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March 24, 2009

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I wrote a winemaker profile of Nancy Irelan for Life in the Finger Lakes this past year. The article, minus the lovely photos (unfortunately) has been reproduced at this link:

http://www.lifeinthefingerlakes.com/articles.php?view=article&id=440

Jason: Red Tail Ridge actually has a link to a PDF of the story, which includes the pictures (and ads of course):

http://www.redtailridgewinery.com/rtr_directory.taf?_function=record&dr_id=19&dr_cat=4

The wines from RTR have been consistently clean and enjoyable, especially for young vines. I know that Nancy has benefited from the help provided by Peter Bell at Fox Run, and the results are impressive. Mike is, by all appearances, a talented grower -- and that's more important than perhaps anything else. What the Finger Lakes desperately needs is improvement in growing practices.

good post, sound like a place to see indeed. I am all about the experimentation in variety selection. Here in the Hudson Valley, Stoutridge has planted some Teroldego, Sangiovese, and Refosco, they should be fruiting this season or next.

I wanted to add a P.S. here after looking at the picture of the winery building. For one, it kind of looks like one of those self-storage places. And two, anybody researching sustainable long lasting buildings should know there is a hard and fast rule in architecture; FLAT ROOFS ALWAYS LEAK. Given time, there are no exceptions. They should check out "The Long Now" foundation.

Rowland, I appreciate the comments but I must emphasize that the picture you see was lifted from a larger mock-up that had all kinds of features highlighted from various angles with floor plans, etc.

So, your point might be valid but I don't tink we can know how it would apply in this particular case. The original image here was a very small feature on the mock-up and it shows how the building would appear from near the road, a lower elevation which would obscure the true overall shape of the building.

Teroldego: great choice. It's home is in the Adige, a cool growing region.

It's a vigorous and prolific vine, and loves good drainage. It's an aromatic, to be sure and low in tannin while good with extract and color.


Recent research shows the grape is genetically related to Syrah, Marzemino and Lagrein, the latter being among my favorite north climate reds.

I often wonder why Finger Lakes producers spend their time with Bordeuax varieties when they can probably do well with northern Italian varieties, provided they can give the vines decent southern exposure.

I have my eye on a spot on the Keuka Lake's Bluff Point that looks ideal for Nebbiolo!


Thomas,

Have you tasted many 2007 Finger Lakes red yet? How about 2005? I'd say you'll have your answers as to why Finger Lakes producers spend their time with Bordeaux varieties.

That said, I've often wondered how many local winemakers (Cornell, perhaps?) have studied other wine regions with closer topographical and climatological profiles. Heck, if you're looking for vinifera outside the mainstream, Jim Hazlitt has probably grown it! But I'm certainly curious to see what else has potential here.

Evan,

I should have been more clear: building a Bordeaux variety red wine business in the FLakes requires a lot of prayer that a winter zap won't kill them and that at least two out of every eight vintages will be stellar.

I know the answer to my question has to do with marketing the varietal wine 'names' but I think these days, with many reds like the Alto Adige and Piemonte varieties, it's worth doing what Nancy Irelan is doing.

You are right about Jim Hazlitt, though. One of the best growers around. Where the hell is his single vineyard wine? ;)

Knapp Vineyards once grew Nebbiolo. Don't know what happened, though.

Thomas,

Given your impressive background and knowledge about how varietals grow in the Finger Lakes, I'm curious to know how you would rank the "non-traditional" varietals in terms of their potential here.

Evan,

If you mean the varieties I mentioned, I have no idea. It would take trials, as Nancy Irelan is doing.

The Knapp Nebbiolo I mentioned didn't seem to work out.

Since much of Finger Lakes vineyards are planted with east/west exposure, it could be problematic for those varieties. In their cool mountain regions they generally have direct southern exposure--and that could be what makes all the difference--it's amazing to see the nebbiolo vineyards of Valtellina on the Italian side of the Alps and the exposure that brings those grapes to complete ripeness.

It's worth a try for here two reasons: the possibility that the varieties might be better suited to the climate; and the excitement of the region offering what you refer to as 'non-traditional.'

In my never humble opinion: I think most American wine regions try to grow too many varieties and make too many wines, which has the effect of diminishing the spotlight on what they do best, especially if some of the varieties they work with aren't much suitable to their region. Sometimes, it takes an unusual victory to spark the world. But I have the luxury of saying that because I am not trying to make a living producing wine...

Thomas,

I strongly concur with your last point, and we're starting to get a chance to see if a model of producing only one or two varietals will succeed. Tom Higgins of Heart & Hand is producing primarily Pinot Noir and also some Riesling, but as far as I know, that's it.

I think of the current model -- produce a bunch of vinifera -- as a kind of "veto item" menu akin to what we see in fast food restaurants. Over the past two decades companies like McDonald's have found that they were losing business because one person in a dining group might want a salad, or yogurt, etc. Without those items on the menu, the group went elsewhere to placate the person who wanted something ostensibly healthier. Restaurants glibly refer to salads and yogurts as "veto items" because they help prevent one person in a group from vetoing the idea of going to that restaurant.

Perhaps it's the same with a varietal like Chardonnay. Many Finger Lakes wineries produce it, but few do it well. And yet customers keep asking for it, and I've talked to business owners who tell me they feel it's important to at least have a Chardonnay, or a Cab Sauv, to pour because people expect it will be there. It's their "veto wine." (Of course, there are some winemakers who find a way to make very good Chardonnay or very good Cab Sauv in the FL, but you get the point).

So I hope we'll see more like Tom Higgins. A larger sample of wineries using a more narrow approach will be instructive; I'd like to think that model would work, but we'll have to wait to find out.

Thomas: Interesting thought on the "too many varieties." It's something that I've thought about here on Long Island quite a bit, but I'm still on the fence.

On one hand, if I had the money to start a winery and plant a vineyard, I'd want merlot, cab franc and sauvignon blanc to be the core of my business. But that ignores some other grapes that can do quite well here. Paumanok's chenin blanc is outstanding. Lieb Cellars is doing great things with pinot blanc. There are several producers doing good things with riesling as well.

I think diversity is a good thing. But, there are some wines/grapes being done here that I really don't think we need. Syrah? Rarely very good as a varietal, but okay in some blends. Cab Sauv? VERY few growers can do this well (Roanoke, Paumanok and Lenz).

And we all know that there is way too much chardonnay in NY state. But, it grows well and it sells well. Hard to blame anyone.

Lenn,

If you ask me, there's too much Chardonnay in the world.

Of course, you didn't include Riesling on that list of LI no-nos ;) and what would Eric Fry say if you told him to stop producing Gewurztraminer? In fact, next time you see him, tell him I said he should stop producing it--then, duck!

Evan,

If wineries want to be like McDonald's...well, then...

Thomas - I beg to differ with a couple of your comments. Riesling in the right location and with the proper management can do quite well on L.I. It has now for about 25 years. Gewurzt? It has a great affinity for many sites (i.e Lenz, Corey Creek, Channing Daughters) and as an added bonus we don't have to bury any vines...
As for Nebbiolo in the Finger Lakes - we never saw ripe fruit during the growing trials at Cornell's Riverhead research vineyard - even with well over 3000 GDD and 220 days of season.

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