Monday, May 23, 2011

Celebrating the Rieslings of the Finger Lakes Region, New York State, US East Coast

Picture: 2007 Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, Dr. Konstantin Frank, 2010 Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, Anthony Road, 2008, Riesling Trockenbeeren, Finger Lakes, Martini Rheinhardt Selection, Anthony Road, 2009 Dry Riesling, Magdalena Vineyard, Finger Lakes, Hermann J. Wiemer, 2009 Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, Hermann J. Wiemer

The 2011 Finger Lakes Riesling Month is coming to the end in a couple of days. One of the highlights, the 2011 Finger Lakes Riesling Hour, which will take place on Thursday, May 26 at 7:00pm - 8:00pm, New York time. The idea is that wherever you are, open up a bottle or two of Finger Lakes Riesling and join others on Facebook and Twitter. To join on Twitter, use #flxwine in all your tweets. If you join on Facebook, tag @Finger Lakes Wine Country and @Riesling Rocks so all your posts and photos feed to the Fanpages. If you are in Finger Lakes Wine Country come to the Red Newt Cellars.

Germany is by far the largest Riesling producer in the world and the grape is strongly associated with German winemaking traditions. Against this background, this posting sheds some light on 3 Finger Lakes Riesling producers, who all have a special relationship with Germany. These are the 5 Rieslings I will share with my friends at a private Finger Lakes Riesling Hour party on May 26 in Washington DC.

Riesling in the World

Worldwide, there are about 34.000 hectares planted with Riesling. Germany – with 22.400 hectares – accounts for 2/3 of the total. The second largest Riesling producer is Australia, with 4500 hectares. But this is only about 1/10 of the total. Alsace follows with 3500 hectares. Austria, the US with Washington State and New York State as well as New Zealand make up the remainder. But overall Riesling is really a niche wine, accounting for only less than 1 percent of total wine production in the world - but a very special niche wine.

Finger Lakes AVA

The Finger Lakes AVA in upstate New York State encompasses seven glacial lakes, although the majority of plantings are around Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes. Most vineyards are planted on hillsides overlooking the lakes. These deep lakes help to moderate the climate, as stored heat is released from the lakes during the winter, keeping the weather mild (relative to surrounding areas) and preventing early frosts. The reflection of the sun off the lakes during summer extends the growing season. This cool-climate region is often compared to the wine-growing region of Germany, and like Germany, has had special success with Riesling.

Picture: New York State and the Finger Lakes Region

The Finger Lakes include 4,452 hectares of vineyards, making it New York State's largest wine growing region. New York State is with Washington State the second largest wine producer in the US, with a bit more than 10.000 hectares. Of this, 400 hectares are accounted for by Riesling.

My Finger Lakes Rieslings

I have tried quite a bit of Rieslings from the Finger Lakes region and have discovered a number of gems. But 3 Riesling producers stand out as far as I am concerned because of their German roots: Dr. Frank, Wiemer and Anthony Road

Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery and the Vitis Vinifera Revolution

Dr. Konstantin Frank (1897-1985) was a viticulturist and wine maker in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, USA. He was born in Europe, in Odessa, now Ukraine into a Russian-German family. Dr. Konstantin Frank ignited the so-called vitis vinifera revolution, which changed the course of wine growing in the Finger Lakes and the North-East of the US.

Well, was Dr. Konstantin Frank a German? He was born in the former Soviet Union into a family with German roots. The Germans came in waves from the West to Russia and settled there from the 16th century onwards. A big wave of German immigration occurred in the 18th century under Catherine the Great, who herself was a German from Anhalt. The Frank family belongs to the Black Sea Germans. They settled in the territories of the Black Sea in the 18th and 19th centuries in what is now Ukraine. At the time Konstantin Frank was born, Odessa belonged to the Russian Empire. When he left for the US, it was part of the Soviet Union. Now, after his death, it has become Ukraine. I met Dr. Konstantin Frank's grandson, Fred, who now owns and runs the estate this year; we communicated in German. Fred got his wine growing and wine making training at the wine college in Geisenheim in the Rheingau, Germany.

Picture: Dr. Konstantin Frank

Dr. Konstantin Frank’s achievement is that he was the first to find a way to plant vitis vinifera varietals in the cool northern fringes of the north-eastern US. The struggle to do this goes back many centuries.

In the original charter of the 13 colonies was a royal commission to pursue three luxury items that England was unable to provide for itself: wine, silk, and olive oil. Every colony made attempts to satisfy the requirements of its charter, but made only limited progress. The problem was that on the one hand there were the native American grapes. All these native American grapes were cold tolerant and disease and pest resistant, but not that well suited for wine making, due to their coarseness, high tannins, and foxy flavors. On the other hand, the vitis vinifera which settlers brought from Europe, were well suited for wine making, but uniformly unable to survive long enough to produce a crop.

Despite many years of failure, the early Americans persisted in their efforts. And they had some success. A big step forward was made in 1740 when a natural cross pollination occurred between a native American grape and a European vitis vinifera. Other successful crossings followed.

