Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dr. Frank Wines from Finger Lakes Featured at State Luncheon for Chancellor Merkel in Washington, D.C., USA

Picture: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vice-President Biden

When Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Washington DC a few weeks ago, she was there for 28 hours: She arrived in the late afternoon of Monday, June 6 and had a private dinner – alone - with the President at the Georgetown Restaurant 1789. Tuesday was filled with the official arrival ceremony, a bilateral meeting with the President, a press conference and a State Luncheon as well as a State Dinner.

At State Dinners, President Obama likes to serve American wines with some connection to the country where the guest comes from. When President Obama welcomed President Calderón of Mexico and Mrs. Margarita Zavala to the White House, the dinner had a Mexican soul, both the food and the wines. Two of the wines were made by Mexican-born American winemakers who worked their way up to become America’s best. But this time, the link to Germany was rather limited, when it comes to the wines the President served at the State Dinner for Chancellor Merkel.

I have compiled a list of wines I would call American-German wines. All these wines are made from grapes grown in the US, but the wines have in some way or another a link to Germany. These wines could have been served at the State Dinner in honor of Chancellor Merkel.Perhaps the White House should keep a copy of the list for next time.

One of the possible wines, President Obama could have served, were Dr. Frank wines from the Finger Lakes region. After Chancellor Merkel’s visit, I was contacted by the US State Department and informed that Dr. Frank wines had been served at the State Luncheon for Chancellor Merkel.

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

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.

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.

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!

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller presenting Dr. Frank wines in Hochheim, Germany

The Dr. Frank Wines Served at the State Luncheon

The State Luncheon hosted by The Vice President and Dr. Biden and The Secretary of State in honor of Her Excellency Dr. Angela Merkel Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany took place in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the U.S. Department of State on June 7, 2011. It featured the Chateau Frank Célèbre Rosé and 2010 Grüner Veltliner for the reception portion of the event. For the luncheon portion of the event, the Dr. Frank 2010 Semi-Dry Riesling and 2008 Lemberger were featured.

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1 comment:

  1. Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine CellarsJuly 4, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    Thank you for sharing this on our wall, Christian. We were honored to be a part of this event hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton!