part of that. The remarkable thing about this is that she is a native of Philadelphia, PA and comes from a family who had nothing to do with wine. She didn’t study winemaking and only got into it “accidentally”.

We were heading to a wine tasting in her car when she tole me that  she graduated from William Smith College in Geneva with a BA in Women’s Studies and French & Francophone Studies in 2011. “By that time I was already really interested in winemaking.” That radical change of course began with working part-time in the tasting room of Fox Run winery on the west bank of Seneca Lake from the fall of 2009. This situation lead to contact with Fox Run winemaker Peter Bell and his assistants, including Kelby Russell who she married in June 2014. Through talking and tasting with them wine got a hold of her on many levels.

“I just gently slid into it. My first harvest was 2012 at Fox Run. I’d just got back from my second long stay in Senegal in Western Africa and a few weeks in France on the way back. I worked a solid half of that harvest. Then in 2013 I worked the entire harvest at Atwater on the other side of Seneca Lake, and from December 2013 I began working some days for Dave Breeden, the winemaker at Sheldrake Point. That slowly turned into my current position as assistant winemaker there.”

Senegal might seem like an incidental aspect of this story, but her two long stays there made a deep impression on Julia and she talked at length about how very different the Senegalese culture is to mainstream America – “the spirits of the dead are so much more present there than they are here” – and the way French became her second language often and at length. My gut doesn’t lie, though it may sometimes accords certain things an exaggerated importance, but I don’t think that’s happening when I say that these experiences of another culture made it easier for her to step into the special society of winemakers and grape growers that is now a kind of home for her.

Dave Breeden has the reputation of being a complex guy, and it was no surprise the other day that when he told me about a tasting of the FLX winemakers group at which his tasting note for a particularly ugly Riesling read, “die, die, die!” It reminded me of how a quarter of century ago at a wine show I described another ugly wine as, “Rocky Horror Riesling Show!” Julia seems to take this side of his character in her stride, as few people do, the two of them have clearly become a really creative team and the wines of Sheldrake Point were never better than they are now as a result. Julia made the winery’s 2014 Pinot Noir Reserve alone and the result is a rather daring reinvention of one of the FLX’s few cult Pinots. I love the bold, but not aggressive dry tannins in this wine and the combination of ripe cherry fruit and earthy notes. Sure, the dry 2014 Muscat she made is a bit less exciting, but that wine is 100% Muscat Ottonel, and that is seriously challenging grape to make a varietal wine from due to it’s full muscat type aromas, but lowish acidity. I don’t know any exciting varietal wines from this grape either in FLX or on Planet Wine!

“The things that interest me are inherently challenging. I was really interested in figuring out how to describe wine. I’m also really interested in hands-on work, and love the fact that it’s never the same.” Without any evidence to support it some people in the FLX wine industry have suggested to me that Julia has ridden on her husband’s coattails, but all I heard and saw suggested this is people jumping to the old bullshit chauvinistic assumptions. That also makes me feel angry, because the fundamental issues of equality – regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, creed, etc – should all have been dealt with long ago. How did America fall back after the great progress achieved in those struggles during the 1960s and ’70s? There’s no time now to delve into that mire though.

“Every time we open a bottle of wine Kelby and I bounce ideas off each other. It doesn’t feel like work,” she told me and that’s also how it was when I watched her tasting wines with colleagues or she was tasting wine with me. She never hesitate to adopt a position that was contrary to mine or anyone, everyone else in the room. Or would you call describing the aromas of a sweet Riesling as being, “curry and chocolate” conventional? Even more importantly, she argues her case lucidly and confidently, but always has her antenna out to pick up things she didn’t spot or understand fully from colleagues.

For someone who never studied winemaking formally and came to it from right out of field left that’s quite something. Considering the fact that she’s only been in the FLX wine industry a few short years this is more remarkable. No wonder her talents are beginning to be recognized by the bright people in the region even though she is “only” an assistant winemaker. This all convinces me you will be hearing a lot more about Julia Hoyle during the coming years, and this will make hers an example that others will follow: other women, other young people with a non-wine background and non-wine education. It is they, no less than the locally born and formally trained winemakers, who will shape the Future FLX!

