Sparkling Wines of New York State

Chances are when you think of sparkling wines or Champagne New York State is not the first thing that pops into your head. But with so much diversity in wines and array of talent in the winemaking community, perhaps it should be.

A recent webinar of the sparking wines of New York State, hosted by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, and moderated by The Cork Report’s Lenn Thompson, explored that question and came up with many reasons New York sparklers should be on your table for the holidays, New Year’s, and any time!

Lenn kicked off the discussion by pointing out that New York State is able to grow many different kinds of grapes, noting “I can’t think of another state with suck a large variety.” Steve DiFrancesco, winemaker at Glenora Cellars in the Finger Lakes, noted that the growing conditions in the Finger lakes are much more akin to the Champagne region in France that that of California, and called it the perfect place to do sparkling. He said he would “like to see it get more attention than it does” as “there is much potential for sparkling wines here.” Bruce Tripp, winemaker at Milea Estate Vineyard in the Hudson Valley region, said of the production of sparkling wine in the state that it Is “absolutely growth forward in our production,” adding that he is excited to get in with a big-time sparkler.”

Bruce kicked off the main discussion by presenting his Proceedo Sparkling Rosé, a nonvintage label sourced from Sannino Buena Vista and Reilly Cellars on Long Island and Double A Vineyards in Lake Erie. He said the wine was made with a forced carbonation process to give it a light sparkle as he was looking to enhance rosé as a summer sipping wine. It will “take the edge off the day,” he noted, pointing out that the wine is dry, yet retains quite a bit of the fruit. He used mainly Bordeaux varieties in making the wine, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and even a bit of Blaufränkisch, with a touch of Vidal to lighten the color. The result, he said, makes it ideal “to sit down at the end of the day and kick back to enjoy.”

Patrick Doyle, from the Pleasant Valley Wine Company, followed with a look at their Gold Seal Blanc de Blancs NY State Champagne. He started

with a bit of background, explaining that Pleasant Valley started in the 1860s with hybrid grapes, and began making sparkling wines in the 1870s, with awards coming by the late 1800s. Gold Seal has been family owned and operated for the last 25 years. He said they do use the word Champagne based on their long history. He said that when the French were trying to expand Champagne in the late 1800s, they encouraged the use of the term. The agreement signed in 2006 to use the term for wines of the Champagne region of France grandfathered in the use of the term if it was used previously. Patrick added that its use may be “a little dicey, but we feel ok with its use.”

The Gold Seal Blanc de Blanc is traditionally a Chardonnay or some blend of hybrids, about which he said 75 percent of their wines use hybrids. “It is an important part of our history and should be preserved,” he said. The wine he presented came from a blend of Cayuga, Aurore, and Seyval grapes. He feels this is a great anytime Champagne. “We are pretty proud of how it came out,” he concluded.

Steve DiFrancesco then described his 2013 Brut from Glenora. Made from grapes all grown near Seneca Lake during a cool season in 2013. He explained that the “west side of Seneca Lake is the cooler side” that gets sunlight in the morning, adding that “cooler sites are better for sparkling.”  The 2013 Brut is a blend of 76 percent Pinot Noir and 24 percent Chardonnay with moderate dosage. He uses a tank fermentation method, noting there is “no reason tank fermented can’t be very good.” Glenora’s history with sparkling wines goes back to a decision with their 1987 vintage when they” had the ambitious idea to put emphasis on sparkling.” Steve noted that the 1988 Blanc de Blanc “won big in San Francisco, which was good recognition for New York wines at the time” He said this wine can be enjoyed any time, whether by itself or with food, adding that he likes to start off tastings at Glenora with sparkling wine as it “sets everyone in a good mood.”

Meaghan Frank, general manager, and Eric Bauman, sparkling winemaker, from Dr. Konstantin Frank next discussed their 2016 Blanc de Noirs. The wine is 75 percent Pinot Meunier and 25 percent Pinot Noir, and 100 percent Keuka estate grown. The wine was made Méthode Champenoise, with a minimum of 4 years. The grapes were all hand harvested, as are all the grapes at Dr. Frank, and the whole cluster grapes were pressed immediately. Eric said that 2016 had been “an interesting year” after a bad winter in 2014 and a no-vintage year in 2015. With the holidays coming up, they offered thoughts on pairings, with Meaghan saying that it went well with Filet Mignon and “stands up to heavier dishes.” Eric said it is “very versatile” and its deeper red fruits will pair well with meat dishes. He also said

Winemaker Thomas Spotteck, from The Lenz Winery of Long Island’s North Fork, took a look at their 2014 Cuvee. The wine was made from 100 percent Pinot Noir via Méthode Champenoise aged for not less than 4 years. Thomas, who took over as winemaker in 2016 from Eric Fry, who retired, noted that Long Island’s climate is akin to Bordeaux. He said Piot Noir, which is one of the earliest grapes harvested on the North Fork, is hard to grow on Long Island due to the maritime climate. He said Lenz has around 2.5 acres of Pinot planted, not they are not going to plant any more, nor replace what is there. He noted two key points in making sparkling wines. First, he said, taste the grapes in the vineyard every day as there is a small window to get the target pH under 3.2. Next, the way the grapes are handled matters. He said they need to be pressed as gently as possible or too many flavors can be extracted. As for pairing with food, Thomas said he has found one benefit from Covid in that “oyster stands have popped up everywhere,” noting that shellfish with the Cuvee is his choice.

Lenn asked the panel for their thoughts on how climate change could affect the region. Thomas noted that in terms of organic farming, “climate change would make it more difficult,” but that there is the potential for growing more warm varietals. Steve said it does depend in the Finger Lakes on which side of the lake and the angle of the sun. Some of the cooler parts, he said, are more suitable for Riesling and sparkling. Bruce added that climate change also includes events, especially in winter. “Deep dives in temperature,” he said, “some minus 12°temperatures like 2 years ago does a lot of damage.”

Lenn also asked the group about hand riddling.  Thomas said that “everything is by hand at Lenz,” and that it takes a week or so to hand riddle, and a year to disgorge a full vintage. Steve said that “riddling in racks takes a lot of room,” noting that they riddle in other way, and that they are not riddling by hand. Eric said that they were mostly hand riddling when they started, but they are machine riddling now, and have much automation versus by hand.

At the end of the day, the question comes back to the focus on the sparkling wines of New York. Different regions, different varieties, different winemaking styles. This glimpse offered a great exploration of each, showcasing a region rich in history for sparkling wines, and an ever-growing future. The answer is a resounding yes to New York sparkling wines. Whether for sipping any time, with a meal, on a holiday, or for New Year’s, grab one and enjoy!

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