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January 05, 2010

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No surprise at the Red Cat win...just sadness.
I must confess that I've never consumed Red Cat, and not out of any snobbery over blushes or hybrids. Hazlitt's radio ads for it were among the most annoying and pervasive I've ever heard, so I refuse it on principle.
Personally, I voted for Heart and Hands Barrel Reserve Pinot, but I'm not surprised at its defeat. Despite the Governor's Cup win, I'm guessing a lot of people haven't yet made their way to the small but growing (and fantastic) operation. Evan, thank you for putting me on to it over the summer.

I agree with Ryan that it is sad for RedCat to come out first. Hazlett does actually put out some good wines - for example, their 2001 Cab Franc was drinking extremely well when I tried a bottle in 2008.

Ryan - My pleasure. Bear in mind that H&H won the NY State Wine and Food Classic award for best Pinot Noir in the state, but typically when people refer to the "Governor's Cup wine," they mean the one designated as wine of the year. And in this case that would be the Anthony Road 2008 Semi-Dry Riesling.

Either way, H&H is deserving of the accolades. Word of mouth has been their most powerful ally.

Regarding Red Cat, it's not a good sign for the Finger Lakes. A friend recently argued - persuasively - that Yellow Tail didn't help Australian wine, it helped sink it. That's because most of these consumers don't go up the ladder; they find something cheap and stay there. That's probably true with Red Cat.

Cyclist - Recently drank the '99 Hazlitt Cabernet Franc, and at a blind tasting no less. It was the wine of the night out of 20 bottles. Showing beautifully. But thanks to Red Cat, the Hazlitt name is most often associated with, well, this.

(Before anyone hammers me, I concede that every potable beverage has a place. But don't try to tell me that Red Cat is the gateway drug to other Finger Lakes wines. It's a cheap, competent beverage with tremendous marketing, and there's nothing wrong with that. But this is not a positive showing for the rest of the Finger Lakes wine community).

Thank you to the readers of NYCR for casting your vote for Shinn Estate Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Franc. It is one thing for us to love the wines that we produce but quite another to be recognized by the greater wine loving community.

David -

It's difficult, on occasion, for wines to stand up to the hype. The buzz for the Shinn '07 CF began at Taste Camp and never waned. And yet the wine has not only held up, but clearly the readers think it has exceeded those lofty expectations. Cheers and congrats - well earned.

Red Cat bad for the Finger Lakes? I bet if you were to ask any of the farmers who grow catawba if Red Cat was bad for the Finger Lakes they would disagree. I bet if you were to ask anyone in tourism trying to attract visitors to the Finger Lakes they would disagree too. Red Cat was the idea of my dad and mom 15 years ago. They were sure that this would be our least popular wine because it was the sweetest. Well, the consumers who walked through our doors decided for us and have loved this wine from day one. The amazing growth of this product has allowed our winery to grow and prosper and how can that be a bad thing for the Finger Lakes?? We also produce some amazing award-winning vinifera wines and we do, indeed, stuggle with the dual image. However, being that our winery is still always packed with visitors I would say we are making it work ok. We also produce about 50,000 gallons of vinifera wines that also sell out every year. Red Cat is proudly made of lubrusca grapes that have been grown in the Finger Lakes for a hundred years. It is of the same high quality fruit as any other top-notch wine from the Finger Lakes which is why none of the other knock-offs can touch it. Thanks to all of you that voted for a very high quality wine...Red Cat!!!

Leigh -

The question is not whether Red Cat is "bad" for the Finger Lakes in general; the discussion is focusing on whether Red Cat has an impact on the reputation of Finger Lakes vinifera wines. The answer, in my experience, is yes. I've heard from numerous people in other states that they don't know much about the Finger Lakes - other than Bully Hill and Red Cat. This is a region attempting to make world-class Riesling, and this region is making the country's best Riesling, but the reputation is still dominated by non-vinifera wines.

I appreciate your passion for the wine, and I respect the success of it, but Red Cat is nowhere near the level of quality that has been achieved by the region's top vinifera bottlings. I'm surprised you want to compare Red Cat to other top-notch local wine, because Red Cat does not succeed based on such a reputation. It is a fun wine, with little winks and nods to consumers who know a thing or two (HHJ). Comparing it to vinifera bottlings does the Finger Lakes no favors.