PS: The first photograph of Julia accompanying this posting was her own choice.

 

 

Posted in FLXtra, Gonzo, Home | Leave a comment

FLXtra: THIRTEENTH EDITION! – The New York Metamorphosis of Peter Becraft

One version of the Peter Becraft story says that he’s been the chief winemaker of the Anthony Road winery on the West side of Seneca since 2013 and has done a good job of following in the over-sized footsteps of his predecessor Johannes Reinhardt, a German immigrant now concentrating upon his own Kemmeter winery just across the road. All of this is true and that story has been written quite a few times by the wine and food press. There’s nothing you can say against, except that it barely scratches the surface of the full story of Peter Becraft’s metamorphosis. The magazine Edible Brooklyn went a step further and talked about hold how when he first moved up to the FLX in Upstate New York, just for the 2006 wine harvest, his accommodation was an Airsteam trailer he brought up with him from New York City. This comes quite a bit closer to the full story, as does his concise bio on the Anthony Road website, but even these versions only hint at the full, unexpurgated truth. For this reason, I took the time for a long talk with Peter the other morning during which he did almost all the talking and I did listened…

“My wife and lived in New York City where she was working in the restaurant industry, as the pastry chef at River Café, and I was the casting assistant to a fashion photographer. 9/11 happened as we were walking to work. It unfolded in front of us. That was the impetus to follow our passion. I started working in a wine shop in the Financial District as well as for the photographer: Tuesday thru Friday lunchtime in the studio, then the rest of Friday and Saturday in the wine store. That’s where I got introduced to really good wines. We started vacationing in wine regions. My wife started her own chocolate company CaryMo.”

The first wine Peter poured me during our talk was his 2014 Cabernet Franc Rosé, which at 13.1% is quite a powerful rosé in the FLX context with plenty of redcurrant type fruit and some dry tannin in the finish. That should make it very good not just with light summer food, but also more robust dishes. As good as this wine is, the 2014 Unoaked Chardonnay tops it with it’s bright white and citrus fruit aromas, ripe juicy fruit and some tannin that is beautifully married to the fresh acidity at the energizing finish. If all regular Chardonnays were as refreshing and characterful as this I’d drink lots of Chardonnay.

“When we first came up to the FLX in May 2006 we’d been in New York City for about a decade. We were living well, but just getting by. I knew Anthony Road from the Green Market on Union Square and it was the last stop we made. Actually, it wasn’t the Riesling which did it for me, it was the 2005 Pinot Gris. Then we got talking to Johannes, he asked back into the cellar and we tasted a  wines from the barrel for one and half hours. Finally,  he said, “you know I’m looking for someone to help with harvest. So in early September the Airsteam and I came up to Anthony Road, and we’re both still there.”

It was amazing to think that eight years before the 2014 harvest Peter had no experience of winemaking at all, then to taste his 2014 Skin Ferment Chardonnay. This is the first vintage of a daring piece of experimental winemaking, since the wine was fermented on the grape skins as if it were a red. That’s how a lot of so-called “Orange Wines” are made, but they often end up more or less oxidized (hence the color), more or less disharmonious and more or less faulty. This wine may not be fruity like the regular Chardonnay, but it has a lot of freshness alongside some serious tannins that are reminiscent of red wines, complex savory notes and a saline character like Fino Sherry. “I’m not looking for funk in my wines,” Peter explained, “I like that in my music.”

“Everything I learned, I learned here. For the first two years after I moved up in the spring of 2007 I worked half in the vineyard and half in the cellar. I went to the school of Johannes Reinhardt where they play classical music in the cellar.” As he spoke in the background rock music pumped out of a speaker, and for some reason that prompted me to ask Peter one of those kid’s questions, like “Why is the sky blue?” How did you do it, I mean go from being a photographer’s assistant to being the winemaker of a rather high profile winery? “Passion and hard work. In this country is quite easy to change paths. I don’t think it’s like that in Europe.”

