Category Archives: Vinification

Winemaking

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Raphael Winery

Raphael Winery entrance, by Petrocelli Construction

Raphael Winery, in Peconic, on the North Fork of Long Island, was founded by John Petrocelli Sr. and his wife, Joan, and is family-owned.  Petrocelli is also the owner of J. Petrocelli Construction, which specializes in quality design and building, and the handsome, 28,000 sq. ft.  winery was designed by him, inspired by the architecture of the Neapolitan monasteries of his native Italy.  He named it after his father, Raphael, who was an avid home winemaker like his own father before him, so John Sr. came by his oenophilia perhaps genetically.  The venture was five years in planning and cost $6,000,000 to complete, with the intention of making the premium winery of Long Island, Italian-inspired but Bordeaux-oriented.

When the commitment to build the winery was made, it was clear that a vital component, the vineyard, needed to be tended to by expert viticulturalists.  The family then hired David and Steve Mudd—Mudd VMC is the premier vineyard management consulting firm on the Island—to help guide them in the development of a Bordeaux-type of winery.  Also hired as advisers were Paul Pontallier, managing director of Ch. Margaux—one of the five Premier Cru châteaux in Bordeaux— along with Richard Smart, a respected Australian viticulture consultant who had earned his Ph.D. at Cornell.   With their advice the cellar and equipment was developed along those lines, and built twelve feet below the ground in order to allow for the first gravity-fed fermentation tanks to be used in the region, using as models Opus One and Mondavi, of Napa Valley.   (Gravity feed is considered to be less stressful and damaging to the fruit and organic matter that constitutes the must than is mechanical pumping.)

One of Raphael’s vineyard plots

In 1996 the Mudds planted the first vineyard for Raphael with Merlot, and have been managing the vineyard, which has grown to 60 acres over the years, ever since, using sustainable practices, including what Steve Mudd calls “fussy viticulture”—green harvesting by hand—from the very beginning.  (In fact, the first wine made under the Raphael label came from Merlot vines grown at the Mudds’ own vineyard and were vinified at Pellegrini Vineyard.  The first wine produced at the new facility was the 1999 vintage.)  Other varieties have been planted since the Merlot, including Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

According to Steve Mudd, a nine-foot space between rows is supposed to provide room for equipment to move along the rows, but it’s a myth that that much space is necessary.  Pontallier, when asked his opinion about the row spacing and vine density, said, “it is not for me to say” what it should be, but back in 1994, when the vineyard was still in the planning stage, he had argued against close spacing, suggesting 3 meters (10 feet).  The density of the first planting at Raphael is just 820 vines per acre (9’x6’ spacing) as opposed to about 2,550 in Bordeaux.  Later plantings increased the density somewhat, and the rest of the vineyard is now spaced at 9’x5’, or 968 vines/acre.

The quality wines produced by Raphael simply would not be possible if it weren’t for the work done in the vineyard by Steve Mudd and his crew.  High-quality fruit is always there for the winemaker, even in a bad-harvest year like 2011.

For further insight into the viticultural practices at Raphael, the reader is referred to another post, on Mudd VMC, the contracted vineyard manager for the winery.

Richard Olsen-Harbich, who had been Raphael’s winemaker since its founding and helped define its style of wines—made reductively, using native yeasts, with minimal intervention, in order to allow the hand-picked grapes to more clearly express the terroir.  After he left in 2010 to work at Bedell Cellars  Leslie Howard became winemaker, but in 2012 Les moved on and Anthony Nappa, former winemaker at Shinn Estate, maker of Anthony Nappa Wines, and founder of the Winemaker’s Studio, took over as winemaker at Raphael.

I met Anthony several years ago, when he was winemaker at Shinn (2007 to 2011). When he first went to there it was with the understanding that he could use their facilities to make wine for his own label, which bears his name. His first wine under his label was 200 cases of LI Pinot Noir. After he left Shinn he focused more on his own wines and made them at Premium Wine Group, the custom crush facility in Mattituck.

Anthony-Nappa at RaphaelHe now has same arrangement with Raphael. As he explains, “We keep everything very separate. [Raphael’s] business is very separate from ours. We pay to make the wine here; it’s just like at Premium. We pay to store it; we pay everything just like we would if we were just a customer. A lot of times I’m working on my stuff, I’m working on their stuff or whatever, but I just try to keep everything very separate. They don’t sell our wine, we don’t sell their wine.”  (To read more about Anthony Nappa and his own wines, see Oenology in LI: Anthony Nappa Wines.)

For Anthony, who has certainly had plenty of experience on both coasts, Long Island is the place to make wine in the East. He told me that “I really think Long Island is the best wine region on the East Coast by far. It’s so diverse; we’ve so much potential. The wines that I’d tasted even ten years ago were better than anywhere else along the East Coast, and they’re even better now.”

To the question, “What have you done since you’ve been here to in any way define the wines of Raphael to a new standard, an Anthony Nappa standard?”

He replied that by “having standards, the first goal is to just figure out where we are and what’s going on with sales and production, and try to get the business side of things in line as far as what we’re making, cutting packaging costs, and streamlining the whole production side. Raphael wants to make money, so obviously the financial side of it is important. And then on the winemaking side, it was just looking at every product. The first thing is to only make as much as we sell. A lot of wineries just bring in the fruit, make it, bottle it, warehouse it. Our goal is to figure out what we’re selling, and any excess we sell off in bulk—any fruit or wine or whatever—and then figuring out each product and having a standard for it.

“We have a whole line of what we call ‘First Label.’  It’s all the Reserve wines, and those are all from our vineyard. We buy a lot of fruit too, but those are all from our vineyard. It’s just like with my own wines, we have very high standards for fruit and we have very high standards for the quality of each wine. I’ll just not make a wine. If the quality is not there, if the fruit doesn’t deliver, it gets downgraded to a lower level wine, and if the vineyard doesn’t deliver, we just don’t buy the fruit. That’s easy for me, because I’m the one buying the fruit.

“It’s easy to fuck things up. You’re taking grapes and from the moment you pick them, it’s all downhill. You’re just trying to protect it through the process, but it’s on a long, slow trail to becoming vinegar from the moment you pick it . . .”

I replied, “It seems to me every single winery should have a sign that says ‘First thing, don’t fuck it up.’”

He went on: “But we try to make everything.  I’m a non-interventionist. I want the grapes to express themselves. I want the Cab Franc to taste like Cab Franc and I don’t want to just make everything taste the same. So usually I just bring things in and let everything ferment wild and let things go. And then I intervene when I have to. When the fruit comes in we look at it and we make decisions sometimes on the fly based on what we’re going to do. Then I always err on the side of caution. If I’m not sure about something I do nothing, and I intervene when I have to.”

Anthony concluded with this remark: “I think a lot of wineries just go through the motions and just make the same wines every year and there’s a huge separation between upstairs and downstairs and outside and inside and there needs to be more synergy, there to have some more consistency. No one has done anything different ever in this business that hasn’t been done for the last thousands of years. It’s just about taking thousands of decisions and putting them in a different order and you get a different result. But there are no secrets, you know.”

Trying Raphael’s wines in the spacious and handsome tasting room proved to be very interesting, as there was a wide range of wine types and styles on offer, and he had plenty to say about them.  (Please note:  the wines identified as “First Label” are considered to be Reserve Wines; i.e., the best produced by the winery.)

The 2010 First Label Chardonnay ($39), which came out of Mudd Vineyards (there is no Chardonnay planted at Raphael) was pressed to yield 120 gallons per ton of grapes (clone CY3779), so out of 5 tons of this particular parcel 600 gallons, or about 3,000 bottles, were made.  It underwent a 100% malolactic fermentation, was kept on its lees, and spent eight months in oak barrels.  It was bottled unfiltered, with low sulfites.  The result was that in the glass the wine was clear, offering citrus, butterscotch flavors, and toasty notes.  It has the typicity of an oaked Chardonnay, somewhere between a Burgundy or California version.  2010 was perhaps the greatest wine vintage in Long Island—given its early budding, excellent weather, and early harvest—and the quality of the Chardonnay was also a reflection of this.  Made by Leslie Howard.

The 2013 First Label Sauvignon Blanc ($28)  The last months of the growing season had no precipitation and no notable disease pressure, so Raphael was able to harvest each grape variety at leisure and at each one’s peak. According to them all the wines from 2013 show exceptional natural balance and full ripeness, which is also promising for the future longevity of the wines of this vintage.  The Sauvignon Blanc was made from hand-selected grapes from their oldest vines to help produce balanced, structured wines. Made with partial skin contact and cold-fermented in stainless steel, this dry wine exhibits a bright nose of citrus and pineapple, along with flavors of pineapple, grapefruit and lemongrass, a full body and a long dry acidic finish.It’s a clear, pale-lemon colored wine with aromas of pineapple, white peach, and, citrus; clean, medium-bodied, with high acidity and a mineral finish.  An exceptionally enjoyable Sauvignon Blanc that matches well with seafood and spicy Indian and other Asian cuisines.  Made by Anthony Nappa.  13.1% ABV.

Raphael Riesling 2013The 2013 First Label Riesling  ($28) from the same excellent vintage as that of the Sauvignon Blanc described above.  The grapes were hand-harvested and pressed very gently after two days of skin contact in the tank. The juice was fermented using naturally-occurring indigenous yeasts from the  skins. Fermentation was carried out cold at 55F and lasted 5 weeks. The wine saw no wood, as befits a Riesling.  It was blended from several batches and then bentonite-fined for heat stability, cold-stabilized and sterile-filtered before bottling.  This is a limited-production, dry Riesling that offers a firm but balanced acidity matched by fruit concentration that produces a beguilingly aromatic and rather full-bodied—for a Riesling—with a dry, minerally finish.  This wine shows flavors of fresh apricot and ripe pear.  Excellent as an aperitif or to accompany seafood, chicken dishes, and spicy cuisines.  Anthony Nappa.  12.4% ABV.

The 2013 Cabernet Franc ($25) also benefited from the excellent conditions of the vintage.  The fruit was hand-harvested, de-stemmed, and crushed. The grapes from different lots were then fermented apart.  The fermentation was carried out at 75F to retain fruit flavors and took a month with pumpovers twice a day. The wine was aged with 50% in stainless steel and the rest in French oak barrels, where it underwent natural malolactic fermentation. The aging took ten months before the wine was blended and then bottled unfiltered and unfined.  The resulting wine has a firm acidity, full body, and offers a pronounced fruity aroma of ripe red berries with herbal notes and a hint of tobacco.  It is actually ready to drink now bout would certainly bear aging a few more years, given that it was so recently bottled.  A fine accompaniment to any variety of pork, beef, or lanb dishes.  It would be good with cheese or chocolate as well.  Anthony Nappa.  12.9% ABV.

In June 2015 the Wine Advocate blog posted a review of 200 Long Island Wines, of which 7 were from Raphael, earning scores of 86 to 92 points.  The top Raphael wine was the 2010 Merlot First Label, by Leslie Howard, with 92 points, followed by the 2014 Suvignon Blanc First Label, at 91 points, by Anthony Nappa, and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon by Howard at 90 points.  Quite a track record from Robert Parker’s Website.

Based on interviews with Anthony Nappa and Steve Mudd

13 June 2012; updated 22 June 2014

39390 Main Road/Route 25, Peconic, NY 11958; (631) 765.1100

Raphael Wine

tastingroom@raphaelwine.com

For further reading, Anthony Nappa and his own brand of wines were written about by Eileen Duffy in her book, Behind the Bottle (Cider Mill Press, 2015).

Viniculture in LI, Part III: Macari Estate

Based on interviews with Alex and Joe Macari, Jr on 9 July 2009 & 17 June 2010; updated 21 November 2014

Macari sign, 2014, 0Macari Vineyards is on the North Fork of Eastern Long Island (aka the East End) in Mattituck, and owned and operated by the Macari Family.  Joseph Macari Jr., now runs the winery with his wife, Alexandra (called Alex by those who know her—but actually Alejandra, for she’s originally from Argentina).  Though Macari Vineyards was established in 1995, the Macari Family has owned the 500-acre estate—bounded by the south shore of Long Island Sound—for nearly 50 years [though in 2009 they sold 60 acres of non-vineyard land, so it is now down to 440 acres].  What were once potato fields and farmland now includes a vineyard of 200 acres of vines with additional fields of compost, farmland, and a home to long-horn cattle, goats, Sicilian donkeys and ducks.

Macari sees itself as on the cutting edge of viticulture and has long been committed to as natural an approach to winemaking as is possible. Since 2005 Joseph Macari, Jr. has been considered as a pioneer in the movement towards natural and sustainable farming on Long Island, employing principles of biodynamic farming beginning with the vineyard’s first crops.  By giving consideration to the health of the environment as a whole and moving away from the noxious effects of industrial pesticides towards a more natural and meticulous caretaking of the soil and plants, Macari believes that it has found a more promising way to yield premium wines (recalling the old French axiom, that wine begins in the vineyard).  This does not mean that Macari claims to be producing organic grapes, nor organic wines—that, in Joe’s view, is not possible for a vineyard of its size in Long Island, given the climate, with its high humidity and much rain during the growing season, both of which tend to encourage the ravages of fungal and bacterial infections of the vines, as well as attacks by a range of insects.

My first visit was in July of last year, and my follow-up visit was this June.  We started in the new and modern Tasting Room at the Winery.  Alex, as Joe’s wife is called) began with a tasting of a range of Macari wines, all of which were well-made and at the least, quite good, with some of very fine quality, well-balanced, with good acidity and fruit.  The winery produces both barrel-fermented and steel-fermented whites as well as barrel-fermented reds and a couple of cryo-ice wines (“fake” ice wine, as Alex teased, but Joe is an enthusiast, and the wine is actually delicious and has won awards).  In fact, the winery employs two winemakers, one of whom is Austrian and makes the steel-fermented whites as well as the ice wines.  (I’ll review the wines when I write about wine-making at Macari in a separate post.)

The vineyard tour in a 4-wheel-drive pickup truck began with an exploration of the composting area, where manure from the farm animals is gathered (cows—including long-horn steers—horses, and chickens) as well as the vine detritus (which is charred in order to render any infection or harmful residue neutral), and 35 tons of fish waste that is delivered once a week by a Fulton Fish Market purveyor (Joe says that the fish guts & bones provide excellent nitrogen & DNA for the compost, so it is highly nutritive for the vines).  At the time of my visit the compost heaps—some of which were from six to eight feet high—were covered in weeds, which will be removed before the compost is applied as fertilizer.

In order to save time and space—two valuable commodities in growing wine grapes—vineyards sometimes graft new vines onto a mature rootstock, rather than starting an entirely new plant.  According to the Macari Website, theirs is the first vineyard on Long Island to successfully grow over-grafted vines.  With over-grafting, a new variety can be grown from the rootstock of a different plant, which is a much faster way of growing vines than planting new ones.  The future of every vineyard depends on the carefully executed process of planting new vines.  Macari’s vision of the future is constantly evolving as the owners, vineyard manager and winemaker learn more about their vines, and the microclimates found in the fields.

The vineyard proper is very well-tended, the various varieties separated into blocks, using Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP), and in many parcels irrigation tubes were carefully aligned along the bottom wires of the rows to provide drip irrigation if necessary, though the high humidity and rainfall of the region reduces the likelihood of needing its use.  In fact, the 2009 season thus far has had such an excess of rainfall—often very heavy—that in many parts of the vineyard there was blossom damage and many of the developing bunches of grapes were, in effect, incomplete due to fruit loss.

Joe has been using, to the extent possible, both organic and Biodynamic® methods of viticulture, but due to the highly-humid conditions in the vineyard, he must still resort to conventional sprays from time to time, so he refuses to claim to be organic or biodynamic, though he finds that to the extent that it is possible to use these viticultural methods, it is worthwhile.  For one thing, Joe worships Mother Earth, and believes in the Rudolf Steiner principle that there ought to be a harmony between earth, sky, and water, and in consequence has resorted in the past to planting cow horns at the ends of rows, with the requisite composting “teas” that are recommended by the biodynamic movement.  He plans to return to this practice again in coming years.  Though Alex appears to be skeptical of the remedy, the special attention and care demanded by organic and biodynamic practice are evident in the vineyard, as can be seen in the picture above, which shows the cover crop extending from between the rows right into the vines themselves, weeds and all, in order to allow the greatest amount of vegetative variety and expand the quantity of beneficial insects and other fauna to find their natural habitat.

Another reason that Macari does not seek Organic Certification is economical.  It is one thing to apply expensive organic sprays on, say a 20-acre field, quite another to do so on 200.  The sprays cost twice as much as the industrial alternatives and the spraying would involve higher labor costs, as the number of times that the spray needs to be applied would be higher than for conventional applications.  Furthermore, the fact that you can practice organic and/or biodynamic farming without going for 100% organic—being pragmatic about using industrial sprays when absolutely needed, but otherwise being committed to organic ones when it is suitable—means that you can have a sustainable, healthy vineyard in almost all respects.

In other words, as Joe sees it, Organic Certification may be economically viable for a small vineyard, but is much less so for large ones.

One additional bit of evidence regarding the exceptional care given the Macari vineyards is the employment of a team of specialized grafters from California, who travel around the country—and the world—grafting new shoots to old roots, so that, for example, a field of Chardonnay can be quickly converted to Sauvignon Blanc.  The process is highly meticulous, requiring special knowledge of the condition of the roots.  For example, in the case of a root with splitting bark, one type of graft and wrapping may be applied as opposed to another for a root that doesn’t suffer from the problem.  This team of five men can graft about 500 roots a day at a cost of $2.00 per root—a highly efficient rate that is cost-effective for the vineyard.  (This team had earlier been working in Hawaii, and has also done grafting for Château Margaux—yes, that one in Bordeaux of 1855 Classification fame—and at the same time was working at Peconic Bay Vineyards nearby.)

