Highlight of FLX Visit

Entrance to Standing Stone Vineyard & Winery

Entrance to Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery

     On every trip there is one experience that stamps its indelible mark on your memory. On this trip it was meeting Marti Macinski and the time we spent at her Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery. Upon our arrival she greeted us with a genuinely heart-felt welcome. Marti was accompanied by her personable and outgoing intern Griffin Lehman. She lead my wife and I through a tasting of all of her excellent wines. I was very impressed by how good all the wines were. If I were to use one word to describe all of the Standing Stone wines we tasted that day it would be balanced. Balance is very important to me when I taste wine because it allows me to taste all aspects of the wine without having certain overdone or underdeveloped characteristics create a biased wine. When you drink a wine made by Marti Macinski you can taste every nuance of the wine and the terroir of her vineyards.

     Her Riesling were some of the best that I tasted in the FLX and I tasted the best Riesling that I have ever tasted there on this visit. I really liked her Saperavi and it confirmed my opinion that this grape has great potential in the Eastern U.S.. She convinced us to try her Ice wine even though we were never fans of Ice wine. We are glad we did because we loved all four of her offerings : Chardonnay, Vidal, Grwürztraminer and Riesling. The entire menu of wines offered by Standing Stone Winery are well crafted and certainly worth your attention when you visit. I can highly recommend a visit to this Seneca Lake winery in Hector N.Y. for anyone attending the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference or someone visiting the area looking for superior wine.  Standingstonewines.com  607-582-6051   9934 Rte 414  Hector, N Y 14841

View of Seneca Lake & Vineyards from Standing Stone

View of Seneca Lake & Vineyards from Standing Stone

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Around and Around We Go

Tall bottles of Riesling At Herman J. Wiemer Vineyards

Tall bottles of Riesling At Herman J. Wiemer Vineyards

     Our drive to Finger Lakes Wine Country took us from the rolling hills of Southwestern Pennsylvania through the center of the state pass Penn State University then into the Northern Tier, home to some of the most rugged and sparsely populated mountains in the East. We crossed the New York state line south of Corning and drove north to our first destination Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen is on the southern tip of Seneca Lake, the largest of the eleven Finger Lakes. We drove up the east side of the lake through a torrential downpour on our way to Wagner’s Vineyards and it’s Ginny Lee Café for lunch while the storm passed. They have a large wine menu ranging from currently popular varieties and blends to Niagara, a regional classic. Wagner’s also has a brewery on site, a growing trend around the lakes. I always manage to find a very drinkable Chardonnay and this year was no different with me purchasing the 2012 Reserve Chardonnay. By the time we had finished lunch the rain had stopped and the skies began to brighten. Before we left the east side we stopped at another winery but found their offerings not as good as other years and we left empty-handed.

     We usually stay on Seneca Lake but this trip we stayed at the northern end of Keuka Lake in the small town of Penn Yan. You are constantly skirting the lakes because there are no bridges to mar their natural beauty so good planning is a must to save time and miles. On the way to our hotel we traveled back through Watkins Glen and drove up the west side of Seneca Lake to the world-famous Riesling producer Herman J. Wiemer Vineyards.

    I find that many wine makers are limiting or eliminating taste descriptors from their tasting notes. I agree that their overuse has lead to people not forming an opinion of their own and I will be using less of them in my posts beginning now.

      The Riesling I tasted in the H.J. Wiemer tasting room was as stylishly produced as my surroundings, sophisticated and well-made with depth and balance. These Riesling could be easily matched to a myriad of food or enjoyed by themselves glass after glass. Riesling is what H.J.W. is known for and rightfully so , but the other wines they produce can be easily overlooked because the Riesling is so good. But ignoring the Sparkling, Noble Select Dessert and Reserve wines could cause you to miss out on something very special. Note: The Sparkling wines are aged on lees for up to 72 months, hand-riddled and hand-disgorged. After loading our trunk with our newly found treasures of Riesling and a Rosé Cuvée we were on to Keuka Lake.

Herman J. Wiemer Vineyards

Herman J. Wiemer Winery

 

Herman J. Wiemer Winery

Herman J. Wiemer Winery

Clearing skies over Wagner's Vineyards

Clearing skies over Wagner’s Vineyards

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New York State of Mind

sign     The Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York (FLX) is only a 5 hour drive from my home in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Having a World-Class wine-producing region so close provides my wife and me the luxury of making a trip to the area when the mood strikes us. During our trip last week we visited old favorites Herman J. Herman Winery and Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery while adding a new favorite Standing Stone Winery. All three of these wineries produce excellent Riesling along with other notable wines. Cool-climate white wines have always been this region’s claim to fame but on this visit I was curious to see first-hand how the development of the Saperavi grape was progressing. In the following series of posts I will give you my personal take on the wine, grapevines, trends and scenic views I encountered around these glacial lakes. Come along with me and see what’s new in the FLX.