Anyone who finds Peter’s Skin Ferment Chardonnay too fruitless and tannic for their palate, but wants a dry wine will surely like the 2014 Pinot Gris, a dry white that’s bursting with an entire fruit salad of aromas (including plenty of melon), is juicy and generous, but still has a great freshness and clocks in at just 12.8% alcohol. In comparison to the highly successful Pinot Gris of Oregon this is lighter, crisper and drier, and most Italian Pinot Grigio tastes wishy-washy in comparison. This is definitely not what the FLX are famous for!

The other day Peter’s explanation of how he got where he is today was a little skeletal, but a couple of other meetings with him – once at a July Fourth garden party then a few days later at a very serious Riesling tasting with a small group of colleagues – filled in some of the blank spaces. Peter is a thinker who picks up ideas that people around him throw out, then chews them over in his mind. Often he’s very quick and nimble at this, other times it’s like the long slow burning of a fuse during which it seems like nothing’s happening, then suddenly a startling new idea pops out of his mouth. That’s surely how Peter absorbed both the off-hand comments and long explanations that Johannes Reinhardt supplied him with during the years that they worked together, finding his own way through the maze that is winemaking. Maybe that sounds rather obvious, but I promise you doing it for as humbly and receptively for the length of time Peter did it – and he still does it! – is not typical in  the wine industry. Here, as in all other fields of human endeavor, ego is a monster lurking in the shadows or blurting out BS and frothing at the mouth front of stage.

Of course, Anthony Road is best known for Riesling, and as well as making their own dry Riesling Anthony Road also make one for the New York Yankees. Their 2014 Dry Riesling is a remarkable wine that’s a perfect example of the new dry FLX Riesling style. With it’s ripe pear and floral aromas plus some yeastiness due to it’s youth and the care taken not to manhandle it in the cellar (the yeastiness will fade over the next few months) this an effusive wine that bowls right up to you. On the palate it has a pronounced herbal and saline mineral character, but whereas those things make some of the new dry FLX Rieslings rather challenging, here they’re wrapped in juicy fruit that makes the wine as appealing as it is expressive. And that is clearly Peter Becraft’s aim as a winemaker: to entice and fascinate, to please and startle. The Metamorphosis is complete!

 

Posted in FLXtra, Home | 1 Comment

FLXtra: TWELTH EDITION! – Paul Hobbs & Johannes Selbach at the Riesling Edge

Or are the rumors that they’ve gone clear over the edge true?

This is the sight that greeted me at 8am this morning at the beginning of my tour of the new vineyard that California-based flying winemaker Paul Hobbs and Mosel winemaker Johannes Selbach of Selbach-Oster are in the painful process of establishing close to Watkins Glen on the east bank of Seneca Lake in the FLX. The lake was hidden behind a bank of fog and that’s just one of the pack of mechanical diggers that the team has been used to clear this hillside, dig an extensive drainage system and prepare the ground for the planting of tens of thousands of Riesling vines. The first reason this process has been painful is the massive recent rainfalls here – again last night as I made my way to the site – that repeatedly interrupted planting. That means it’s now a major challenge for the team headed by Paul Hobb’s brother David, the project manager (left in the picture below), to get all the Riesling vines into the ground early enough that by fall they will be hardy enough to survive the first frosts. Johannes Selbach (right in the picture below) has done all he can, but because of his commitments in Germany and elsewhere around the world he con only be here for relatively short periods, one of which ended this morning.