As a further example of the globalization of viticultural practices, Joe also has a French specialist in tying vines to the trellising system come from Southern France with his own team in order to train his Guatemalan workers in how to properly tie vines to the wires, for it must be done properly if the vines are to be held to the wires for the duration of the growing season.

To the extent that one can achieve balance with nature in viticulture (or in agriculture as whole), Joe Macari has certainly shown that he in the vanguard of that search.  It is not for the sake of certification, either organic or biodynamic, that he does this, but out of respect for his vineyard’s terroir, which is to say, the land, the soil, the vines, the climate.  But all viticultural work involves experimentation, and Joe is always experimenting, as new ideas and information become available to him.  There is always a better way.  The pursuit is endless, and the story therefore never ends.

PS–For another recent appreciation of Joe Macari’s work, see the informed and thoughtful account by Louisa Hargrave in the January 14, 2010 issue of the Suffolk News at   https://www.macariwines.com/macari.ihtml?page=awards&awardid=184

B'klyn Uncorked, Kelly UrbanikLouisa also wrote a very nice profile of Kelly Urbanik Koch, Macari’s resident winemaker, in the Winter 2014 issue of Long Island Winepress:  Meet your winemaker Kelly Urbanik Koch of Macari Vineyards/

In fact, a favorite wine of ours offered at the New York Uncorked wine tasting was a really sublime 2013 Sauvignon Blanc by Kelly—deeply perfumed with floral aromas and the typical Sauvignon flavor profile beautifully tamed with a fine balance of citrus fruit and floral notes against a firm acidic backbone. The best American SB that I can remember, frankly. Kelly was so happy with the result that she said that she wished that she could “swim in it”–in a tank, to be sure.

In the summer of 2014, Macari was named New York State Winery of the Year at the NY Wine & Food Classic, a tasting competition of over 800 wines from across the state’s viticultural areas.  Macari’s 2010 Cabernet Franc was named by the competition’s judges as the Best Red Wine of the show.

Mattituck Winery

150 Bergen Avenue, Mattituck, NY 11952
(631) 298-0100

Cutchogue Tasting Room

24385 Route 25, Cutchogue, NY 11935
(631) 734-7070

http://www.macariwines.com/

This article was first published on June 30, 2010

Interview with Tom Puyaubert of Bodegas Exopto, Rioja

Exopto logo

 

 

exopto1 | ,eksõptõ | verb [ with obj. ]

1 from the Latin exopto, are, avi, atum.
To desire eagerly, long for.

2 winery founded in 2003 by Tom Puyaubert in La Rioja.

It is fascinating that more often than one may care to count, a winemaker comes across a way to make a new wine quite by accident. Not all accidents in the vineyard or winery are happy ones, but in Tom’s case two such accidents led to very happy results.

The first such accident happened in the vineyard in 2005, when heavy rains threatened the crop. Fortunately, the Tempranillo was ready to be picked before the rains struck—it is, after all, an early ripener, as its name indicates (temprano means early). There was a significant crop of the variety and not very much of the shy and recalcitrant Graciano, which was then still rather green on the vine. Tom made the obvious and appropriate decision to pick the Tempranillo and leave the Graciano for later. Ten days later, in October, after the rains were over and he finally had time to take a look, he found the Graciano nearly raisined on the vines but chose to pick it nonetheless. The results amazed him, for Graciano is usually picked much earlier to escape the September rains. In this case the resulting wine was exception and this led to his flagship wine, Exopto. (More about Exopto below.)

The second accident occurred in the winery. Viura, the primary Rioja white grape, was already in cask and after a few months was ready to be bottled, but Tom’s wife was about to give birth, so of course the new baby took precedence over the fate of the Viura. By the time that Tom got back to the Viura in barrel, it had already developed further. Tom realized that the additional time in oak had evolved the wine into something much more interesting that he’d expected and decided to give it yet more time on wood. A full year of aging in barrel produced a wine of surprising and exceptional character. That wine became his Horizonte Blanco. (More about Horizonte Blanco below.)

Tom PuyaubertTom, born in Bordeaux, has now lived in Spain for fifteen years, even though his original intent was to complete his studies in international business within six months. In order to support himself while there he engaged with a French oak-barrel maker, Saury, to sell its products in Spain. However, he fell in love with the region and its wine-producing potential and decided to pursue his dream of making his own wine there. He had already had experience working for wineries in the United States and France. In fact, when he was but 20 years old Tom had decided not to go to California, as so many European hopefuls who wanted to become winemakers did, because he felt he’d gain more and learn more by working for a small, family-owned winery than for a California behemoth. He chose Virginia and worked for Rockbridge Vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley for four months where became adept in all aspects of winegrowing and winemaking, picking up Spanish while working in the vineyard with the Mexican workers.

It was while working at Rockbridge that he determined that this was what he wanted to do in life, and he will always remember with gratitude Shepard Rouse, the owner and winemaker, whom he considers his mentor. He learned everything that he needed to know in the vineyard, the winery, the office, and the tasting room. It was, Tom said, “A complete experience technically, culturally, and even linguistically.”

Bodegas Exopto is one of the many new wineries in Rioja that is breaking new ground with new ideas, new attitudes, and new technology. There are still many traditionalist die-hards (and long may they live) such as Marqués de Murrieta, López Herredia, and others that will continue to produce their wines using American oak, aging the wines—both red and white—for long periods, and then delaying their release in bottle until they are deemed ready to consume. Very deep pockets are needed in order to do this. This has long been a recipe for making great wine in Rioja, but it is slowly yielding to the global advances in technology and new ideas. Exopto, founded in 2003, is at the cutting edge of the new in all respects.

An important point to grasp about Rioja is rooted in its history as a wine region. Wine had been made there for many generations and its consumption was largely local. For the most part it was sold in cask and very little of it was bottled. This was radically changed by the arrival of many Bordelaise winemakers who fled to Spain when phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Bordeaux. The French purchased grapes from the growers, established many new wineries or worked for existing ones, and changed the nature of Rioja wine, but they also helped create a divide between the winegrowers and the winemakers. There are now 500 wineries and 15,000 vineyards.

Tom wanted to do things differently, which meant that he would lease his vineyards but also have a winery to make wine from his own fruit. In this way he could control everything. He is a genuine terroirist and garagiste, which is to say vineyard manager and winemaker, as well as part owner. Nonetheless, all of his wines conform to the regulations of the Rioja Consejo de Denominación de Origen Calificada (D.O.Ca.).

The following are Exopto’s vineyards with a full description of the terroir of each (this information comes from the winery’s Website):

Exopto vines, PeriquitaPeriquita

Location: Abalos, altitude of 200 meters.

Surface area: 1,5 Ha. (3.8 acres)

Soil: gravel with sandy subsoil.

Variety: Tempranillo.

Orientation: south.

Special features: due to its orientation and soils this vineyard produces some very mature and fruity Tempranillos.

Wine: Bozeto.

Exopto vines, PortilloEl Portillo

Location: Abalos, altitude of 600 meters.

Surface area: 0,5 Ha. (1.25 acres)

Soil: gravel with sand subsoil.

Variety: Tempranillo, Garnacha.

Orientation: north – south.

Special features: very old vines situated on land in part of the village. An air current often blows through this parcel lying at the foot of the Sierra Cantabria Mountains. However, its stony ground allows the heat of the day to be absorbed. This results in grapes that are well-balanced and complex with great freshness.

Wine: Exopto.

Exopto vines, las abejasLas Abejas

Location: Abalos, altitude of 400 meters.

Surface area: 1,5 Ha. (3.8 acres)

Soil: calcareous clay.

Variety: Tempranillo.

Orientation: south – east.

Special features: vineyard of very old vines (60 years old) with an extremely limited yield (1kg/per vine) producing some highly concentrated wines with excellent structure.

Wine: Horizonte.

Exopto vines, chulatoChulato

Location: Abalos, altitude of 200 meters.

Surface area: 2 Ha. (5 acres)

Soil: calcareous clay.

Variety: Tempranillo.

Orientation: south – west.

Special features: the particular feature of this slope with very good sun exposure is the presence of a subterranean river that borders the vineyard. This cool atmosphere ensures that some very well-balanced, complex grapes are obtained which always maintain very good acidity.

Wine: Horizonte, Exopto / Parte Alta.

Exopto vines, las balsillasLas Balsillas

Location: Alfaro – Monte Yerga, altitude of 500 meters.

Surface area: 0,2 Ha. (0.5 acre)

Soil: pebbles.

Variety: Graciano.

Orientation: east.

Special features: a Graciano “micro-parcel” with very good orientation that allows the grapes to ripen gradually. A river running in the subsoil regulates maturity in extremely hot conditions.

Wine: Exopto.

Exopto vines, el agudoEl Agudo

Location: Alfaro – Monte Yerga, altitude of 500 metres.

Surface area: 3 Ha. (7.6 acres)

Soil: gravel, sandy subsoil.

Variety: Garnacha.

Orientation: east.

Special features: an old Garnacha parcel (60 years old) that enjoys a Mediterranean influence especially favourable for perfect maturity. The altitude allows good acidity to be obtained and vigour on the palate.

Wine: Bozeto

As can be seen from the pictures above, all the vines are gobelet-trained (called en vaso in Spain, and also referred to as bush vines). The vines must be managed manually and hand-harvested.

There is something extremely satisfying about finding a winery Website that provides such complete information about its vineyards, for very few provide it.

Eighty percent of his production is exported abroad. It is difficult, as a newcomer, to break into the highly competitive markets for wine in countries like France, Germany, England, or Spain itself. He’s had much more success selling his wine in Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Singapore, and now in the United States, thanks to Patrick Mata and Olé Imports. In fact, Olé has been importing his wines to the U.S. since 2006, beginning with his 2004 Horizonte. He now sells about half of his total production here.

Etiqueta bozetoHis most popular and affordable wine is the Bozeto (formerly known as “Big Bang”), made of 50% Garnacha, 40% Tempranillo, and 10% Graciano, made from organically and sustainably-grown vines that were planted in 1980. The 2012 is still young but very approachable. It has a nearly opaque purple core in the glass with a very narrow meniscus, and its nose is of medium intensity, redolent of red and black berries, and briefly manifests notes of sardines when first opened, but that vanishes as it breathes and peppery notes come forward. (In fact, I’d give it an hour to air before serving it so that it can really open up.) In the mouth it shows a lifted acidity and medium to full body with nicely-balanced tannins; very fruit-forward—dominated the berry flavors—with notes of licorice, especially in the finish. It has gotten 90+ points from Robert Parker over several vintages. I’d call it a perfect barbecue wine and the price is also right at $15 retail.

Etiqueta horizonte tintoThe Horizonte Tinto is another wine that is exceptionally good and available at a very reasonable price, but there is so little of it that most of it can only be found in restaurants. Still, a wine that earns scores of 90 plus consistently is one to which we should all pay attention. This red wine stands out by being a blend that reflects Rioja tradition, while the growing and making of it is other than traditional.

As with his other wines, Tom’s approach is very rigorous, with an almost fanatical attention to details. When the grapes are brought into the tiny winery 70% are destemmed and the balance is lightly crushed. All are then macerated for four days at 5° Celsius (41° F.) before being transferred to concrete tanks for fermentation with the native yeasts that live on the skins. Post-fermentation the wine then spends another twenty days of maceration in contact with the skins, which impart yet more color, tannin, and flavor. The wine is then placed in highly-toasted barrels, 80% of which are made by Saury, a famous oak cooperage in France for which Tom is the representative in Spain. The other 20% are made of American oak—a nod to another tradition in Rioja, the use of American oak from the Appalachians However, beginning with the 2011 vintage, Tom only uses French oak, which in his opinion seems better suited to Rioja wines as what it imparts lends more elegance and subtlety to the wine. One third of all the barrels are new, another third are one year old, and the balance is two years old. The result is wine that after a year in toasted wood has acquired a smoky aroma and tobacco notes, while the fruit is expressed as black fruit—cherry and berry alike, and a hint of licorice in the finish. This is a wine that can be drunk now but should continue to evolve for a few years. Pretty remarkable for only $32.

For Tom, the use of new oak is akin to using salt to season food. Too much salt and the dish is ruined, too little and it lacks flavor. So it is with new oak; its use must be judicious and balanced. As a matter of fact, one could say that Tom is a master of oak usage, given that he also works for a cooperage.

Exopto 1,5L CUVÉE IBONThe Exopto is made of 60% Graciano, which is almost unique among the wines produced in Rioja. In the first place, there are only 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) planted in all of Rioja; his plot of Graciano is a mere half-acre. Furthermore, it is a wine that is only made in good years, as is the case with the 2010. Graciano is a difficult grape to grow and really needs ideal conditions in order to develop and mature properly with ample exposure to sunlight, else it will be far too acidic and green. As a result, given that most growers are looking for quantity more than quality, Graciano has been pulled and replaced with more productive vines like Tempranillo.

The thing about Graciano, as Tom discovered in 2005 quite by accident, is that it is the variety that must be picked last in the season, so that the acidity is brought more in balance, sugars have time to build up, and over-ripeness is the key. In years that are too cool, like 2008 and 2013, no wine is made as the fruit will not adequately mature in such a condition. In a year like 2010, when the conditions were just right, he bottled the Exopto, producing just a few dozen cases.

This is a very big wine, presenting itself with a purple opacity in the glass that cues you to what lies ahead. At four years this is still a young wine as is apparent from the color and nose, which is pungent with aromas of blackberry, graphite, black coffee, and minerals. In the mouth it feels huge, with its bracing acidity, firm tannins, and black fruit, along with a long, lingering finish. Still youthful, it needs about five years before it will ready to drink, and could be held in a proper cellar for decades more, thanks to its 60% Graciano, blended with 30% Tempranillo and 10% Garnacha. It earned 94 points in Wine Spectator. With only 342 cases produced it is indeed a very rare wine, yet its price for the quality is very reasonable at about $70 retail, but it is mostly sold in restaurants.

Mazuelo, a variety often used in Rioja red blends (usually with Tempranillo and Graciano), is the one traditional variety entirely absent in Tom’s wines.

Etiqueta horizonte blancoViura is another challenging variety. Usually, by itself, it produces a rather neutral and uninteresting wine. A handful of producers make some remarkable white wines dominated by Viura that have been aged in oak barrels for ten years, such as López Heredia’s Viña Tondonia White Grand Reserve 2009. These are very big and rather expensive wines, but then López Heredia is among the greatest and most traditional of wineries and one of the few to own its vineyards. For Tom, the discovery that Viura benefited from long contact with wood was a personal epiphany. One year in mostly neutral oak was all that it took for him to create a Viura-based white that was far from ordinary, though not at all like a Viña Tondonia either.

Tom makes the Horizonte Blanco with great care. Once the Viura is picked it is first fermented in stainless-steel vats so that the temperature can be controlled. As the fermentation begins to slow down the must is transferred to oak barrels to complete the fermentation. The barrels are not racked but rather the wine is kept on its lees, which at the beginning undergo battonage once a week, later every two weeks, and finally once a month. It is done using a system of special rollers that support the barrels and allow them to be rotated rather easily by hand. No baton is used for these lees. The same is done for all his wines.

The resulting wine is bright, with at first a nose offering stone fruit and citrus, but as it evolves in the glass it begins to yield a floral bouquet of considerable intensity. It offered a long, minerally finish that was refreshing and very satisfying. It is certainly ready to drink now but could continue to age in bottle for another several years. Only 1,800 bottles were made. All this for a mere $32.

These are wines that represent an interesting spectrum, from the quaffable, barbecue-friendly Bozeto, to the more refined character of the two Horizontes, to the powerful and elegant Exopto, all the product of a master crafter of wine from one of the great vinicultural and oenological regions of the world. It is not by accident.

Exopto wines come into the U.S. through Olé Imports, about which I wrote in a post back in October 2012 (Patrick Mata of Olé Imports). Their address and phone are:

Olé Imports USA:
Patrick Mata
56 Harrison St. Suite 405
New Rochelle, NY 10801
Ph.: 914-740-4724
Fax: 413-254-8923

Olé Imports Spain:
Alberto Orte
C/ Girasol, 4, Bq.1, 3ºB
11500 El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz
Ph.: +34-91-559-6659
Fax: +34-91-185-0945

Olé Imports

Bodegas Exopto

01.300 Laguardia, Álava, Spain / T +34 650 21 39 93 / info@exopto.net

Exopto Web page

The interview with Tom Puyaubert took place on 9 June 2014

 

Interview with Pablo del Villar, President of the Consejo Regulador of Rueda D.O.

image001

Villar in the vineyard I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Pablo del Villar, of Hermanos del Villar, owners of vineyards situated in the town of Rueda, Spain, in the Rueda DO, northwest of Madrid. He was in New York to help promote his wine, a Verdejo of the Oro de Castilla label, which is being brought to this country by Olé Imports.

Pablo was trained as a chemical engineer before he went into the wine business. Though born in Valladolid forty years ago, his family is from Rueda, the capital of the region and DO (Denominación de Origen) of the same name. At first he worked in the petroleum business, but as it happened, his father was a businessman who had long been involved in agriculture—crops like cereal, canola, sugar beets, and corn, as well as cattle—and in 1995 he and a brother purchased a winery. Four years later, Pablo was invited to come and run the winery, so he left the petroleum industry. Given his chemistry background, he found it easy to learn oenology. Not that, strictly speaking, he is the winemaker. On the other hand, he was recently elected as president of of the Consejo Regulador of the Rueda D.O. [the Regulatory Council of the Denomination of Origin of the Rueda wine district in the Community of Castile and León.  This was the first wine district in the Community to obtain DO status.]

