Saperavi Expands South & West

As this years’ harvest nears its end I thought it would be a good time to report on the new

Greendance Winery Saperavi vines grow out of tubes Photo Courtesy: Greendance Winery

Saperavi plantings that have come to my attention. The Spring of 2019 was undoubtedly the most prolific planting season for Saperavi in its relatively short history in North America. 

Saperavi’s first stop on its trek south from the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York is at the Ripepi Winery & Vineyard in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Rich Ripepi added one half-acre of Saperavi to his vineyard that is located approximately twenty miles south of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River. Just east of Monongahela, Dr. Rick Lynn at Greendance Winery Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania added one hundred Saperavi vines to his already diverse vineyard that includes the intriguing cold-hardy Petite Pearl grape and PA’s largest planting of Marquette.

Continuing south our next stop is the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where Dr. Tim Jordan has planted an acre of Saperavi in his Fort Defiance vineyard. While to the east in nearby Ruckersville, Justin Falco has added two thousand Saperavi vines with plans for more at his Montifalco Vineyards. The four-year-old Saperavi vineyard at Whitebarrel Winery in Christiansburg will yield Virginia’s first substantial harvest of Saperavi grapes this fall (2019). Dr. Rik Obiso has been anticipating this day for years and has submitted two research grants for funding with the intent to bring Saperavi vines to his vineyards from Armenia and Georgia. In the same area of Virginia that these three growers call home, John Kiers III of Ox-Eye Vineyards in Staunton has planted “a couple of hundred vines” and is in the early stages of evaluating them.

You will probably be as surprised as I was when Rich Nunamaker at Grand Mesa Vineyards Cedaredge, Colorado contacted me to ask my opinion on the viability of planting Saperavi on his property in Spring 2020. Rich successfully grows Rkatsiteli in his vineyard on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains so he logically assumed Saperavi would also be a good fit for his conditions. I told him I believed he would be able to grow Saperavi in his environment and altitude based on his success with Rkatsiteli and referred him to Jim Baker, Chateau Niagara Winery, for the technical side of the project. It will be extremely interesting to watch the development of Rich’s vines as he writes a new chapter in the story of Saperavi.

After a long trip around America Saperavi always finds it’s way back home to New York. When Jeff Sawyer, owner/winemaker Wellsprings Vineyards Sterling, New York, ordered six hundred Saperavi vines and only received two hundred seventy-five he changed his plans and planted three hundred Dornfelder vines the next year. Now he has the enviable problem of deciding which one he likes the best in his vineyard on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario.

In other Saperavi news of note, August Diemel, Keuka Springs Vineyard (Finger Lakes New York) made a 2018 Saperavi from grapes grown by Harry Humphrey on Seneca Lake. He made one hundred twenty cases that quickly sold out. Also on Keuka Lake, Weis Vineyards has recently released its 2017 Saperavi after twenty months in the barrel.

2019 has been a banner year for Saperavi in the U.S. It continues to expand its footprint and attract the attention of wine drinkers as more producers recognize the potential of this versatile grape. If you know of any growers or producers please contact me at wpawinepirate@gmail.com 

Sign of the Times

     In organic viticulture the use of chemicals is strictly controlled by law to the point where almost all the chemicals available to conventional growers are prohibited. Organic growers concentrate on growing healthy vines that are able to withstand pests, disease, fungus, rots and anything else they may encounter in the field while being able to sustain themselves with a robust root system. Conventional growers rely more on chemical solutions for prevention and problem resolution. A balanced ecosystem and healthy soil in the vineyard are essential for organic farming to succeed.

     Biodynamic viticulture takes the idea of growing grapes without the aid of chemical applications a step further. Biodynamic farming looks at a vineyard as an ecosystem unto itself with a system of checks and balances that maintains the system’s equilibrium and prevents any major disruptive events (diseases, insect infestation, animal intrusion, etc.) from affecting the health of the system. Biodynamic farmers incorporate lunar cycles and astrological influences into their decisions. In the U.S.A. wine labeled “organic” is regulated by law. These wines must be made from grapes that are certified to have been organically grown and made without any  sulfites added to them. Wine can be made from “certified organically grown grapes” and have sulfites added to them but the label can’t claim it as “organic wine” but as wine “made from organic grapes”. The difference in wording is subtle but there is a difference in how the wine is produced. Biodynamic wines are also produced from grapes grown in chemical-free biodynamic vineyards but the winemaker is limited to making wine without using any common manipulations, such as adjusting it’s acidity or adding yeasts. As with organic grapes you can find wine made from “biodynamically grown grapes” that have been made using different wine making manipulations but as with the “organically grown grapes” the label will read wine made from “biodynamically grown grapes” but not biodynamic wine. The U.S. Government does not certify biodynamic wine. Biodynamic wine is certified by the independent Demeter Association. Biodynamic and Demeter are trademarks used to assure consumers that the product has been certified to a uniform standard.

