By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Editor
That's not marketing hyperbole. When you bury your nose in a glass of the Lamoreaux Landing 2009 Round Rock Vineyard Riesling, you'll find an entirely new riesling aroma. For me, it was salted ballpark peanuts. For winemaker Paul Brock, it's... dairy.
"A good kind of dairy," he enthusiastically told me on a recent visit.
The list of riesling aromatic descriptors has just expanded.
There is a reason for this wine's unique profile. Brock explained that this particular vineyard produced very high acid in the 2009 riesling -- more acid than Brock found in the riesling from Lamoreaux Landing's other vineyards. He decided to experiment with malolactic fermentation with 30% of the juice from the Round Rock vineyard.
The result is striking. (Malolactic fermentation is employed in many wines, though rarely the crisp and aromatic whites; you'll notice its results in chardonnay, for example). Even though 70% of this wine is made with the same techniques as Lamoreaux Landing's other rieslings, the impact of the malolactic batch is impossible to miss.
Brock is excited about it.
"It's extremely different, and it should be," he said. "These are young vineyards, and we're already seeing significant differences. The acid was particularly high in Round Rock, but it wasn't an issue in other vineyards. So the notes that come from malolactic fermentation are part of terroir, if you want to use that term. I prefer to talk about a wine's sense of place."
It's an interesting point. The concept of a wine's sense of place is heavily debated, but on my visit to Lamoreaux Landing, Brock and General Manager Josh Wig insisted that terroir must include the impact of the human hand.
"For me, it doesn't matter whether the differentiation comes from the vineyard or the winemaking process," Wig said. "The point is, they're different, and it's absolutely enjoyable to observe and taste the differences. We can't wait for people to get that chance."
But what about the impact of malolactic fermentation on riesling's flavor? Malic acid can contribute to a wine's flavor components, but Brock is not concerned about the Round Rock Riesling lacking flavor. When I tasted it I found a disconnect between that dairy-esque nose and the crisp, rich palate.
"The usual step is to adjust acids," Brock said. "But I've always thought about trying ML with riesling. We had high acid and it was the right time." He added with a laugh, "It's more romantic this way!"
New York Cork Report Science Editor Tom Mansell recently wrote all about the results of malolactic fermentation. Check it out here.
If future vintages present the same kind of high acid that Brock discovered in the 2009 Round Rock Vineyard Riesling, he'll consider using malolactic fermentation again. And though I haven't heard of European winemakers doing the same thing with their riesling, Brock is convinced it's happening. "Now that we've done it, I can say with certainty that I've had rieslings from Europe that have undergone that same type of fermentation."
Lamoreaux Landing's expanding riesling profile
Lamoreaux Landing's single-vineyard program got off to a rocking start with the 2008 Red Oak Riesling, and the early returns are outstanding for the 2009 version. The Red Oak vineyard produces some highly precocious wines, evident in the explosively aromatic tank sample that Brock pulled.
"Last year it was similarly explosive right away," Brock told me. "We didn't really change anything from last year to this year, and even though it was a very different vintage, the wine is very forward."
He chose not to pour a tank sample of the new Yellow Dog Vineyard Riesling, explaining that it's been "misbehaving" lately, but he expects to have any issues under control long before bottling.
"We have all these vineyards spread over five miles," Wig said. He explained that Lamoreaux Landing is not making single-vineyard wines only for wine geeks and terroir hunters. "Not at all. We'll have six different rieslings for people to try, and they can pick their favorite one. This is an inclusive idea, not an exclusive idea."
The other wines will have to show very well to match the early success of Red Oak Riesling.
A regional trend
In the weeks to come, the New York Cork Report will profile other top producers that are now bottling single-vineyard wines. One of the most noteworthy is Hermann J. Wiemer, where winemaker Fred Merwarth has been charting the differences in vineyards for years.
Lamoreaux Landing's vineyards are young -- some are in their first vintage with 2009. But Brock doesn't believe there needs to be a long track record before a winery offers a single-vineyard riesling.
"We're creating a track record," Brock said with a smile. "This entire process costs us more money -- some people think we're making money off it, but the opposite is true. We're going to watch the track record develop and if there aren't serious differences, well, we've already found that there are."
Wig added, "We have to do this if we expect to improve our winemaking, so why not let our customers in on it?"
Lamoreaux Landing will release their single-vineyard rieslings on May 1, and the buying public can commence debating the virtues of citrus versus dairy... even in Finger Lakes riesling.