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.
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.
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://email@example.com
I attempted to contact Knapp Winery about their Saperavi vineyard but I did not receive a response before I posted this article.
During our recent visit to the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York (FLX) we tasted some great wine and heard some interesting news. There is plenty happening around the lakes so let’s get right to it.
The sale of Standing Stone Vineyards by long-time owners Marti and Tom Macinski to Fred Merwarth and Oskar Bynke owners of H.J. Wiemer Vineyards was the big news that had everyone’s attention. With the addition of the Standing Stone vineyards H.J.Wiemer has sizable acreage on both sides of Seneca Lake not to mention a nursery on the Standing Stone property to continue its Saperavi program. H.J. Wiemer will be keeping the Standing Stone line of wine and Marti will stay on to help Jess in the winery. Marti and Tom will live in the house on the property as long as they want and with the view of the vineyard and lake who can blame them for wanting to retire there.
You can now find Weis Vineyards at the former Lime Berry Winery 10014 Day Road, Hammondsport. This new winery specializes in traditional German-style wines and why not since its winemaker Hans Peter Weis was born in Zell Mosel, Germany. Weis finds himself right at home in the FLX because the winemaking environment is very similar to his native Germany.
Just like pro athletes , wine makers often change teams to pursue their dreams. Winemaker Aaron Roisen left Hosmer Winery to join winemaker Justin Paolicelli at Three Brothers Wineries and Estates. Sheldrake Point’s assistant winemaker Julia Hoyle will now be the head winemaker at Hosmer Winery.
Las Vegas has landed in Waterloo in the form of the del Lago Resort & Casino. This newly opened Las Vegas-style casino offers everything from entertainment, dining, upscale lounges and of course gambling. Sign-up for a players card and spin for free play.
The winemaking community that has evolved around the lakes is dynamic and always changing. Without this unbridled energy the region would have stagnated after its rebirth with the passage of the Farm Winery Act in 1976 by the State of New York. If you are curious about what’s happening around the lakes just ask and I’m sure you will hear something interesting.
My research into the Saperavi grape has allowed me to meet many interesting and informative people. Among this group that I can happily call my friends is Dan Traucki. Dan is a wine journalist from Morphett Vale, South Australia who writes for many publications while also publishing his own website and wine blog http://wineassist.com.au He explores the world of wine grapes with a special focus on the lesser known varieties. This shared curiosity led to us exchanging our thoughts on the Saperavi grape and its potential to yield a superior red wine in three widely separated wine regions around the globe. Dan began to collect samples from Georgia, Russia (the region where wine making is believed to have originated), Australia with it budding Saperavi producers and the Finger Lakes Region of New York, USA that is emerging as the standard for “New World” Saperavi. By February of this year Dan had gathered 33 samples from these three regions for his historic tasting which was probably the largest and most diverse ever conducted. This is the article he wrote for WBM Australia’s Wine Business Magazine. WBM_Saperavi-Sensational_Mar-Apr17 (This is a graphic-rich article and my take a few seconds to load as a .pdf file so please be patient. It will be worth the short wait!
When I was contacted by South Australian wine journalist Dan Traucki informing me that he was putting together a Saperavi tasting with wines from around the world I was intrigued. He had already gathered a diverse group of samples but was very interested in obtaining bottles from the “New World” producers here in North America. The North American entries were provided by the three pioneering wineries of the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York that have advanced the development of this versatile grape for decades. The wineries are McGregor, Dr. Konstantin Frank and Standing Stone. At last count Dan had received 33 bottles with more arriving daily.
This event will give us a good idea about how the Saperavi grape is adapting to the different growing regions that it has been introduced into and how it is expressing the nuances of the terriors.
I have high hopes for the North American Saperavi and its potential to impress when it has its turn in the spotlight. It is said that “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” and I believe the FLX Saperavi will shine bright.
Dan had scheduled the tasting for Tuesday January 31, 2017 and you can follow his twitter @dandanwineman or mine @wpawinepirate for updates and links to any articles relate to this event.
Standing Stone Vineyards in Lodi, NY will be holding their annual Saperavi Vertical Tasting the weekend of October 29-30, 2016. This event is a rare opportunity to experience the evolution of a wine that is rare in the United States. Marti Macinski has developed her Saperavi vineyard and perfected her techniques for this wine over the years to the point where it has become a best seller among her excellent reds. When you see Marti make sure to tell her Rich wpawinepirate said “Hi”
Here is what Marti had to say about one her most popular events.
Saperavi and Standing Stone Vineyards are closely connected in the Finger Lakes. We planted this variety, not knowing much about how it grew, how it worked as a wine, and whether anyone would like it. Sometimes – you get lucky! Saperavi is now our most favored dry red variety – and we are just starting to learn enough about how it grows and works to shepherd it into wine. We will start with the current vintage in the barrel, and go backwards 5 vintages. Then we will pull out one of the oldest vintages from this farmstead. Do we agree with the Georgians that this wine can age for 50 years? Since this varietal did originate in the Republic of Georgia. Find out for yourself. Do not wait – this is always a sellout event. There are two Vertical Tastings scheduled for 12:30pm and 3:30pm on Saturday, October 29th and Sunday, October 30th with tickets $25 a person. Advanced reservations are required as space is limited. Please call the winery or head to our reservation page to book your seats.