     I have had conversations with wine makers and vineyard owners from the Eastern United States that have seen just about everything that can happen in a vineyard first hand. The one point they were all emphatic about was that although it is possible to grow  organic and biodynamic vineyards here it is very difficult. Any grower wanting to pursue this method of viticulture must first be able to withstand the possibility that their harvest may be dramatically reduced in some years and non-existent in others because of factors they won’t be able to control with the tools they allowed to use. 

     The topic of organic vs. conventional farming has been debated with valid points being made and supported on both sides of the discussion. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that any practice that leads to better wine is always welcome. At the end of the day wine making is a business and like any other business you must be profitable to stay in business. It requires a business plan that is flexible and incorporates a vision that can be transformed into a financially viable enterprise in the real world.

 

Saperavi World Prize 2017 Results

Photo Courtesy: Hvino News

The results are in from the inaugural Saperavi World Prize 2017 wine competition in Tibilis, Georgia. There were entries from seven countries and several continents with the most samples being submitted by Australian wineries. The three Grand Prize winners were awarded either a gold, silver or bronze miniature “azarpeshas“, the ancient Georgian drinking cup. Congratulations to the winners and all the participants of the 2017 SapPrize.

     Tastings were held on December 15th in Tibilisi, Georgia at the headquarters of the International Chamber of Commerce. The competition is open to producers outside of Georgia who make wine from the Saperavi grape. Entry is free and judging is conducted by an international jury of wine experts. This event was not conceived to be solely a wine contest but to become a forum for wine makers to interact and forge new relationships where they could share information and experiences to advance the understanding and quality of Saperavi wine worldwide.

 

SapPrize Grand Prize winners received miniature “azarpeshas”

It is always challenging to plan an award ceremony of this significance. The SapPrize award presentation had to be rescheduled when the American Ambassador couldn’t attend because of the “Shutdown” of the U.S. government due to the budget bill failing to be approved.

     Grand Prize Gold: Cirami Estate 2015 Saperavi from Australia. “The Gold Azarphesha” was presented to David Kereselidze, Director of Department of Asia, Africa, Australia and Pacific Rim of Georgian Embassy in Australia, he will present it to the winner in Canberra. Cirami Estate isn’t a winery but a non-profit organization called “Riverland Vine Improvement Committee”.

     Grand Prize Silver: McGregor Vineyard Black Russian Red 2010 Saperavi from the U.S.A. “The Silver Azarpesha” was presented to Elizabeth Rood, Charge d’ Affaire at U.S. Embassy. The Embassy will deliver the award to winner John McGregor in the U.S.A. John McGregor commented ” We are so honored to receive such recognition. We planted these grapes in 1980 and were the first commercial producer in the United States. It is wonderful to see confirmation of my father’s belief that Saperavi could grow in New York and make world-class wine”. John also won Silver for his 2011 Black Russian Red and 

John McGregor holds two bottles of his award winning Black Russian Red Saperavi

Bronze for his Black Russian Red 2013 Barrel Reserve.

Grand Prize Bronze: Lagyl Arba Saperavi 2013 from Kazakhistan. “The Bronze Azarpesha” was presented to Gulmira Sultanali, Charge d’ Affaires of Kazah Embassy.

Congratulations to Jim and Kathy Baker owners/wine makers at Chateau Niagara in Newfane, New York for being awarded Bronze for their Chateau Niagara Kagor 2016 made with Saperavi  from their vineyard.                   

I would like to say “Thank You’ to Inge Olsson of Hvino News for including me in the SapPrize and I enjoyed working with you on this project.  For more information on the Saperavi World Prize and a list of all the participating wineries go to  sapprize.hvino.com           

Grand Gold Prize winner Cirami Estate Saperavi 2015 from Australia
Elizabeth Rood, Charged d’ Affaire of U.S. Embassy accepts Grand Silver Prize for McGregor Vineyard

 

Shocking

     You may have heard the term “Bottle Shock” and didn’t know what it is or what causes it. Bottle shock refers to a condition when wine exhibits symptoms from getting too much air mixed into it in a very short time.  When this happens the wine will lack character in all respects.

This condition normally affects wine during the bottling process. Bottling is the most common cause of bottle shock because wine can easily absorb more oxygen than normal while being moved to a bottle and become saturated. Rough handling of bottled wine can also result in bottle shock because shaking the bottle can also mix air into the wine.