The winery team with which he works numbers nine persons, of which one is a full-time winemaker—Alberto Martínez, who, though young, is trained and has ample experience. Most importantly for Pablo is that Alberto shares his intellectual curiosity. With respect to issues of blending, style, and so forth, Pablo is the final arbiter—he decides when the blending results in what he wants and then he instructs Alberto on how he wants it carried out.

To put the viniculture and winemaking in perspective one must bear in mind that Rueda is not like other winegrowing regions of Spain. For one thing, there are very few wineries—a mere seventy in all. They are all very professionally-run, large, and with fairly large production. Thus in Rueda the process of growing and making the wine is very efficient and well-paced. As Pablo says, “We are not traditional like so many wineries in other regions—that is, the business hasn’t been passed down from the great-grandfather, oak barrels aren’t much used, and so on. Our goals are to make affordable wines that are popular with consumers.”

Bear in mind that Rueda is almost exclusively a white-wine region. Its four principal varieties are Sauvignon Blanc—a French variety, Viura, Palomino (used in making fortified wines), and Rueda’s own autochthonous grape, Verdejo, which accounts for about 85% of total production as of 2013. (By comparison, Sauvignon Blanc is only 6%, Viura about 9%, and Palomino has declined from nearly 15% in 1999 to a mere .5% in 2013 and is due to be eliminated.) In fact, white-wine production in Rueda has grown from just over 20 million liters of wine to nearly 90 million in the last fifteen years. Red varieties had been grown in the region in the pre-phylloxera era, but were so devastated by the blight as to nearly disappear, but even today the production of the most-widely planted red grape, Tempranillo, represents barely 1.5% of overall wine production.

Rueda did not achieve official DO status until 1980, because until Marqués de Riscal invested heavily in a winery there in 1972 to produce Verdejo, the region had largely been making bulk wine. That it now enjoys DO status shows just how great a turnaround the region has accomplished.

Spanish wine regions, Rueda.

The Rueda D.O. is boxed in red. Click on the image to see an enlargement of the map.

Of all the producers of Verdejo wine, Hermanos del Villar has achieved something unique—acclaim for the Oro de Castilla as a “model” for the variety. Since 2007 it has consistently attained a 90-point rating from Steve Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar.

There is also an Oro de Castilla Sauvignon Blanc which, though similar to the Verdejo, is more mineral in character and also has tropical fruit notes.

For Pablo and the winery, “the entire point of making their wines is to extract everything that the grape offers without modifying it.”  Most of the work to make the wine is in the vineyard.

Villar vineyard, RuedaAt present there are 120 hectares (about 305 acres) with plans to plant another twelve or so, with 2,200 vines per hectare (or barely 900 per acre, which indicates fairly wide spacing). In the case of the Hermanos del Villar vineyards, the vines are trained on double-Guyot trellises; other vineyards in the region may plant using the vaso or goblet system, but at an even wider 1,100 vines per hectare (450 per acre). The reason for such wide spacing has to do with the terroir of the region, which is semi-arid, with high temperatures in the summer and very low ones in winter, along with a diurnal temperature range that is typical of high-altitude vineyards.

Consider, after all, that all the rain is concentrated in the fall and winter seasons, while the vines have to survive most of the spring and all summer with little or no rainfall at all. Another factor to consider is that the very stony soil doesn’t really hold on to moisture very well. Nevertheless, while there is vine irrigation in place, it is used primarily to help regulate the acidity of the soil rather than to raise production levels. Indeed, even though the Consejo Regulador of Rueda allows up to 10,000 kilos of fruit per hectare to be harvested (about 10,000 pounds or 5 tons per acre) Pablo says that they self-regulate the amount to be harvested to 7,500 kilos (about 3.5 tons). Pablo considers the 10,000 kilo limit as excessive for producing quality wine.

When harvesting the grapes, they aim not for a particular level of Brix in the fruit, but rather an aromatic ripeness, which usually leads to about a 12 to 12.5% of alcohol in the wine. (In other words, the focus is not on the sugar level, which may mislead the harvester to think that a level of 23 Brix will mean a phenolically mature grape, which may or may be the case.) The grapes are harvested by machine at night, when there are low temperatures and no sunlight to affect the fruit. The equipment is designed to bring the grapes to the winery clean of stems and leaves. One advantage, therefore, is that there is little need to chill the fruit before it goes into the fermentation tanks. Much of the fermentation takes place at 13°C. (56.6°F.) and some occurs at as low a temperature as 5°C or 41°F. The resulting wine is then aged on its lees in stainless-steel tanks. The lees are stirred for two reasons: one is to add complexity to the wine, and the other is to let it age better once in bottle, though of course it is meant to be drunk young.

The 2013 vintage was exceptional in Rueda, thanks to outstanding weather conditions with hot dry days and very cool nights as the harvest approached, resulting in elevated acidity and deep fruit flavors in the grapes.  The harvest took place on the night of September 28.

AF Etiqueta verdejo TI can speak to the quality of the 2013 Verdejo myself, having had the opportunity to taste it twice. The first time it was shared with friends over dinner, accompanying roast Cornish Game Hens. It was an elegant pairing, given the slight sweetness and subtle flavor of the birds which was offset by the bracing acidity, some minerality, and fresh citric aromas and flavors of the wine—along with a herbaceous character all of which is very much like a Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, the wine evolved in the glass to yield delicate notes of white peach. The second time I tasted it alone and then with my wife with arctic char served with dill—it was a superb accompaniment again and for the same reasons—it balanced the sweet and delicate taste of the fish as well as any white wine could hope to match.  The 2013 is a wine that will age gracefully for a few years to come.

It is these characteristics that make the Verdejo of Oro de Castilla a “best example” of the variety according to the Spanish Wine Academy; Josh Reynolds of Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar says that it is “a textbook Verdeho.” I myself would describe it as a “very model of a modern, major Verdejo.” (Thank you, Gilbert & Sullivan.)  Its retail price in wine shops will be around $17.

Oro de Castilla Website

The interview with Pablo del Villar took place on 21 April 2014

Oro de Castilla comes into the U.S. through Olé Imports, about which I wrote in a post back in October 2012 (Patrick Mata of Olé Imports). Their address and phone are:

Olé Imports USA:
Patrick Mata
56 Harrison St. Suite 405
New Rochelle, NY 10801
Ph.: 914-740-4724
Fax: 413-254-8923

Olé Imports Spain:
Alberto Orte
C/ Girasol, 4, Bq.1, 3ºB
11500 El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz
Ph.: +34-91-559-6659
Fax: +34-91-185-0945

Olé Imports Website 

 For a thoughtful assessment of the future of the Rueda DO, read this blog post on the Decanter Website.

 

Book Review: Wines of Eastern North America, by Hudson Cattell.

Hudson Cattell’s Wines of Eastern North America:  From Prohibition to the Present, A History and Desk Reference (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2014), is an important new book on the history of the wine industry in the East, covering both Canada and the United States in equal measure.  It is a scholarly work and is meant for a fairly narrow audience:  wine professionals, others in the wine trade, and really serious wine lovers.

Its title brings to mind Lucie T. Morton’s Winegrowing in Eastern United States (Cornell, 1985), the first major scholarly book to cover both the history and viniculture of the region east of the Rockies.  Comparisons are inevitable, but a quick overview of each book also brings out the differences (which are significant) and the similarities.  Apart from the fact that Cattell’s work is twenty-nine years later, it shouldn’t be regarded as an update of Morton’s book.  For one thing, Cattell covers the history of winegrowing in the East principally from the Prohibition era to the present (2013).  Morton covers the period from Colonial times up to 1985 more evenly, though she doesn’t have as much to say about the consequences of Prohibition as does Cattell.  However, Morton is largely focused on the viniculture, whereas Cattell’s is primarily about the industry as a whole.  Morton touches on Canada briefly, Cattell gives Canada its full due relative to the United States.  Essentially, one book supplements the other, and any serious student of the region should have both.  (N.B.–Morton’s book is out of print, but can be found online, so still available.)

Cattell (born in 1931), has been covering the wine industry east of the Rockies since 1976 had has published numerous books and articles over the years, covering not only the Eastern United States but Eastern Canada as well.  In those 37 years he has traveled throughout this vast region and met nearly everybody who mattered in the wine trade.  He clearly has a profound knowledge of the region, the people, the soils, the varieties, the wines, the laws, and the controversies about almost everything bearing on the vines and wines of Eastern North America.  In 2012 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the first Eastern Winery Exposition held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA 2007 article in the Cornell University Library Website, “Noted Wine Journalist Speaks at the Lee Library, Geneva” (http://www.library.cornell.edu/insidecul/200705/#noted) mentions that “Cattell learned on the job. On his first visit to a winery in Pennsylvania he drove right by the winery’s vineyard. ‘I knew absolutely nothing about grapes and wine,’ he said. ‘In fact, I didn’t even realize they were grapevines.’”  A portion of his education came from Liberty Hyde Bailey’s The Evolution of Our Native Fruits.

His knowledge and expertise show on every page of the book under review.  The chapters are arranged both chronologically and thematically.  The first chapter provides the historical background of the wine industry in the United States and Canada from pre-Prohibition days through Prohibition and its devastating effect on the industry to its still-lingering effects after the passage of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment.  State and provincial retail monopolies such as those in Pennsylvania and Ontario come out of this, as does the three-tier system that defines wine and liquor sales throughout the United States.

At the conclusion of the chapter is an interesting bit about Charles Fournier, the French-born winemaker at Gold Seal Vineyards.  He was from Champagne and had succeeded his uncle as winemaker at Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.  Personal tragedy was a factor in his decision to come to the States.  One of his early projects had to do with the legalization of the use of the term “champagne,” which by Federal statute of 1934 had to be “a type of sparkling white wine which derives its effervescence solely from the second fermentation of the wine within glass containers of not more than one gallon capacity, and which possess the taste, aroma, and other characteristics attributed to champagne as made in the Champagne district of France.”  In 1970 Fournier would write of how proud he was “of the success of the New York State champagne industry.”  Yet, he was using American and French-hybrid varieties such as Catawba, Delaware, Dutchess, Elvira, and so on.  By the ’90s, of course, EU laws would ban the use of the term “champagne” for any sparking wine not made in the eponymous region, but firms using that term before the EU law was passed had “grandfathered” the right to continue to use it, so today we still have older sparkling wine producers using the word “champagne”–note the use of the lower case.

Chapter Two is devoted to  Philip Wagner and the arrival of French hybrids in the United States.  Wagner, a newspaper reporter and editor, would prove to be one of the most important and influential individuals in the Eastern wine industry.  From his struggles as a tyro winegrower in the early thirties, by 1933 he had published the first book in America on winemaking:  American Wines and How to Make Them.  Having limited success with vinifera varieties, he began experimenting with hybrids.  In 1939 he imported Baco No. 1  cuttings from France via Frank Schoonmaker–the legendary wine guru of the post-Prohibition era–and from that shipment were to come all future Baco Noir vines in the United States.  In fact, it was the first importation of hybrids from France, and by 1951 Wagner and Boordy Vineyards (which he founded in 1945) was the major disseminator of these varieties, among them:  Seibel 6339, Seibel 1XX, Seibel 1000 (Rosette).

And so it goes for thirteen chapters illustrated in black & white images with the occasional table–ample text loaded with facts, data, anecdotes, and stories of individuals, such as the Hargraves and Lucie T. Morton, wineries like Taylor Wine or Wollersheim Winery of Wisconsin, as well as organizations such as the Vintners Quality Association of Canada (VQA) or the Pennsylvania Premium Wine Group.  No one and nothing seems to have been overlooked.

With respect to Canada and its wine industry , Cattell marks Sept. 21, 1945 as “one of the key dates in eastern wine history.”  Philip Wagner, visiting from Maryland, Adhemar de Chaunac, winemaker at Brights in Ontario, and others from New York, including Nelson Shaulis from the Geneva research station, participated in a tasting of thirty-two New York wines.  Wagner had added some of his French hybrid wines.  “There was total silence–Wagner later recalled . . . — as it was generally realized for the first time that good wines could be made from French hybrid grapes.”

The result was that de Chaunac went back to Brights and soon had some twenty French hybrids and a few vinifera varieties ordered from France.  Commercial plantings began with 40,000 vines in 1948.  In addition, thanks to advances made at Brights with regard to controlling downy mildew with sulfur on a regular schedule rather after it first appeared in the vineyard meant that the imported vines had a much better chance of survival.  In fact, by 1955 Brights had produced the first commercial vinifera wine in the East:  a Pinot “Champagne”.  The following year Brights brought out a Pinot Chardonnay table wine (as the variety was then called).

Catell goes on to write about the arrival of the first hybrids in the Finger Lakes, as a result of the same tasting that had so impressed de Chaunac.  The first hybrid planted in the Finger Lakes was Seibel 1000 (Rossette), going back to 30s (though apparently no attempt was made to make commercial wine from it).  In 1946 Charles Fournier of Gold Seal ordered a minimum of 1,000 vines of both Baco Noir and Rossette.  Two years later Wagner tasted the results of wine made from these varieties and was astonished by the progress.  Eventually, other Finger Lakes producers began planting them–Widmer’s Wine Cellars, even, reluctantly at first, Taylor Wine Company, which until then was heavily invested in American varieties like Catawba.  Indeed, it was Greyton Taylor who wrote in 1954 that “. . . we happen to believe that since wine comes from grapes, wine should taste as though it did.”

In the next chapter Cattell tells the well-known story of Dr. Konstantin Frank and his crusade to plant vinifera grapes in the Finger Lakes.  He also recounts the controversial oenologist’s “Pro-Vinifera Crusade,” the “toxic scare” that was spread in the 60s claiming that wine made from hybrids was toxic, and the “vinifera-hybrid controversy.”

So Cattell provides not only a clear and well-organized tale of the wine industry in the East, but leavens it well with interesting, even fascinating, anecdote.  At the same time, it can make for very dry reading.  For example, in Chapter Four (Vineyards and Wineries Before Farm Winery Legislation), in writing about French Hybrids in Ohio, he writes:

Ohio is a good example of how a state got started on a wine grape program based on the French hybrids.  The first French hybrids to arrive in Ohio were cuttings of Seibel 1000 (Rosette) obtained by Mantey Vineyards in Sandusky and sent to Foster Nursery in Fredonia, New York, to be grafted on Couderc 3309 rootstock.  In 1954, Meier’s Wine Cellars in Silverton, ten miles from Cincinatti, planted Baco No. 1 (Baco Noir), Seibel 5898 (Rougeon), Seibel 1096, and Seibel 4643 on North Bass Island (Isle of St. George) in Lake Erie.

But then, it must be realized that this is most emphatically a History and Desk Reference.  The book is amply annotated and has an extensive bibliography.  It is not only suitable as a reference but is, thanks to its wealth of anecdote, readable and enjoyable as well.  How can one not be delighted by an anecdote like this one, on p. 125, “Grapevines from Canada were exempt from quarantine, and some of the earliest plantings of the French hybrids in the Finger Lakes took place in the 1950s when truckloads of cuttings crossed the border after pruning was completed in Canadian vineyards.”  Who would have guessed the source of French hybrids in the Finger Lakes?

Here and there are some minor errors.  For example, on p. 117, on the history of the beginning of appellations of origin, he cites 1905 in France as the onset of AOCs, but overlooks the earlier history of designated regions in the Port region of Portugal in the Eighteenth Century.  Another minor mistake:  “Sugar and water were added to the pomace [should be must] to make the wine potable.”  But I quibble.  After all, as a proper work of reference Cattell has this to offer:  The first petition for an American Viticultural Area designation was for Augusta in Missouri, applied for on Oct. 12, 1978 and granted June 20, 1980 as AVA #1; AVA #2 was Napa Valley, granted on Jan 28, 1981.  He goes on to explain that the with the establishment of the Augusta Wine Board in 1979, standards were to be based on those in use in Europe—in fact, four of the five designated board members were also members of the Commanderie de Bordeaux.

Again, in writing about the Canadian wine industry, he refers to the Horticultural Experiment Station, in Vineland.  There, he tells us, Ralph F. Crowther developed the Crowther-Truscott submerged-culture flor sherry-making method for making Spanish fino-type sherry, “a process that completely changed sherry-making in both Canada and the U.S.”  Also, Tibor Fuleki created the Vineland Flavour Index for screening seedlings for the labrusca flavor by measuring methyl anthranilate and volatile esters.  “Seedlings with an index over 14 were likely to have a discernible labrusca flavor component; vinifera and French hybrids averaged an index under 8. Conversely, Concord averaged 416.”

With respect to marketing, Cattell discusses how cooperative marketing began with the establishment of the first wine trails.  The very first was created informally in Pennsylvania in April 1979.  The first formal wine trail was later established in New York State in 1983 with the Cayuga Wine Trail.  With funding from the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, the Keuka Lake Wine Trail was created on June 18, 1986, so that by 1996 there were six wine trails in New York State.  Benefits of the wine trails included extending the tourist season from Columbus Day to end of the year, the establishment of new restaurants and B&Bs, and the rise of all manner of special events.

Another interesting factoid:  “The success of the VQA in Canada was a factor in the decision to set up the New Jersey Quality Wine Alliance (QWA).”  The program was inaugurated in 2000 in conjunction with the NJ Commercial Wine Competition.

Towards the conclusion of the book Cattell identifies three major trends that have helped the eastern wine trade get to where it is today:  “First is increasing wine quality; next is the improved business-oriented perspective of the winery owners, such as marketing initiatives; third, the increased ability of the producers to cooperate on legislative matters at both the state and federal levels.”

