With so many things gone missing in 2020 due to lockdowns and quarantines, one that I miss the most is a grand wine tasting. Gone this year was New York Drinks New York. There was no Hudson Valley Wine & Food Festival. Harvest East End was relegated to another year. The Finger Lakes Wine Festival? Maybe another time.
Fortunately, Sam Filler, Jenn Cooper, and the New York Wine and Grape Foundation came to the virtual rescue! Throughout the pandemic they have kept the ball rolling with virtual wine tastings and webinars And among their recent presentations, there have been some particularly good ones relating to the New York wine experience.
New York Wines from Corner to Corner
New York Wines from Corner to Corner featured a grand look at wine regions acoss the state, from the Niagara Escarpment to Eastern Long Island, with stops in the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley. The webinar featured Yannick Benjamin (moderator), John Wagner (Wagner Vineyards, Seneca Lake), Mindy Crawford (Wölffer Estate Vineyard, South Fork Long Island), Meaghan Frank (Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, Keuka Lake), Matt Spaccarelli (Fjord Vineyards, Hudson Valley), Robin Ross (Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, Niagara Escarpment), and Kareem Massoud (Paumanok Vineyards, North Fork Long Island).
The speakers contrasted the various terroirs of New York State, with Meaghan Frank describing the moderating effects of the deep lakes and shale soil in the Finger Lakes region. She added that Dr. Frank was the first Finger Lakes producer to make a méthode champenoise sparkling wine with vinifera grapes. Meaghan presented their2014 Blanc de Blancs for this seminar. That description echoed by John Wagner, who noted his family had been growing grapes in the region for five generations and that they only use estate-grown fruit in their wines. He added that Wagner is focused on sustainability, which he said is a big theme in New York wines and will be revisited later). John presented 2018 Dry Riesling.
Kareem Moussad spoke about Long Island’s maritime climate and sandy loam, with its sandy subsoils. Paumanok, he said, is a multigenerational wine estate, with its first planting in 1983. Sticking on the theme of sustainability he noted that the winery is 100 percent solar powered and is certified sustainable. He described the happy accident of finding Chenin Blanc (which has become a winery signature wine) in a vineyard across the street from where they are located. Originally used to reduce the coast of making Chardonnay, Paumanok ended up a special and unique wine. He presented his 2019 Sauvignon Blanc for this webinar.
Matt Spaccarelli spoke of the Hudson Valley climate featuring bodies of water that allow grapes to be grown that would not grow elsewhere, with the Valley itself acting as a conduit of warm air up from the Atlantic, with the region featuring a Patchwork of different microclimates, saying “top of the hill or bottom of the hill, things change so quickly.” He added the region has a huge diversity of soil. Fjord, he said, started in 2013 as an offshoot of Benmarl Winery. He presented their 2019 Albariño.
Robin Ross described Lake Ontario, just to the north of the winery, as “a big heat sink.” It gives them a very extended autumn season, which can extend into November. Arrowhead focuses on Sustainability, and uses wind and solar power. Despite the location in northwestern New York, she said they are in the second warmest region in New York State after Long Island. “It’s fun to be a pioneer in a region where wine is taking off again,” she said. Robin presented their 2017 Cabernet Franc.
Mindy Crawford described the Bridgehampton Loam, which runs 6 inches deep and drains into sand. She seconded Kareem on the maritime nature of the Long Island region, noting that the Atlantic Ocean is nearby to the south, and Peconic Bay to the north. She gave a background of Wölffer, describing how it used to be potato farms. Their first vintage went in 1992, with a second the following year, when winemaker (and part-owner) Roman Roth came on board. She noted that Roman uses predominantly French oak barrels in his winemaking. She presented their 2017 Fatlis Fatum, a red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot.
Sustainably Farmed Wines of New York
A second webinar on the recent exploration of New York state focused more sharply on the theme of sustainability. Sustainably Farmed Wines of New York, moderated by Whitney Beaman, featured a panel of Dillon Buckley (who doubled as winemaker for both Hermann J. Wiemer and Standing Stone), Roman Roth (Wölffer), Rich Olsen-Harbich (Bedell) and Paul Brock (Silver Thread).
Whitney started by throwing out the question, What is Sustainability? She described it as a catch all term for conserving resources, reducing environmental impact, investing in the future of wine and the vineyards, protecting water and soil, among other things, focusing on biodiversity and regenerative practices, recycling, composting, and reducing the carbon footprint. She said strategies can differ, as each of the panelists described.