The good news is that bottle shock is temporary. After a few weeks of rest the ill effects will subside leaving the wine to not only recover but develop into a more complete

Barrel Room: Savage Wines Cape Town, South Africa

 wine than it was before the extra oxygen was introduced. The reason for this fortuitous transformation is that wine needs oxygen to age but it needs it added very slowly. Natural corks are perfectly suited to do this because air can penetrate them in such minuscule amounts that the oxygen can be gradually absorbed by the wine and not be overwhelmed by it causing the aging process to get out of balance.

     If you are patient with a bottle you think is suffering from bottle shock you will be rewarded for your patience with a wine that is better than it was before it got “SHOCKED”   

Book Review: Dr. Konstantin Frank

     My wife and I had the good fortune to meet Fred Frank during a recent visit to Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellar. Fred could not have been a more warm and welcoming host as we talked and sampled his excellent wines. As we were enjoying our visit he surprised us with a gift. The gift was a copy of the Tom Russ book “Finger Lakes Wine and the Legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank” that he thoughtfully signed with a message for us. I had some idea of the history surrounding Dr. Frank and the groundbreaking changes he brought to the wine industry in the Eastern United States but I was astonished to learn how world events conspired to bring this amazing man to New York and start him on a lifelong quest to bring vinifera grapes to the vineyards along the East Coast. Author Tom Russ takes his readers on the journey of Dr. Konstantin Frank from his birth on July 4th, 1899 in the Ukraine to his passing in Elmira, New York on September 6th, 1985 chronicling all the twists and turns that defined his life.

     Russ captures Dr. Frank’s vision that Vitis vinifera wine grapes could be successfully grown in the Eastern U.S. because “He felt Americans deserved only the best wines”- Frederick Frank. This book documents the life and legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank that continues to evolve today in wineries and vineyards east of the Mississippi River and in Southeastern Canada. Tom Russ conveys the all consuming and sometimes misdirected obsession that Dr. Frank had for the promotion of vinifera wine grapes as seen through the eyes of family, friends, cooperators and adversaries to weave a compelling story of a complex man who changed the wine industry to the benefit of everyone that loves good wine. This book is available in print or e-book from http://amazon.com , http://arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781626197343 and at the Dr. Frank tasting room Hammondsport, New York.

 

“From Russia with Love” Dr. Frank Cuvee d’ Amour 2014

 

     On a beautiful day in early June, my wife and I found ourselves standing at

View from Dr. Frank Wine Cellars Hammondsport, New York

the tasting bar of Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, New York taking in the spectacular view of Keuka Lake. We were led through a tasting of Dr. Frank wines by someone who knows them better than anyone, none other than Fred Frank, grandson of the legendary Dr. Konstantin Frank. After sampling several excellent Dr. Frank wines that included a few fabulous “Sparklers” Fred walked across the room holding a bottle and said to me “I know you like to try the different wines” as he held it up to show me the label, “Cuvée d’ Amour 2014.

Cuvée d’ Amour is made from the fruit of the vitis Amurensis grape. Dr. Konstantin Frank was familiar with this extremely cold-hardy grape and brought it to the FLX from Russia. This grape species is native to the Asian Continent where it is known as the Amur grape in Russia and Shan Pu Tao in China.

The first thing I noticed as Fred poured the wine into my glass was its dark red color. Cuvée d’ Amour 2014 is a flavorful full-bodied red with bright acidity that fits nicely within its well-defined structure leading to what Dr. Frank aptly describes as a “Crisp finish reminiscent of a fine Bordeaux or Borolo.” I would lean towards the Bordeaux but it also has characteristic hints of several wines but they aren’t prominent enough to mention.

If you want to indulge your curiosity for something unique I would suggest trying Cuvée d’ Amour 2014. It is available online at http://drfrankwines.com or at their tasting room in Hammondsport, New York for $29.99.

Russia and China have invested a considerable amount of time and money into the development of vitis Amurensis. This grape has a long list of positive traits that makes it highly desirable in that region of the world. It is probably the most cold-hardy vitis grape at -30°C but while that fact is impressive this grape also has a strong resistance to disease including powdery mildew, white rot, grapevine anthracuose and black pox. Since it has no distinctive aroma it provides a “Blank Canvas” that will not disturb the aroma profile of varieties that it is being hybridized with.

The story life story of Dr. Konstantin Frank is a fascinating one and has been recounted by author Tom Russ in his book “Finger Lakes Wine and the Legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank”. Fred Frank generously gifted a signed copy to me during our visit and I am very grateful for his kind gesture. You can purchase it on Amazon.com  

 

“New World” Saperavi Update

      When I began following the Saperavi grape in North America it was viewed as a grape with great potential in the vineyard and winery but still unproven as to just how the public would receive it. It had the reputation of being a “cult” wine because its limited production caused demand to exceed supply. With the four major Saperavi producers increasing their

Saperavi Grapes

Saperavi vineyards plus new producers and growers beginning to enter the market Saperavi availability has improved. What’s driving this interest in Saperavi you may ask? There are plenty of reasons for wine makers to like Saperavi, not the least of which is the higher price this dark red wine commands.