And then there are the Appendices, loaded with all manner of significant information and data.  Appendix A (The Origins of Eastern Wine Grapes), for example, has three pages of summarizing text and eight tables:

Table A.1.  Grape species most important for eastern North American wine production

Table A.2.  Vitis vinifera:  lists the 36 vinifera varieties most planted in Eastern N.A.

Table A.3.  American varieties: lists 23 varieties with their names, parentage, and source; e.g., Norton, Seedling (labrusca, aestivalis, vinifera), Introduced 1830

Table A.4.  French hybrid varieties: lists these varieties by name, with original name or number, and parentage; e.g., Baco Noir, Baco 24-23; later Baco #1, Folle Blanche ₓ riparia

Table A.5.  North American breeding programs: lists varieties by variety, number, cross, date introduced, and date crossed.   The list of varieties are arranged according to the program that developed them; e.g., NY State Agricultural Experiment Station breeding program.

Table A.6.  Independent breeding programs; e.g., Elmer Swensen and his varieties.

Table A.7.  Foreign breeding program:  Germany [focused on cold-climate varieties]

Table A.8.  Vitis amarensis varieties

Appendix B contains a quite interesting exploration, in brief, of how numbered hybrids like Seibel 5279—developed by Albert Seibel in France, was given the commercial name “l’Aurore”–because it was very early-ripening.  There are two tables.

Appendix E (Early Wine History, State by State), contains brief histories of the wine industry in each of the states covered in this book (in alphabetical order):

Alabama, Arkansas (one page), Connecticut (one page), Delaware (one short paragraph), Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana (one page), Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts (one page), Michigan, Missouri (one page), Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey (one page), New York (over three pages:  The Finger Lakes, Hudson River Valley, Lake Erie, and Philip Wagner, Boordy, and Seneca Foods; curiously, with no section devoted to Long Island or a word about the Niagara Escarpment), North Carolina, Ohio (almost two pages), Pennsylvania (nearly two pages), Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia (a page and a half), West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

It ends at Appendix G, lists, by state, the American Viticultural Areas in the East.

Thirty-seven years of experience studying and writing about the wine trade in the East were necessary to write a book of this scope and completeness.  It could not have otherwise been written.

Wines of Eastern North America cover

Wines of Eastern North America:  From Prohibition to the Present, A History and Desk Reference

by Hudson Cattell.  Ithaca:  Cornell U. Press, 2014.

235 pages of text with b/w illustrations, 7 maps; 7 appendices (A-G) taking up 75 pages, including tables; and 36 pages of extensive endnotes.

The Three Indispensable Wine Books

In my view, were one to be forced to choose the three most indispensable reference wine books published in English, they would be these:

  • The Oxford Wine Companion, 4th ed., edited by Jancis Robinson, Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson. The World Atlas of Wine: A Complete Guide to the Wines of the World, 7th ed. London:  Mitchell-Beazley, 2013.
  • Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, & José Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours.  NY: Harper Collins, 2013.

Some may quibble that The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia: The Classic Reference to the Wines of the World, 5th ed., 2011, by Tom Stevenson would be preferable to the Wine Companion, but I feel that the Wine Companion together with the World Atlas make for a more comprehensive exploration of the world of wine.

NOTE:  None of these books are for the wine neophyte, for that I’d recommend Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course, NY: Sterling Epicure, 2014.   One of the great advantages of Zraly’s approach is that he explains how to taste wine in some depth.

As one can see, all three books are by British writers, with the exception of Vouillamoz, who is Swiss, and a highly respected ampelographer and vine geneticist.

One reason for the very high standards of style and scholarship has to do with the fact that Robinson, Johnson, and Harding are all Oxbridge stuff.  The other reason the standards are so high is because it’s the Brits who have been writing about wine almost longer than anyone, certainly in English.  It helps, as well, that they are not given to hyperbole or chest-thumping, just really good writing and scholarship.  It is also a fact that Robinson and Johnson are perhaps the two most-widely read authors in the wine world, certainly in our language.

I choose these three books because I consider them to be comprehensive and complete, with top-of-the-class expertise, quality layout and printing, and very high levels of scholarship.  For example, the Washington Post, in its review of the first edition of the Wine Companion, referred to it as the “definitive guide to the world of wine.”  This remains true today, with the 4th edition just published in 2015.  The new edition is substantially revised and updated.

I do not propose to review the Oxford Wine Companion or The World Atlas of Wine, which was newly published in a 7th edition  in October 2013.  I’ve already said something about each in my post, Wine Books that I Recommend.  Suffice it to say that both books are widely recognized as indispensable and essential wine references.

This is particularly true of Wine Grapes, published as a hardcover edition with a slipcover and a beautiful layout, with scholarship galore to support one of the most difficult subjects in wine.  It is expensive:  on Amazon .com it can be found for $102, a substantial discount from its list price of $175.  However, if one is truly serious about wine, as a wine-lover, wine writer, or a professional in the trade, it behooves one to get this book.  It’s entirely worth the price.

Review of Wine Grapes

Robinson had already ventured into the subject of wine grapes with two earlier books, both for the “popular” press rather than for specialists:  the first was Vines, Grapes, & Wines: The wine drinker’s guide to grape varieties, published in 1986, followed by her compact Jancis Robinson’s Guide to Wine Grapes, in 1996, based on the grape entries in the first edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine (1996).  Her only serious competition in English was Oz Clarke, who published Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Grapes: A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties & Flavors with Margaret Rand in 2001, which was later updated as Grapes & Wines:  A comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours in 2010.  All of these books primarily were aimed at the sophisticated wine consumer, and though all are highly informative, amply illustrated, and enjoyable to browse or do basic research, none was suitable for a professional audience nor offered the level of intellectual insight that Wines Grapes does.

The definitive reference for professionals, until now, was the great  magnum opus in seven volumes, published in French, by Pierre Viala and Victor Vermorel:  Ampélographie, between 1901 and 1910.  It covered 5200 wine and table grape varieties, with focus on the 627 most important one, accompanied by over 500 paintings depicting the grapes as bunches with their foliage.  A selection of those paintings was incorporated into this volume under review.

This book discusses the 1,368 varieties that are still in commercial production, however small the plantings or the production.  For every single variety, it lists its 1) principle synonyms, 2) varieties commonly mistaken for said variety, 3) its origins and parentage, 4) other hypotheses [if any exist], 5) viticultural characteristics, and 6) where it’s grown and what its wine tastes like.  I’ll take, as an example, the entry for Baco Noir:

“Dark-skinned French hybrid faring better across the Atlantic than at home.”

Berry Colour: [black]

“Principal synonyms:  Baco 1, Baco 24-23, Bacoi, Bako Speiskii, Bakon

Origins and Parentage

“Hybrid obtained in 1902 by François Baco in Bélus in the Landes, south-west France, by crossing Folle Blanche (under the name Piquepoul du Gers) with Vitis riparia Grand Glabre.  It is therefore a half-sibling of Baco Blanc.  However, as noted by Galet (1988), since V. riparia Grand Glabre has female-only flowers with sterile pollen, Darrigan considered this hybrid to be Folle Blanche x V. riparia Grand Glabre + V. riparia ordinaire, which suggests that Baco used a mix of V. riparia pollen taken from two distinct varieties. . . . .

Viticultural Characteristics

“Early budding and therefore at risk from spring frosts.  Best suited to heavy soils.  Vigorous and early ripening.  Good resistance to downy and powdery mildew but highly susceptible to black rot and crown gall. Small to medium bunches of small berries that are high in acids but low in tannins.

Where It’s Grown and What Its Wine Tastes Like

“Baco Noir was at one time planted in France, in regions as diverse as Burgundy, Anjou, and its home in the Landes, but the area has dwindled considerably, down to around 11 ha (27 acres) in 2008 . . . .

“The variety has fared better in cooler parts of North America since its introduction in the 1950s.  New York crushed 820 tons in 2009 (almost double the amount for 2008) in both the Hudson River and Finger Lakes regions and in southern Oregon . . .”

But even before one gets to the profiles of those 1,368 varieties, there is the excellent Introduction, with subject headings such as:

  • The Importance of Grapes Varieties, which covers the background of how varieties came to take such a prominent place in a wine world that had once only paid attention to regions, such that the French, with their AOC system would identify a wine as from Pauillac, and the knowledgeable imbiber would know that this was a claret or red wine from Bordeaux—varieties be damned; in the USA wines were made that were identified merely as Claret or Burgundy, though the varieties could be anything but those from Bordeaux or Burgundy.  There is even a box that clarifies the difference between variety (the grape) and varietal (the wine).  There is also a chart showing the climate-maturity groupings of varieties.
  • The Vine Family, discussing some (but not all) of the vine species used to make wine, with emphasis on V. vinifera and its two subspecies, sativa (the cultivated vine) and silvestris, the wild or forest vine.
  • Grape Variety, Mutation and Clone, a fascinating discussion that explains how a vinifera variety comes into being, as well as explaining the differences between mutations and clones.  One of the most interesting observation is the discovery that Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc are all genetically identical according to standard DNA profiling, and are only distinguished by a single gene that changes the amount of anthocyanin that imparts color to the grape skins.   This section also dispels some myths about varieties and there tendency to mutate.
  • Vine Breeding, which explains how the domesticated vine has been deliberately bred for particular characteristics, often by selected intraspecific crossing (vinifera with vinifera) or by interspecies crossing (e.g., vinifera with riparia).  It also discusses successful vs. unsuccessful results, as in the case of the effect of the German Wine Law of 1971, which caused breeders to aim for varieties that would produce high sugar levels regardless of the overall effect on the quality of the resulting wines.
  • Pests and Diseases, an important category in any discussion of vines and vineyards, provides a background of how certain diseases and infestations were spread thanks to the intervention of human activity in the transportation of unwanted guests that often accompanied vines transferred from America to Europe for experimental plantings in order to see how American vines would do in European soil.  Perhaps it would improve them.  Alas, along came downy and powdery mildews and the charmless, almost invisibly tiny, parasitical mite that came to be called Phylloxera devastatrix, which nearly devastated the vineyards of France, Germany, and Italy.
  • Rootstocks, Grafting, and Fashion, a brief account of the significance of rootstocks—which could deserve an entire book in their own right—grafting, and how fashions in taste can be mollified for a time (remember the days of ABC—Anything But Cabernet/Chardonnay) by the simple expedient of top-grafting, rather than uprooting the entire vine and waiting three years for it to begin to bear fruit.
  • Vine Age, an explanation of how older vines offer the vineyardist a two-edged sword: higher-quality grapes at reduced production levels.
  • Changes in Vineyard Composition, discusses how vineyards are moving away from field blends (multiple varieties in a vineyard plot) to monovarietal cultivation as well as the resurrection of nearly extinct varieties that are still of interest for winemaking.
  • Labelling and Naming bears primarily on the marketing of wine. Where once Europeans rarely mentioned varietal names on the label and emphasized regional origin instead, the success of varietal emphasis in the New World eventually was accepted as the standard for all but the most traditional, expensive wines offered—say a Château d’Yquem (Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle anyone?) or La Tâche (Pinot Noir, period).
  • DNA Profiling, is about the shift from ampelography (the identification of a vine by its leaf and bunch characteristics) to the use of DNA to establish parentage and sibling relationships.  Throughout the book there are family vines (trees) to show the relationship of, say Pinot to Syrah (!), no matter at how many generations removed.  DNA profiling can’t answer all these questions, since a parent variety that is now extinct or unknown cannot be linked to its supposed progeny, so question marks abound in the charts.

The next chapter, four pages of text and three of charts, is Historical Perspective, with the following headings:

  • Grapevine Domestication: Why, Where and When?   This covers the various theories that have been put forth by various scholars.  The first one, the ‘Paleolithic Hypothesis,’ holds that sometime in pre-history spontaneously-fermented wine was tried and produced the proverbial euphoria we all know so very well.  This oeno-archeologist, Patrick McGovern, was a bit of a wag, referring to this drink as “Stone-Age Beaujolais Nouveau.”  It had to be consumed immediately upon release lest it turn into vinegar.  This is followed by the “Hermaphroditic Hypothesis” which argues that in the Early Neolithic, when societies began to settle down, early attempts to cultivate wine grapes quickly eliminated the planting of male vines, because they could never reproduce; female plants could only reproduce if there were male vines nearby; hermaphroditic vines, which today comprise the vast majority of cultivated vines, needed only themselves, and reproduction was virtually guaranteed.    Then there is the issue of where the domesticated wine vine was first cultivated, and while the answer is not entirely certain, there are various ideas as to where, and it largely centers on the regions near Anatolia, Georgia, the northern Fertile Crescent, and so on.  The when actually depends on actual archeological finds in that general region, which suggest as early as ca. 8000 bce, with other proposals holding that it may not have been until ca. 3400-3000, again depending on which evidence is most generally accepted.
  • Western Expansion of Viniculture covers the general peregrinations of the wine vine from its ancestral home to Mesopotamia, then Egypt, and then Greece, Italy, France and on into Germany, Spain, and Portugal.  Eventually, first with Spanish missionaries and later with immigrants to what would become the United States, cuttings and seeds were brought to the Western Hemisphere.  Chloroplast DNA studies are cited as evidence of a possible secondary domestication of V. vinifera silvestris, but even this is in dispute.
  • Ampelographic Groups is a really interesting section that deals with what is referred to in the book as the “eco-geographical groups” or proles, first proposed by A.M. Negrul in 1938 and again in 1946.  Although some of the proles varieties may, thanks to DNA fingerprinting, belong to another group than that originally proposed, for the most part it seems to hold up, with three groups proposed:  Proles occidentalis Negr., Proles pontica Negr., and Proles orientalis Negr.  All wine-grape varieties emanate from one of these three groups, with Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay in the western group, Rkatsiteli and Furmint in the bridging group, and Chasselas and Muscat Alexandria, for example, in the eastern group.  An accompanying map shows the geographical distribution of these eco-geogroups in France, along with a table listing the ‘sorto-types’ of the different varieties in the larger classification.  Complex, isn’t it?

This is followed by a list of the Varieties by Country of Origin, and here we learn that the single largest group belongs to Italy, with 377 varieties, followed by France with 204 varieties; the USA has 76 native varieties, and the UK has a single one, Muscat of Hamburg.

Thence, the alphabetical listing of all 1,368 wine varieties still in production at whatever scale.  The example of Baco Noir has already been given.  Pinot, with its great clonal diversity, includes 156 varieties in its family (shown as a 3-page chart), which includes Teroldego, Savagnin, Gouais Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and so on.  All this is based on DNA analysis, which, given the many lost or extinct varieties that belong in the tree, leaves open questions of parentage or sibling relationships.  For example, If Pinot is one parent of Teroldego, which variety is the other parent?  With the various members of the Pinot family that includes Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Teinteurier, and Pinot Noir Précoce, the entries for the Pinot family go on for 17 pages.

So it goes for all the varieties described, running 1177 pages, followed by a Glossary and an extensive Bibliography of 20 pages in length.  References go from Acerbi, G., Dele viti italiane ossia materiali per servire alla classificazione mongrafia e sinonima of 1825 to Zúñiga, V C M de, 1905, on Tempranillo.  The bibliography is  up-to-date to 2012. Every variety under discussion has its citations from the bibliography.

Occasionally it passes up a nice nugget of information, such as the fact that in 1982 it was discovered that vines identified as Pinot Chardonnay were actually Pinot Blanc, but it took a few years for the newly-planted vines to produce fully-developed leaves, which allowed Lucy Morton—a viticulturalist who translated Pierre Galet’s book, A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification, from French to English—to correctly identify the vines as Pinot Blanc by the shape of the vine leaves.  (Incidentally, what was called Pinot Chardonnay—on the assumption that Chardonnay is a member of the Pinot family—is now called just Chardonnay).  This little nugget could have been found under either the entry for Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc, but is in neither.  Also omitted is any mention of the red vinifera variety Morenillo, which although “extinct” is actually still producing small quantities of wine in the Terra Alta DO.  These are rare lacunae for such a thorough book.

This is not only a supreme work of scholarship, scientific research, and historiography, it is a remarkable accomplishment and an essential addition to the English world’s library of wine books.  If you can afford it, buy it.  You can’t afford not to.

 

Oenology in Long Island: Premium Wine Group–Russell Hearn

Interview with Russell Hearn about PWG (& Suhru Wines, T’Jara Vineyards)

PWG headerFor further background on Premium Wine Group (PWG), please read my earlier post, Oenology in Long Island:  Premium Wine Group—John Leo.

NOTE:  While Premium Wine Group makes wine for its many outside clients, there are also the wines of three of the employees that work there:  John Leo, production winemaker, Russell Hearn, Managing Partner/Director of Winemaking, and Eric Bilka, production winemaker.  While this article is, foremost, about Premium, it also includes sections devoted to the wines of these producers.   (The winegrowing at Lieb Cellars (owned by partner Mark Lieb) and its wines will be the subject of a separate article, as will be the case with Clovis Point, whose wines are made by John Leo.

It should be noted that a press release issued on March 28, 2013, states, “Lieb Cellars and Premium Wine Group announced a merger of the two companies. Established in 1992 and 2000 respectively as two separate businesses with Mark Lieb as an investor, the combined companies have received substantial funding through their parent company Southport Lane, a private equity firm focused on growing its portfolio businesses. Southport Lane selected Lieb Cellars and PWG in part for their “custom crush” business, which is the production home of many North Fork wineries and the only one east of the Mississippi. There has been talk of the company going public.”