Dillon Buckley both started and ended the discussion describing biodynamic practices employed at both Wiemer and Standing Stone. At Wiemer he said they planted their first biodynamic block in 2015, and that rose to 33 acres of biodynamics of mostly Riesling, with some Chardonnay. For Wiemer he presented 2017 HJW Bio Riesling.
At Standing Stone, which Wiemer acquired in 2017, he said they have been transitioning the vineyard into a more biodynamic site. He said they have been eliminating all herbicide usage, instead utilizing cover cropping and more to increase organic matter in the soil. They have increased the number of people working the land there to help increase output and the opportunity for the health of the plants. The big thing, he said, is that they are “trying to take what the site will give you.” He presented their nonvarietal Farm Red blend, which blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Saperavi, Petit Verdot, and Merlot.
Roman Roth talked about the long-term sustainability efforts practiced at Wölffer, which he said made it easy to move toward certification, something he credited vineyard manager Richard Pisacano for aiding. Roman noted that 60 to 65 percent of their grapes are picked by hand. But earlier in the process, he said leaf removal starts early, and the improved airflow leads to less chance of disease. The sea breeze from the nearby Atlantic Ocean helps to dry the grapes. The grape canopy is managed entirely by hand. He said that open canopies and lower disease pressure helps the vineyard take a punch from a storm. Finally, he added that they try not to spray insecticides any more. They may target tiny spots to spray to manage insects, but they do have some areas that have not been sprayed in years. He presented his 2019 The Grapes of Roth Dry Riesling, and described 2019 as a dream vintage on Long Island, adding the hope that it may have been beaten in 2020.
Richard Olsen-Harbich detailed the sustainability practices at Bedell. He said that sustainability is unique in comparison to other certificates. He noted that it “takes a social role and pays attention to people working for our companies.” Taking care of workers, he added, is wrapped up in sustainability. He went on to note that practices to protect groundwater is a big part of sustainability. Nitrogen leeching has been a big consideration, and they limit the amount of nitrogen that can be put down. In terms of chemicals, their legacy and impact on groundwater is measured. Long Island sustainability, he said, is embedded in science and has the ability to change as more is fond out. Richard said they do work with other farmers to share information wherever possible, but it is more with other vineyards than other farm communities. Still, he added there is a lot of free transfer of information. He presented their 2017 Cabernet Franc. He noted that Cab Franc is “fast becoming a signature wine for all regions of New York State,” concluding “these wines pretty much make themselves.”
Paul Brock said there have been vines on their site since 1800, when it was Gold Seal. They have run the winery for thirty-eight years, and it features all vinifera grapes. Their viticultural focus has been on the soil, which has a hard shale base. He noted that there is very little soil in some of the vineyards. They planted cover crop over the whole vineyard to try to preserve it, and they have not sprayed insecticides in parts of their acreage in in five years. They practice regenerative agriculture, which they developed from watching the practices of other farmers. They look at their practices as more dynamic than the biodynamics that Wiemer is doing. He presented their 2018 Blackbird Red wine, which blends Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. He noted that 2018 was the “hardest vintage ever,” and that “it was hard to make this wine.” He also noted that so far 2020 is looking good.
New York Wines: Best Buys
The third in the series of webinars covered New York Wines: Best Buys. With Dan Belmont (moderator), the panel featured Philip Dunsmore (VP, Brotherhood America’s Oldest Winery), Aaron Roisen (winemaker, Lamoreaux Landing), Dave Paterson (owner, Swedish Hill), Alie Shaper (owner/winemaker Chronicle Wines), Michael Cook (director of sales, Lieb/Bridge Lane), and Scott Osborne (president/co-owner, Fox Run).
Dan gave a brief introduction to New York wines, starting by saying that “New York wines are the total package” that come together to be dam tasty wines. He said all of the wines discussed here are priced less than $30, with some under $20. He added that there is no better value in the U.S. than the wines of New York. He described the regions as “tiny wineries…very hospitable…regions unique in geography and topology” that are now attracting talent from all over the world.
