My friends at WineMaker Magazine are having some technical difficulties with their blog software that has resulted the majority of my pictures from this post not being rendered when they upload them. The pictures are part of the story so I am reposting here so readers can have the full effect.
This was the third year that my wife and I took a “working
vacation” for the WineMaker Magazine Annual Conference. Each year has been a
different trip, three diverse locations does make up a good part of that, but
together the location, themes, people and the regional juice all get mixed up to create a complex conference
blend. There is plenty to take in for all skill levels and interests during
this event. The local wine tastings and experience with how the regional
producers are getting along is always the most valuable for me. Conferences
attendees can get that local exposure through specific sessions, pre-conference
boot camps and both pre-and-post-conference tasting trips that are
independently organized. The Finger Lakes provided an interesting place to
study yet again.
My initial share from the conference was a fifty-three
snapshot photo album, entitled ”What
I Learned Out On The Road”
, looking back over the three years of trips,
including the most recent in conference in Ithaca, NY.
After my first visit to the region in 2011 I posted “Finger
, a summary of my experiences with the region’s Riesling up
to that point. Dry Rieslings in the Finger Lakes do often have a small amount
of residual sugar to balance the high acidity. You come to find that to be a
non-issue in classifying the wines as dry. Ask about the IRF scale. For me the
best balance of style differential AND drinkability can be found in the dry
Finger Lakes Rieslings. The very best are those that present as absolutely
clean and focused, no matter the range of fruits in both the aromas and nose.
If the wine is spicy or tart neither of those elements will be overly
aggressive. I have found the Ravines
in the years of 2009 through 2011 to have a particular
finesse, despite being different in aroma and flavor each year.
I do also love sweeter Rieslings, but without a measure of
noble rot or unique character I don’t think they differentiate themselves as
well as the dry style. The
Leidenfrost 2008 Semi-Dry
was a particular standout on the most recent trip.
The petrol and minerality really had this wine singing. The late harvest and
ice-wine Rieslings are generally unique and always worthy of a try even with
the non-Riesling competition. Hermann J. Wiemer
makes an exceptionally deep and rich Late Harvest Riesling. We end up buying
more than a representative share of these types of wines when we find good
ones. As a social wine, a well made and unique dessert wine can add just the
right spice to a party.
( Riesling vines at Weimer. )
visit in February
provided more Riesling tasting opportunities and I most
certainly continued to experience the trend of variation in the recent back to
back vintages. This is a trend I like because of the way it is expressed
differently between producers in the same vintages where the vintages are
different themselves overall. It really becomes an adventure that you have to
get out and experience. After the two trips I was pretty confident by
experience that Riesling and the other aromatic whites were the lead story as other
wine writers had been covering it. I shared tasting notes on Rieslings from
in posts after the second trip.
During the 2012 annual conference a panel of winemakers from
the Finger Lakes region talked about their experience with Riesling. On the
panel were Peter Bell of Fox Run, Sayre Fulkerson of Fulkerson Winery, Steve DiFrancesco
of Glenora and Dave Breeden from Sheldrake Point. The winemakers who hosted the
Riesling Roundtable spent a good deal of time talking about how Riesling works
in varying conditions and expresses the vintage variation well. This was a
great lead off from the first question of “What makes the Finger Lakes and
ideal place to grow Riesling?” Nobody said there was a distinctive Finger Lakes
Riesling profile, and each contributor shared information about the vineyard
differences and locations that they were actively learning the differences of in
each new year.
( Sorry for the grainy picture, my good camera was on the
road with friends! )
Here are some of the more interesting responses during the
75 minute Q&A:
In response to the next question, “Describe the microclimate
of your vineyard or vineyards within the bigger picture of the while Finger
Lakes Region and how this affects your finished wines.”, Peter Bell offered a
clarification that we were talking about mesoclimates and not microclimates. At
first this seemed slightly picky but after looking it up I found that the
industry-wide term for the climate restricted to a vineyard or vineyards of
tens or hundreds of meters is in fact a mesoclimate. A microclimate is more
often used to describe a smaller area, such as a block or a row of vines. Thanks
Peter! Sayre Fulkerson said “We’re still working on trying to learn and define
the unique differences in the Finger Lakes” in response to the same question.