Whether it's demonstrably better than, say, Tony's Red or Clara's Red or the myriad cousins to Red Cat, I can't say. I haven't blind-tasted to see if it stands apart. But again, this is a dominant wine that doesn't need blind tastings and comparisons to succeed.

And regarding the vinifera bottlings from Hazlitt, as I've stated before, I imagine Red Cat makes it a tougher road. But the wines are very nice, and some aged Hazlitt vinifera have been knock-out wines. I enjoy sharing a bottle of Hazlitt vinifera with friends who have only known Red Cat - it can be a revelation.

Everyone: I've actually never had Red Cat, so I can't comment on it's quality. But, based on the style of wine it is and the marketing behind it, there are a few things I'm thinking about right now.

First, it's a bit silly to compare Red Cat to the fine vinifera wines made in the region. They are completely different animals with different audiences. Think USA Today vs. The New York Times, maybe.

Second, here on Long Island we have a few wines that are in the same vein -- sweet blends that are widely distributed that tend to be the 'image' of the region to outsiders. It's a difficult thing for wineries interested in making quality wines to deal with. They have to work that much harder to overcome that reputation.

And, it's doubly difficult because trade and promotional organizations can't push high-quality vinifera and ignore these wines -- they can't play favorites. That leaves the high-end producers largely on their own.

Leigh does make a good point about the farmers who are growing all that Catawba and baco...any time that local farmers can continue being local farmers successfully, I'm all for it.

And if Red Cat provides the financial stability that Hazlitt needs to not only keep the lights on but grow all of those varieties and make all of those wines, it's hard to rail against it.

But, we should keep wines like Red Cat in perspective...they aren't wines that are going to advance the region or its reputation. They are wines that, while successful, get in the way in that regard. I won't call them necessary evils -- that is far too strong -- but I think every emerging wine region has to deal with situations like this.

There are no simple answers.

The people have spoken, however...so congratulations to both winners.

Oops...my bad on the Heart and Hands award...I knew better. I don't suppose there's a way to add a note to an old comment?
Also, kudos to you NYCR editors for making your opinions regarding Red Cat public. While I am not a totally unbiased observer, your posts strike me as honest, yet understanding of all aspects of the question.
When I saw the vote results, I was hoping you would comment. Leaving out opinions might keep readers and winemakers happy, but for a blog, politic censorship is like leprosy.

Ryan -

We're glad you appreciate the open dialogue. I don't want to speak for Lenn, Tom, or the other writers, but it's clear to me that honest discourse is the best way to move the region forward. We don't intend to say that Red Cat doesn't have a place, but we're trying to examine it's real impact. Consider: a friend outside NY went to his wine store recently and discovered Red Cat in 750 ML and 1.5 L, with Bully Hill as the only other Finger Lakes wine. That's the current face of Finger Lakes wine. Again, nothing wrong with those wines, but this region can't afford for that to be the only image in customers' minds.

Ryan: If you're looking for held back opinions, you're at the wrong site. :)

Just playing Devil's Advocate here:

I don't think it's quite fair to compare Red Cat to Yellowtail. There's a big difference between 100,000 cases and 8 million cases. Red Cat is a big fish in a small pond, globally speaking.

What if all the Catawba that farmers are selling for $250/ton were Riesling at $1000/ton? I have heard, anecdotally, that RC's demand for Catawba has driven up the price, though...

I went to the FLX wine section of the PA state store when I was home for the holidays. The New York wines: Lake Niagara, Taylor, Manischewitz (all in jugs), Bully Hill, Red Cat, White Cat, and Cabin Fever. Hazlitt has definitely figured out something that some wineries struggle with: DISTRIBUTION. Maybe the reason people outside the region have only heard of BH and RC is because that's the only NY wine available in their area. Quality is a factor in this, sure, but certainly not the only one.

Re: Shinn Cabernet Franc 2007, there was a quasi-hysteria about this wine poured from the barrel at TasteCamp, so naturally I was skeptical. I liked it OK, then liked it OK at the CF tasting (blind) at the NYWCC, but at that point it had just been bottled. I am keen to try it now, blind, with something comparable to give it a real evaluation.

Congrats to the winners!

Just realized that I will get to taste it, blind, among others, in a couple weeks at the NYCR Wines of the Year finalist tasting. So I guess we'll see.

Lenn-

What was the final sample size of the poll?

I think we had around 500 votes cast total.

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