Because I interviewed both John and Russell separately, and the conversations were so extensive, I’ve divided the interviews into two posts:  The first was based on my conversation with John, and was published on January 30.  I was then away for six weeks on a cross-country trip and another week was recently spent in Northern Virginia (I was exploring vineyards on both occasions), so I have only now published this post based on my interview with Russell, which also includes discussions of T’Jara Vineyards and SuhRu Wines.  Jed Beitler, Russell’s partner at T’Jara, contributed, by e-mail, a discussion of how he and Russell work out the blends for their wines–his comments are follow the interview with Russell.

From the bio of Russell Hearn on the Suhru Wines Website:

PWG, Russell HearnWith 30 years of winemaking experience, in Australia, New Zealand, France and the USA, Russell Hearn has taken his Australian training with him throughout the journey. During the last 20 years on the North Fork of Long Island, Russell has established himself as an industry veteran who has helped forge our region into one known for producing World Class Wines.  As winemaker for Pellegrini Vineyards, in Cutchogue, since 1991 Russell  garnered five 90-point scores from the Wine Spectator.  Russell continued to drive the style and quality of Pellegrini Wines for almost two decades [until August 2012].

He has consulted for a number of wineries on the North Fork of Long Island, in the Finger Lakes, in New England and in Virginia. He has lectured at Industry Technical Conferences in: New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Interview with Russell Hearn:

JM-L:  John [Leo] just mentioned that PWG has more than 150 different lots of wine.

RH:  Yep.  Well, really, we actually have closer to 200 fermentations.  Of that 130 are different lots.

JM-L:  So of course that means that you are blending some of these fermentations.

RH:  That’s right.

JM-L:  What brought you to Long Island all the way from Australia?

RH:  A girl.

JM-L:  It happens so often!

RH: I worked in the industry in Australia, then exchanged for one harvest to Burgundy, and another year exchanged a harvest in New Zealand, and while I was there I took some vacation time, backpacked around New Zealand, and met this American girl at that point.  Then she came to visit me in Australia, when I went back to work for Houghton Wines in Australia, and the next year I went on an exchange internship to California, so I went across and visited her in Massachusetts.  There’s not much winemaking going on in Massachusetts, but I decided to stay for a while.  Then I went back to Australia, then came back then went to Virginia for two years, then Long Island.  We’ve been married now for twenty-seven years.

It was either Australia or East Coast; California, Oregon, Washington didn’t really interest me.

JM-L:  For what reasons, may I ask?

RH:  For a combination of personal reasons and professional ones.  California—large chunks of it—has what a winemaker can see in Australia, the climate’s just like it is in Australia; Oregon’s too far from the ocean, Washington State’s too far from the ocean—regions that don’t fit my personal objectives.

JM-L:  I see.  So you really like the ocean—water life, sailing, surfing, swimming . . . .

RH:  Sailing, swimming, surfing that’s right.  I want to be close or in the water a lot, and I didn’t know that until we lived in Virginia for two years.  And as pretty as the Blue Ridge Mountains are, we were three-and-a-half hours from the water and I realized that it didn’t work.

JM-L:  Were you working for a winery there?

RH:  Yes, a winery called Dominion Wine Cellars, it’s in Culpeper.  It doesn’t go by that name anymore; it was bought by Williamsburg Winery three or four years after I left.  And then I came here, consulted for several wineries initially; then for Bob and Joyce Pellegrini in late ’91, when they were looking to design a winery, I worked with local architects as they designed the facility; I designed the production part inside, it was built, I was with them for their first vintage in ’92, and I was there full-time until 2000.  Then we I thought of Premium Wine Group, so I was starting this with two other partners, Mark Lieb and Bernie Sussman, I switched to a consultant role at Pellegrini—a very active consultant until the last vintage, 2011—and it’s stopped as of this vintage.

JM-L:  I see.  So now you’re full-time here.

RH:  I finished up, yes.  Being full-time here, yes.  I was doing that in addition . . . .

JM-L:  I don’t know, you people in the wine trade in Long Island seem to have to find more things to do and you’re all working—probably—80-90 hour weeks.

RH:  It keeps it interesting . . . .

JM-L:  It does.  I don’t have that kind of energy, but I certainly enjoy writing about it, drinking it, and I especially enjoy meeting and speaking to people in the trade.  They’re very interesting.  They’re not just farmers, and they aren’t just chemists . . . .

RH:  Yes, it’s a combination of . . . .  There aren’t too many industries in which you have to have so many tiers that you must have at least competence in:  growing it, making it, marketing it, managing it, so that makes it very challenging and very interesting.

JM-L:  Yes.  Well, you must have always had a very high organizational sense.  You couldn’t possible have conceived of this business—PWG—if you didn’t.

RH:  Hm.  I think the best thing that one should do in starting in the trade or starting from school is to work at a large winery.  The winery at which I started in Australia—Houghton’s—made about 800,000 cases.  So it’s not a huge winery—Hardy’s, which owns Houghton’s, makes five and a half million cases.  In a huge winery you’re pigeon-holed, in a large winery you’re forced into an organizational necessity . . . because you’re not as big so you have to do everything to make good wine, and that’s critical in winemaking. It’s not only how you do it or where you do it, it’s also when you do that is critical in winemaking. If you start off in a small winery, or only work in a small winery, you don’t get those organizational skills, because they never needed to, that force you to think ahead.

JM-L:  Yes, just learning by the seat of your pants . . . learning on the job.

RH:  Houghton’s was very organized so I was exposed to a good organizational structure, which as a result allows me to do this relatively comfortably.  There are a lot of moving parts in the shuffle, so we need to make sure that people are paying the correct amount of attention and timing things so that they run on schedule, do deliveries.  It’s not really so much of an issue:  we have several full-time people, we have additional interns at the time of harvest [when the grapes are brought in to PWG].  We have good people who we’ve hired over the last twelve years.  John’s been here twelve years, Eric has been here eleven, Rinaldo’s nine, Rosa’s eight, and Andrew started four years ago.  Patrick’s been here a couple of years. . . we haven’t had a lot of turnover.  We all know what has to be done and we have some smart people here, and so far it’s been turning out well.

JM-L:  So everyone’s on salary.  How many people are there in all?

RH:  Eight full-time people and four additional people during harvest. The winery is working 18 to 20 hours a day, with a lot of automated procedures.  So from September through November we get people from different parts of the world in the industry.  We have two Australians for this harvest, a girl from Hungary in the industry, and an American.  So we go from five days a week for nine months of the year to seven days a week and then in two shifts.  So at this stage the night shift will be coming in about ten minutes . . .

JM-L:  They work until midnight?

RH:  Yep!  As the harvest progresses—as we get into the second half—in October they’ll start coming in at 2:00pm or 3:00pm and work until 2:00-3:00am.

JM-L:  Are they sleeping by the vats?

RH:  Not yet!  Not yet.

JM-L:  Temperature control has changed that, hasn’t it?

RH:  Yes, yes, exactly.  We have a lot of technology here that allows us to sleep well.  So the winery will be operating 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, from September until about the week of Thanksgiving, after which we start packing it in.  We go back to six days a week for a while and then back to five days.

JM-L:  And then you go back to having a life of your own again.

RH:  Yeah, my wife says that she’s a “harvest widow” for a period of time, so . . . .

JM-L:  A “harvest widow”—that’s good!  So I just posted, recently, a piece on Raphael, and one of the salient facts about Raphael is that it cost six-million dollars to build that facility.  That’s very deep pockets for a great deal of money . . ., but then it’s a showcase.  You’re no so concerned with being a showcase, so much, though your facilities are attractive, but of course highly functional.  How much did it cost to build this facility?

RH:  Well, in today’s dollars it would be north of six-million, but as you can see it’s predominantly equipment.  Therefore the saleable value, if you will, is real because it’s all asset.  I mean, the building is an asset obviously, and the building cost, in today’s dollars, might be a million, since it’s a metal building, it’s concrete, it’s not aesthetic. It’s practical, functional.  Setup prices would have been three-ish million.

JM-L:  Yes.  Well, Raphael went so far as to design their winery so that it could use gravity feed, which is also a very expensive proposition.  Would you someday incorporate that into your facility?

PWG, 21R.H:  Ultimately we can use fork lifts and gravity, on that level, so we don’t have a tier setup—everything’s one level.  But we have some —I like to think—real quality additions to our equipment that really minimize the effect of not having gravity [feed].  We don’t pump skins—red-grape skins—everything is gravity because we drain the tank and put the skins into bins that are then fork-lifted back to the press.  A lot of wineries don’t do that, so they pump the skins to the press.  We don’t do that, and we try to be very gentle on the wine.  And we have bulldog Waukesha pumps which push nitrogen rather than pump . . . they’re Waukesha twin-lobe pumps that are the gentlest in the industry.  But they’re very expensive and for a small winery to have a Waukesha pump would be cost-prohibitive.  We have four of them because we’re trying to make an affordable way of making quality wine.  We have equipment here that isn’t anywhere else on the North Fork and the only ones on the East Coast, on some levels.

JM-L:  Really?  So you really are a premium Premium winemaker.

RH:  Winemonger [chuckles].  We kicked around the idea of being Premier—being the first—and that didn’t really carry the concept of being Premium, and we have a high number of quality wines that are coming out through this facility.  We allow people to do what they want to do so, depending on how high a bar they’re shooting for, I think that they can get that at this facility.

JM-L:  Right.  Very interesting.  I was speaking to John [Leo] about his involvement and how you work with your clients and he said that you are, essentially, the cellar crew for the clients.  Obviously, you get your marching orders from the consulting winemaker they hire and there are so many approaches that can be taken to making wine.  You have to adapt to so many requests—do it this way, not that way—do that many pumpovers, no pumpovers, and so on  . . .

RH:  We have to be flexible for their needs.  We’re assisting them in making their wine, we’re intimately involved in the quality control, with their practices and their whole organization.  But the stylistic choices are 100% driven by the producers.

 

JM-L:  Until recently Duck Walk was selling a magnum of their Chardonnay for $10, which is a terrific price, but they don’t have that anymore.  Obviously, it isn’t possible to sell much wine at prices that low.  Your costs out here are too high . . .

RH:  It wouldn’t be economically viable in the long term.  The one thing that we have is quality, which means that we have to sell on quality and we have to be realistic about how much we can ask for those quality products.  So, where is that?  It’s in the high teens and up.

JM-L:  So, do you have special equipment to make sparkling wines?

RH:  We do.  We have all the equipment that we need for riddling [a fully-programmable 1,000-bottle automatic riddling machine] and disgorging, and bottle washing, and capsule pleating, and so on, so we do offer that service.

JM-L:  Do you also provide for aging . . . ?

RH:  Once it’s bottled, we do not continue to store wine here; so each producer would warehouse their wine elsewhere.  Ours isn’t large enough for it; we can’t keep any volume for any length of time.

JM-L:  That wasn’t your intention to begin with.

RH:  No, were we to expand into something like that, we could.  But we’re already full with tanks and barrels.

JM-L:  Have you had to expand with more tanks and so forth as the business grew?

PWG diagrams, 01

 

Let’s take a look at the diagram.  Locations of tanks, this is the main tank room . . .

 

PWG diagrams, 03. . . and then we have external tanks and additional tanks near the bottling area.  So in the original setup these tanks [pointing, above] were not here.  These others [pointing to other tanks outlined in red] were not here—these four.  In the second year we’ve added all of these and in the fourth year we added some outside.  In the fifth year we added a substantial number outside and in the seventh year we added more tanks outside and just last year we put in another eight tanks.  So when we started in the first year we had sixty-five tanks and now we have 125, so we’ve nearly doubled our capacity since or first production.  We now use about 70% of our total capacity so we have room for more tanks.  Do I think we’ll add more?  I think it’ll be a few more years before we increase our capacity.  We do have some organic growth—we’re adding more people.

JM-L:  Exactly.  Now, you also have your own label:  Suhru.

Suhru winesRH:   Two, actually.  Suhru, which is Susan Hearn and myself, and we work with growers  around the state, mostly in the North Fork and the Finger Lakes, to source the fruit that grows best in those regions, so we bring Riesling from the Finger Lakes and Shiraz and other red fruit from the Island here.  So my wife and I and another couple that we’ve known for twenty years, bought a piece of land here in Mattituck in 2000, and planted it in 2000 and 2002.  We sold fruit initially, and then in 2007 we started T’Jara Vineyards.

JM-L:  Oh, yes, T’Jara.  Isn’t that based on an Australian word?

RH:  Yes.  It’s sort of phonetic.  We put a hyphen [apostrophe] between the two words, which mean “where I live/where I grow/where I farm/where I’m from.”

JM-L:  I see.  Does it sound like that when an Aboriginal pronounces it?

RH:  Yes, T-Jara.  You know, I guess you could say that it’s the Aboriginal word for terroir, although they don’t grow grapes there; they never have.

JM-L:  Yes, though I’m sure that today many Aboriginals work in the wineries.

RH:  Yep!

JM-L:  Are there any Aboriginals who actually own their own wineries?

RH:  Well, not that I’m aware of.  I’m no longer really that connected [to the Australian wine industry] to know about that.  But I suppose that there are.

JM-L:  I ask because in South Africa there is a program to help get black Africans into the business.  This is true of the South African label Indaba . . . .

RH:  Oh, yes, of course.  They make a very nice Chenin Blanc.

JM-L:  Getting back to Suhru and T’Jara, Do you have styles that you wanted to make that would stand out from what everyone else does?

RH:  Yeah.  Suhru is a little more of a niche in that we are not going with mainstream varietals.  We do not make Chardonnay; we don’t make Merlot as a varietal, or Cabernet Franc.  We don’t make varietals from these three main varieties that we have out here.  We do utilize the red ones in our blend, but the goal of Suhru is to make wines that we enjoy drinking:  crisp, vibrant, good-acidity whites, and some quick-to-market, soft, juicy reds.  More mainstream in respect of pricing, mid to high teens, and in approachability.  T’Jara is sort of aiming for the high end of the market out here.  We all have to aim high, shoot for the moon, but we aim to make the best red wine out here:  the fullest—but, soft wines that will age because of the quantity of tannins plumper but lusher.

JM-L:  So you pick the grapes as late as possible?

RH:  Correct.

JM-L:  You want them to go beyond their phenolic ripeness?

RH:  Yes.  So they’re barrel-aged for a long period of time but they’re not designed to be oaky wines.

JM-L:  So you use a lot of used oak?

RH:  Well, reasonably so, but everything’s Hungarian, and Hungarian oak is very tight-grained so it doesn’t give up the flavor as much as other—the French—would be.  That doesn’t imprint on the wine heavily, so it keeps that soft plumpness.  We use old oak barrels—one to seven-years-old ones so as to get the benefit of aging but without the imprint of tannin.  Typically we don’t go for that long maceration that, you know, leads to that astringency level that needs time.  They’re big wines but their big, soft wines.

JM-L:  They’re almost ready to drink by the time that they’re released?

RH:  Absolutely.  The goal . . . that is goal number one.  You do not need to age them—they will benefit if you age them, but you don’t need to do so.  Stylistically, for example, Pellegrini’s wines [made by Russell], over the years, have rewarded aging.  But that’s a stylistic choice.  We looked at that model and Jed Beilter [Russell’s partner at T’Jara], Laurie, and Sue and I decided that that wasn’t what we wanted and we wanted our wine to give pleasure from the beginning.

So from a brand standpoint, there’s a separation in terms of the market segment that each is shooting for.  In price separation as well.

Suhru is a brand; at T’Jara we make only as red wines:  Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot are planted there.

JM-L:  So how many cases of wine are you able to produce?

RH:  Well, we have seventeen acres under vine out of twenty acres of land, so ultimately we’ll have 3,000 cases; right now we have about a thousand cases.

JM-L:  I see. And what’s the density of your plantings?

RH:  7 X 5 and 7 X 4.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are 7 X 4 we’re trying to carry as little per vine as possible.  Merlot is 7 X 5 and Cab Franc is 7 X 6—Cab Franc is more vigorous . . . .

JM-L:  Well, that seems to answer the question of why one chooses a density of 7 X 5 or 7 X 4 or 7 X 6—it has to do with the vigor of the vines.  That makes sense.  OK, so T’Jara . . . and Suhru?

RH:  Suhru is producing fifteen-hundred cases.  T’Jara is a thousand cases.

JM-L:  So for T’Jara you’re harvesting what?  About two-and-a-half tons an acre?

RH:  Yes, about two-and-a-half to three tons, depending on the year and the variety.  More on the lower end for Cab Sauv, closer to three on the Merlot.

JM-L:  Russell, thank you very much for the time you’ve given me.  This conversation was a pleasure.

What follows are the T’Jara blending notes by Jed:

The process actually begins much earlier in the vintage year with how the growing season has gone.  Depending on the strength of the season, we’ll know which component varietals we’ll have to work with.  For example, 2007 was both a long and a very hot year.  A spectacular year all around.  So all our fruit showed beautifully on the vine.  That includes our Cab Franc, our Merlot, our Petit Verdot and our Cab Sauvignon.  In 2010, just to compare vintages, it was a hot year, but not as long a year.  The Cab Sauvignon didn’t ripen to a state that we felt was good enough to put in our wines.  So you won’t see that component fruit in our 2010 releases.

This past year, 2012, was also a very strong growing season and all our component varietals grow to maturity.  Each year, however, the fruit shows different characteristics.  So you can’t always assume that the Merlot that came out of the barrel in 2012 will be the same as every year preceding that.  It’s always a clean slate when it comes to blending a particular year’s components.