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Greg Norman 2012 Malbec Mendoza Argentina

malbec-sm     You may remember me mentioning this wine in a post last month. My wife and I dined at Greg Norman’s Australian Grille in Myrtle Beach, S.C. and I had this wine with my dinner. I enjoyed this wine because it is very representative of Malbec from Argentina’s Mendoza Region. It is crimson-red and inky purple in the glass. The body is medium with understated oak that come from being cool fermented and spending 12 months in French and American oak barrels. The flavors are classic Malbec blackberry and cherry with a balance of full tannins and a long “grapey” Malbec finish. Greg Norman 2012 Malbec Mendoza Argentina can be found in P.L.C.B. stores as a Chairman’s Selection at the discounted price of $9.99 (Product Code 33631). A Malbec of this quality is seldom found at this price making it a must try if you are a fan of Mendoza Malbec. I should know because I paid 9 bucks for a glass at his restaurant.  

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Hollywood Stars Blind Wine Tasting

blank bottle     I recently heard an interview with Billy Gardell, the star of the hit TV comedy Mike & Molly and Pittsburgh native, telling about a blind wine tasting party that he attended. Every year Louis Mustillo, who plays Vince on the show, throws a party for the cast at his home. Billy brings jazz records from his collection and Lou provides a blind tasting of wines ranging from $15 to $100. Billy said as the evening progressed everyone would sample a wine then he would play a song and they would discuss the wine. At the end of the evening they voted for their favorite wine and every year the $15 bottle has won. Then he did a great “Vince” impression saying “See, I told you the $100 bottle never wins.” I enjoyed hearing this story because it confirmed the foundation on which this blog is built. I have always said “Drink what you like because it doesn’t matter how much a wine costs if you don’t like it then it’s not a good wine for you.” I often have people say to me “I don’t know anything about wine” to which I respond “If it tastes good to you that’s all you need to know.” Billy is hoping that his wife will let him paint the Steeler end zone in his backyard and to that I say “Good Luck Billy.” 

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Food & Wine Classic in Aspen UPDATE!

    

Photo Courtesy: Wine and Food 2014 Aspen Classic

Photo Courtesy: Wine and Food 2014 Classic Aspen

The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen will be celebrated June 19-21, 2015 in Aspen, Colorado.  Tickets are on sale now at www.foodandwine.com/classic or by phone at 877-900-wine.  You can find answers to many of your questions by accessing the F.A.Q. tab on the above website.  Some of the useful information that can be found there includes what a guest should wear when visiting the mountains at high altitude or whether pets or smoking will be allowed at any Food & Wine Classic Aspen events? The answer to both of those questions would be NO.  These events provide a unique opportunity to meet and learn from some of the best chefs in the world. Update! All passes to this event are sold out.

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Greg Norman’s Australian Grille

Greg N SignG N Dining RmGN Patio      My wife and I spent the last week of May in Myrtle Beach and Charleston, South Carolina. We were fortunate to have beautiful weather during our stay. On one of those beautiful days we drove up Hwy 17 to Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach to have dinner at Greg Norman’s Australian Grille. This steakhouse describes itself as ” The Upper Crust of Down Under Dining.” As we arrived I immediately took note of the building that was masterfully designed to resemble something you would expect to see in Australia. The dining room is set in rich dark wood with plush seating that creates an elegant yet inviting dining experience. We ate inside but if you prefer they offer tables on a large patio that overlooks the intercoastal waterway.  

Our steaks, as are all their steaks, were 100% Premium Black Angus Beef, aged a minimum of 28 days. They were wood grilled to perfection with a variety of homemade sauces to choose from. How were they? I can’t put into words the taste and when we paired them with Greg Norman wine all I can say is “WOW.” I had a Greg Norman Estates 2012 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina and my wife had Greg Norman Estates Cabemet ( yes, Cabemet) Sauvignon,Paso Robles, California both were reasonably priced at $9 a glass. Their exclusive wine list has received the “Award of Excellence” from  Wine Spectator Magazine every year for over a decade.

     When you are in North Myrtle Beach you should seriously consider Greg Norman’s Australian Grille as your choice for lunch or dinner. Greg Norman’s Australian Grille 4930 Hwy 17 S North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Greg Norman’s Australian Grille

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Life’s a Bed of Roses

rose wine

With the official start of Summer just a few days away thoughts of picnics under brilliant blue skies and sunsets enjoyed with friends while sipping Rosé start to fill the minds of winter-weary romantics everywhere. Pennsylvania wine makers have produced a variety of easy drinking wines that will offer the perfect accent to any of your summertime activities.

