The story of the underground rock star winemakers of America.

New York Wine Diary: Day 5 – Meet Kelby James Russell, the Star of “ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story”

This is Kelby James Russell, the KJR in the title of my new e-book on Kindle, and one the FLX (Finger Lakes) Rock Star Winemakers the title refers to. The unlikely hero of my new work is pictured in the lab of Red Newt Cellars, the wines of which he’s only been fully responsible for since the 2013 vintage. In that short time Red Newt has gone from being an extremely reliable producer of elegant and charming Rieslings, mostly in the medium-sweet style to a daring innovator in the field of dry and medium-dry Rieslings. KJR is also responsible for making most of the wines for Bruce Murray’s small, but very ambitious Boundary Breaks winery, for the Empire Estate dry Riesling brand launched with the 2014, and for his own Kelby James Russell label. Taken together these wines have already exerted a significant impact on the perception of FLX wines in the Northeast of the US, and this effect will increase significantly during the next few years. The situation just a few years ago in which Hermann J. Wiemer was (rightly in my view) regarded as the sole star producer in the region has changed for this reason, but also others that I will go into over the next days. Given that Kelby is only 28 years old and gained his first experience of winemaking at Fox Run Vineyards on the other side of Seneca lake from Red Newt in the fall of 2009 this is an extraordinary achievement. This is the main reason that I chose him for the cover and title of my in-depth study of the new generation of FLX winemakers.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook will have already read the quote from Clarke Smith (the author of Postmodern Winemaking) that follows, but it’s so important I think that you should read it again along with everyone else: “The revolutions in winemaking are not the work of scientists, but of lunatic heroes who try stuff which orthodox thinking says never should be tried.” Clarke then added some further explanation that makes it clear he doesn’t regard this as being something specific to winemaking, but a much more general phenomenon: “Any paradigm shift is caused by such people. But the Scientific Method does not generate new hypotheses, rather merely tests them – a mopping up activity that constitutes the bulk of scientific enterprise. Revolutions are risky behavior for which you have to be a little bit nuts.” Although he doesn’t scream and shout about it, as you can see from the above photo of KJR he’s on the same page as Clark Smith. He certainly isn’t the only one of the new generation of winemakers in the FLX to see things that way, but he struck me as the right figurehead for this movement that might well be the Second Great Wine Awakening in New York State.

No revolution was ever the work of one woman or one man alone, and in this case the owner of Red Newt Cellars must take a very substantial amount of credit for recognizing KJR’s talent, seeing that this represented a great opportunity rather than a ton of complications, and giving him all the support he needed to realize his ideas. The results speak for themselves and would have had a great success in the marketplace even if I had written nothing whatsoever about them. However, maybe “success” is way too simple a word for the myriad reactions to the new wines from Red Newt Cellars. I have already noted much astonishment on the faces of leading Riesling winemakers like Cornelius Dönnhoff of the Dönnhoff estate in the Nahe, Germany, critics like Stephan Reinhardt of the Wine Advocate, and experts like Lisa Granik MW in NYWC (New York Wine City). As the wines get tasted by more and more people some critical voices are bound to become loud, because wines with this kind of dramatic personality are polarizing. I like the way that both KJR and Dave Whiting have a relaxed “so what?” attitude to this, because it’s inevitable and by no means will it always be bad publicity for them.

Great wines are impossible without excellent quality grapes, and with Riesling there’s very little possibility to hide inadequate fruit quality with winemaking bells and whistles. What you see (when the grapes come into the cellar) is what you get (in the bottle) when it comes to quality. The rise of KJR and Red Newt wouldn’t have been possible without the man pictured on the left in the above photograph, Harlan Fulkerson, a.k.a. The Big H, of the Lahoma Vineyard on the western bank of Seneca Lake. They are standing in a block of the vineyard that KJR christened The Knoll, because although the vineyard has several knolls this is the one planted with Riesling. From the 2013 vintage Red Newt  have produced a very special dry Riesling under the name The Knoll, and that first vintage is just coming into its own. Soon to follow from Red Newt is a new top medium-dry Riesling called The Big H. from another block in the Lahoma Vineyard.  The praise for these wines will be a vindication of Harlan’s precise vineyard cultivation no less than of KJR’s winemaking. Harlan also gets a big splash in my e-book, but a larger than life personality like his is incapable of making a small splash!