The other reason that the process has been painful is the serious steepness of many parts of the site. It was that very thing and the stony slate soil here that attracted Hobbs and Selbach to this project, this combination reminding both of them of the Mosel Valley; Paul Hobbs loves the Mosel and the off-dry Riesling wines of the region. Slate isn’t rare in the FLX of Upstate New York, but the team’s determination to plant on slate with this kind of grade and to plant the vines in rows going straight down the hillside (i.e. perpendicular to the contour lines) pushes FLX vine growing practices right to the edge. Or, in the view of some local winemakers, that pushes it clear over the edge, because of the danger of topsoil erosion it creates. Of course, the only way you can figure out where the edge really lies, rather than is reputed to lie, is by getting up real close to it, but not tipping over it (in which case you couldn’t come back to tell the tale). And that’s what this unusual team is in the process of doing right now. After the biblical deluge on June 14th large amounts of topsoil had to be picked up by mechanical diggers, then transported back up to the top of the section of the slope they’d just prepared to plant, i.e. back to square one. Understandably, for Johannes, “this is my last project. After this I’ll be ripe for a desert island. Every week we have to reckon that the weather will prevent any work for at least two days! However, I’m sure that we can make world-class Riesling here.”

The above picture shows the 2.5 acre initial planting established last year, and gives a good idea of how the finished vineyard will look, however please bear in mind that this is the upper section of the site where it is least steep. This scene also remind me of the Mosel, but there are some crucial differences between the two, the FLX having a shorter and more intense vegetation period, followed by a longer and much harder winter than the Mosel ever experiences. Johannes was here in February, (just a few weeks before I was last here in early March), so experienced the worst cold of the worst winter here in a long time. As he said to me, “if I learnt anything it’s that the time window for doing everything in the vineyard here is narrower than back home, and we have no choice but to use that narrow window.” David has been thinking up some radical ideas to optimize the shortest of harvesting windows, but before these have been tested in the vineyard I can’t reveal them. However, even if this kind of innovation works out making exciting Riesling wines here will still be a high-risk venture that will make the hearts of those involved race during the crucial hours of the harvest.

However, the pressing thing now is the task of getting thousands of just planted Riesling vines like the one pictured above to grow in a soil that is anything but rich and fertile. The only advantage of the recent weather is that watering of the young vines will be unnecessary for some time, in spite of stoniness and shallowness of the soil (which means it has a low water-holding capacity). The downside of the rains and the relatively warm temperatures is that this is optimal for the growth of all kinds of fungi, including that which is most destructive to the vine, downy mildew (which destroys the foliage and if the vines are of fruit-bearing age also the grapes themselves). Every daring and innovative wine growing project went through a stage like this when the challenges seemed to only multiply and if anyone can make this project that pushes FLX Riesling to the edge work, then it is a team like Paul and David Hobbs working together with someone with decades of specialized Riesling experience like Johannes Selbach. As he told me. “I wouldn’t have managed this alone, in fact I wouldn’t have started it alone!”

Because this is a story that is unfolding as I write these lines further episodes will follow. They will stretch over several years, because according to the current plan only the northern end of the site will be almost fully planted this year, but the southern end will have to wait until 2017 before it can be planted. Then there will be a total area of 50 acres, entirely devoted to Riesling. Anyone doubting the arduousness of this endeavor is recommended to study the above picture, showing the manual planting of vines in the steepest section of the site. I’ve done this work myself (back in May 2013 close to Berlin), but that was on a much more gentle slope and I was shattered at the end of the day. GOVERNMENT HEALTH WARNING: DON’T ATTEMPT THIS PROCEDURE IN YOUR BACK GARDEN!

Posted in FLXtra, Home | Leave a comment

FLXtra: ELEVENTH EDITION! – Heart & Hands for Riesling (and the Truth about Bald Eagles)

The small Heart & Hands winery just outside Union Springs on Cayuga Lake that was established by Tom and Susan Higgins, pictured above, in 2008 rightly has a serious reputation for Pinot Noir red wines. They have elegant dry tannins that far too many FLX Pinots are sorely lacking). However, Heart & Hands is still far too little known for the winery’s excellent dry and medium-dry Rieslings. Even I fell into that trap, and was seriously surprised when I was finally confronted with those wines. This made the almost three hour cycle ride from Geneva to Heart & Hands essential, but that also introduced me to a stretch of FLX country I’d never seen before including the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge at the northern end of Cayuga Lake. But more about that in just a moment.

