Time Traveler: Saperavi

     I wrote this article as a guest post for Anatoli Levine’s wine blog http://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

Saperavi Grapes

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. 

 

“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.

Rumor Has It Wine News

     I would like to share some interesting news that I heard from wine makers around the region.

     I recently visited Tod Manspeaker at his Briar Valley Vineyards tasting room in Bedford, Pa. He told me he was removing all the Viognier from his vineyard because of Primary Bud Blight and replacing it with Malbec. He had to pick about 1 1/2 weeks early because of the forecast for a big storm hitting the East Coast but the storm missed his

Briar Valley tasting room in Bedford, Pa.
Briar Valley tasting room in Bedford, Pa.

vineyard and they had a great harvest even though it was earlier than planned.

After getting a tip from fellow blogger Armchairsommelier about a vineyard in Virginia growing Saperavi I contacted Rik Obiso at White Barrel Winery in Christiansburg, Va.. White Barrel was formerly known as Attimo Winery. Rik told me that they do grow about 250 Saperavi vines on a 1/3 acre section of their vineyard but haven’t produced from them yet. He is planning on 2017 being their first vintage but for now they are keeping the vines pruned to encourage them to grow strong roots. When I asked him about his Viognier he said that they are also removing all of it from their vineyard and that job will be completed this winter.

     The harvest at Standing Stone Vineyards Hector, NY went very well. The harvest around the FLX was good and maybe great, only time will tell but if I were to bet I would bet on great. Standing Stone was featured in several articles, here are just two! Syracuse.com published this article about Harvest at Standing Stone.  Syracuse.com article 

Saperavi juice runs from press @ Standing Stone Winery
Saperavi juice runs from press @ Standing Stone Winery

Foodnetwork.com got into the act with this mention of Standing Stone and its unique pairing of Standing Stone wines and local artesian cheeses. Foodnetwork.com article Don’t miss their Saperavi vertical tasting on November 15th, 2015, it will be something special. Check out the color of the Saperavi juice in this photo courtesy of Marti Macinski.

It’s easy to keep up with what’s going on at your favorite wineries by following them on twitter.