For more information about Kelby Russell go to

And for the full, unexpurgated story of the new generation of FLX winemakers and much, much more head to the Kindle Store on Amazon and purchase my book:

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New York Wine Diary: Day 5 – “ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story” is finally published on Kindle!

I write these lines in a state of exhaustion and euphoria after a two day marathon completing the latest e-book in my series ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA and publishing #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story on Kindle late yesterday evening. It’s subject is the new generation of winemakers in the Finger Lakes (FLX) in Upstate New York and the events described in this roller coaster work of gonzo journalism span the period June 15th 2015 thru March 17th 2016. KJR is Kelby James Russell, the 28 year old Rock Star Winemaker of Red Newt Cellars on the eastern side of Seneca Lake, and it is his face on the cover. More about him tomorrow. Once again the cover art was drawn and stitched, then the cover designed by Angelyn Cabrales. I must thank her for giving the cover a very different look to either #1 or #2 that communicates the daring, optimism and openness of the new generation of winemakers in the FLX. They deeply inspired me.

In spite of increased media coverage of the FLX during the last years – a reflection of the rapidly improving quality of the wines – I don’t think any of my colleagues really wrote a comprehensive portrait of the new winemakers that captured their spirit and society. Nor did anyone describe in detail how they are part of a network of creative exchange between older and younger winemakers. This is not a sales pitch – I need several days of R&R before I can write anything resembling that! – merely an observation that this subject was rather inadequately covered, because nobody considered it important enough to invest the considerable amount of time and effort that I did. However, during the months since I began writing it on a flight from Berlin to New York on December 18th 2015 I was often a bit worried that I might be scooped by some colleague. The FLX are about to be discovered by the mainstream media big time!

Look at those dates and you will see that I was writing for almost full three months before the events described ended. This alone makes #3: FLXtra gonzo, for I was often writing about what had just happened, lifting quotes and impressions from my notebook into the text the very next morning. This meant the text was developing as the story happened, and I decided not to shy away from telling that story with all its highs and lows. Those who have read #1 and #2 will note the absence of the PARENTAL ADVISORY: Explicit Content sticker from the cover of #3. This is a risk I’m taking, because there is some sexual content in #3 (I’m rating it PG), but the more unusual thing for a wine book is that emotional intensity. In recent years several colleagues (most notably Alice Feiring) wrote wine books that went some distance in this direction, but I don’t think anybody did so in the radical way I have done. By the way, I tried to do so in a spirit of compassion rather than to be judgmental of others in any way or form.

#3 is gonzo in a more fundamental way too, for I worked hard not only to be accepted by my subjects, but also to become part of their world, so that when I wrote about it I would be doing so from the inside. Many of the new winemakers of the FLX trusted me completely, and that made this dissolving of boundaries possible, so help me God. Here is the outrageous result. The price is $4.99 and all you need to do to read it is download the free Kindle app onto your device before purchasing, that is if you don’t already have a Kindle or an iPad/iPhone/etc with the Kindle app on it. ENJOY!


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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 3 – BE HERE soon for ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra

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!

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 3 – Anna Leonhardt and Her Ironically Cryptic Paintings

Wine takes me to all kinds of places and introduces me to all kinds of people, and one of the most interesting recent introductions was to the German painter Anna Leonhardt who’s first NYC show opens at 6pm tonight (Sunday, April 10th at Marc Straus Gallery, 299 Grand Street in Chinatown). In the photograph above she is pictured in her grungy NYC studio – it’s cold even on a warm day, and at one point when she was working several bucket loads of water suddenly dropped in through the ceiling – just a few doors down the street from the gallery where where she did most of the paintings that go on show tonight, a process I was able to follow. If you can’t get to the gallery before the show closes on May 15th, then you can get a get a good idea of how it looks by clicking on the following link.

I won’t get to see the show until after I return to NYC May 3rd, so what I see when I think of Anna’s work looks more like the photograph below that was taken in her studio the last time we met. It shows the largest of her recent paintings, and although it may not look it, this thing is 3.5 meters long and barely fitted in through the studio front door!

All of Anna’s paintings function in the same basic way, having a landscape-like background – that is one element covering the entire surface of the painting that we read as being a landscape type space – and a number of strokes in the foreground – that is a number of elements superimposed on that background that we read as being like figures standing closer to us than what we read as being behind them. This clumsy piece of description is necessary to point out that the way Anna’s paintings function is all about how we interpret them, a process I’ve only described the most banal aspect of. However, it is the basis upon which all the other interpretations we make are based, as it were the foundations upon which many floors can be built.