     Briar Valley Winery Proprietor’s Rosé is a dry Rosé made from a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Lemberger. A great easy drinking wine that displays  soft cherry and berry notes with subtle tannins and nice acid. You can enjoy this Rosé along with all the Briar Valley offerings, plus the added bonus of live music when you visit the B.V. tasting room on Pitt St. in the metropolis of Bedford, Pa. on the first Friday of each month.  

     Fero Winery owner/winemaker Chuck Zaletski shows the wide range of his winemaking skills with his Sweet Blush. Sweet Blush is a rose-colored semi-sweet, not dry wine with smooth flavors of fruit. Chuck calls it his “Party Wine” and it would be great over ice, especially after running the Wine-N-Mile through the Fero Vineyards in Lewisburg, Pa. on May 29th. 

     If it is a blush made from a blend of four grapes that you are looking for, then Arrowhead Winery has the wine for you. Four Winds Blush has a light body with a smooth semi-sweet fruit finish but don’t take my word for it. Arrowhead Winery has just opened its newest wine shop inside Schramm Farm Market in Harrison City, Pa. Connie and Joanne will be happy to lead you through a free tasting of the wines of your choice.

Valley Sunrise is a fresh and sweet blend from Rich Ripepi at the Ripepi Winery. Rich has struck a balance with Valley Sunrise that produces a very drinkable wine perfect for any casual gathering. Stop by the Ripepi Winery in Monongahela, Pa. for the “Summer Sip Series” to experience live music and great food plus group vineyard tours + tastings.

The Vineyard at Hershey winemaker L. Paul Vezzetti has produced a spot-on wine for a summer evening of music in the open air of their vineyard. Twisted Kiss is a blend of white Vidal and red Chamboursin. This wine has hints of tropical fruit and subtle strawberry flavors. There is no excuse for having a boring weekend when you can go to The Vineyard at Hershey Middletown, Pa and dance to live music and drink fun wines under the stars at their “Decked Out Live” concerts.

     No trip into the Laurel Highlands would be complete without a stop at the C.W. Klay Winery Chalk Hill, Pa. The “Pavilion Music Series” at C. W. Klay fills the air with the sound of free live music. You can relax and listen to a concert under the pavilion by the lake with a bottle of Chestnut Ridge Sunset. This wine is a delicate semi-sweet crimson blush with a hint of cherry aroma in a Zinfandel style.  

These are just a few of the possibilities that you have available to you in Western & Central Pa. A complete directory of winery and brewery events can be found on the website: West Pa Winery & Brewery

     

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China Star Rising

Chateau Changyu, Beiyujia Vineyards, Shandong, China

Chateau Changyu, Beiyujia Vineyards, Shandong, China

I read an article recently about how China has now surpassed France for the amount of land dedicated to wine-making vineyards. China now boasts 1.9 million acres of vineyards, passing France for second place and behind the number one grower, Spain. China remains the 7th largest producer of grapes due to production inefficiencies. The increase in vineyards is in direct response to the need for more wine grapes to satisfy the explosive rise in demand for wine in China. China has experienced a cultural evolution toward drinking wine over the past 15 years that is directly tied to the increase in disposable income. Red wine is preferred by the majority of Chinese wine drinkers so it is no surprise that Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape variety in the country.

China is a huge country with many sub-climates and even more micro-climates, not to mention the countless soil types and varying terrain. I believe when you have that many variables combined with an ancient culture that thrives on challenges and ingenuity the only logical outcome from Chinese wine makers will be superior and creative wines. The wine business in China will continue to focus on products and production to satisfy domestic demand. But as we have seen the Chinese do in so many other arenas, they will be constantly comparing their wine to the best in the world to judge their progress and making changes to excel.

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2nd Annual “State of the Vineyard” Address

 

Spur and Kane pruning on same vine @ Briar Valley Vineyards

Spur and Kane pruning on same vine @ Briar Valley Vineyards

     Welcome to the 2nd Annual ” State of the Vineyard” address. the purpose of this post is to give everyone a first look at the 2015 growing season as seen through the eyes of the people who know it best, the growers and wine makers of Western and Central Pennsylvania. After a winter that broke records for cold and snow I found unexpected good news on all fronts. But don’t take it from me read what the experts had to say.

We will start in Central Pennsylvania with Paul Vezzetti winemaker at The Vineyard at Hershey. Paul tells me that their vineyards made it through the winter relatively unscathed by the sub-zero temperatures, even the normally cold sensitive Chardonnay and Riesling showed little damage and with pruning complete he is looking forward to a really big year. A year that will see a new block of vines added to the vineyard that will consist mostly of Muscat but also some Sauvignon Blanc.