The Higgins’ Estate Vineyard lies only a few hundred feet from the eastern bank of Cayuga Lake and is one of the most beautiful vineyards I’ve seen in the FLX. This beauty isn’t only optical, the product of its considerable grade and the way the slope has been partially terraced, but also the result of the precision with which it is being cultivated according to principals very different from FLX mainstream vine growing. The most important aspects of this are the fact that the canopy hasn’t been hedged yet although the vine shoots are already several feet above the top wire, and the planting cover crop of clover between the rows, but I could list many other things. Although only about 8% of the vines that the Higgins planted here in 2010 are Riesling (the rest are Pinot Noir), with the first vintage the wine from them has established itself as one of the high points of their Riesling range. The Heart & Hands 2013 Estate Riesling has intense floral aromas that are unusual in this region, is juicy and vibrant, and though technically medium-dry is a great food wine. Can I taste the Onondaga limestone soil (in the background of the photo below) that dominates in this site, or the shale outcrop in part of the Riesling parcel in the upper block of the vineyard? Maybe, but mineral character isn’t something I expect from the first vintage of a new planting.

If you want proof that FLX Riesling can have a pronounced mineral taste, then try the Heart & Hands 2013 “Paul’s Legacy” Riesling from the Hobbit Hollow Vineyard. Cool and delicate with tart peach and fresh herbal aromas it is sleek with a brilliant interplay of acidity and aromatic sweetness, from which an intense mineral freshness emerges like sun after rain. It’s also the first interesting wine I tasted from Skaneateles Lake to the east of Cayuga. From the opposite (i.e. western) bank of the Higgins home lake comes the equally impressive drier 2013 Patricia Verona Vineyard Riesling with enticing notes of blossoms and white fruits, is quite rich and positively textural with a long elegant finale that is also quite mineral. Slightly simpler in flavor, but even more powerful and generous in style is the 2013 Dry Riesling. At first I underestimated the Higgins 2013 Nutt Road Riesling from the western shore of Seneca Lake, but this wine also has a lot of character and some real elegance. Finally, the slightly sweeter Heart & Hands 2014 Riesling is a deliciously succulent and pristine wine that suggests this is also an outstanding vintage for my favorite grape at this winery. I can’t wait to taste their other 2014 Rieslings!

Tom kindly drove me back to Geneva after the tasting and as we set off he explained about the troubled relationship between some of the Native Americans of the Hauendosanee, or Iroquois Confederacy, and White America. Then he was on to how the local Onondaga limestone (named after one of the Five Nations of the Iroqouis Confederacy) over great distances by Native Americans as a material for arrowheads axes. White America was also excited by the special qualities of this stone and used it as a construction material in New York City and elsewhere. Then Tom was on to the native fauna and flora of the region, which I have been observing since I arrived here on June 20th, but often failing to identify because it is frequently very different to that in Europe.

Tom suggested a stop at the first lock of the Seneca-Cayuga Canal where he pointed out a bald eagle, the national bird of America and an important emblem of the US,  in a nest at the top of a disused electricity pylon. He explained that the bird guarding the young in the nest was a male and that it is the female bald eagle who does all the hunting. What would Tea Party supporters think if they found that out? That sight reminded me that on my ride through the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge I’d seen even bigger mega-nests on electricity pylons that looked like something right out of Jurassic World. Tom told me that often ospreys – another beautiful raptor – occupy abandoned bald eagle nests and as we passed those mega-nests he felt pretty sure that this was the case there. Tom and Susan Higgins used to live in New York City and were in computing so they are now also occupying a nest someone else had previously used. They are not strangers in this land which is still a bit strange to me though, rather their intense involvement with this land – involving their hearts and hands – has made them natives of it.

