Right after Memorial Day, Empar Sicroff, Red Feet’s Store Manager, and I were able to sneak away from Ithaca for a visit to two of our favorite Finger Lakes wineries, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards and Ravines Wine Cellars, both located on the west side of Seneca Lake. Although we sample the new releases of each vintage as they come out, we like to pay a visit to our winery friends on an annual basis, so we can get a little closer to the process of growing and making wine, educate ourselves, and exchange thoughts with the wineries. We want to connect with the passion and creativity of these craftspeople, so we can tell their stories.
Since our last visit to Wiemer, Fred Merwarth and his partner Oskar Bynke have added on an exciting, sleek, new building which is used as a tasting room and they’ve renovated their retail area. It’s built in a modern style with clean lines, tall ceilings with exposed beams, stark white walls, copper counter tops and groupings of tall tables that can entertain 4-6 persons each. We loved the high quality tasting experience that this was designed to produce–a more private contact with the guide and your own cluster of friends, as well as the potential to sample limited release wines.
The winery has been under Fred and Oskar’s direction since 2007, the same year that Red Feet opened. It is refreshing to see how they have taken Wiemer’s pioneering efforts to make world class wine to yet another level. Single vineyard bottlings, new acreage under vine, changes within the production facility, switching over some older plantings to Riesling, expanding their nursery business, ramping up sparkling wine production, selling wine across the United States…these young men haven’t been sitting still!
They now have 76 acres under vine and additionally, they lease some acreage, always being sure they farm it themselves and to their standards. They work almost exclusively on the west side of Seneca Lake and know it intimately. Though Oskar would take nothing away from the east siders and the ripe, warmth of Hector, Lodi and Burdett, he showed us the pluses they find on the west side. Oskar feels it’s more about where sites are located in a north-south direction along Seneca Lake that determine the potential of the site. He says Magdalena, their warmest property, is about half way up Seneca where the lake is at its widest and deepest (thus creating more of the protective warming effect).
Because of the large open area to the west of Seneca Lake, Oskar feels they also get a bit less rain on the west side which means that there’s less disease pressure, and in the Finger Lakes, that’s a huge deal. Disease (as in rot and botrytis) isn’t what people may choose to discuss when it comes to evaluating wine, but it can make quite a determination of how long your grapes can hang (and thus, ripen). If undesired botrytis has set in, it tends to spread quickly, especially with any warm, humid days that come along, and that forces you to pick sooner.
Another notable hallmark of Wiemer when it comes to winemaking is that they use entirely natural yeast in their white wines. They feel these give the wines more density, and from my experience, it’s preferable for the natural aromatics too. They didn’t move to indigenous yeast in a day; it was a gradual shift of percentages until they finally didn’t need to buy any. The fermentations can be long and slow, laboring on towards the next summer. They pick late because things ripen slowly for them and because the grapes are healthy, they can benefit from this gradual ripening. This means the grapes come in colder when they are harvested (often in November) and fermentations proceed more sluggishly. They allow the fermentations to bubble along and in the end, they tend to leave more sweetness in the finished wines. This seems to be a preferred style of the Wiemer team which makes sense, considering their founder is German. The resulting wines are dense, tropical and on the cusp of off-dry (Wiemer’s dry Rieslings measure in around .9% residual sugar).
They’ve been learning a great deal more about their sites as they use smaller tanks of 300 gallons to ferment various lots of Riesling. At harvest, they often sort into several different batches right on the sorting table, depending upon each cluster in hand and its color, taste and level of botrytis. Then they like to ferment each of those batches separately to see where they end up and to give themselves more blending options later. In fact, they may all come together again anyway in the final wine, but they’ve learned something along the way.
Oskar finds the crisp acid of the 2014 vintage to be very appealing, and yet the fruit was excellent. He considers the 2013′s to be more round.
Here are the current Hermann J. Wiemer vineyard wines we carry at Red Feet: Click on the links to find out more about each wine.
HJW Vineyard Riesling 2013 (they’ve omitted the word dry on these single vineyard labels now)
Magdalena Vineyard Riesling 2013
Cabernet Franc Magdalena Vineyard 2012
Wines we’re bringing into the store after this visit:
Sauvignon Blanc 2012 BA — a berenauslese style dessert wine picked berry by berry
Riesling Magdalena Vineyard 2012 BA — a single vineyard dessert wine reminiscent of nectar, honey, vanilla dessert pastry and baked apples
Field Cuvée 2012–a dry red blend which will be released in July or August
Look for these wines throughout our FLX section or online! Stay tuned for “A Visit to the Standard Bearers — PART 2″ on this blog.
Cheers, Dewi Rainey