It’s a long time since abstract paintings fascinated me as much as Anna’s do, and they do so because they are ironically cryptic. That means, when I look at them my mind jumps to the conclusion there is a puzzle to solve, but I also see my mind doing that and observe the way it jumps to that conclusion. And what a (non-)puzzle it is! New pieces of (non-)it drop into my mind each time I look at one of Anna’s paintings, yet my head doesn’t just fill up with a growing pile of mental debris, rather space for further interpretations always remains available. That’s the reason that they are ironically open-ended, because I also observe the way they always remain open-ended, and any conclusions I come to are delightfully inconclusive. That might read like some kind of complicated word game, but really it’s not like that at all. Anna’s paintings communicate a special kind of freedom and it’s something I could never have thought up before I hadn’t encountered them.

I like this small painting a lot – Anna’s work on a small scale is every bit as strong as her larger paintings – and the way it looks in this deliberately awkward photograph. I took a number like this, because they seemed to capture the very particular atmosphere in her anarchic studio best. Anarchic? What I don’t mean is that this place and what she did there were chaotic in any sense at all, rather she gave the place a spirit that refuses to adhere to any rules, but then pragmatically goes through the motions of playing by the rules in order to get somewhere and take us there with her.

Now I’ve said too much already, or possibly nothing useful at all, but you read this far and some of you will go and see the paintings, which is the most important thing. On the side, being introduced to Anna Leonhardt by wine one evening in a Japanese restaurant (1 or 8 on South 2nd Street), then getting to know her work pushed me to reconnect with the painterly creative process and write something about it. That’s something I haven’t done for many years. No doubt the lack of practice shows!


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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 1 – Why Dan Dunn’s American Wino is a Gross Outrage that You Must Read

Let me be completely frank with you: I don’t like Dan Dunn’s book AMERICAN WINO, in fact I find it extremely frustrating, so frustrating that while I was reading it I said, “what the fuck?” I don’t know how many times and I threw it against the wall a couple of times too. So you’re probably wondering why I’m bothering to review it here, or even why I made the effort to struggle through its 338 confused and confusing pages. Maybe you’re also now wondering if I’m taking a sadistic thrill in craving this new wine book into pieces in the public place that is cyberspace. The truth is the opposite though, for I have forgiven Dan, although his book is a gross outrage. Why did I do that?

The worst thing about Dan’s book is the he keeps on losing it, by which I mean the thread of his story about a coast to coast journey of discovers through the mostly unknown grape growing regions of the United States of Wine, by switching his attention at exactly the wrong moment. In particular, just as you think he’s going to tell you something really interesting about obscure American wines he’s promised to give you an intro to he gets completely distracted by his dead brother, ex-girlfriend or their dead dog! We end up learning more about them and his inability to pick up girls (often much younger than him) than we do about American wine; inexcusable unprofessionalism!

His admission that, “luckily, the one thing that doesn’t scare me is actually being full of shit. I’ve known that I ‘m full of shit for a very long time. It’s pretty much the only thing that I’m comfortable with in life,” is a typical example of his humor, but it doesn’t makes this situation any better. Sure, his frequent attacks on the “snootytorium” that is the wine scene are well deserved, but they are as often off-target and off-subject as they succeed. Much of this crap-shoot is packed into “wine-centric sidebars” that result in those weak moments when I gave into anger and proved to myself that I have more upper body musculature than I admit to.

OK, sometimes – often just when you gave up hope that this wine book would discuss wine in any meaningful way – Dan does tells you something fascinating about little-known and under-appreciated American wines like the Muscadines of Georgia, but there is no consistency to this at all. For example, after he left Sonoma County, California – not exactly the least important winemaking location in the US – I felt I had learned exactly nothing about it, nor had he expressed a serious opinion about it; scandalous incompetence! But I kept reading. I always kept reading AMERICAN WINO even when I was totally infuriated by Dan’s perverse personality and by his inability to tell a coherent story, and even when I was bored by a his compulsive rambling.

