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 

First Cut is the Deepest

When I arrived at the farm on Deer Field Road in Mount Pleasant, PA

Beautiful & productive vines like these are the result of careful pruning. Photo courtesy of Greendance Winery

that Sand Hill Berries and Greendance – The Winery at Sand Hill both call home, the windchill was hovering near O° and a thin layer of snow covered the ground. Rick Lynn had invited me to his vineyard to show me how he uses the VPS (Vertical Shoot Pruning) technique to prune his Marquette vines. Vintners prune their grape vines every year to make them more productive and to control how the vine develops during the growing season. The trimming is done during the winter when the vines are dormant. Pruning is a cold and labor intensive job that is essential to the success of the current year’s crop but is also necessary for the training and development of the vines for the future. Rick demonstrated how last year’s growth is removed and two of the best canes are left to be bent and attached to the trellis wire. The vine shoots that grow from the cane that was tied to the lower trellis wire are then trained to grow upward by having them attach themselves to catch wires above the cordon wire (lowest wire). The vines proceed to grow upward in a vertical curtain with the fruiting zone below the canopy. On the day we were pruning a lot of old growth had to be removed because Marquette vines are known for their vigorous growth. Greendance uses the VSP method on all of their vines except the American varieties (Vitis labrusca).

VSP pruning is the most common pruning method for cool-climate wine grapes but it is by no means the only one. Rick and I discussed some new ideas for managing vines in the field. I found the practice of planting vines very close together, about two feet apart, then pruning every vine back to one cane and tying down that cane to the right one year then doing the same the next year but tying the one cane to the left and continuing to alternate direction every year.

Another intriguing idea is “Wild Tail” pruning. Wild tail pruning leaves all the buds on the lateral cane that is tied to the cordon wire so the end buds develop first and delays the budding of the lower buds to protect them from a late frost. After all danger of frost has pasted you walk the vineyard and clip off all the “Wild Tails” back to the number of buds you want on each lateral. I am extremely curious to see if these methods would be successful in a cool-climate vineyard.

The goal of my visit was two-fold and with the first part completed we now turn our attention to the second part, Greendance’s planting of Petite Pearl. If you haven’t heard of the Petite Pearl wine grape you’re not alone. This hybrid grape from renowned Minnesota grape breeder Tom Plocher is just beginning to take root in Minnesota, Wisconsin and across the Midwest where it’s cold tolerance is greatly appreciated. I will be posting about my barrel tasting of Greendance Petite Pearl soon.

 

One Way Or Another

     Riesling has long been a stalwart for anyone frantically searching a wine list to pick a bottle that would pair well with everyone’s dinner. Riesling is hard to beat when you need a versatile food-friendly wine that can be easily found in styles ranging from sweet to bone-dry. In the past this varietal has labored under the misconception that the lower-quality sweet offerings that filled store shelves was the best this grape had to offer. This

Riesling Grapes

view of Riesling has begun to change as world-class Riesling are being added to restaurant wine lists, websites and store shelves worldwide.

     Riesling is a cool climate grape that has excels in rocky soils, like the ones found in the Rhine Valley and Mosel Region of Germany and the Alsace region of Northern France for centuries. Wine makers in the Columbia Valley of Washington, the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York have found great success with their Riesling vineyards. All three regions produce very good Riesling, each with its own special personality that is sure to please any wine lovers palate.

You could make a strong case that Riesling with its many incarnations is the most food-friendly of all wines, either red or white. It is the safe choice when following the rules for white wine by pairing it with seafood, chicken and salads. My favorite twist is to pair a sweet Riesling with spicy Mexican, Chinese or Thai cuisine. The extra sweetness cuts through the heat to give balance to your meal.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Dry: Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling 2016. (From a legendary FLX winery that received a Robert Parker Wine Advocate 90pt rating)

Off-Dry: Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling (A trendy favorite with a Wine Spectator 89pts)

Sweet: Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select Riesling 2016 (Wine Spectator 87 pts and a bargain at $10.00 or less)

Ruby Slippers

The Burchino Estate is in the village of Terriccola. Their 37 hectares of vineyards in the Pisan hills of Chianti are on some of the best land in the Chianti Area.

Tenuta di Burchino IL Burchino 2010 Toscana is a Toscana made up of a perfect 85% Sangiovese – 10% Cabernet – 5%Merlot blend. With floral and blueberry aromas this medium-bodied red is soft and round on the palate. Balanced with good acidity and flavors of cherries, berries and earth makes this wine a nice pairing for any grilled red meat, especially beef. James Suckling gave this Tuscan wine 93pts.

Harvest at Ripepi Winery

Rows of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Ripepi Vineyard
Rows of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Ripepi Vineyard
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

     When Rich Ripepi, owner and winemaker of Ripepi Winery and Vineyard in Monongahela, Pa invited us to take part in the harvest at his vineyard we gladly accepted.  It was a beautiful early fall day as we walked from the winery to the rows of Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the adjacent vineyard.  We picked up our clippers from the tool bucket, located a section of unharvested vines by the empty bins laid out beneath them and went to work.  It wasn’t too long before Rich came by and his excitement about this years harvest was written all over his face.  He talked in glowing terms about how well the grapes had ripened during the month of September because of the warm weather and plentiful sunshine from the nearly cloudless skies.  I asked Rich how he determined when it was time to pick and he told me he uses all the traditional methods like Brix (these berries were 23), acidity and other factors but what it really all comes down to is if he tastes the grapes and they taste ripe to him then it is time to pick.  After a very wet summer which called for a more robust spraying program and more cultivation than normal there was an amazing turn of events that lead to this being one of the best harvest ever.  We took a break and walked with Rich to the winery where the pressing of the Traminette grapes which were picked earlier that day was nearing completion.  After being destemed the grapes were mixed with rice husks to make it easier to press out the juice.  Rich grabbed a glass and said “Do you want to taste it?” as he fills it with the freshly press juice that flows from the press, it was sweet and full of flavor.  While walking back to the vineyard to finish picking, Rich relates the most interesting stories about his evolving journey as a winemaker which makes the time pass quickly as we strip the last vines of their fruit.  We would like to say “Thank You” to Rich Ripepi for inviting us to share this experience with him and his family.  More information about the Ripepi Winery and their award-winning wines can be found at www.Ripepiwine.com

Wine Tasting

     The Monongahela Area Library Wine Tasting and Vineyard Tour Fundraiser was held Saturday evening under a spectacular blue sky at the Ripepi Winery and Vineyard.  The guests were treated to a vineyard tour by owner and winemaker Rich Ripepi.  Rich kept the crowd entertained with his ability to weave his encyclopedic wine knowledge and storytelling together to create an atmosphere of fun, humor and learning.  We returned from the vineyard to find our tables had been set with a variety of cheeses to complement that evenings wines.  Rich conducted the tasting with a detailed explanation of each wine while fielding questions.  I had a great time at this event and urge any wine lover to take any opportunity to meet and talk to a seasoned winemaker because their abilities are truly impressive.  Rich Ripepi has reason to be proud knowing that four of his wines had just won medals at two different wine competitions.

The 36th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition in Santa Rosa, CA:    Niagra – Silver Medal      De Chaunac – Silver Medal      

The Finger Lakes International Wine Competition: Diamond- Silver Medal    Vidal Blanc – Bronze Medal

Congratulations to all the members of the Ripepi Winery family.