We'll Drink to That: Daily affirmations inspired by Finger Lakes wine
Photo courtesy of Shalestone Winery
Life lessons by grapevine? Some of the Finger Lakes’ most acclaimed wine personalities reveal words to live by.
Lesson #1: Appreciate simplicity
“You know, too many people these days cannot enjoy the simplicity in the world around them.”
So says Johannes Reinhardt, the soft-spoken German-born winemaker at Anthony Road on the west side of Seneca Lake. I first met Reinhardt last year at an extensive tasting of several vintages of Finger Lakes wines during a pairing dinner at the iconic Red Newt Bistro—and the nugget of wisdom he imparted on me that night is something I’ll probably never forget.
His obvious truth—that great wines are made simply, and with minimal intervention—was electrifying, and it has guided my own principles ever since.
His words were on my mind again during a recent stop in the tasting room, where I tried his 2010 Dry Riesling. This is an epic wine, with notes of apricot, lemon zest, grapefruit, and a surprising hint of fresh baked pastry. Indeed, all of Anthony Road’s Rieslings are consistently graceful and delicate—at the same time showing richness and weight. They are effortless on the palate, with endless notes coming together to form one simple, yet powerful, chord.
Reinhardt’s philosophy seeks to reduce the amount of manipulation in winemaking, and his approach is also obvious in Anthony Road’s reds. The winery’s 2009 Pinot Noir is textbook cool-climate pinot noir with attractive aromas of tart cherry, cranberry, chalk, and spice. It’s tangy with bright acidity and a long, elegant finish.
Lesson #2: Do one thing really well
“We wanted to create a niche in the region knowing that we could do it well.”
Kate Thomas owns Shalestone Winery (on the east side of Seneca Lake) with husband Rob, and the two stepped completely out of the box (in the Finger Lakes, at least) by making red wine—and only red wine—in a region virtually defined by its production of world-class whites.
With their tagline “Red is All We Do,” the Thomases are proving that with dedication and know-how, reds can be the main attraction in Riesling country. But why make such a bold business decision in an already difficult industry? The answer—like many of life’s lessons—is simple. “It’s what we like to drink,” says Kate.
The pair set themselves up for success when they snagged a parcel of vineyard land extremely close to the lake, with shallow soil that they believed had the potential to produce concentrated reds. Rob uses his experience at the close-by Lamoreaux Landing to vinify reds that are darker, show more concentration, and feel richer than just about anyone else’s in the region.
Shalestone has six to eight red wines on their list at any given time, and from top to bottom, there isn’t a weak one in the bunch. The 2008 Harmony, a blend of forty-seven-percent Cabernet Franc, thirty-five-percent Merlot, and eighteen-percent Cabernet Sauvignon, lives up to its name with seamless black cherry, red currant, and sweet tobacco aromas. My favorite, though, was the 2008 Cabernet Franc, if only for the reason that its ripe fruit flavors of blackberry, cherry, and pepper almost seemed sweet on the palate, leaving me to think that this could easily win over a California red drinker or two.
Lesson #3: Patience is key
“We think that longer fermentations give the wine more concentration and weight, ultimately yielding a wine that has greater longevity than those fermented quickly.”
As Oscar Binke, estate manager at the legendary Hermann J. Wiemer Estate on the west side of Seneca Lake, says, patience pays. Is it coincidence that the region’s most critically acclaimed Riesling producer has fermentations that go twice, three, or up to ten times longer than any other winery? Binke and the entire Weimer team doesn’t seem to think so. On a recent visit, winemaker Fred Merwarth was busy blending tanks from the 2010 Riesling vintage while evaluating a few still-fermenting batches. It’s been nine months since harvest and some of it is still bubbling away.
In a cool growing season like 2009, when the acidity in the wines was quite high, Merwarth made their dry-style Estate Riesling—a wine that is in complete balance—without any more residual sugar than what is typical for the estate. Merwarth is convinced the patience that comes with longer fermentations is particularly evident in the mouth-feel of his wines.
“With the 2009 Riesling, we noticed an edge that was rather powerful when we were tasting the fermenting wines in December,” says Merwarth. “It ultimately became a more balanced, pleasant acidity by the time the wine was done fermenting some six months later.”
While other wineries may have produced dry Rieslings with tooth-enamel-scraping acidity in 2009, Merwarth offered an amazing fruit-forward wine with a sophisticated balance of acidity and natural sweetness. Weimer’s limited-release 2009 Magdalena Vineyard Riesling is the estate at its best, revealing intense lemon-lime and white peach flavors. It’s got electric acidity and the finish is as persistent as any I’ve tasted from the region.
Patience in winemaking may be completely up to the winemaker, but patience in drinking them, of course, is up to us. Wiemer’s white wines will cellar as well as any in the country and if the 2001 Estate Gewurtztraminer is any indication, holding them for ten years will reward you with another life-changing experience.
Bryan Calandrelli is a freelance writer who also works as a winemaker and cinematographer.