Posted in FLXtra, Home | 2 Comments

FLXtra: TENTH EDITION! – The Chateau Frank Sparkling Wines Celebrate 30 Years and US Declares Independence from Champagne

Although the Dr. Frank winery on Kueka Lake celebrated the 30th anniversary of their Chateau Frank sparkling wines today, the 5th of July rather than the 4th, a rumor circulated at the celebration that the US had just declared independence from Champagne! More seriously, Fred Frank (right), the grandson of Dr. Frank founder Konstantin, announced that the Department of the Interior had added Chateau Frank to the National Register of Historic Places. Although the imposing house amongst the vineyards made of local stone acquired it’s present name back in 1985 when the first Chateau Frank sparkling wine was produced, it was built as a winery in 1886. On the left in the photo is Fred’s daughter Meaghan, the fourth generation of the Frank family to work in the winery. She has a strong feeling for the family’s rich traditions, but is determined to, “put my own spin on it.” Her very recent marriage was an additional reason to raise our glasses a few times, which we did in the pursuit of complete enjoyment of the beautiful day.

Dr. Frank was the first winery in the FLX (Finger Lakes) that I visited on my first visit to the region in October 2004 and the vertical tasting of dry Rieslings that Fred poured for me that day made a big impression upon me. Although we also tasted a couple of the Chateau Frank sparkling wines it was some years before I realized that they were some of the best products of this category in the region and the US, period. It’s easy with hindsight to say that the region was predestined to produce sparkling wines, because of the crisp, light and aromatic personality of the FLX wines, but if we turn the clock back more than 30 years this was not obvious to the region’s winemakers. It was a daring move by Willi Frank, Fred’s father and Konstantin’s son, to begin the production of Champagne style sparkling wines using the three vinifera grape varieties planted in that region: the white Chardonnay, and the red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Although we sadly couldn’t taste that first wine, the 1999 Brut was still in pretty good shape for a sparkling wine of 15 years age. However, I think the current vintages of the Blanc de Noir (Pinot Noir plus some Pinot Meunier), 2008 and 2009 are considerably superior to it and a genuine alternative to some elegant Champagnes costing up to double the price.

This is also the work Eric Bauman, the Chateau Frank winemaker since ten years to the day, pictured above in the historic cellars. His precision during a production process that stretches over several years is a no less important factor behind the quality of these wines than the excellent fruit the Dr. Frank vineyards give. Eric used to work for a major sparkling wine producer in Sonoma County, California and in that climate sparkling winemakers often have to add tartaric acidity (the most important of the natural grape acidities) to get suitable base wine. As Fred joked, “at his previous position Eric had to carry a lot of 50 pound sacks of acidity around winery. The cool climate here results in high natural acidity, so after he moved here Eric’s back recovered immediately. The acidity in the Chateau Frank sparkling wines is all natural.”

Although it is the largest production run at Chateau Frank and has won stacks of gold medals at major wine competitions, the Célébre sparkling Riesling is still not nearly well known enough. The reason for this is perhaps, that it is not “Brut”, that is it has more than 15 grams per liter / 1.5% unfermented sweetness, and the wine scene wants “Brut”, better still the even drier “Extra Brut”. The idea that the drier a sparkling wine is analytically the better it is  is one of the international wine scene’s deeply ingrained prejudices. The truth is that if a sparkling tastes as good as Célébre does (those juicy but delicate white fruit aromas and flavors!) then it does so because it has enough, but not too much, sweetness. The racy acidity of FLX Riesling demands more sweetness (and less aging on the yeast) than the sparkling wines made from the Champagne grape varieties do. It is extremely attractive in an entirely distinctive way, and this special balance is part of that. Another prejudice of the wine scene is that sparkling wines must imitate Champagne if they are to be any good. A glass of Célébre is the best argument I know against this prejudice!

 

Posted in FLXtra, Home | Leave a comment

FLXtra: NINTH EDITION! – Fred Merwarth of Hermann J. Wiemer in Depth with Quotation Marks

When I first visited the FLX (for new readers, the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York) back in October 2004 the most exciting wine tasting was my last one at Hermann J. Wiemer on the western bank of Seneca Lake. During that tasting Hermann introduced me to quite a shy young man called Fred Merwarth and it was clear to me that he was Hermann’s potential successor. Since 2007, with the help of Swedish-born Oskar Bynke Fred has built on Hermann’s considerable successes in a way that is both systematic and creative. One day soon Oskar will get his own blog posting, but this one belongs to Fred and is composed largely of quotes from him during my tasting at Hermann J. Wiemer yesterday afternoon. There was nothing shy about him then, and the following is an in depth look at the perfectionism with which he crafts these great FLX Rieslings.

