By Jason Feulner, Finger Lakes Correspondent
He has honed his craft in the ancient family wine business, at an organic winery, at a large-scale commercial winery, and now finds himself the sole winemaker at Anthony Road Wine Company on Seneca Lake. Johannes brings a European perspective to a winemaking region in which he sees a great deal of potential.
The Reinhardt family, from the tiny village of Neuses Am Berg in northern Bavaria, was awarded a royal crest in 1438 and given dominion over grape growing and the wine trade in part of what was then called Franconia. Despite this close involvement in the wine business, the Reinhardt family did not officially produce its own wine label until the 1950s. Johannes, after learning the craft from his father, seemed destined to inherit the expanding family business.
Johannes earned his Master's in Viticulture from the Bavarian Institute at Veitshoechheim in 1991. He worked for the family winery from 1992-1995 and then abruptly decided to leave to expand his horizons. From 1996-1999 he worked at an organic winery near Stuttgart.
In 1999, Johannes saw an ad in a German wine journal for a winemaking position at Dr. Frank's in the Finger Lakes. Although Johannes had never heard of the Finger Lakes and had only basic English skills, he decided to take a chance and applied. He arrived at Dr. Frank's at the same time as Morten Hallgren of Ravines, where the two spoke more German than English in the cellar.
Viewing his year-long experience at Dr. Frank's as educational in nature, Johannes returned to Germany where he took a prestigious job at a large commercial winery. Disillusioned with the money-focused nature of that business, Johannes welcomed an unexpected phone call in the summer of 2000 from John Martini, owner of Anthony Road, who wanted to hire a winemaker of Johannes' caliber.
Johannes Reinhardt, with a limited command of the English language and few connections here, decided to bring his career back to the Finger Lakes.
It's become a cliche, but Johannes stresses that winemaking begins in the vineyard. "Vineyard management is something that the Finger Lakes (region) is still figuring out," he explains. Working closely with vineyard manager Peter Martini, Johannes invests a great deal of time and effort in Anthony Road's vinifera plantings. He treats each vintage and each variety very differently, never producing any wine the same way year after year but allowing the condition of the grapes to speak to their own needs.
"I learned from my father cleanliness and proper cellar management. This discipline allows me to make good decisions each vintage."
Always pragmatic, Johannes practices natural or organic methods whenever possible but views the quality of the end product as more important than strict adherence. He sees potential in many different varietals, yet he does not see the benefit in pushing some reds to their limits when success is inherently limited. "I don't think it's a good business decision to make those Finger Lakes reds where a good vintage is possible only 3 out of 10 years."
Asked whether he prefers to use a mechanical crusher or employ whole cluster press, Johannes replies, "I let the skins tell me."
Anthony Road offers a large variety of wines, from entry-level hybrids to late harvest to special reserve vinifera. The dry and semi-dry rieslings are very well-made, as are the pinot gris and chardonnay, the latter of which is proudly labeled 'No Oak.'
The reserve wines that were available for tasting when I visited were mainly reds. The cabernet franc/lemberger blend was especially smooth and age-worthy and the 2005 pinot noir exhibited a great deal of depth. The reserve late harvest vignoles was enticing as well.
While I was visiting the winery, Johannes was kind enough to give me a barrel tasting of his 2007s from tank. The dry riesling was very good, as was the late harvest vignoles. The semi-dry riesling, however, was exceptional and very memorable and I am looking forward to tasting it again once it is in the bottle.
Overall, Reinhardt is optimistic that Finger Lakes wine will continue to improve. He believes that vineyard practices and varietal priorities will sort themselves out over time, creating a greater consistency from vintage to vintage.
Echoing many of the winemakers with Old World experience who have found themselves working in the Finger Lakes, Johannes believes that sparkling wines are the best long-term future of the region. "Oh, that's a 10 out of 10," he says without hesitation. "The potential is there."