The process Russ and I go through is the same every year we’ve worked together.  We assemble the component varietals and look to see what possibilities exist.  As you can see from the photo, it’s not the most romantic picture of what transpires.  Beakers, water baths, pipettes all arrayed on a conference room table.

T'Jara blending, 4It also helps that Russ and I learned early on that we had very similar tastes in terms of our palates.  When Russ was the winemaker at Pellegrini, he first brought me in to their conference room for a similar exercise.  We had three flasks, filled with either Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc or Merlot.  We each had to come up with three blends:  a Cab Sauv, a Merlot and a red blend.  Blinded from each other’s admixtures, we each came up with three offering and presented them to each other.  the three blends were all very close to each other and, as we had previously experienced, cemented the fact that we were of similar minds when it came to what we thought would be best in the bottle.

This year, we are dealing with four or, potentially five component varietals to make our wines.  Initially, we didn’t think we would release a red reserve in addition to the Merlot and the Cab Franc.  While 2012 was a good growing season, we just weren’t sure that we’d have a reserve that would be good enough to release.

As the process unfolds, we start with one of our wines.  As you know, for a wine to be called by its varietal name, it must contain at least 75% of that component fruit.  Anything after that is up to the winemaker.  Anything less than that has to be called a blend or some other nondescript name.

Russ and I went through the Merlot and the Cab Franc.  We started with the minimums and tested a number of different combinations of supporting varietals, each to bring something specific to the blend.  Maybe it was more roundness.  Maybe it was more length.  Sometimes, we are trying to balance the various smells coming from the component fruits:  red berry versus darker stone fruit; more chocolaty or tobacco notes versus more jammy qualities.  All those ingredients are what we are trying to balance to achieve a wine that, year over year, will have a similar (not necessarily the same) consistency that those who have tried and liked our wines will come to expect as the years roll on.

To our surprise, we not only were able to come up with what we feel are very formidable Merlot and Cab Franc blends, but we also came up with a reserve blend for the 2012 that we are very proud of.  From the initial sampling, we went through iteration after iteration of blending options.  It kind of surprised us when we focused in on the final option.  But we’re very happy with the result.

That whole process, going from large fractions of blending components to the fine-tuning took over three hours.  But the process doesn’t stop there.  And I’m sure Russ can add further to this discussion here, but he’ll take the blending notes from our session in the conference room and start the process of putting the final blends together in the barrel.  He will still tweak a particular blend as it matures in our Hungarian oak barrels before it’s ready for bottling.  Maybe a touch more Cab Franc here, a slight addition of Malbec there.  That’s all part of Russ’s magic as a top-flight winemaker.

In the end, it’s all part of the joy we have as partners in coming up with wines we are proud to call T’Jara.

 

Oenology in Long Island: Premium Wine Group–John Leo

Interview with John Leo about PWG (& Leo Family Wines)

on Sept. 27, 2012, updated on Jan. 21 & May 24, 2013

PWG, 01

 From the PWG Website:

Premium Wine Group is a contract winemaking facility designed to allow an economical way to produce wine without the huge investment in equipment and facility. The individual style is driven by each Producer / Client in the production of their wine. PWG is designed with an array of technologically superior equipment which allows our clients complete freedom in producing wine. Our experienced staff of wine production professionals allows our clients the comfort that their wines are being handled in the highest quality practices.

Both “custom-production” and “custom-crush” services are provided to licensed producers and wholesalers of wine. These services are being utilized by many local wineries and wineries in the Northeast that source fruit from the North Fork of Long Island, see our Producers / Clients

Established in 2000, an initial 545 tons were received, we have steadily grown to 1,000 tons with an ultimate capacity of 1,400 tons. Premium Wine Group’s mission is to continually upgrade plant, equipment and services to allow our Producers / Clients the highest quality environment in which to sculpt their individual wines. This is evident with more than 18 Wineries producing over 100 individual wines each vintage.

NOTE:  While Premium Wine Group makes wine for its many outside clients, there are also three employees that work there who are themselves clients:  Russell Hearn, Managing Partner/Director of Winemaking, John Leo, production winemaker, and Erik Bilka, production winemaker.  While this article is, foremost, about Premium, it also includes sections devoted to the wines of these three producers.  (The winegrowing at Lieb Cellars (owned by partner Mark Lieb) and its wines will be the subject of a separate article, as will be the case with Clovis Point, whose wines are made by John Leo.)

It should also be noted that a press release issued on March 28, 2013, states, “Lieb Cellars and Premium Wine Group announced a merger of the two companies. Established in 1992 and 2000 respectively as two separate businesses with Mark Lieb as an investor, the combined companies have received substantial funding through their parent company Southport Lane, a private equity firm focused on growing its portfolio businesses. Southport Lane selected Lieb Cellars and PWG in part for their “custom crush” business, which is the production home of many North Fork wineries and the only one east of the Mississippi. There has been talk of the company going public.”

Because I interviewed John and Russell separately, and the conversations are so extensive, I’m dividing this post into two parts:  The first (this one) is based on my conversation with John, and subsequently my interview with Russell, which also includes discussions of T’Jara Vineyard and SuhRu Wines:  Oenology in LI:  Premium Wine Group–Russell Hearn.

According to the bio of John Leo from Winemakers’ Studio Website, “A native of the Hudson Valley, New York, John graduated with a journalism degree and immediately proceeded to wander slowly around the world. He started working in wine in 1982 and joined the PWG, John LeoEast End wine growing community in the early 1990s, becoming winemaker for Clovis Point, in Jamesport in 2004. John works full-time at Premium Wine Group where he makes the Clovis Point wines as well as Leo Family Red. A journalist by training, traveler by inclination, and grape grower by preference, John believes in honest hard work, natural transformation and the pleasure of sharing a bottle with friends.”

Personally, I found John to be thoughtful, articulate, soft-spoken yet straightforward, as well as clearly professional in outlook and attitude.  It was a pleasure to converse with him.

Interview with John Leo (JL):

JM-L:  I want to begin by asking you about your client list on the PWG website.  I recognize all of the names but on [see below], but there is one that puzzles me, DeSeo de Micheal [sic], but actually that’s Deseo de Michael . . . What’s his full name?

JL:  Michael Smith.  His wife is Puerto Rican, so I think that she anointed the name.

JM-L:  So that explains that mystery.  Well, one of the reasons that I called you was because I’d been in touch with Chiara Anderson Edmands, and she’d said that one of the people that I have to speak to is you.  So the advantage of speaking to you now is that I can now speak to you of your wine, their wine, and possibly Sherwood House, because I will be speaking to Bill Ackerman, the vineyard manager.

JL:  You know, the consulting winemaker for Sherwood is Gilles Martin, so he’ll have more answers about style and things like that, but about the logistics part I can help out with because it all does come in here.

JM-L:  So Gilles and Juan—who used to work here—and other consulting winemakers formulate what they want you to do and how do you work with them?  How do they formulate what they want you to do?

JL:  Well, we sit down to talk about that.  I guess that in a stand-alone winery the winemaker is not only making the decisions but lifting the hoses and doing the work.  But they usually have assistants, especially around harvest time, so they’re making their own plans about how much tonnage to bring in, how to ferment it, etc. etc., and their usually delegating that to their assistants in the cellar.  So in a sense that’s what we are . . . we’re custom production, so the consultant tells us that he will bring in 5 tons of this Merlot, 6 tons of that Merlot, we want you to handle this one way and that another way.  So we’re basically the cellar hands . . . we’re the winemaking service for that . . .

JM-L:  So you are, in effect, the cellar assistants.

JL:  In a sense, yes.

JM-L:  Except that you actually do all the hands-on of making the wine . . .

JL:  And we have all the equipment—that belongs to us, and the facility belongs to us, and they’re being charged, sort of, per finished case. [See below, From the PWG website: Wine Production; which lists all the equipment they own.]

JM-L:  I see.

JL:  So we’re the winery with the labor to get the job done that they want, but in terms of how they formulate things, it’s straightforward, just like in any winery, they decide how they want to handle certain batches, what yeasts to use, what temperature to ferment at, how often to pump over, all those decisions they can make to then communicate them to us and we do the work.

JM-L:  The thing, of course, is that they’re not being hands-on, so what happens when some kind of issue, say a stuck fermentation, takes place (which I’m sure doesn’t happen too often) . . .

JL:  Not too often, no.

JM-L:  or, for example, a temperature issue with the tanks, or you find that the amount of pumping over that they request perhaps is not optimum for the wine as its coming out . . .

JL:  Right.  That last one is a different issue.  I might personally disagree with their protocols, but if that’s their protocol that’s what we do.  Lots of oxidation, no oxidation, no air at all. They can ask for seven pumpovers a day or no pumpovers. They can demand of me whatever they want.  If it seems that out of the ordinary we’ll clarify.  We’ll say, “Are you sure that’s what you’re asking for?  That’s not the norm.”  Maybe we’ll have to charge more for more pumpovers, so we just want to make sure that that’s what you want.”  When they confirm it, it doesn’t matter what I like or think is right or wrong for that batch of wine . . . they’re the boss.  In terms of stuck fermentations or a little bit of sulfide issues or things like that, Andrew’s very attentive [Andrew Rockwell, the Laboratory Director].  We’re testing everything every day, after rackings, every day’s ferment, so Andrew’s sticking his nose in the tank every day, and he’s got a good nose and palate and he’s very sensitive, so he’ll let Russell or I know, or if the consultant’s already sitting in the room he’ll go directly to them, or we’ll call the consultant and say, “Hey, there’s an issue with tank 1956, there’s some sulfite issue, a little bit of a stink coming out of it.”

Also, a lot of our newer clients, for example Deseo de Michael, say, “I want to bring in my grapes this year, 600 pounds . . .

JM-L:  600 pounds.  Well, if you only have a third of an acre . . .

JL:  Exactly.  So the first thing I explain to him if you want us to press it, that we need more than that because our presses aren’t that small, so we can’t press 600 pounds effectively, so you’re going to have buy some Chardonnay to put in with yours to make it.  So he’s so small that it doesn’t make sense to have a consultant, you know, realistically, but the first year I helped him through that and I didn’t charge him anything, and I said, “You know, you can do it this way or you can do it this way.  Here’s the decision points now.  You can taste the juice coming out of the press, do you want to cut it there?  Do you want to keep on pressing harder?  You’ll see the change.”  So we just walked him through it.  So for 2011 he hired Gilles [Martin] to be his winemaker for his one Chardonnay, so now it’s at a more professional level.

JM-L:  Good.  But the vines must be very young . . .

JL:  Sure.  So that’s an extreme example of someone who wants to do things right, is willing to pay commercial charges, but he doesn’t have enough volume to get a full-time consultant . . . so we try to be as helpful as we can.

JM-L:  Of course.

JL:  We have other clients like that, they have a little bit of fruit in their back yard, so we try to avoid it, but when it’s a friend of a friend, we do stuff like that . . .

JM-L:  Sure.

JL:  You know, Juan [Micieli-Martinez, Manager and Winemaking Consultant of Martha Clara Vineyards], Gilles [winemaking consultant to several vineyards], Tom Drozd—who makes the Baiting Hollow wines, and Erik [Bilka, the other PWG production manager] has his own wine, and other clients who know what they’re doing.  So we expect them to make all those decisions, so we’re just backing it up.  We do have some non-Long Island clients, but that is just coincidence.

JM-L:  So who are your non-Long Island clients?

JL:  Well, you know, Silver Springs, up in the Finger Lakes.

JM-L:  All the way up there?  Do they send their fruit down?

JL:  Mmm, no.  When they started five or six years ago, they bought Long Island red, so they make some things up there in the Finger Lakes, and that goes for the white, the hybrid stuff, and they wanted to buy some red, so they approached us and said, “We want to buy a few tons, and how do we get it up to us and what can we do?”  And, I don’t think they actually have a winery, I think all their production is custom, either here or there.  So anyway, that’s how we got started.  And now, every couple of vintages they’ll send some white juice down, and they’ll have us ferment it here because it’s going to be part of a bigger blend or something like that.

JM-L:  I see.  Very interesting.

JL:  So they’re one.  And then there’s Belhurst, Belhurst Castle . . .

JM-L:  Are they also in the Finger Lakes?

JL:  Yes, they are.  They’re basically a hotel, a resort hotel, and again, they might have a little show winery, but I haven’t actually been there.  But we make their wines, sort of for the same reasons, they’re purchasing all their fruit, both red and white, and we’re making the wine for them.

JM-L:  Is PWG unique in New York State?

JL:  Not any more.  We were the first on the East Coast as a custom crush, and I don’t know, but I think that there are one or two in the Finger Lakes now.  I know that East Coast Crush started up and it’s connected to one of the bigger wineries.  I don’t know if it’s the exact same facility or if they have separate business names to bring in more clients, or it’s a whole new facility.  Russell might know that.  And I think that I heard of another place, White Springs was, again, doing their own thing but doing a lot of custom work, I think that just changed ownership and might now be all custom.

JM-L: I see.

JL:  But, anyway, we started people thinking about it as an option, since they save a lot of money and only pay for what they’re bringing in rather than buying equipment that’s going to cost them two million to put in and they’re only going to use it once a year, so . . .

JM-L:  Yes, like Raphael, which spent six million dollars on their own winery . . .

JL:  Yeah, it’s a different interest.  If you have the money to invest and you want that showpiece, you know, that’s . . .

JM-L:  Well, they have that showpiece, there’s no question of that.  Pretty impressive!  So, when you have a really abundant harvest out here, even the wineries that have facilities of their own may find themselves with more fruit than they can handle . . .

JM-L:  So you do take overage, as it were . . .

JL:  Yes.  If we have the space for it, sure, and it happens where we have one particular client, another  winery that knows pretty much that they’re going to have more fruit coming in every year than they have space for themselves, so they’ve been saying fairly consistently that they need a tank of twenty tons, or something, for this overage.  There are other wineries where it’s more vintage-related, most years they’re self-sufficient but some years they’re looking for extra space, so as long as we have the room we’re happy to do that.  We also do pressing and settling; some Connecticut buyers of wineries, are buying local Chardonnay or other varieties and they’re looking for a place to have it destemmed, pressed, cold settled [chilled], and then they’re taking it as juice so that they don’t have to drive [the purchased grapes] all the way around.  So that’s another part of our business that is pretty consistent every year.

JM-L:  So you’re just sending them the must?

JL:  Yes, either the must for reds or the settled juice for, say, Chardonnay.

JM-L:  And then they ferment it.

JL:  Yes, and we have fee schedules—so they don’t have to bring things just to bottle; we have a pressing and settling charge, or you can ferment it here, age it here, and then sell it in bulk, instead of selling it in the bottle, and you’re not paying the full cost . . .  In other words, PWG has a fee schedule for all its varied services that allow a client to decide whether to take a wine all the way to bottle, or to sell it early in the process as juice (before fermentation) or later in the process as bulk wine.

JM-L:  OK.  Well, you and Russell, and who else helped found this?

JL:  Well, I’m not a partner, Russell is.  It’s Russell and Mark Lieb and a fellow called Bernard Sussman—he isn’t located out here.  He lives in New Jersey or may have moved to Florida now.  They’re the three partners.  I’ve been here since it opened.  I was working with Russell at Pellegrini Vineyards when he was planning this, and when 2000 was our first harvest he asked me if, when this was done, I’d like to come with him.

JM-L:  Now, how many clients did you start with?

JL:   Roughly a dozen.

JM-L:  Really?  So in other words, you first determined that there would be a market out there, you determined that there would be people who would bring their fruit in, if you would just set up . . .

JL:  Yes. And, you see, the reason that we knew that—especially Russell—was that Russell, had been the winemaker for Pellegrini Vineyards, at that point, for eight or nine vintages, and people kept approaching him, saying “I have fruit for sale, I’m thinking of starting my own label, do you have room?”  So he was doing custom production at Pellegrini, with whatever excess space he had there, for Erik Bilka and everyone else . . . and, you know, people were looking for space.  He knew that there were more vineyards coming online, he knew that this would be a growth market.  And I think that Russell first approached Mark Lieb—or it might have been vice versa—because Lieb had a forty-acre vineyard and no facility, and he was trying to buy more property so that he could build a winery, and there was some political issue, possibly, and it was taking longer than he expected so they got together and he said, “OK, you build this and I’ll be an investor in it and instead of making it a Lieb winery we’ll make it a custom production winery.  And Russell, you’re going to run it, right?”  And it was very clever and it was the right time to get something started . . .”

JM-L:  Interesting.

JL:  Most of those clients are still with us.  I’d say that the only ones that aren’t were the ones that got sold or closed down.  But Martha Clara was there the first year, Sherwood House was there, so pretty much everyone who was looking for a place and found us in 2000 has stayed.

JM-L:  So Deseo de Michael [aka OR Wine Estate as of 2014] is the just latest . . . ?

JL:  Yes, pretty much.  Around 2010, in terms of having a license and all of that.  But for example, my wine, which is a 2007, and Erik [Bilka], who makes a Riesling from Finger Lakes juice that he brings down, and he started in 2009, and that’s it; it’s not so much new vineyards coming on line anymore, but rather people buying fruit who want to start their own brands.

Leo Family Red:  a History

JM-L:  I see.  So let’s talk about you . . .

JL:  I don’t own my own vineyard; my situation is a little different in that I lease two acres. Well, I have a long-term agreement since 1999, with a particular vineyard to lease the two acres and I bring in my own fruit, with the understanding that I’ll do all the handwork.  I do the pruning, I do the thinning, I do the harvesting.

JM-L:  So you’re not buying fruit, you’re essentially the vineyard manager for a parcel that’s leased to you.  So you have complete control of the fruit.

