As this years’ harvest nears its end I thought it would be a good time to report on the new
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 email@example.com
Saperavi is dramatically expanding its footprint in North America as more vintners add vines to their vineyards and long-term plans. Growers are taking advantage of the increase in Saperavi vines on the market as other nurseries join Amberg Grape Vines (formerly Grafted Grapevines) to boost the supply of Saperavi stock. A special thanks to Jim Baker at Chateau Niagara for helping me in my search for American Saperavi producers. If
you are or know of a Saperavi producer please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first stop on our quest for new Saperavi vineyards takes us to Fort Defiance in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where Tim Jordan is planting an acre of Saperavi this Spring (2019). Tim is the former head winemaker at Barren Ridge Vineyards and a PhD. of Entomology from Virginia Tech.He is planning to add four acres of hybrids and Saperavi to the existing six acres of vinifera in his family’s vineyard. He intends is to implement as many organic and biodynamic viticulture practices as possible in his new vineyard. He has partnered with his brother, Ben Jordan who is the head wine maker at Early Mountain Vineyards. They are bonded but not producing on site yet as they are “bootstrapping” the winery as they go. So goes the “Glamorous Life” of wine making without the deep pockets of corporate investors. Isn’t this what it is all about? Having a dream of getting to make all the decisions while charting your own course even if it is uncertain at times. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your dreams become reality. Although their stories are unique this is a shared truth for all wine makers. Tim’s 2016 block varietals are Chardonnay, Riesling, Petit Manseng, Blaufrankish, Cabernet Franc and Noiret. His 2019 plantings will be Chardonel, Regent, Chambourcin and Saperavi. Follow Tim on Instagram @valley.vines
Justin Falco is the winemaker/proprietor of Montifalco Vineyard in Ruckersville, Va and one of the ambitious growers that will be planting a Saperavi vineyard this Spring. Justin has always loved the wines of Eastern Europe, France and Switzerland. Because of all the friends and family he has abroad he wanted his winery to reflect his memories of the wine and culture there. It is little surprise that he will be adding 2000 Saperavi vines to his Central Virginia vineyard that already boasts plantings of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Rkatsitelli. http://montifalcovneyard.com Instagram @montifalcovineyard
I have followed the Saperavi vineyard that Dr. Rik Obiso planted three years ago at White Barrel in Christiansburg with great interest. This Fall will be the first harvest for those
vines and will set the benchmark for what we can expect from Virginia Saperavi. Rik is involved with several research projects that will further the understanding of how “Old World” Saperavi can be best used in Virginia. http://whitebarrel.com Instagram @whitebarrel
42º North latitude is ground zero for Saperavi in North America. That is exactly where the Saperavi vines of Shalestone Vineyards in Lodi, NY call home. Shalestone is on the east side of Seneca Lake in the “Banana Belt” and has a memorable tag line “RED IS
ALL WE DO”. They prove that statement to be true with the makeup of their vineyard. Rob and Kate Thomas have 6.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Lemberger, Pinot Noir. Their 400 Saperavi vines occupy a 1/2 acre plot within the vineyard. http://shalestonevineyards.com
Jeff Sawyer is following his passion for wine making in Sterling Valley, NY. He is well on his way to seeing his vision become reality with the establishment of Wellspring Vineyards. He planted 275 Saperavi vines in 2016, less than he wanted to because his original order for 600 plants couldn’t be fulfilled because of a shortage of vines. The following year brought a change of direction with Jeff planting 300 Dornfelder and 250 Gewurztraminer. Wellspring Vineyards now has 1900 vines comprised of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grurztraminer, Dornfelder and Saperavi growing on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario. With the first part of his plan in place Jeff is moving forward with his goal of starting a winery. He said in four or five years they will be known as Wellspring Winery. The proposed site is the perfect setting for a winery/tasting room and will have a great view for his guests. Jeff can be reached at email@example.com
As I read an interview with Oskar Bynke, co-owner of Herman J. Wiemer Vineyard where he revealed the vision he and co-owner/winemaker Fred Merwarth had for their newly acquired Standing Stone Winery and Vineyards I had to accept the fact that change is inevitable even in wine country. The release of the 2017 vintages from Standing Stone Winery marks the first time since 1991 that Tom and Marti Macinski were not the owners of this iconic FLX property.
In the 1970’s this former Gold Seal Winery vineyard was planted with Riesling and Chardonnay by the legendary Gold Seal wine makers Charles Founier and Guy Devaux. Standing Stone Chardonnay and Riesling have always been highly acclaimed but it wasn’t those world-class whites that lead to my friendship with Marti, it was the dark red Russian wine grape Saperavi. Had it not been for the time Marti took from her busy schedule to answer my questions and keep me updated on her Saperavi program I would have never pursued my interest in Saperavi or have made as many friends around the world who also share my love of this extraordinary wine.
