By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor
On paper, Gruner Veltliner -- the grape grown primarily in Austria and other Eastern European nations -- is an ideal grape to grow in the Finger Lakes.
First and perhaps more importantly, it's winter hardy -- not as hardy as riesling, but more hardy than gewurztraminer and many other varieties being grown successfully in the region. It's also an early ripener, said to ripen before gewurztraminer and riesling.
The skins are thick too, even thicker than chardonnay, so is affected less by botrytis and other fungal infections.
As Brendan Zugibe of Zugibe Vineyards put it "Climate-wise this variety is a perfect fit...actually better than most vinifera varieties."
Lots of Potential -- What About the Reality?
Clearly gruner holds promise in the Finger Lakes, but could it be like the blue chip recruit with all the potential in the world, but never realizes its full potential for one reason or another?
To find out, so I sought out those growing it and tasted a few examples.
So I asked Josh Wig, general manager at Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, which planted three-quarters of an acre in 2008 and another half acre in 2009, how it was handling Finger Lakes winters. He was optimistic, but cautiously so. "Time will tell. It has not been tested by a severe winter but appears to be fairly winter hardy," he said, adding that in general "So far it has been similar to grow as our riesling."
At Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, Fred Frank said that the have planted gruner in warmer sections of their vineyards because it's not quite as hardy as some other grapes.
Young Vines and Early Wines
By any measure, all of the gruner vines in the region are young. At Zugibe Vineyards, the just under an acre of Gruner was planted in 2007. Dr. Frank planted their gruner -- 8 acres in total -- in stages in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The youth of the vines makes it unfair to make any proclamations about what gruner's real potential is from tasting the three wines I was able to get my hands on -- two commercial releases and on other that wasn't released to the public, but they do offer an early glimpse into what could come later.
Zugibe Vineyards 2009 Gruner Veltliner has a nose vaguely reminiscent of a dry Finger Lakes riesling -- a burst of lime-y citrus with green apple and only subtle hints of the white pepper one expects from gruner. Though similarly citrusy and apple-y on the palate, there is a richness to the mid-palate and a savory-salty edge to the finish that is intriguing. Rating:
Dr. Konstantin Frank Vineifera Wine Cellars 2010 Gruner Veltliner is floral and herby with aromas of citrus and kiwi. Mouth-filling and showing flavors similar its the aromas, the palate is crisp and refreshing, but lacks varietal character. Shows great acidity and an interesting under-ripe peach note on the finish. Rating:
Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars 2010 Gruner Veltliner wasn't released to the public (the 2011 will be) but it showed the most varietal character and impressed me the most. The nose displayed notes of pear, pineapple, grapefruit and lime, white pepper and wet river stones. Stone-y and peppery, the well-balanced palate shows nice length and flavors that range from dried pineapple to pear to grapefruit and gingery spice. Rating:
Popularity and Growth
So what is gruner's place in the Finger Lakes wine world? It's too early to say, but producers are optimistic. "It would make sense to assume that gruner's appeal in the Finger Lakes will take a little time to fully develop," said Zugibe, adding "Not many people know anything about the variety outside of Austria. But from the start this wine was not only embraced, it has been one of the best-selling products currently on the tasting room shelves."
On the grape's future potential, Fred Frank told me, "We are very optimistic regarding the future of Gruner in the Finger Lakes. We have already won several gold medals for the Dr. Frank Gruner and received praise and encouragement from visiting Austrian winemakers."
Medals or no, it will be interesting to see the unique expression of gruner develop in the region over time. I know that some other growers have planted it as well. Stay tuned. This could be fun.