JL:  Yes.  The things that I didn’t have control over—I started at Martha Clara in 1999–where they controlled the spray schedule, the weed control, anything that had to do with tractor work—I could make suggestions.  So in that respect I didn’t have complete control.  But I was fine with that.  That lasted until 2006, when they decided that they wanted to harvest their own fruit on that plot, so they decided that I was too small to make an exception for . . . so I was all ready to move anyway, and I was fine with that; it was time to move on.  So I continued the same arrangement with Pellegrini Vineyards, in their easternmost vineyard, called South Harbor.  So there were two acres planted with Merlot there as well, same arrangement as before, so I don’t have control of the spraying schedule.   So I worked with the vineyard manager and that worked out nicely.  That was between 2007 through 2010.  In 2010 I started working for Onabay Vineyard as a winegrowing consultant, working out in the vineyard.  So they asked me, would I be interested in leasing a couple of acres with them, and since I was already telling them what to do and hands-on with their whole vineyard it finally meant that it felt like my own vineyard, in that sense.

JM-L:  Oh, that’s very nice.

JL:  So in 2011 I moved to Onabay.  I was very happy with Pellegrini, but at Onabay, where they’ve planted several varieties, I was able to have an acre of Merlot, half-an-acre of Cabernet Franc, and half-an-acre of Petite Verdot.

JM-L:  So you were finally able to make a Meritage.

JL:  Yes.  And I did . . . since 1999 I’ve made wine every year, selling it off  in bulk, but bottling a barrel for myself to have something to drink, and. . .

JM-L: I see.  So now you’re now making wine in your own way—originally you were only making Merlot . . .

JL:  Only growing Merlot.  So the early vintages were 100% Merlot, but I started to go to other sources—Premium, for example, and other clients, to get a little bit of  Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, whatever happened to be available depending upon the year, including Syrah, Malbec, as well.  Working here made it easy for me to know what was out there—the quality, the amounts, whatever was available . . .  2007 was the first wine I bottled and labeled myself; up to 2006 it was a just hobby project, what I kept at home for drinking myself and then to cover costs I’d sell most of the bulk; I sell anywhere from 200 gallons to 1000 gallons a year depending on my harvest yield and my blending needs.

Leo Family Red, bottle [From the Winemaker’s Studio Website, there is this description of the 2007:  “The first and so far, only wine released under the Leo Family label. A blend made of sustainably farmed grapes: 80% Merlot, 7% Syrah, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon from the North Fork of Long Island. Aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak, released spring 2011.”]  [NOTE:  I tasted this wine on Feb. 2 at a dinner party where venison was the main course.  It followed a rather funky Spanish Tempranillo, and it showed beautifully.  It was already showing secondary aromas and flavors, including lightly-smoked wood, coffee, lead pencil, and sour cherry.  It was balanced and had an agreeable persistence on the palate and a very clean finish.  I’d describe it as elegant and somewhat austere–rather like a Premier Cru from St-Emilion (Bordeaux).  Its structure suggests several more years of maturation and good longevity.  It was very much appreciated by all the guests at the venison dinner, and was a really fine food & wine pairing.]

Leo Family Red, RL

[The back label—shown at right—tells even more about the wine and how it is made. . . ]

JM-L:  And how much bulk are you selling now?

JL:  Depending on the harvest . . . it was a lot, anywhere from 500 cases to a 1,000, or 200 gallons, some years there wasn’t very much.  The 2007 was a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot . . . it’s not all Merlot.

JM-L:  Which means that it’s more of a Left Bank than Right Bank Bordeaux style of wine.

JL: Yeah, with the Syrah tossed in too.

JM-L:  And with the Syrah, which in the 19th Century, they used in winemaking in Bordeaux.

JL:  Yes, I read that too.  I’m not going to market it as Bordeaux . . . it’s just was the best that I could do.

JM-L:  Of course you’re not going to label it as Bordeaux.  Despite all the claims about how Bordeaux-like your wine is, this is still Long Island, after all . . .

JL:  Exactly.  There’s no French on the label, it’s just Leo Family Red . . .

JM-L:  And where is it available?  Can I buy it, for example, at Empire State Cellars?

JL:  It’s available there; you can also buy it at the Winemakers’ Studio, that’s my biggest outlet . . . Anthony Nappa’s.  They pour it and sell it on a regular basis.  There’s also a small wine shop right here in Mattituck, called J. Shields.  It’s owned by a woman who’s a real oenophile.  She just loves wine; I think she studied the sommelier’s course . . . so she took it in a couple of weeks ago.  So it’s on the shelf there.

JM-L:  What was your aim in making your particular wine?

JL:  Honestly, it’s kind of a cliché.  I wanted to make a wine that I would enjoy drinking.  There are no asterisks.  I wanted it to stand on its own on a commercial level.  I want make it only in good vintages and have it taste better than what people are expecting.  . I wanted to be able say:  Taste it and if you like it, buy it, and if you don’t, well, there are no questions asked.  I made 420 cases, I think I have about 160 left.  If I’m stuck with a hundred cases, fine, I’ll be happy to drink it for the rest of my life.

JM-L:  So you’re really saying that the 2007 has great longevity.

JL:  Yes, I think it does.  Because I released it last year and it’s certainly drinking better this year. It hasn’t shown any signs of fading and improving still.

JM-L:  You think that it has the structure to last another five, ten years?

JL:  Five, ten years from now?  I think so, but I honestly don’t know?  It’s hard to say.  Two to three years to reach its peak, and how long will it hold?

JM-L:  Well, as you know, that’s a sign of good wine and good winemaking.  The very fact that there is so much wine being made in Long Island that is age-worthy is, I think, a stunning testament to the level of the winemaking here, and the quality of the fruit and everything else.  It’s no secret, after all, that for us, that the quality of the wine from Long Island is, frankly, at times sensational—and, well, times that it’s not— but given how good it is I often to prefer it to that of California.

JL:  I’ve come the same way, obviously I’m in the industry and you could say that I’m completely biased, but I’m less and less happy when paying sixty or seventy dollars for a California wine that turns out to be an ordinary red wine, just high in alcohol but without much character.

JM-L: As soon as Robert Parker says “jammy and full of fruit,” I know immediately that that is a wine that I’m not likely to touch.

JL:  Exactly.  They’re making a style.  Good for them.  They’re marketing a style and making it work.  We’re just not that.

JM-L:  The other thing to remember is that everything here is “micro.”  You just do not have the production to take on California, you just can’t make enough for a national market.

JL:  And that should free us up a lot to experimentation, to be able to focus on quality, which more and more of our customers are asking for over the twelve years we’ve been in the business; at first our clients were just happy to get the fruit in, get it at 22 Brix, get the right pH.  It’s got to have flavor.  We’re all working on making higher quality wine, we’re challenging one another, we’re raising the bar.

JM-L:  And what other vintages have you made since the 2007?

JL:  Put into bottle and labeled—just the 2010.

JM-L:  And that was a fabulous vintage.

JL:  It was very good.  At first I didn’t think that it was going to be as good as the 2007, but as I sampled it from the barrel it just got better and better, to the point that I decided to bottle it.  Now I think it may even be better than the 2007.  Leo Family Red will only be made in the best vintages. And now that we have 2012 in barrel I’m optimistic that 2012 could be another Leo
Family vintage.

JM-L:  Well, that’s a good policy.

JL:  Well, it’s nice to have a day job!

JM-L:  John, you’ve been more than generous with your time, and I thank you for it.  I’ll get back to you when I’m ready to write about Clovis Point.

 

Erik Bilka, who was not interviewed, is the other production winemaker at Premium, and also has his own wine label:  Influence—a Riesling made from grapes sourced from Ovid Farm in the Finger Lakes.

From the Influence Wines Website:

“Every vintage a winemaker’s goal is to showcase the best attributes from the fruit he is presented. Fruit intensity, acidity, and sugar balance are all attributes which bring a wine to a harmonious blend of aroma, flavor, and palette impression. The winemakers’ influence determines the quality seen in the glass.

Influence Wine Riesling“Once harvested, Influence Riesling is delivered to White Springs Winery in Geneva, NY on Seneca Lake, where the experienced staff led by Derek Wilber crush, press, and cold settle the juice, which is then shipped to Premium Wine Group on the North Fork of Long Island. Upon arrival, winemaker Erik P. Bilka begins the winemaking process. The juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks. Before completion fermentation is halted in order to maintain the natural residual sugars found in this semi-dry vintage. The refining process which involves separating natural occurring sediment from the final product is done delicately in order to preserve the fruits integrity. This minimalist approach by the winemaker influencing only what the juice requires, allows the fruit to be showcased in the final wine.”

Brix at Harvest – 19.8
Ph – 3.10
Titratable Acid – 7.02
Residual Sugar – 22.00 grams/ liter
Aged – 100% Stainless Steel Tank
Bottled – March 31, 2011

 To me, the commitment by the oenologists who work at PWG simply goes beyond the normal range of expectation and duty.  For each of them is so passionate about wine, and apparently has so much excess energy, that it’s not enough for them to only work full-time at their place of employment, they have a deep need to practice their skills for themselves and their reputations.  One can’t ask for more devotion than that.  It’s also hard to find better winemakers.

Next, Russell Hearn.

From the PWG Website:

Services Provided

Services provided by Premium Wine Group range from grape sourcing, crush/pressing, fermenting, barrel aging, bottling, Methode Champenoise riddling and disgorging, and Compliance Issues. These services are available to “custom production” clients, Alternating Proprietorship and existing wineries. North-East wineries sourcing North Fork of Long Island fruit may wish to ferment rather than move unstable fruit during harvest. Or those that have exceeded their own production capacity might look to utilize our wide variety of equipment.

Contact us for (Fee Schedule or Component Services Fees) and (Standard Procedures for what is included).

The “producer” is to supply at their expense all:

  • Fruit (delivered to PWG)
  • Fermentation supplies (yeast, enzyme and tannin, malo-lactic bacteria)
  • Wooden cooperage or oak additives
  • Packaging supplies (bottles, corks, capsules, labels and related items)
  • Winemaking direction (consultation)

Wine Production

With a highly trained staff operating within a State of the Art facility, all wine production services requested can be performed in a timely and professional manner. Additional specialized equipment allows such processes as:

  • EuroSelect Destemmer-Crusher, the gentlest way of destemming
  • Tube-in-tube Must Chiller capable of dropping must temperature 20° F. downstream from the destemmer-crusher en route to press or fermentation tank
  • Reverse Osmosis System to remove water from grape juice
  • Ozone Machine for barrel sanitization
  • Lees filtration via Crossflow System
  • Crossflow wine filtration via Vaslin Bucher FX 8 System

Methode Champenoise

  • Complete semi-automatic Methode Champenoise bottling, riddling and disgorging equipment
  • Mainguet Crown capping device
  • Oenoconcept – Twin cage (1,000 bottle) automatic riddling machine fully programmable for the most complete riddling
  • Mainguet – Neck freezing
  • Disgorging
  • Mainguet – corking and wire hood application
  • Sick International – external bottle scrubbing/washing and drying unit
  • Sick International – capsule dispensing and eye sensitive/ orientating automatic double station capsule pleating device

Bottling

  • Full in-line 4,000 bottle/hour bottling line.
  • McBrady – cardboard dust evacuating and nitrogen bottle sparging device
  • GAI monoblock twenty (20) spout vacuum/ gravity filler with double (2) nitrogen sparging and triple (3) head vacuum corker
  • GAI single head screw capping machine, capable of applying Stevlin and Stevlin Lux screw caps
  • Automatic capsule dispenser and eight (8) head (reversible) capsule spinner and heat shrink capability
  • Sick Automatic champagne capsule dispenser and pleating device
  • Kosme – triple station (neck, front and back) six (6) turret pressure sensitive servo motor driven labeler
  • Manual inspection and packing station
  • Top and bottom ‘Little David’ case taper
  • Lanxess Velcorin DT 6 S dosing unit

Laboratory

Our facility has a fully-equipped laboratory, with a full-time Lab Director and assistant during the Harvest period. A production software system (Winemaker Database) allows our clients’ bulk inventory to be tracked from the time juice or bulk wine arrives at the winery, every moPWG, 08vement, addition, chemical analysis and process is recorded and tracked. Our clients have full access to this detailed history of their inventory.

  • Mettler Toledo Auto-Titrator, generating pH, TA, and FSO2 automatically for reliable consistency

Analytical

  • Brix
  • Total Acid (Automated Titration)PWG, 03
  • pH
  • Total and Free SO2
  • Alcohol
  • Heat and Cold Stability
  • CO2
  • NH3
  • Enzymatic R.S. and Malate
  • Volatile Acidity
  • Specific Gravity
  • Bottling QA/QC
  • Routine Wine / Lot Maintenance

Crush Pads

PWG, 14We can receive hand harvested fruit in small half-ton bins, or machine harvested in gondolas. The receiving pad consists of a Weightronix truck scale and printer, two 7-ton Membrane presses with s/s dump hopper for whole-cluster pressing. Two destemmer / crushers: Rauch E20 and Euroselect ES, to ensure uninterrupted receiving capacity. Both presses utilize direct to press systems, if requested, to minimize solids and for “dug-out” red fermentations. Our 50-ton Refrigeration system ensures more than sufficient capacity for rapid cooling of juice. Tube-in-tube must-chiller capable of decreasing must temperature 20ºF. Additionally we have a 700 KW generator to ensure uninterrupted electrical service.

Equipment

  • Numerous ‘gentle on wine’ Waukesha (twin lobe) pumps.
  • Pneumatic ‘punch-down’ tool above (18) red fermentation tanks.
  • (2) in-line tank heaters to maintain warm red ferments, correct malo-lactic temperature in tank, pre-bottling temperature control.
  • Crossflow filtration system Vaslin Bucher FX 3 with lees filtration add-on capability plate and frame pad filter as well as membrane cartridge filtration capability.
  • Steam and ozone capability.

Producers / Clients (all of which use only Long Island fruit)

  1. Baiting Hollow Farms Vineyard
  2. Bouké/Bouquet
  3. Brooklyn Oenology
  4. Clovis Point Vineyard
  5. OR Wine Estate (aka Deseo de Michael)
  6. Harbes Vineyard
  7. Lieb Cellars
  8. Martha Clara Vineyard
  9. McCall Wines
  10. Onabay Vineyards
  11. Pumphouse Wines (Scarsdale, NY)
  12. Sherwood House Vineyard
  13. [Leo Family Wines, by John Leo, employee]
  14. [Influence Wines (Finger Lakes fruit) by Erik Bilka, employee]
  15. [Suhru Wines, by Russell Hearn, PWG partner & production manager]
  16. [T’Jara Vineyards, by Russell Hearn]

PWG header Premium Wine Group 35 Cox Neck Rd. Mattituck, NY 11952

info@premiumwinegroup.com
phone 631-298-1900
fax 631-298-3588

A Conversation with Louisa Thomas Hargrave

Louisa Thomas Hargrave is the doyenne of the Long Island wine business, having established the very first wine vineyard, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973 with her (then) husband, Alex Hargrave.  They were true pioneers, determined to plant vinifera grapes where they had never successfully grown before, even in the face of well-meant advice against taking on such a risky venture.  Neither of them had ever farmed until they planted the vineyard.

At the time she was a recent college graduate, having gone to Harvard, earning her BA in Government at Smith, and thence to Simmons College to earn a MAT (Masters of Arts in Teaching).  But she and Alex had caught the wine bug, and became seriously interested in starting a vineyard and winery of their own, with the idea of producing quality wine from V. vinifera grapes in the styles of Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Consequently, Louisa next went to the University of Rochester to study Calculus and Chemistry, and further studied the latter at Stony Brook University with the idea that she could apply what she had learned to the making of wine.

Louisa & Alex Hargrave, 1975

Louisa & Alex Hargrave, 1975

After planting vines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc in the original 17-acre field of the old potato farm that had become Hargrave Vineyard, Louisa went to the Cornell Cooperative Extension program to earn a Certificate in Land Use Planning in 1974, an ongoing interest of hers as Suffolk County and New York State developed new laws and regulations that had an impact on her ability to farm.  By 1998 Louisa had been awarded a Doctor of Science, honoris causa, from Dowling College, in recognition of her contributions to viticulture in Long Island.

Between the very solid academic credentials that Louisa has earned over the years and the deep and long experience of establishing and maintaining a vineyard for twenty-six years, as well as making wine and running a successful winery, Louisa has perhaps the most sound credentials of anyone in the Long Island wine world.  Furthermore, after selling Hargrave Vineyard in 1999, when she and her husband agreed to separate, she went on to establish Winewise LLC, a consulting firm for the wine industry. She was director of the Stony Brook University Center for Wine, Food, and Culture from 2004 to 2009, and is continuing to work as a writer on the subject of wine, viticulture, and winemaking for various publications, including her own blog, www.vinglorious.com.

Louisa has also written a well-received memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery (Viking/Penguin, 2003), about the joys and challenges of running a family winery and vineyard.  Earlier, in 1986, she had contributed an essay, “The History of Wine Grapes on Long Island,” to the Long Island Historical Journal.  Most recently she wrote about the terroir of Long Island in an article for Edible East End, “The Dirt Below our Feet.”

Louisa with wineGiven those credentials and that experience, I cannot think of a better-qualified person to speak to about some of the issues bearing on the viniculture of Long Island.  To meet Louisa is to encounter someone who is direct, forthcoming, very well-informed, and definitely opinionated.  She is petite, bespectacled, and wears her silver hair long.  She has no pretensions or airs, but she does not suffer fools.  Given her high profile in Long Island, she frequently has requests from schoolchildren or their parents for an interview so that they can write a paper for school.  Her response is simple:  “When you’ve read my book, The Vineyard, get back to me and we can talk.”  So far there have been no takers.