Thank you Marti and Tom for your devotion to making the best wine from the best grapes you could grow on the land you truly love. Please know that like the wake from a sailboat (that you now have time to enjoy) the ripples of your life’s work will be felt far beyond the shores of your beloved Seneca Lake.
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.
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
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
I wrote this article as a guest post for Anatoli Levine’s wine bloghttp://talk-a-vino.com under the title “Desperately Seeking Saperavi”. I have updated it to keep my readers current with the evolving story of Saperavi.
The vintners of the Northeastern United States have long searched for a red wine grape that could be their signature grape. Over the years several have been on the cusp of becoming the iconic red wine grape that would be identified with the region for producing world-class red wine. Vintages of Lemberger and Cabernet Franc have produced stellar wines that can hold their own with other regions but just couldn’t elbow their way through a crowded field of reds to command the attention of the wine drinkers of the Eastern U.S. and beyond. The fact that you are reading this post proves that you are curious about something new in a world full of wine that can be overwhelming at times. The following is a summary of information I have gathered over the years about this intriguing grape from the wine makers and vineyard managers who know it best.
Saperavi is an ancient grape that can trace its origin to the Kakheti Region of Georgia and surrounding regions as far back as 6000 B.C. Saperavi is a teinturier-type grape, which means it has a dark skin and a pink-tinted flesh. A teinturier variety of grape will produce an intensely colored juice when crushed because both the skin and flesh contain the water-soluble pigment anthrocyanin which is responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their red, blue and purple color. Saperavi is a very adaptable loose bunch, late ripening, cool climate grape variety that can produce large yields without sacrificing much fruit quality. These vines are able to thrive in cool climate regions even at high altitudes because they have above average resistance to cold temperatures. A more cold/frost tolerant hybrid called Saperavi Severny has been developed by incorporating genes from the hardy Severny grape. Traditionally Saperavi wine has been blended with lesser wines but recently it has gained popularity as a varietal bottling. A common translation of Saperavi is “dye” because it makes an extremely dark-colored wine. Saperavi wine is known for having good acidity and firm but not overwhelming tannins. It is these attributes that make it a wine that takes well to aging with some examples being found to have aged nicely for fifty years. Georgia recently has had political problems with its neighbors over the export of wine, notably Saperavi, but that is blessing because it is diverting more wine to the world market.
When talking about Saperavi I can’t contain my excitement and expectations for the wine being grown and made in the United States. I have coined the term “New World Saperavi” for the wine being grown and made by four wineries in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York, one on the Niagara Lake Plain in Northern New York and one in Central Pennsylvania. In the FLX Saperavi is being grown and made at Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars by Frederick (Fred) Frank, the son of Willy Frank and the grandson of Dr. Konstantin Frank, two legendary wine makers. Dr. Konstantin Frank was familiar with Saperavi from his research and work in the Ukraine before World War II. After the war he left Europe and brought his knowledge of growing vitis Vinifera grapes in a cold climate to the FLX where he revolutionized winemaking in the Eastern United States. Saperavi winemaking is well established at Standing Stone Vineyards thanks to Martha (Marti) Macinski (owner/winemaker). She is one of the pioneers of Saperavi in the FLX and is making her wine using grapes from her ever-expanding Saperavi vineyard, arguably the largest in North America. In the Spring of 2017 Tom & Marti Macinski sold Standing Stone Vineyard to Fred Merwarth & Oskar Bynke, owners of Herman J. Wiemer Vineyard on the western shore of Seneca Lake in Dundee, NY. It is my understanding that the Standing Stone line of wine will be retained and that the Saperavi program will be continued. Anyone familiar with FLX Saperavi knows John McGregor at McGregor Vineyards, the maker of McGregor Black Russian Red. This wine is often refered to as “THE” cult wine of the FLX. McGregor Black Russian Red is a unique blend of Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni and is only produced at John’s Keuka Lake winery. Rob & Kate Thomas, owners of Shale Stone Winery produced their first vintage of Saperavi in 2014. They source their grapes from the Valois, NY vineyards of John Beckhorn. Shale Stone Winery will be planting a Saperavi vineyard in the Spring of 2018. The success of Rob & Kate’s Saperavi vineyard is assured because Shale Stone Winery is located right across the road from Standing Stone Vineyards. The old adage ” Location is everything” isn’t only true in real estate but also very important when growing wine grapes.
Jim & Kathy Baker planted 1/2 acre of Saperavi vines on their Niagara Lake Plain
property in New York five years ago. They used the grapes from that vineyard to produce Chateau Niagara’s newly released first vintage of Saperavi. This wine turned out so well that Jim is strongly considering adding substantially to his Saperavi vineyard. Jim also uses his Saperavi grapes to make a dessert wine called Kagor.
The only Saperavi producer outside of New York state is Fero Vineyards and Winery in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Chuck Fero is the owner/winemaker at Fero and is experimenting with different wine making techniques and styles to capitalize on the distinct characteristics this grape exhibits. Fero’s Saperavi planting has grown to about an acre and is projected to yield about 4-5 tons of fruit. Chuck will turn that harvest into 300 cases of his award-winning Saperavi wine.