Clearly he has the same writer hero as me, Hunter S. Thompson (who I also find infuriating and rambling) and he also writes about some of the same winemakers as I do, such as Maynard James Keenan (yes, the singer of Puscifer and Tool), who makes the Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards wines in Arizona (see my ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #2: AZ with MJK, available on Kindle). So please dismiss this tirade as jealousy for a colleague who made it into out-dated print when I didn’t.

Why did I forgive Dan then? Not because his book enormously helps me to establish Gonzo wine journalism as category (which it does!), or because it takes a bunch of unfamiliar winemaking locations in America as seriously as I believe they deserve to be (which it does!) but because again and again AMERICAN WINO excited me in ways little other wine storytelling or other storytelling ever does. The book is worth $16.99 (published by Dey St.) just for Dan’s description of seeing rock group U2’s movie Rattle and Hum for the first time!

Be warned, at times this book could make you so frustrated that you will commit violence against it and/or your own person, but you must suffer all that for the outrageously things it will also to do to you, and to get to them you must read it right to the end!

PS Publication of ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3 on Kindle about the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York will be May 2nd.

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New York Wine Diary: Day 16 – Truth Before Feel-Good

Regular readers will have noticed a change of tone in many of my postings from the last weeks, and several of you guessed rightly what lies behind this. A number of people told me that I should be careful not to let private things creep into my social media or blog postings. They meant well, but following this advice would lead to self-censorship and that’s something I cannot do. The problem is that a “harmless” element of self-censorship is the thin end of the wedge, and you can quickly move from there to small lies, then on to larger ones. For example, if I were to claim here that I have been doing fine that would be a lie, as would the statement that I’m doing fine, although just the last couple of days I’ve been doing somewhat better.

Of course, I don’t need to tell you all the dirty details of the rough ride I’ve had since the early hours of January 1st (no names mentioned), but I can’t hide the emotional truth of what happened without taking something away from the Big Story that all of these smaller stories add up to. The painful experiences and the problems that I’ve faced since 2016 have been many and varied, and they lead to a battle with depression, something I’ve had to deal with several other times in my life: you learn how to deal with it, and practice makes you better at it, if not perfect. Of course, this has influenced what I have written, some of the shadows have crept on to this page, just as my attempt to find the positive things has too. However, before leaving NYWC (New York Wine City) for a month in Austria, Germany and Switzerland it seemed essential to me to be completely straight with you all.

One reason that I feel rather better since a couple of days is no doubt my impending departure. I really need to breathe other air, see very different people and do everything else possible to refresh my mental state. This does not mean I’m turning my back on NYWC or the United States of Wine, rather that I need to try and return with a fresh approach that isn’t heavily weighed down by memories of the pain of the last three months. When I get on the plane the two-thirds completed manuscript of my forthcoming e-book ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3 about the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York, but also love and love lost (an important part of the last months), will be in my bag. I will complete it in Berlin and on the road in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Publication on Kindle (you can download the Kindle app free of charge on just about any device!) will be May 1st, immediately before my return to NYWC. Of course, during the next weeks there will be plenty of blog postings and the new vintage in Europe will be covered in some detail. I guarantee a high Riesling content!

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New York Wine Diary: Day 12 – An Important Message

Sometimes it’s difficult not to see negative things around you, because sooner or later you find yourself in a situation that looks clearly negative, or as happened to me recently multiple situations that looked clearly negative. Suffering is an intrinsic part of life, not least because we are all born, age, get sick and die, process that are inherently more or less painful. Then there are the things and people we want but can’t have, no less the things and people we don’t want at all but have to put up with. The real problems begin when the idea that those “negative” things and people can be separated from the “positive” ones takes hold in your mind, and you imagine that if only you could do  this  everything would be hunky dory. And if that doesn’t work, then you try to at least keep the “negative” things and people at a distance where we feel that they won’t be able to harm us. That takes a great deal of energy, narrows or closes your heart and often doesn’t work either. The truth is, of course, that positive and negative, good and bad are all mixed up together and they always will be. I recently became more aware of how fear is the force driving the desire to avoid the negative: the fear of being hurt again. I am certainly not immune from any of these forms of thinking and often fall into them myself too. By the way, none of these thoughts are in any way new, in fact they’re as old as the world. Many other writers have said these things much better than I have, or will ever be able to. In spite of that I feel the need to communicate them to you today. Please take my advice and FEAR NOT!

