Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Other Side of the Lake...

And Just Peering into the Rest of the Scene

East side Seneca Lake

Ravines -

Morton Hallgren was raised in Provence in the south of France. The Hallgren family owned and operated Domaine de Castel Roubine and Morton found his love of wine there. He was later recruited by Willy Frank of Dr. Konstantin Frank on Keuka Lake to be chief winemaker. In 2000 with his wife Lisa, the Hallgrens started Ravines Winery.

The grapes principally come from 3 vineyards:

The White Springs Vineyard sits at the northeast corner of Seneca Lake and was planted in 2000. It is at the end of the Niagra Escarpment Extension and has Honeyoye Loam over limestone soils (calareous) rather than the highly acidic soils that comprise most of the Finger Lakes

The Argetsinger Vineyard is a on the east side of Seneca Lake and mostly limestone. No other vineyard in the Finger Lakes has this much limestone and makes singular Chardonnay and Riesling that taste like nothing else in the Finger Lakes.

The 16 Falls Vineyard is located on the east side of Seneca Lake and consists of shalestone and clay and has a higher level of ripeness than any of their other vineyards.

Notes: The Argetsinger Vineyard is the ace in the hole for Ravines. This wine year after year stands out amongst its peers. It is the prototypical Finger Lakes Riesling and a great gateway drug into the region, but it tastes like no other Finger Lakes Riesling. Limestone is the key. Its also why they make pretty exemplary Chardonnay and sparkling wine.


Forge -

Forge is a partnership between three gentlemen, one being Louis Barroul of St. Cosme. This project took 3 years to realize but the intent was to make the best Riesling and Pinot Noir possible from the Finger Lakes of New York. They do not own vineyards but work with several different growers enjoying a variety of vineyard aspects, soils, viticulture practices and general philosophies. Phil Davis who is a grower and partner of Damiani Wine Cellars helped them navigate and directed them to the best growers.

The wines are made at Hector Wine Co. They do as little as possible, but everything possible to ensure the highest quality possible. They use indigenous yeast when they can, low sulphur when they can and strive for minimal intervention.

Notes: The promise of this winery is very very high for both the Pinot Noir and Riesling. There is a density to these wines that you don’t find often in the Finger Lakes. I am hopeful to see what the experience of each passing vintage will do for the wines.


Bloomer Creek -

Bloomer Creek, named after the small creek running behind the 10 acre vineyard on the west side of Cayuga Lake, is a small family run business established over 30 years ago by owners Kim Engle and Debra Bermingham. They make every effort to preserve a “sense of place” in their wine. All vines are trellised for maximum exposure to sunlight, with leaf pulling and fruit thinning done by hand. No herbicides are used, and weed control is done mechanically. They use seaweed/fish, and compost formulations to aid in disease resistance and vine health.

Bloomer Creek has two producing blocks of Riesling, Morehouse Rd. Vineyard and Auten Vineyard. Soil types are similar but Morehouse Rd. is more loamy and underlain by limestone, while the Auten Vineyard is on heavier soil and partly underlain by shale. Wines from each block are bottled separately to showcase the distinctive characteristics of each site.

Barrow Vineyard, on a high rocky hill above the east side of Seneca Lake, is a new 12 acre vineyard site for Bloomer Creek.

Harvest is done by hand and winemaking methods follow a more traditional “Old World” style. Fermentation is with ambient or “wild” yeast, and there is considerable use of stems in fermentation, especially with red wine, but to a lesser extent with white wine as well. All fermentations are in small lots which are later blended. Fermentations tend to be very slow and Engle does not control temperature, often finishing malo-lactic the summer after harvest, therefore lees contact is extended. Most wines are fermented dry and are not filtered or fined. These practices lead to the production of distinctive and long lasting wines.

Notes: These wines are different from everything else that I tasted. Sometimes that meant they were spectacular and sometimes a little funky, but most importantly these were all wines of personality and texture. I find myself constantly thinking about them and wish I could taste them more regularly to figure them out.


Silver Thread -

Silver Thread Vineyard is a sustainably-managed vineyard are located on the east side of Seneca Lake. Silver Thread’s seven-acre vineyard and ecologically-designed wine cellar were established by organics enthusiast and author Richard Figiel. Since the late 1980’s, the vineyard has followed the principles of sustainable farming. Winemaker Paul Brock and wine educator Shannon Brock assumed ownership of Silver Thread Vineyard in 2011.

Silver Thread is primarily a Riesling producer, but they also produce premium estate wines from Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc & Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.

The vineyard sits really close to Seneca Lake on shallow shale, heavy soil. Being on the east side of the lake means that they get afternoon sun allowing them to specialize in dry Rieslings which they believe it allows you to taste the terroir in particular.

Notes: These wines are so clean and focused that it took a little after the tasting to wrap my head around them. They were so polished that it was shocking.


Boundary Breaks -

At Boundary Breaks, the focus is entirely on the vineyard using some of the region’s leading wineries to produce small single vineyard batches of Riesling. They focus on four different clones: Geisenheim clones 110, 98 and 239 as well as Neustadt clone 90. They hand pick all fruit and generally do three picks to select grapes for Rieslings that will be bone dry to sticky sweet.

Notes: Kees is a character. He just doesn’t know how to be anyone but himself. He’s not selling. He’s cocky and he’s full of swagger and the wines are good. The timbos on his toes, cigarettes, and threats to Monsanto workers just create a persona of someone who doesn’t give a shit what you think.

Away from Seneca

Cayuga Lake

Bellwether Wine Cellars -

Hidden inside Bellwether cidery is an upstart winery run by Kris Matthewson, who began the winery while still working at Atwater Vineyards. Kris is a great example of both sides of the Finger Lakes conundrum. He follows German traditions in winemaking to the note. His TBA will make you weak in the knees and rivals any sweet wine made in America, in my opinion, and he makes dry Rieslings in a reductive style that is now in vogue. On the other side of tradition is a Pet Nat riesling that is catching many off guard.

Kris’s website has no fanciful descriptions of the wines and vineyard work, but instead is a list of facts. What yeast was used, when did every step of the process happen, and what clones were picked and when.

Notes: I said them above.

Sheldrake Point -

Notes: More than anything else this winery has become a training ground for winemakers and vineyard managers who have the base of knowledge to expand from the thesis of this winery. They stick on 16 and have no interest in getting another card. I appreciate the consistency.

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