Fortunately for me, I had read The Vineyard, so that made getting my interview with Louisa that much easier.

Louisa initiated the conversation by making the point that there are two types of wineries in Long Island:  those that cater to the tourist trade and those that focus on making quality wines.  (Several do both, but most emphasize one or the other). Of the top quality wineries, she cited Bedell Cellars, Channing Daughters, Lenz Winery, Paumanok Vineyards, and Peconic Bay Vineyards.  Given that all of the Long Island wineries depend on retail sales for a major part of their income and nearly all have tasting rooms for the wine tourists who are a significant part of their business, I inferred from what she said that some of these wineries seek to attract tourists and tourist groups with large tasting rooms, provide access for buses, and offer space for parties, weddings, and so on.  While some of these are serious about their wines, such as McCall, The Old Field Vineyards, and Pellegrini, a handful is really focused on the tourist trade, perhaps to the detriment of the wines they make—good enough for the tourists, but certainly not world-class.

One way to judge a winery is by looking at their containers—the smaller the container, such as an oak cask (typically of 225 liters, the size of Bordeaux casks) the more serious is the winemaking, as it costs more time and work to manage.  Large containers tend to be used for large-scale production and do not allow for the blending of batches for refining the way the wine tastes and smells the way that small ones do.

She also made clear that there is a fundamental difference between vineyards that seek to grow the highest quality fruit possible by practicing ‘green harvesting,’ which means removing bunches of fruit in the middle of the growing season—sometimes as much as third to a half of the developing crop, in order to improve the quality of the fruit that remains.  The result, of course, is a smaller crop, but wines made from such fruit will be richer, more flavorful, more interesting.  This will not be true of vineyards that primarily grow and sell their wine grapes to wineries.  These vineyards seek to maximize their grape production, as they sell grapes by the ton and they would receive nearly the same price regardless of whether or not they practiced ‘green’ harvesting.  In this case, quantity trumps quality.

I had a few prepared questions for Louisa, to wit:

  • When you started your vineyard there was no concept of ‘sustainable’ viticulture, although ‘organic’ and Biodynamic agriculture was already being practiced in some places.  Was there a point at which you and Alex decided to move towards sustainable viniculture, and if so, how did you go about it?

“Ecology was very much a part of the vocabulary when we planted our vineyard, and we had stayed at an organic farm some years before.  Still, it was fungicides that made it possible for us to plant V. vinifera vines in our vineyard. Historically, those who had attempted to grow these European wine grapes had failed because they had no tools to combat the fungi and other pests indigenous to North America. We recognized that techniques like grafting and amendments like copper sulfate and other fungicides developed after 1870 now made it possible to successfully grow these plants that previously had not survived here. We also perceived that cold-sensitive vinifera might survive on the North Fork of Long Island, due to the moderating effects of the Gulf Stream and Peconic Bay, when they had failed to survive in the more continental climates of other parts of the east coast.

“We even planted some Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc on their own roots, because the sandy soils of Long Island made it difficult for root pests (like Phylloxera) to establish themselves.  Nevertheless, we really didn’t want to use sprays except to the extent necessary.  Although we did use herbicides at times, when weeds became excessive, we always tried to control them mechanically (which usually meant hand-hoeing and weed pulling in areas that the side-hoe on the tractor could not reach). Late sprays before harvest can affect fermentation, so we did not use fungicides after mid-August.  The fact of the matter is that wrestling wine to the ground is very, very complex.

“We embraced the estate approach from the very beginning—in other words, our wines would be made only from the grapes that came from our vineyard, as is the case with Bordeaux chateau. In later years, we did purchase some fruit for our second label, Chardonette, in order to be able to offer a less-expensive, entry-level wine.

“Our wines were made with no residual sugars; malolactic fermentation was complete in all our wines, and we applied minimum sulfites—none at crush time—because we did not want to destroy the indigenous microflora.  The natural acid in wine, at a pH lower than 4.0, makes it impossible for bacteria harmful to people to survive, but some sulfites were needed during aging to protect the wines from yeast or bacteria that harm wine by creating vinegar or off-odors, especially after the malolactic fermentation, when the pH would rise to a less protective level, as high as 3.7 in Pinot Noir especially.

“I am interested in biodynamic techniques but have never practiced them. There are pros and cons to every agricultural practice. Recently, I visited a biodynamically-farmed vineyard in Champagne that was using horses to work the fields.  The idea was to avoid the hardpan that can develop after running a tractor over the vineyards many times and compacting the soil, as the hardpan that results is virtually impenetrable and can harm the nourishment of the vines.  However, the vintner who showed me the horses commented that, while using horses was good for the soil, it was not good for the horses—the soils were so dry that the horse could go lame. That, then, is not really a good option for sustainability.

“With respect to Biodynamic sprays I should point out that these need DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] approval, as does anything that is applied to crops.  All must have a seal of approval and licensing from the DEC. DEC guidelines are not always clear and are subject to change without notice.  Because the DEC is funded by fines levied against farmers in violation of their guidelines, it behooves its inspectors to find violations and levy what can be very heavy fines.  It’s a real problem, and it has to be fixed by providing financing for it by New York State. In my memoir, I describe an untoward incident we had with the DEC that illustrates how this agency has, in the course of implementing laws intended to protect the environment, veered off course in a way that persecutes unwitting and well-intentioned farmers like ourselves.”

  • Looking back on how you went about establishing Hargrave Vineyards in 1973, how would you start up differently as a pioneer, given what you know now?  For example, would you plant Pinot Noir again, or something else?  What about preparation of the soil?

First, Louisa said, “I’d start with a south-facing slope, and then I’d use compost with biodynamic elements to maintain the vineyard.”  “You said ‘biodynamic’ but did you mean ‘organic?’”  “No, I said ‘biodynamic,’ meaning that the soil amendments would reflect the concept of the farm as a unified system of life forces, cycling between times of birth, growth, fruition, decay, and rebirth.”

We had discussed Biodynamics at some length, and Louisa said that she agreed with other viniculturalists, like Sam McCullough and Kareem Massoud, who think that some aspects of Biodynamics may actually work, though it may not need all the mystical components to be effective.  While she does believe that there can be something that could be called “energy” in wine, perhaps due to the level of acidity—it has to do with what makes the wine appealing, or exciting, or perhaps there’s something else to which people respond when they drink it.  Whether or not there is some kind of cosmic energy that comes from the planets and the stars, or that has to do with affinities between horns and earth or anything like that.  It may very well be that the biota that is in the compost teas is really healthy for the vines.  [As an aside, I would like to note that that this has not been borne out in any scientific tests that I know of, but it’s clear that even viticulturalists who would not seek to enter the Demeter program for Biodynamic Certification are open to the possibility that the compost teas have some efficacious attributes.]

Louisa further remarked that, “although growing and making wine from Pinot Noir proved to be most challenging, I would do it again.  I learned more from my efforts to ripen this “heartbreak grape” and to tame its hard tannins than from any other variety. Success with it is not assured, but when it comes, it makes extraordinarily wonderful wine on Long Island.

  • Do you think that the Cornell VineBalance program has made a real difference in the vinicultural practices in LI?  It doesn’t have many actual members—about six, I believe.

“The VineBalance program only has a few members because participation requires detailed record-keeping and a lot of paperwork, which are time-consuming and costly.  This doesn’t mean that VineBalance isn’t important to the rest of the vineyards.  It provides all kinds of guidance. Vineyard managers can and do take courses on sustainable viniculture, including pesticide use, which requires certification.  Cornell provides many seminars and brings experts from other regions here to discuss many aspects of viticulture, including organic interventions and sustainable practices.  So VineBalance, under the direction of Alice Wise at the Cornell Agricultural Extension station in Riverhead, does play a significant role in the viniculture of Long Island.”

Louisa concluded our conversation by saying, “Agriculture in Long Island must be kept alive, even if eventually grapes may have to give way to cabbages.  That’s fine, as long as the farms remain.”

With that remark, Louisa speaks in a way that is characteristic of her and her deep commitment not only to growing wine, but sustaining agriculture.  The East End is a beautiful area, and the North Fork still retains a quality of the bucolic and rural thanks to its working farms and vineyards.  The Hargraves sold development rights to their vineyard to the Suffolk County Land Trust years ago.  That is also part of her commitment.  Long Island owes her many thanks for all that she’s done and continues to do.

Aythaya – 1st Myanmar Vineyard Estate

Myanmar Vineyard is the brainchild of a German entrepreneur who had no experience in the wine trade, but a good sense for a business opportunity. Bert Morsbach brought the first 3,000 vines of European grape varieties to Myanmar in 1998 and had them planted in Loikaw, in Kayah State. The next year the vineyard was relocated to Aythaya, in the Southern Shan State and an additional 10,000 vines were imported and planted. The varieties included Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.

Aythaya Vineyard is located at the edge of the small town of Aythaya, near Taung-gyi, only 40 minutes by car away from the famous Inle Lake, surrounded by the famous Blue Mountains of the Shan Plateau. It’s situated at an elevation of 1,300 m. (4,270 feet)–in fact, the highest vineyard in all of Asia. This high altitude affords the vineyard a much cooler climate than its subtropical location would otherwise enjoy, with temperatures in the dry season (October to May) that range as low as 5 degrees C. (41 F.) at night to 30 C. (86 F) during the day, with minimal rain and humidity and ample sunshine. The soils in the region are of calcareous origin–not unlike the soils of Chablis—contributing to the generally excellent terroir of Aythaya wines. Geologically, the hilly slopes of the Shan States are the Southern extension of the Himalayan Mountains.

My wife, Vals, and I arrived at the winery by car, unannounced, about mid-day, and found the director of the winery, Hans-Eduard Leiendecker, free to speak to us for about an hour and give us a tour of the winery.

Leiendecker, who is German, had been technical director for Weingut Dr. H. Tanisch (which produces Bernkasteler Doktor, the storied Mosel wine) for 16 years, and in the four years prior to his departure, had won medals for the winery. Late in his tenure there he set aside a hectare on which he planted Blauburgünder (Pinot Noir) to show that the slopes of the Mosel could also produce first-class red wine. Of course, the wine laws for the Mosel do not acknowledge wines made from varieties other than Riesling or Müller-Thurgau, so if produced, it would have had to have been as a Deutscher Tafelswein, but it never went beyond the demonstration stage. After his departure in 2005 the vines were ripped out and replaced with Riesling. Still, this was a demonstration of Leiendecker’s zest for experimentation and challenge, and most probably that zest, combined with a certain Wanderlust, led to his replying to a help-wanted ad in a trade journal for a winemaker to work at a vineyard in Myanmar.

The winery faces many challenges that are unique to South-East Asia, and particularly to Myanmar. As Aythaya has only 25 ha. of land leased from the Ministry of Agriculture (on a 20-year lease, as ownership of land by foreign companies is not permitted in Myanmar). View of the Vineyard against the Blue MountainsWhile the Ministry (particularly the Myanmar Agricultural Service) has been very helpful and coöperative, but there no further land available to lease, and farmers are not allowed to lease their own land. The winery has therefore turned to contracting growers who had already been producing table grapes, so that they could increase overall production to a more viable commercial level. However, there has been a growing demand for table grapes, and removing land from table-grape to wine-grape production has the effect of raising prices for table grapes, moving the growers to request higher fees for the use of their land, thus increasing costs for the winery. A pretty Catch-22.

Several years of working experimental plots of the different varieties helped the winery determine which vines would best work in this particular terroir. Herein lie some of the most difficult challenges. For example, the Chardonnay vines, which ordinarily travel so well to so many places around the globe, have done poorly here. In fact, the usual problems of mildew, fungus, insect pests exist here, and in the hot rainy season are especially devastating. Still, good results from the resulting crops are very promising.

Labor in Myanmar poses problems of its own. As Leiendecker puts it, “The workers certainly work hard, but it is the training that is difficult. You train them in a chore one week, they do it well for that week, and the next week they’ve forgotten what they learned and have to be trained again.” Vine pruning and training are innovations in Myanmar, and it will take time for the workers to get used to the disciplines.

According to him, new Tempranillo plantings produced ripe fruit for two years running, but strangely, in the third year, there was no fruit-set. This was not only true at Aythaya, but also at another vineyard down by Inle Lake. At present there appears to be no answer for why this has happened, as there was no evidence of disease, mildew, insect attack, or anything else, and it did not occur with plantings of other grape varieties. Other varieties that are presently being experimented with include Dornfelder and Sémillon.

As of 2008, Aythaya produced a red cuvée of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, vines brought from France and planted at the vineyard in 1999. The 2006 Shiraz-Cabernet blend that we tasted was vinified in stainless-steel tanks, and in order to impart some oak flavor and tannin structure to the wine, wood chips were used in the aging of the wine. The result speaks for itself—though well-made, and the wine has good Shiraz typicity, it lacks a good tannin backbone and is meant to be drunk young. However, at $9.00 a bottle at the winery, it is good value (at Myanmar restaurants it sells for $20 to $40).

The Aythaya white wine, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, suffered from a serious lack of acidity in 2006, no doubt due to very quick ripening as a result of so much sun (in winter and early spring there are almost no clouds and very little rain). Over-ripened grapes will tend to be high in sugar and low in acidity, so that while a high alcohol will be obtained from such grapes, if fermented to dryness the result will be flabby, a strange condition for a Sauvignon Blanc. The 2007 that we tasted was much better, and was a more than adequate representative Sauvignon Blanc. (That was also the first vintage produced under Leiendecker’s guiding hand.)

There is also a Rosé based on the red Moscato grape (from Italy), that has a perfumed aroma entirely typical of the variety, but nevertheless dry and very appealing to local tastes—it is Aythaya’s most popular wine, even though it would be deemed peculiar to the Western palate. In addition, there’s a white ‘Blanc de Noir’ (not sparkling), made from the first pressing of red Muscat, actually resulting in a deep straw-colored wine, hence the “Aythaya Golden Wine.”

A Holstein 3-step distillation unit built at the Bodensee in Germany was shipped to the vineyard in 2005. An excellent grappa-type of spirit is made from the Moscato and is called “Aythaya Grappino.” We found it to be very well-made as well as tasty and agreeable—very much a grappa, and its flavors are clearly those of the Muscat grape.

Among the other challenges of producing wine in a subtropical region is that vines can produce two crops a year. Thus, the vines are always green and productive, with no period of winter dormancy, but the only useful growing season takes place in winter & spring, when the weather is coolest, the sun at its lowest zenith in the sky, and there is the least amount of rainfall during the period of flowering, fruit-set, and fruit development. The danger, as mentioned above, is that under these conditions the grapes can ripen hastily and result in fruit with inadequate levels of acid. However, once that crop has been harvested the vines will immediately set to producing a second crop in a much warmer and much more humid season that includes a higher solar zenith and monsoon rains. This crop is unusable for the production of wine. A factor to be considered is that European vines with two growing seasons a year do not enjoy the usual winter dormancy that they enjoy in more moderate climes. It is not yet known how this may affect the quality of the fruit, or the eventual tendency of the vines to develop long-term fungal disease, root-rot, or other conditions.

Leiendecker ordered and now has in place two oaken Fuders of 1000 l. capacity each in which to age his red wines, thus obviating the need for wood chips. His choice of Fuder over barrique may be based both on his familiarity with the Fuder from his days as winemaker in the Mosel region of Germany, but also the economics of buying barriques of 225 l. every few years, or using Fuders for a much longer period of time, thus amortizing the cost of oak containers over a longer period. This is driven, of course, by the high cost of shipping from Europe.

The tour of the winery was quite interesting, as the plant is still evolving, and new equipment is still being installed, including a high-pressure, high-speed bottling system with screw-cap machinery (the winery has, until now, used plastic corks). The wine is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless-steel vats, of which there are now a total of six. All this should be ready for production in time for the next vintage, in May of 2008.

It remains to be seen whether or not Aythaya Vineyard can live up to the expectations of its founder, Bert Morsbach, or its vineyard director, Hans-Eduard Leiendecker. Certainly the investment wherewithal has been provided, the technical talent is very high, and its early results look very promising—better, in fact, than wines that we’ve tried in Thailand, Vietnam, and India. The challenges are unique and demanding, but we expect that with time a very good reputation will be established not only in Myanmar, but perhaps globally. Subtropical winemaking is being experimented with on several continents, but here, at a nearly mile-high winery, the promise looks like it can be fulfilled.

Meanwhile, the winery has been gearing itself for visitors, and has put in a swimming pool, a restaurant, and a wine bar for tastings. Accommodations nearby can also be arranged by the winery for those who wish to stay overnight.

As of late 2009, the founders now claim that it is possible to produce quality wines in the Southern Shan States of Myanmar. Its development to that point was quite rapid, starting with the first viticulture research in 1997, bottling the first wines in 2004, and preparing to export their wines by this year.

As of 30 December 2015, Aythaya has updated its Website, which now has numerous links to articles in the press and on the Web.  Of particular interest is one posted on 29 August by Jessica Muddit for Mizzima, a Website devoted to “News from Myanmar”:  “Local Winery Goes from Strength to Strength


Aythaya – 1st Myanmar Vineyard Estate
Htone Bo, Aythaya
Taunggyi, Southern Shan States
Phone (+95-81) 24 5 36
Hans-Eduard Leiendecker, director, technical operations
leindecker@myanmar-vineyard.com.mm

(Myanmar Vineyard Management Co. Ltd.)
38G Myitzu Street, Parami Avenue
Mayangone Township, Yangon, Myanmar
Phone (+95-1) 66 43 86 or 66 47 56
info@myanmar-vineyard.com.mm
http://www.myanmar-vineyard.com