So, only native American grapes and European American hybrids were grown in the Finger Lakes area, when Dr. Konstantin Frank arrived in the United States in 1951, finding work at a Cornell University experimental station in the Finger Lakes region. Having grown vitis vinifera back home in regions so cold that "spit would freeze before touching the ground" Dr. Frank believed that the lack of proper rootstock, not the cold climate, was the reason for the failure of vitis vinifera in the Finger Lakes region. He thought that European grapes could do well on the rolling, well-drained hills around the Finger Lakes provided they were grafted onto early maturing American rootstock.

With the help of the French champagne maker Charles Fournier, Dr. Frank put his ideas into practice. He developed the right root stock and grafted European vitis vinifera on them. He planted these vitis vinifera in the slate soil around Lake Keuka and he opened a winery, Vinifera Wine Cellars, in 1962. Despite his success, other winemakers still doubted him for many years and he had trouble getting New York distributors to handle his wine.

Today, Dr. Frank is recognized as having led the revolution in wine quality in New York State and the East Coast. With the help of his cousin Eric Volz as vineyard manager, Fred Frank, Konstantin's grandson took over the winery in 1993. Fred’s business degree from Cornell University and his study of viticulture and enology in Germany helped prepare him to take over the family business.

When I conducted a wine tasting about American wines from the East and the West Coast recently in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Fred was so kind to provide me with his Rieslings. All the communications were in German!

Hermann J. Wiemer and the Riesling Revolution

Hermann J. Wiemer is another pioneer of viticulture and winemaking in the Finger Lakes region with German links. He was born and raised in Germany, and arrived in the US in 1968. His first wine was released in 1980. In the 30 years since then, the winery has been lauded as one of the nation’s premier white wine producers, in particular of Riesling. Hermann J. Wiemer was born in Bernkastel into an influential family in the wine business. Hermann's father was the head of the Agricultural Experiment Station in Bernkastel and was responsible for restoring vines in the Mosel region after WWII. He came to the US in the early 1970s. When he arrived, wine making in the Finger Lakes area was dominated by native American grapes and American European hybrid grapes. Riesling, for which Hermann J. Wiemer has become famous, was not grown. Initially, he made hybrid and American wines for Walter Taylor at the Bully Hill winery on Keuka Lake.

Picture: Hermann J. Wiemer Estate

In 1973 Hermann J. Wiemer bought 140 acres of land, the barn and a mid-19th-century house on the west side of Route 14, which runs along Seneca Lake and turned it into one of the premier vineyards and nurseries in the region. Starting with four acres, he developed the right root stock for grafting European vinifera on them. The first vintage, a 1979, was released in 1980. Hermann Wiemer quickly became known for his German-style vinifera wines. He claims that he made the first dry Riesling in the US and said that many scoffed at him for making Riesling even though today it's the flagship wine grape variety of the region. Wiemer has three estate vineyards within 10 miles of the winery on the west side of Seneca Lake: Magdalena, Josef, and HJW. The vineyards are farmed under strict sustainable agricultural practices.

Hermann J. Wiemer retired a few years ago. Today the winemaking process is managed by Hermann J Wiemer’s long-term winemaker Fred Merwarth who has worked closely with Hermann as one of his winemakers for the last 8 years. Hermann is still passionately and practically involved in the life of the winery, and Fred continues faithfully executing the Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard legacy and heritage.

5 Rieslings from around the world – 3 from Germany, 1 from Alsace and 1 from the US – were on last year’s Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines List. The Riesling from the US was: Hermann J. Wiemer, - Riesling Finger Lakes, Dry Reserve, 2008, 91 Points, $23.

Anthony Road Wine Company and the Riesling Du Monde Competition

The Anthony Road Wine Company, a top winemaker in the Finger Lakes region, caught international attention recently with their 2006 Finger Lakes Riesling Trockenbeeren, when it was awarded one of the 7 Trophies of Excellence of the Riesling Du Monde Competition 2010 in France. I have written about it here.

Ann and John Martini opened the winery in 1990. It is on the west shore of Seneca Lake in the town of Torrey, about 10 miles south of Geneva. The German connection? The winemaker, Johannes Reinhardt, is a German native, born in at little village of Franconia, 80 miles east of Frankfort. Johannes grew up in a family that has been in the wine business since 1438. He has been in the vineyards and wine cellars all his life. He joined Anthony Road in 2000.

Picture: Riesling Du Monde Competition

The award winning wine was released in the Martini-Rheinhardt Selection Series. These are special wines named after the Anthony Road’s vineyard manager, Peter Martini, and winemaker Johannes Reinhardt to honor the collaboration between the vineyard and the winery.