The 2014 Dry Riesling from Wiemer is a very elegant wine with the kind of finesse a lot of FLX producers struggle to get anywhere near to achieving. 65% of the blend was made from grapes born in the home HJW vineyard, 23% came from the Josef vineyard and 12% came from the Magdalena vineyard, the latter both in a warmer site some miles to the north of the winery on the western side of Seneca Lake. “We shoot for three bottlings per year of this wine and they’re very similar to one another. The only real difference is that each lot is filtered immediately prior to bottling, so the later bottlings have more character from the yeast. Because we keep them so cold we manage to hang onto all the natural carbon dioxide in the wine.” This sounds like details, and for some winemakers it is no more than a detail which can be ignored, but that carbons dioxide gives this wine more brightness and liveliness. I could have sat with it all afternoon, but I had to taste all the 2014 Rieslings with Fred.

As he poured the next wine, a cask sample of the dry 2014  HJW Vineyard Riesling Fred explained, “this is collection of 15 different pickings harvested between October 12th and November 8th. The moment I know that the HJW Riesling grapes are ready is when the taste changes from tart lime to ripe lime.” The wine has a pristine yellow apple and tangerine bouquet, it tastes super-racy and this is balanced by a discrete pithy quality that underlines it’s understated power. “We had to walk the line on that pithiness as a textural component. The late-picked lots didn’t have it and by themselves came off a little heavy as a result. So we needed to put the best of the early-picked lots from this site in the blend.” The word “blend” is something a lot of wine geeks and somms don’t like to hear in connection with single-vineyard wines, because it suggests that somehow they’re not pure or authentic. However, the truth is that even if a single-vineyard wine starts life as one lot of grape juice putting that into two vessels to ferment always results in two slightly different lots of wine. So blending is almost inevitably an important skill for the maker of single vineyard wines.

“It took three trials to decide on the blend of the 2014 Magdalena Vineyard Riesling. Then I decided to try out all the other alternative blends I could think of, but I rejected them, because this just sings. There were 12 pickings of the Magdalena and we ended up using six of them for this wine.” As usual for this site, this is a much riper (peach, tart apricot and tangerine) bouquet and the vibrant acidity is married to a much more ample body than the HJW. Everything about this wine from the aroma to the aftertaste of this is broader than that of the HJW.  “How broad we can go, but bring it elegantly back at the finish is always the question.”

Yet more generous and succulent is the 2014 Riesling Reserve, which is packed with ripe yellow fruits and has less prominent acidity than the other dry 2014 Rieslings from Wiemer. “Sunday, Monday and Tuesday we put all of these wines up on the bench to taste them as a group. It’s a body of work and they each have very individual identities. This is a much more textural wine than the Dry Riesling, even if that also has some textural qualities.” At the opposite end of the scale is the crisper and sleeker 2014 Semi-Dry Riesling with its effusive apple, pear and citrus aromas, great freshness and a lightness that is reminiscent of a German Riesling Kabinett. You could analyze it, or just lie back and enjoy it!

The two 2014 Late Harvest Rieslings are both marked by noble rot of the blest kind (every vintage Botrytis develops differently, marking the wines made from nobly-rotten grapes differently). The regular bottling is succulent and elegant with a near-perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. “This has to go into the bottle perfectly balanced. If it is too sweet or too acidic at that point bottle-ageing isn’t going to change that.” The 2014 Josef Vineyard Late Harvest is perfectly golden in aroma and an even more stunning harmony. “There were four possible blends of this and it was really hard to decide, because they all really had something.” I would add – with great British understatement – that all the 2014 Rieslings from Hermann J. Wiemer really have something and that it was a joy to taste them, as it will be to drink them during the coming months and years!

PS Space and time are too short to describe the other 2014 wines from this producer, but just as Oskar deserves a posting to himself, so do the Cabernet Franc reds!

Posted in FLXtra, Home | Leave a comment