Fero isn’t the only winery exploring the possible of Saperavi, all five of its counterparts in New York continue to hone in on their particular vision of what Saperavi can be and what styles it can be made into. Their success isn’t going unnoticed as more vineyard managers are planting Saperavi but the addition of newly planted acres is slow. There are several factors that have hindered the spread of Saperavi not the least of which is the scarcity of the vines themselves. White Barrel Winery (formerly Attimo) in Christianburg, Virginia has a young Saperavi vineyard that will be maturing in the next few years. Anyone considering adding Saperavi to their property can start their search at Grafted Grapevine Nursery Clifton Springs, New York a longtime supplier of Saperavi and other varieties to the wine industry. http://graftedgrapevines.com
The next stop on our search for “New World” Saperavi is Australia. South Australia to be more exact, home to Dan Traucki wine industry consultant, Director of Wine Assist Pty Ltd., freelance writer and my friend in the search for Saperavi wherever it may take me. Through his articles and our correspondences Dan has given me an insider’s perspective of the current state of Saperavi and other lesser known wines being made in Australia. Australian wine production from its nearly 4000 wineries is dominated by Shiraz and Chardonnay making completion for market share acutely competitive. Fourteen ground-breaking vineyard managers have taken the speculative position of planting Saperavi in their vineyards. The majority of these plantings are in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale Regions. Saperavi can also be found in the cool climate of the Alpine Valley region of Victoria. The cool climate Saperavi produces a slender wine with an angular taste profile while the warm climate renders a wine of muscular body and vivid taste. I helped Dan with an international Saperavi tasting that he organized earlier this year. Dan collected 33+ samples of Saperavi from wine makers around the world and the results of the tasting confirmed that Saperavi is a rising star. The next big Saperavi competition is being held in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia by the online publication Hvino News under the auspices of their publishing house Hvino News http://sapprize.hvino.com with the support of Georgia’s National Wine Agency. The “Saperavi World Prize” is open to non-Georgian producers worldwide and is free to enter.
I am interested in how Saperavi’s innate ability to express its terroir plays out when it is being planted in a diverse assortment of locations around the globe. Even though these vineyards are planted in vastly different regions of the world there is a high probability that over the course of time the DNA of other wine grapes has found its way into the DNA of Saperavi as it has with all other “pure” strains of wine grapes. The vines for Australian Saperavi were sourced from the Archival Saperavi of Roseworthy Agricultural College. This note-worthy collection of vines has been amassed from vineyards worldwide over the past 100 years. With this thought in mind I am sure that Saperavi produced anywhere will display the unmistakable qualities that we associate with it but will also manifest certain site specific characteristics that will be inevitable because of its genetic tendency to adapt to the growing environment.
The story of “New World Saperavi” is in its early chapters but luckily for us it is being written by skilled wine makers that are fearless visionaries when it comes to the future they see for their wineries. The possibilities surrounding this wine are fascinating and evolving with each new harvest. I am a curious person and have always enjoyed exploring something new and exciting. I invite you to join me in this adventure. A journey in the pursuit of an ageless red wine grape reinvented in vineyards a world away from its ancestral home by dreamers and risk takers as full of life as Saperavi itself. I urge you to indulge your inquisitive side and try Saperavi from anywhere in the world. I think you will be surprised and glad you got to taste something a little different before any of your friends.
I recently received an interesting email from Inge Olsson at http://news.hvino.com, an online publication covering Georgia, Russia and promoting Georgian wines. Hvino News is in Tbilisl, Georgia and under the auspices of the publishing house Hvino News with the support of Georgia’s National Wine Agency is organizing the first “Saperavi World Prize“. Entry into the competition is free and open to all Saperavi producers in the world except the ones in Georgia. Inge told me the reasoning is that there are over 300 wineries in Georgia and nearly all of them use Saperavi. Since entry is free they would receive hundreds of Saperavi samples from the Georgian producers.. The few foreign entries would be out numbered, so their chances of winning would be very low. Georgia already has a national contest and the intent of the “Saperavi World Prize” was to create an international competition that would build communication with Georgia, not to position Georgia as a rival. They are currently exploring proposals to solve this.
The tasting will be in Georgia where the entries will be presented to an international panel of judges. When I posted this article I knew that 19 producers had submitted samples. All 13 Australian producers have entered but they will not have an easy road to victory because New Zealand, Russia, U.S.A. and 3 former Soviet states are also planning to take home the “Saperavi World Prize”.
If you want more information on entering a sample or to provide coverage of this event please contact Inge Olsson via email at I.Olsson@hvino.com Saperavi World Prize press http://sapprize.hvino.com
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 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://firstname.lastname@example.org
I attempted to contact Knapp Winery about their Saperavi vineyard but I did not receive a response before I posted this article.