This is a lusciously sweet wine. How was it made? Mother Nature, under normal circumstances, produces dry wines in the vineyard - everywhere in the world. All the sugar in the grapes at harvest disappears during fermentation and no sweetness remains in the wine. There are, however, plenty of sweet wines made around the world. Different techniques exist to make a wine sweet. One of them is to let the noble rot – botrytis cinerea – suck the water out of the grape, so that the degree of sugar in the grapes is extra-ordinary high. Botrytis cinerea is a fungus that under the right conditions attacks already-ripe grapes, shrivelling them, concentrating the sweetness and acidity. The grapes end up looking disgusting but they make profound sweet white wines.

Picture: 2008, Riesling Trockenbeeren, Finger Lakes, Martini Rheinhardt Selection, Anthony Road

The 2008 Finger Lakes Riesling Trockenbeeren was produce with this method. 2008 was a good year for noble rot in the Finger Lakes region, with some rain, enough heat and fog or dew in the morning at harvest time.

Botrytis cinerea is the key to the success of many of the world’s most famous noble sweet wines. These include the Sauternes in France, the Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese in Germany and in Austria, the Austria Ausbruch and the Tokaji from Hungary. No doubt, the first noble rot wines were created by accident - both the Hungarians and the Germans have similar stories of how the harvest was delayed for some reason, but the over-ripe grapes were vinified anyway and then the resulting wine found to be delicious.

Participating Finger Lakes Wineries

Cayuga Lake

Knapp Winery & Vineyard Restaurant | 800.869.9271 | 2770 Ernsberger Rd, Romulus, NY 14156 |

Lucas Vineyards | 607-532-4825 | 3862 County Road 150, Interlaken, New York 14847 |

Montezuma Winery | 315-568-8190 | 2981 U.S Route 20, Seneca Falls NY 13148 |

Sheldrake Point Vineyard | 607-532-9401 | 7448 County Road 153, Ovid, NY 14521 |

Six Mile Creek Vineyard | 607-272-WINE/800-260-0612 | 1551 Slaterville Rd., Ithaca NY 14850 |

Swedish Hill Winery | 315-549-8326 | 4565 Rt. 414 Romulus, NY 14541 |

Keuka Lake

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars | 607-868-4884 | 9749 Middle Road, Hammondsport, NY 14840 |

Heron Hill Winery | 800-441-4241 | Multiple locations: Heron Hill Winery 9301 County Route 76 Hammondsport NY 14840, Heron Hill Tasting Room on Seneca Lake 3586 Route 14 Himrod NY 14842, Heron Hill Tasting Room at Bristol 5323 Seneca Point Rd. Canandaigua NY 14424 |

Hunt Country Vineyards | 800.946.3289 | 4021 Italy Hill Road, Branchport, NY 14418 |

Seneca Lake

Atwater Estate Vineyards | 607-546-8463 | 5055 Route 414 Burdett, NY 14818 |

Damiani Wine Cellars | 607-546-5557 | 4704 Rt 414 Burdett NY 14818 |

Fox Run Vineyards | 315-536-4616 | 670 State Route 14, Penn Yan, NY 14527 |

Fulkerson Winery | 607-243-7883 | 5576 Route 14, Dundee, NY 14837 |

Glenora Wine Cellars | 800.243.5513 | 5435 Route 14, Dundee, NY 14837 |

Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards | 607-546-9463 | 5712 State Route 414 Hector, NY 14841 |

Lakewood Vineyards | 607-535-9252 | 4024 St. Rte. 14, Watkins Glen, NY 14891 |

Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars | 607-582-6011 | 9224 Route 414, Lodi, NY 14860 |

Penguin Bay Winery | 315-549-8326 | 6075 Rt. 414 Hector, NY 14841 |

Red Newt Cellars | 607-546-4100 | 3675 Tichenor Road, Hector NY 14841 |

Three Brothers Wineries | 315-585-4432 | 623 Lerch Road, Geneva NY 14456 |

Ventosa Vineyards | 315-719-0000 | 3440 Rte 96A, Geneva, NY 14456 |

Wagner Vineyards | 607-582-6450 | 9322 State Route 414, Lodi, NY 14860 |

Canandaigua Lake

Casa Larga Vineyards | 585-223-4210 | 2287 Turk Hill Road, Fairport, New York 14450 |

schiller-Wine: Related Postings

1st International Riesling Symposium, Rheingau, Germany

German Spaetlese Wines Can Come in Different Versions - I have Counted Five

How does a Sweet German Riesling Become Sweet?

Impressions from the Riesling & Co World Tour 2010 in New York

When Americans Drink German Wine - What They Choose

German Wine Basics: Erstes Gewaechs, Grosses Gewaechs, Erste Lage

American and German Winemakers Among the 7 Winners of Trophies of Excellence of the Riesling Du Monde Competition 2010

German Winemakers in the World: Hermann J. Wiemer

German American Wines: (1) NV Two Worlds Pinot Noir, (2) Poet's Leap Riesling and (3) Herrmann J. Wiemer and his Finger Lakes Rieslings

German Wine Makers in the World: Dr. Konstantin Frank (USA)

Christian G.E. Schiller Leads Tasting of US-American Wines in Hochheim, Germany

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