Philip Dunsmore started off with a look at the long history of Brotherhood America’s Oldest Winery. He said they have been making wine for 181 years, surviving Prohibition by making sacramental and medicinal wines during that time. Now, he said they want to become the Number 1 sparkling wine producer in the country. Philip said he believes “the grapes we grow in New York State are great for sparkling wine.” He added that they have long made Blanc de Blanc, and started making Rosé a few years ago. Brotherhood does not grow their own grapes; rather, they get 90 percent from the Finger Lakes, with some (notably Cabernet Sauvignon) from Osprey’s Dominion on Long Island. He presented their Sparkling Rosé, which blends Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Aaron Roisen discussed the challenges of 2018. He said it was a challenging year in the Finger Lakes as it was warm and wet, but noting they made their way through it. They picked the grapes for Riesling early, which lead to a lower alcohol content than is typical, but it holds up. He said they “look at a challenge [such as a difficult year] with a smile on our face.” Aaron went on to describe the differences between an Estate Riesling and a Single Vineyard Riesling, noting that Lamoreaux wines are 100 percent estate grown. He noted that there is a value in both types of Riesling. “Single vineyard are very site specific and have their own tenacity and verve.” They are, he concluded, a direct reflection of their site. An Estate Riesling bounces around every year and is not as specific as a Single Vineyard Riesling. He presented their 2018 Estate Bottled Dry Riesling.
Dave Patterson talked about Gewürztraminer, and the approach taken at Swedish Hill. He said they had been inspired by an Australian seminar that gave the message, “overdeliver for the price.” He feels Finger Lakes wineries have created a good value for the price. He talked about his 2019 Blue Waters Gewürztraminer, which he presented here. He said it is a blend of grapes from Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. He said Gewürztraminer is a variety second to Riesling in the region for creating benchmark wines. Dan added that it is one of those grapes he always champions from the Finger Lakes. He said it has a great balance of floral and fruit, and described it as great quality at price.
Alie Shaper started out echoing Dave and Dan, noting that she is “a great Gewürz fan myself” before referencing the five brands under the Chronicle Wines umbrella: Brooklyn Oenology, Saltbird Cellars, As If Wines, Haywater Cove, and Vinette. She said the wines have always been produced on the North Fork of Long Island. As If comes from a combination of her initials (AS) and possibilities (If). As she presented her 2016 “Courage” Rosé, which was the oldest wine on the evening’s list. Alie explained her goal with the wine. She said she was looking for possibilities with rosé that would yield a more muscular wine with more of a Rosso style that could be enjoyed with a meal. She said it is a Rosé designed to age, debunking another myth about pink wine. As a winemaker, who has spent much time honing the craft in Australia as well as New York, she said “we make wine according to what Mother Nature gives us.” She noted that this wine has a lot of color, structure, tannin, adding it should not be too cold to drink as the flavors will get hidden if too cold. She called it a field blend that is “a Bordeaux blend in Rosé form.
Michael Cook spoke on behalf of Bridge Lane as winemaker Russell Hearn was occupied with harvest. Bridge Lane, he noted, was begun in 2004 as a second label for Lieb Cellars as their value brand with every day drinking wines. He said Russell has been making wine for forty years. He had started in Australia, went on to New Zealand and elsewhere before coming to the United States. He arrived on the North Fork in 1990 and partnered with Mark Lieb. Russell is a huge proponent of screw caps on bottles and likes the consistency they have, eliminating the risk that comes with cork. At Bridge Lane they do embrace alternative, ecofriendly packaging, and Michael did talk about the advantages of boxes (bags), kegs, and cans, which he said are best for preserving the freshness of wines and hold up very well over time. He presented their 2019 Bridge Lane Red Blend, which features a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. He described it as a Bordeaux-style blend that is medium in body. The goal is to have a red wine you can pour in a glass and see through it.
Scott Osborne wrapped up the discussion with a look at Lemberger. First, he gave the background that Fox Run was purchased in 1994, Lemberger planted in 1994, and first harvested in 1997. He said the grape is not as disease prone as other varietals. Like others from the Finger Lakes, he noted that 2018 was a challenge, but as the sun came out in August they ended up with a beautiful harvest. All of the grapes at Fox Run are estate grown. Fox Run, Scott said, was one the first, along with Swedish Hill, to bottle Lemberger as a varietal, saying, “it has been a workhorse for us.” It was noted that there are more than 60 different names around the world for Lemberger, which is the name he said is “most pronounceable by Americans.” He presented the 2018 Lemberger.