By Jason Feulner, Finger Lakes Correspondent
Although Ravines Wine Cellars is located on Keuka Lake, owner-winemaker Morten Hallgren crafts his wines using space at Shaw Vineyard, located a few miles to the east on Seneca Lake. Hallgren and Steve Shaw, winemaker and owner of Shaw Vineyard, work independently but of course try to coordinate production schedules to enhance services and manpower.
Before the fall harvest, Steve Shaw invited me over to the winery to watch as he bottled some of the reds wines from both wineries. I was interested to check it out because both winemakers use a mobile bottling line, an operation that I thought would be a delight to witness.
I was not disappointed. The mobile unit, owned and operated by Peter Oughterson of Highland Cellars, is a marvel of efficiency, cramming all kinds of machinery in a medium-sized rig that would otherwise have taken up quite a bit of floor space in a winery's facility. As I scurried around, poking my head in various openings through both sides of the truck, the bottles moved through the long, narrow gauntlet of moving parts, being filled with wine, getting corked, and finally emerging with shiny new labels identifying the contents.
During my visit, I witnessed the bottling of Morten's 2007 merlot, the first varietal merlot that he has bottled. Last spring, I had the pleasure to taste the individual lots that went into this wine, and came away impressed by the robust, ripe, fruit, backed with solid structure and smooth tannins. The final wine is impressive, with a full body that belies the wine's regional origin.
The months of heat and drought during the summer of 2007 are relative rarities in the Finger Lakes region. I suspect that some of the red wines from the vintage will excel far beyond normal expectations.
I also had a chance to taste Morten's 2007 Meritage blend which was in queue for the bottling line. Like his previous bottlings, it showed a great deal of balance with multiple layers of flavors and aromas. It tasted young, but the fruit potential was there, and I'm looking forward to this one much like the 2005, which it may even surpass.
Steve Shaw had already bottled some his reds the day before my visit. Surprisingly, Steve was not bottling his 2007 reds... he was bottling his 2005s!
I pressed Steve on his reasoning for bottling a vintage nearly two years after most other Finger Lakes wineries. "This is my plan," he stated firmly. "I believe that my reds benefit from more aging in the barrel before release, and so I stick to it."
Considering that many wineries in Europe also wait three or more years to release their reds, I was charmed by Steve's insistence that he was enhancing the quality of his wines. Do reds from a cool climate improve with such treatment?
I sampled his 2005 merlot, which he probably won't release for some time. Earthy, rugged tones were present, and the fruit revealed itself in nuances that built on top of one another through several sips. In its current state, this merlot seems to be building itself toward becoming a standout among Finger Lakes merlots from the same vintage.
Both Ravines and Shaw Vineyards produce great whites, but both winemakers believe adamantly that the Finger Lakes has untapped potential with reds. They feel that the right combination of extended hang time, careful handling, and lot selection can enhance the fruit and produce a red wine with the same distinction found in regions that produce celebrated reds.
Not all consumers and critics may agree, but like many Finger Lakes winemakers who continue to improve their reds vintage after vintage, Hallgren and Shaw's wines make a compelling and interesting case.