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FLXtra: Part 3 – Nova Creates a New Constellation

That Nova Cadamatre has just made three 2015 FLX wines for the 240 Days brand certainly sounds like the kind of news that this blog is on the look out for, but it hardly sounds earth-shattering. That is, until you realize that the owner of 240 Days is Constellation Brands in Canandaigua, NY the world’s largest wine producer (think giant brands like Robert Mondavi, Clos du Bois, Kim Crawford, and, and, and). Nova Cadamatre is Constellation’s director of winemaking and is responsible for the making of more than 100 million bottles of wine per year. The roughly 8,000 bottles of the debut vintage of 240 Days may seem like a tiny drop in that ocean, but if you see this brand as a small new FLX winery then that quantity seems rather normal. The point of that analogy is that these wines taste as if they came from a small new FLX winery, not from a corporate giant. Given that the latter is the actual context  this is a major achievement. One of the secrets behind this is Nova’s ability to adapt to the special set of growing conditions in the FLX.

“After coming back from Napa I had to ask myself what will work here, and what won’t work here,” she explained, “I noticed that the size of the is much larger than in California.” For red wines that is of particular importance, because the color and the tannins are in the skins, so big berries means less color and tannin per unit volume of grape juice. Her simple solution to this problem was to, “to take the water out,” that is to remove 20% of the fermenting juice out of  the tank of fermenting 2015 Cabernet Franc to increase the skins to juice ratio. That 20% was then fermented separately to give the core of the 240 Days 2015 Dry Rosé. The latter is one of the new breed of fruit-driven – in this case mostly strawberry, but also watermelon and redcurrant – FLX dry rosés that have been taking the NYWC (New York Wine City) market by storm. The still slightly raw 2015 Cabernet Franc rted is a much more serious wine with a delicate touch of smoky oak, discrete herbal greenness rather than the full-throttle vegetal aromatics this grape is careful of, moderate acidity and quite elegant dry tannins. There are not many FLX Cabernet Francs that play in this league without getting what I call the Vanilla Pudding Problem, i.e. too much new oak leading to a vanilla aroma that smothers the wines’ fruit character. Some leading FLX winemakers need to get away from this if they want to persuade NYWC and the Big Wide Wine World that their Cab Francs deserve to be taken seriously!

Similarly successful, but in a dramatically contrasting style is the 240 Days 2015 Riesling, which is at the upper limit of the dry category. This has a very attractive nose of various fresh white fruits and a hint of citrus, and in the mouth has a spot on balance between juicy fruit, crisp acidity, and an uplifting spritz of carbon dioxide. Aging 10% of this wine in barriques used by the Robert Mondavi winery for six years before Nova got her hands on them has added some mid-palate texture without giving any hint of oak aroma. Both the alcohol and sweetness aren’t directly perceptible unless you’re a professional taster trained to look for those things. The price of $28 retail for the Riesling and $40 for the Cabernet Franc are statement’s of intent regarding the long-term position of the brand, and puts some pressure on Nova to push the quality even further during the coming years. It seems that Constellation are very serious about this project. “Rob said to me, “make the best possible wine you can!”” Rob is Robert Sands, the CEO.

Nova also as her own brand that debits with the 2015 vintage, Trestle 31, together with her husband Brian who also works for Constellation Brands, but on the financial side. They own a 12 acre property on the eastern bank of Seneca Lake that is cleared ready for planting and the grapes for the 2015 vintage came from nearby Zugibe Vineyards. This wine is a complete stylistic contrast to the 240 Days Riesling, being bone-dry with a much less strident acidity and aromas of tart peach and ripe lime. By the way, Nova is also a talented writer with her own blog. Normally, I don’t recommend winemaker’s blogs, because they are often poorly written and/or too geeky and/or dull as dust. However, I strongly recommend this one to you:

What does all this mean? Nova is undoubtedly one of the Rock Stars of Wine America! By the way, the third volume in my series of e-books under that name appears on Kindle on April 21st, and Nova also makes an appearance in it.


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FLXtra: Part 2 – A Simultaneous Riesling Vertical and Winemaker Horizontal

Why is there so little interest in mature wines like those pictured above? Most wine drinkers never have the chance to taste a particular wine from many vintages stretching back over 10 to 15 years, and those who lucky enough to have only done so generally only did that once or twice How can you actively desire something you’ve never experienced before? I think there’s also a difference between dabbling in a new experience and immersing yourself in it, because the former rarely leads to new habits being formed whereas the later does. The importance of habits in shaping our patterns of consumption and preferences whether in wine or other things is greatly underrated. The truth is that we are to a very large degree creatures of habit, but these habits can be changed. But enough philosophy for this afternoon, because this posting has a couple of concrete subjects.