When asked what the winemakers looked for in grapes at
harvest and how they measured and/or experienced the grapes to decide there was
both technical and sensory oriented feedback. Dave Breeden said “What I look
for at harvest is ripeness.” He also indicated he isn’t “interested in the
numbers themselves”, brix, pH, TA, but the trend up to harvest. All of the
winemakers talked about the physical attributes, browning seeds &
seed/membrane separation, and the lack of unripe flavors they were looking for
in grapes in the vineyard before picking.
“If you could give
advice to a someone looking to grow Riesling grapes in the Finger Lakes, what
would the most important points be?”, got a great and succinct response from
Sayre Fulkerson. “Have a good spray program.” His premise is that if you don’t
keep leaves on the vine you will lose your fruit and then the vine. Disease
pressure due to the typical climate was discussed by all four panelists.
( I stopped in a Fulkerson on my last day of tasting. Great
diversity in types an styles! )
When asked about their personal style in making Riesling
there was a nearly unanimous agreement that creating the illusion that you
haven’t done anything in the winery was the goal of their programs. Steve DiFrancesco
contrasted low acids in a hot year with high acids in a cool year, when neither
must needed adjustment to make a great wine. Dave Breeden said “I don’t like to
do work” to sum it up. Minimal adjustment and effort make the best Rieslings
based on the feedback.
During the audience question portion I asked about how each
winemaker judges the success of their dry Rieslings based on the bar and
restaurant sales. Each panelist acknowledged that they continue to see increasing
demand for the Dry Rieslings where they are likely going to be enjoyed with a meal
. Fulkerson added that the dry style is easier to compare and more expressive
of the grape which likely appeals to people who are pairing them with food. I
can’t disagree with that and am pleased to see that the efforts of these
producers are paying off.
Well, I hope that by sharing a bit of what I learned you
also learned something you didn’t already know about Finger Lakes Riesling. Did
you come to the Ithaca for the conference? If so, did you get out and try any
of the local Riesling?
Staying on course with the organized conference events for a
moment, I wanted to share a unique experience that I shared with several fellow
winemakers and conference attendees. In 2010 I told tales of my homemade
strawberry wine to quite a few conference goers. I took home a gold medal for
the most recent batch of that wine during that trip, something I also did this
year again which I say with a smile. Strawberry wine has been a special project
for me. I’ve spent seven years trying improvements to recipes looking for the
sweet spot. I haven’t found it yet. I shared the original recipe via email and my
blog in 2010
and had several conversations with folks trying it the next
year at the conference in Santa Barbara.
( The strawberry winemakers are assembled and at work! Photo
with permission from Tim Vandergrift. And yes that is Daniel Pambianchi
photo-bombing us. I love that guy! )
This year three of that group got together again and luckily
had all brought a bottle of the most recent vintage to share. So we sat down in
front of our “conference family” vertical and shared what we thought. There
were two styles, a sweet (1) and a dry or medium-dry (2) depending on how you
want to gauge it. The medium dry versions were nearly identical in color and the
intensity of the aromas and flavors. They WERE different, but in a very subtle
way. The difference in the sweetness between the medium dry and third bottle
sets up an unbalanced comparison, but what it did represent being different was
no less exciting. The sweeter wine tasted like prickly fresh strawberry
preserves. Not too sweet, and all fruit sweetness too boot. We could have sat
there for hours talking just about strawberry wine! This was by far one of the
most unique experiences I have had in my winemaking years.
Many thanks go out to the WineMaker Magazine staff, the
Statler Hotel, vendors, sponsors and the bars, restaurants, wineries, breweries
that all hosted us and our peers for the weekend. We had a great time and
really enjoy getting together with our crazy winemaking family!
In part two I head back out on the road in the Finger Lakes
uncovering new wines, beers, spirits and food!