One of the new producers that I learned of recently contacted me after reading my guest post about Saperavi on my friend Anatoli Levine’s wine blog http://talk-a-vino.com    Jim and Kathy Baker own Chateau Niagara in Newfane, NY. They grow many of the well-known varieties of wine grapes on their 31 acre Niagara Lake Plain property along with several exotic plantings that include Saperavi, Turan and Feteasca Neagra. Jim uses Saperavi from his 5-year-old 1/2 acre vineyard to produce Kagor and his soon to be released first vintage of a dry Saperavi varietal. He got his first Saperavi clippings from a friend in Washington state but suspects that is Saperavi-Svernyi. The vines came through Nova Scotia then traveled to British Columbia and finally across the border into the U.S. He bought his Saperavi vines from the Amberg’s and their Grafted Grapevines Nursery Clifton Springs, N.Y. Jim told me he is tempted to plant another 4 1/2 acres of Saperavi but will wait to see how his varietal sells. Chateau Niagara is one of the few wineries in North America to make the traditional Hungarian wine “Bulls Blood” http://chateauniagarawinery.com

Shalestone Vineyards owners Rob & Kate Thomas offer a Saperavi for sale at their Lodi, N.Y. tasting room and online. Shalestone doesn’t currently grow Saperavi in their vineyard but expect to plant it in the Spring 2018. They currently source their Saperavi from grower John Beckhorn in Valois, N.Y. Before visiting always check their website for tasting room hours. http://shalestonevineyards.com  

To my knowledge the White Barrel Winery Christiansburg, Virginia is the only Saperavi grower in Virginia. White Barrel’s Rik Obiso tells me that things are going well in their young Saperavi vineyard and they will be adding 200 new vines in the Spring of 2018 bringing their Saperavi planting to about 1/2 acre. White Barrel won’t be relying entirely on its own vineyard to produce Saperavi but instead building upon its excellent relationships with Georgian (Russia) vineyards to possibly begin importing bulk Saperavi wine to meet their needs. This story is just starting with more to come in 2018 and 2019. http://whitebarrel.com 

The big news this year has been the sale of Standing Stone Vineyards Lodi, N.Y. (east side of Seneca Lake) to premier Riesling maker H.J. Wiemer Dundee, N.Y. (west side of Seneca Lake). Standing Stone is one of the original four producers that I began to follow when I took an interest in “New World” Saperavi. H.J. Wiemer will keep the Standing Stone line of wines and continue its Saperavi program/nursery operations.

At McGregor Vineyard John McGregor told me that the latest release of his iconic Black Russian Red, which is the only Saperavi – Sereksiya Charni blend in the world, was the best he had ever made. From his Dundee, N.Y. tasting room he pointed out the areas in his vineyards where he plans to plant more Saperavi in the very near future.

Chuck Zaleski owner/winemaker of Fero Vineyards & Winery Lewisburg, PA. remains committed to his Saperavi program. Chuck planted his first Saperavi vines in 2010 and has kept expanding his plantings and knowledge of this grape ever since. Fero is the only grower/producer in Pennsylvania and benefits greatly from its site in the heart of the Susquehanna River Valley. Due to high demand Fero Saperavi always sells out so it is wise to check online or call the winery about availability before you visit. http://ferovineyards.com

The first sentence on Dr. Konstantin Frank Wines home page says it all!!!!  “Dr. Konstantin Frank ignited the “Vinifera Revolution”, a movement that forever changed the course of wine growing in the Finger Lakes and United States.” That same pioneering spirit is alive and well at Dr. Frank’s today thanks to the efforts of his grandson Fred Frank. It only made sense that Dr. Frank would favor grape varieties he knew well from Eastern Europe and Russia. He cultivated Saperavi, Rkatsiteli and vitis Amurensis in the Finger Lakes. Dr. Frank has two Saperavi vineyards, one the west side of Keuka Lake and the other on the east side of Seneca Lake. Once only available at their Kueka Lake tasting room in Hammondsport, Dr. Frank Saperavi can now also be purchased on their website. http://drfrankwines.com

 

The Saperavi story keeps getting more exciting as these producers and growers continue to push the development of “New World” Saperavi forward while always improving the quality of the wine. If you are a Saperavi grower or producer or if you know of a grower/producer please contact me at http://wpawinepirate@gmail.com

I attempted to contact Knapp Winery about their Saperavi vineyard but I did not receive a response before I posted this article.