The first of them is the vertical tasting of the dry Rieslings from the Sheldrake Point Estate Winery on Cayuga Lake yesterday afternoon that I was lucky to be invited to. I say “lucky”, because although I get to taste those 10 to 15 vintages of a particular wine quite often due to my profession, I very rarely get that chance in the FLX. Many producers who are making the best wines didn’t exist a decade or more ago, or if they did the quality took a big step up during that time. Then the comparison between wines of high quality current production with mediocre earlier production doesn’t real tell you anything apart from the simple fact that this producer got a lot better!

The most striking thing about the dry Rieslings from Sheldrake Point was the fact that the oldest  wines, the rich and weighty 2001 and the much lighter and much crisper 2002, both showed really well. The fact that regular quality wines produced in serious quantities can keep that well is a very positive sign. OK the 2003 had not aged so gracefully (it was drying out) and the 2004 was a bit too tart, but from the 2009 vintage onwards there was an impressive consistency of style and quality. This was also true of the rather more powerful and concentrated Riesling Reserve and even those wines from the unremarkable 2006 and very difficult 2009 vintages were seriously fresh and vivid. Probably the rich (apricot and tangerine aromas dominate) and beautifully balanced 2012 Riesling Reserve is the best white wine Sheldrake Point produced before the stunning 2014 that hasn’t been released yet. On which note, look out for the regular 2014 Dry Riesling due for release in just a couple of weeks. It is a steal!

 Then the concentration of the group of tasters was abruptly broken by a Facebook posting from Nathan Kendall, the winemaker of Bellangelo Winery on Seneca Lake for the 2014 and 2015 vintages (pictured right). It said:

For the last year and a half, I’ve had the great opportunity to make wines for Bellangelo Winery. Wishing them continued success. As of today I’m moving on to focus on the growth of my personal label, N. Kendall Wines. Also, stay tuned as I have some new exciting projects in the works as well!

That was a shocker had seen coming, and I had seen Nathan twice recently in NYC. The first time was at the first presentation that the winemaker group FLX Unfiltered & Unrefined in the Royal Seafood restaurant in Mott Street, Chinatown on the evening of Wednesday, March 2nd when he was showing the wines of his own label, and then the New York Drinks New York tasting on Tuesday, March 8th when he was showing the Bellangelo wines. The almost the off-dry 2014 Riesling he showed at the latter event was a striking wine that is just beginning to open up and (quite rightly) hasn’t been released yet. This situation didn’t suggest in any way that a big change was coming, rather it looked like Nathan would continue on this twin track career.

The FLX Unfiltered & Unrefined tasting demands some more serious comment. The one slightly questionable aspect of this group is the way they seem to be trying to position themselves as belonging within the broad (and increasingly confusing) circle of natural and alternative winemakers. Certainly, they can all claim to be makers of alternative wines, at least if that’s defined simply as wines with a non-mainstream taste. However, they certainly aren’t “natural” winemakers by any stretch of the imagination, or if they are then you have to make that category elastic to the point where it becomes meaningless.

This odd tasting in a Chinese restaurant was not only great fun, it was also my first chance to taste the wines from the Shaw and Wild Brute wineries. Shaw showed several mature wines, of which the muscular and tannic 2010 Pinot Noir was the most interesting. My only criticism of Wild Brute is given that name the wines were actually rather easy to drink, except for the 2013 Cabernet Franc, which is still a little bit wild and brutishly young in the positive sense. I really like the reds from Element winery that Master Sommelier Chris Bates founded, particularly the 2102 Cabernet Franc and the 2013 Lemberger. However, the most fitting description of this style is that I can come up with is that it is clearly inspired by certain traditional style French wines, but (thankfully) omits the hardcore funkiness often associated with them.