      Staying in Central Pa. our next stop is Lewisburg and Chuck Zaleski’s Fero Vineyards & Winery. Chuck grows only vinifera vines and over the last two winters his vine injury has been limited to only a “couple percent”. He feels fortunate to have his vineyard in the Middle Susquehana Valley on a small hilltop in a wide river valley at 41ºN latitude and 600 feet above sea level. He attributes his site for his excellent survival rate that his vineyard has experienced over the years. I want to congratulate Chuck on winning a Double Gold medal at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (FLIWC) with his 2013 Estate Lemberger and a Gold with his 2013 Saperavi also at FLIWC.

We now move west into Washington County the home of Ripepi Vineyards & Winery. Rich Ripepi is pleased with how his vines came through this winter. He lost some of his Cabernet Sauvignon vines last winter but the ones that survived made it through this winter in fine shape. The bud count is very good and is a product of an extremely strong growing season in 2014. The only negative Rich could report was a little damage to his 28-year-old Chancellor vines but he couldn’t put his finger on the exact cause. With all the primary trimming complete and half of the secondary done Rich could only express the highest hopes for this coming growing season.

I can never go to Bedford County without stopping to see Tod & Jean Manspeaker at Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery. Tod tells me that this winter was better than the winter of 2014 for their vineyard. The 2014 winter had two freeze events with the second damaging some vines by splitting their trunks and causing “Crown Gall” which will eventually destroy a vine once it’s infected. But this year was different, most of Briar Valley’s vines came through in good shape with the only exception being their Merlot. They had thought they lost 100% of the Merlot vines and had order new vines only to discover that a third of the vines had survived. Tod commented on how differently each variety of his vinifera grapes vines adapted to the environmental factors even though they were all on the same site. The Manspeakers are very busy now with about 1 to 1 1/2 weeks more of pruning to do on their 10 acre vineyard. They do all the pruning themselves to insure that the fruit meets their very high standards. The job this year was made even more difficult by the fact that all the extra canes left on last year had to be removed to prepare the vines for this years growing season. I am happy to report that Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery won two Silver medals at the Finger Lakes International Wine competition (FLIWC) with their 2010 Proprietor’s Red and 2012 Lemberger. 

Our next stop is Greene County to visit Rick Thistlewaite at Thistlewaite Vineyards in Jefferson. Rick told me his vines had a “little more die back” this year but overall damage was minor with it limited to one or two vines per acre. The bud count at Thistlewaite is reported to be good. A two tier pruning protocol is employed where the first pruning leaves a long cane to develop buds that is then cut back with a second pruning after the first frost to give protection against late frost bud damage. When I asked Rick if he thought the site was a contributing factor in this year’s losses, he said that he didn’t think it was because his five acre vineyard is on a hilltop and is planted with all French hybrid vines. His opinion was that this past winter was wetter than last year and he had less snow cover to protect his vines. Thistlewaite Vineyards are planted with nine different varieties of wine grapes with the majority of the vineyard composed of Chambourcin and Traminette. Rick is anticipating another above average harvest this year.

For our last stop in Pennsylvania we will travel to the heart of the Laurel Highlands and make a visit to Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill. I had the pleasure of meeting Sharon Klay recently and had the opportunity to hear for myself how the winter effected her vineyard. Sharon said this winter wasn’t nearly as destructive to her vines as the last winter was. I could hear the lingering lament in her voice as she recalled losing two acres of her oldest Chardonnay last year but she quickly brightened when she reported the lack of damage this year and the promise of another banner year that lay ahead. I laughed as she told me the resident flock of wild turkeys at the vineyard had discriminating palates for which grapes they ate while leaving others varieties relatively untouched. On the day we talked her son, Christian had just received government approval for his distillery. After becoming fully operational it will offer a synergy with the winery by not only producing its own distilled spirits but using C.W.Klay wine to make grappa, brandy and other distilled products.

     No report would be complete without checking in with our friends in the Finger Lakes Wine Region. Martha “Marti” Macinski reports the vines at Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery Hector, NY do not seem to have suffered damage from this winter. She said the current bud count numbers are showing minimal damage, so minimal that “We did some samples twice”. Last year the samples also showed minimal damage and the crop was of normal quantity with overall quality outstanding. Riesling and Gewürztraminer continues to be strong varieties for Standing Stone with positive growth in the New York Metro area due to the efforts of distributor Fredrick Wildman. When visiting FLX a stop at Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery is a must for any wine lover.

Thank You to everyone that helped me with this post. I wish all the vineyards and wineries the best of luck in 2015 and I hope to see you soon.    Rich

 

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