Nathan Kendall’s Rieslings are very striking, but if it’s bright fruity aromas that turn you on this is the wrong place to seek that tutti-frutti winogasm. However, if you like your dry Riesling to have some serious textural components then these wines – I’m thinking particularly of the dry 2012 and 2013 – could well excite you. The problem is that Kris Matthewsen of Bellwether Wines (pictured left) is also in the group, and he also makes dry Rieslings that are medium-bodied but have a lot textural complexity. As alternative as Kris’s wines undeniably are, they are also rather aromatic and I find them more interesting and satisfying than Nathan’s. I’m thinking particularly about the recently released Bellwether 2014 Dry Riesling from the Sawmill Creek Vineyard with it’s white peach, apple and lemon notes and a great balance for a high acidity dry white with just 11% alcohol. Hats off Kris!

What I’ve done here is simply to report on Nathan’s step sideways out of Bellangelo and off  completely in his own direction. Whether this is a positive step or not is another matter. You could say that it was a sign of the increasing dynamism of the FLX, or you could regard it as a petulant act of an ambitious and talented young winemaker. Time will tell us which it was better than I can with the facts currently at my disposal. Of course, it creates a problem for Bellangelo’s owner Chris Missick, but there’s plenty of time until the 2016 harevest and I’m sure that he can solve it well before then.


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FLXtra: Part 1 – Breaking the Boundaries at Boundary Breaks Vineyard

The Finger Lakes, increasingly well known under the acronym FLX, is a dynamic wine region that keeps drawing me back to it, but many people in New York Wine City, or NYWC as I call it, continue to look down their noses at the region’s wines. The inhabitants of NYWC are now split down the middle into FLX fans – mostly newly enthusiastic on the basis of the best wines from the last few vintages – and those who remain deeply skeptical. Just as Bordeaux – let’s stick with the goddamn acronyms and call it BDX – long benefited from being regarded by conservative wine drinkers as the wine region of France, Europe, the world and the universe, so in the eyes of arch-conservative citizens of NYWC the FLX will be forever the wrong wine region. Although the Great God of Wine is seldom evoked when such drastic judgements are made, it often strikes me that people act as if one or another gad had made that decision and all they are doing is following his will. I’m sure you can tell just how much scorn I have for this way of seeing Planet Wine, or for that matter anything else. The reason I’m so radical in rejecting this god-given determinism is that it strikes me that nothing in this world except for the hard facts of birth, aging, sickness and (eventual) death is ever fixed or forever certain.

Bruce Murray of Boundary Breaks Vineyard in the FLX, pictured above on the construction site of his new winery building, is the perfect proof of this. Although it is entirely functional it is also in the Greek Revival style that was so popular in this part of New York State when it was first settled by white European-Americans in the early 19th century. That is already quite a statement, and it fits Bruce’s ambitious plans for his still very young and still rather small winery.

After planting his first vines in 2008 Bruce released his first wine just under four years ago and with his 2014 vintage Rieslings he moved into the first league of FLX producers with a style that is at once ripe and aromatic, but also elegant and polished. His 2014 Dry Riesling 239 has already been named by this one of my  Riesling Revelations of 2015, and this wine is a steal at a shade under $20 direct from the winery! This quality and stylistic innovation is the result not only of the vision of Bruce the ex-market researcher, but also very much to his talented vineyard manager Kees Stapel and to the winemaking skills of Kelby Russell of Red Newt Cellars (with which wines they are not to be confused!) where the three main 2014 Rieslings of Boundary Breaks were made. I tasted them again this afternoon and cannot recommend them too highly to all the dyed-in-the-wool FLX wine skeptics in NYWC, because these wines have exactly what they think the wines of this region cannot ever have: finesse, sophistication and the ability to stand in the company of the world’s best (in this case Rieslings from the Mosel and Nahe in Germany would be the logical comparison).

With the first phase of construction of the new winery under way (I’d expect the new tasting room to be ready for the beginning of the tourist season),  the first red wine in barrel (at the cellar of Sheldrake Point), and plans for further planting in the air Boundary Breaks isn’t sitting still, rather Bruce is upping the stakes in the Great FLX Wine Game. And Bruce isn’t the only one with serious ambitions and the determination to turn a vision into wines that wow consumers out there in the Big Wine Wine World. No less than his switched on colleagues in the region, he knows that there is no way to achieve this but by breaking the supposed boundaries of what this region can do. Oh, and then you have to sell these new wines along with the idea that they are not just remarkable FLX wines, but remarkable wines period. As Bruce said to me, “in this market that’s overcrowded with many, many, many, many fine wines the way you market yourself has a disproportionate effect on how successful you are.” He’s working on that challenge too!


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