Archive for the ‘Winemaking’ Category

Is There a Great Divide Among Wine Producers in the Finger Lakes?

As I’ve come to understand more about the present state of the Finger Lakes wine industry, a few key topics seem to bubble up to the top consistently. One that I find to be important is the question of whether or not there is a divide or segmentation of the wine producers here based on the types of grapes being planted and produced by each winery.

The Finger Lakes wine industry has a history steeped in plantings of native varieties such as Concord and Catawba and some of its best-selling wines still reflect a significant demand for these wine varietals as well as for hybrids. It seems that there is a bit of a divide amongst those producers who are catering to this sweet wine-drinking consumer, in some ways the lifeblood of the region, and those who are throwing themselves into producing vinifera varietals such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Franc in a dry style that are attractive to a more sophisticated palate, for those wine geeks and foodies among us.

And I’ve seen wine lists at wineries that incorporate both sweet, native varietals and vinifera. Where is the future of the Finger Lakes in regards to native vs. vinifera? Do you feel a divide amongst producers with one side all for producing the sweeter style wines vs. those who are much more interested in perfecting their vinifera offerings? Will vinifera varietals continue to put the Finger Lakes “on the map” as a serious world-class wine producing region, overshadowing the image that clings to the region because of its history of producing sweet wines? I wonder if there should be a separation in marketing efforts for the two segments. Are the sweet wine-only producers dragging the vinifera producers down in terms of the perception of Finger Lakes Wine Country? Or is there some way to use the diversity of wine offerings available in the Finger Lakes to our advantage and tout the region as one that offers both ends of the spectrum, appealing to many types of wine palate?

Morgen McLaughlin, President of Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association, offered these observations on the topic, “I think the reason that many wineries still produce sweet wines is because they sell better in tasting rooms. The drier, vinifera wines do well with journalists, restaurants, retailers, and with certain consumers. The wineries in the Finger Lakes rely heavily on tasting room sales (over 80% of sales for many wineries) and at the end of the day the wineries need to stay in business. Even those producers who focus on dry-style vinifera wines have at least one “cash cow” wine. Maybe not always a native or hybrid blend, but something with residual sugar. Most people talk dry but drink sweet. Why do you think Kendall Jackson has sold so much Chardonnay. They added some residual sugar and saw their sales skyrocket.”

(Full disclosure: I work with Morgen and Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association on projects on a regular basis)


Interview Series: Finger Lakes Visionaries #3-Frederick Frank, President of Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars

I was recently honored with an invitation to the celebration of the release of Dr. Frank’s N90 Riesling Clone and had an opportunity to meet and share lunch with Frederick Frank, President of Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars. I found him to be gracious, down-to-earth and passionate about the future of the Finger Lakes wine industry.

Frederick, Willy and Dr. Konstantin Frank

Frederick, Willy and Dr. Konstantin Frank

Melissa Dobson: Tell me about how you selected the Finger Lakes region to pursue your passion for wine.

Frederick Frank: I spent many summers while in school working with my grandfather, Dr. Konstantin Frank. I enjoyed learning from him and realized at an early age that I wanted to continue the family winery. My father, Willy, took over the winery in 1984 from his father Konstantin who started the winery in 1962. Willy encouraged me to get a good education and experience before joining the winery full time. I received my B.S. from Cornell University School of Agriculture. After graduation I went to work for Banfi Vintners as a sales manager in New England. In 1982 I left Banfi to attend the Geisenheim School of Viticulture and Enology in Germany. I was then rehired by Banfi Vintners to be their Managing Director for Banfi Vineyards in Old Brookville, New York. In 1993 my father was hospitalized and asked me to return to Dr. Frank’s Winery as President. I have enjoyed working at Dr. Frank’s Winery and look forward to passing the reigns on to my son, Kyle, after he has completed his education and gained experience.

MD: If you could deliver a “State of the Finger Lakes Wine Region” speech today, which main points would you include?

FF: I have seen the Finger Lakes Wine Region experience many changes in the last 45 years.When my grandfather started the family winery in 1962 as an all Vinifera Winery he was laughed at and ridiculed by many industry and academic leaders. He was called ,”the crazy old doctor on the hill”. Today many of those industry leading wineries are no longer in business because they failed to adapt to changing consumer tastes demanding higher quality wines made from the Vinifera grapes. Recently the New York Wine & Grape Foundation hired the market research firm, Wine Opinions, to do a study on brand awareness among the 240 wineries in New York. The winery with the highest brand recognition among New York wineries was Dr. Konstantin Frank which was picked by 17% of the respondents. The winery that came in second had a 5% recognition rating. We have worked hard through three generations to increase the brand awareness of our winery and the Finger Lakes region. We have improved quality and increased production at the same time we have expanded distribution of our wines to over 30 states and several foreign countries.I believe the Finger Lakes Wine Region is becoming known as the best cool climate region in America. This gives us an advantage in producing wines from the Northern European grape varieties. Our cool climate then becomes an asset and allows us to compete among the best wines in America.

MD: Are you satisfied with the visibility and progress of the region? If yes, please explain why. If not, what are the strategies that you favor to raise awareness?

FF: We need to continue to work to improve the visibility and progress of the Finger Lakes region. This starts with wine quality and ends with wine marketing. Awareness for the Finger Lakes region will be improved by working together with all the wineries and attractions to promote the region.

MD: What are your greatest challenges in promoting your wine, both to consumers and to the trade?

FF: We need to continue to gain more recognition for our wines and the Finger Lakes region. We are a small region that has to gain more credibility by producing world class cool climate wines.

MD: What hopes and dreams do you have for the future of the Finger Lakes Wine Region?

FF: I believe the Finger Lakes Wine Region will continue to grow and gain more credibility as America’s best cool climate region. I am excited to see more of my fellow Finger Lakes vintners following Dr. Frank’s lead and planting Vinifera grapes. I want to thank you for your fine coverage of the Finger Lakes Wine Region.

Thank YOU, Frederick.

Interview Series: Finger Lakes Visionaries #2-Bob Madill, Winegrower at Sheldrake Point

Our Finger Lakes Visionaries interview series continues with insights from Bob Madill, Winegrower and General Manager at Sheldrake Point on Cayuga Lake, Vice Chairman of the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail and Chair of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance.

MD: Tell me about how you selected the Finger Lakes region to pursue your passion for wine.

BM: I began to visit the Finger Lakes in the early 90’s to attend the Geneva Wine Workshops. In 1996 Thomas Henick-Kling (Cornell Station) introduced me to Greg Sandor who was putting a group together to purchase the farm on Cayuga Lake that became Sheldrake Point Vineyard. I had been working in the wine industry in Canada and was looking for a suitable opportunity. After several visits and spending time looking over the property I joined the founding group and was able to secure our start up capital. Having traveled looked at opportunities elsewhere in the US and Canada I was struck by the beauty of the area and the opportunities to produce fine vinifera grapes and thereby fine wines in an area that had such wonderful tourism values. We secured the farm in Jan 2007 and planted our first five acres that year.

MD: If you could deliver a “State of the Finger Lakes Wine Region” speech today, which main points would you include?

BM: 1. Superb growing circumstances with Lake Ontario to the north, deep lake microclimates and well drained slopes facing east and west.

2. Consistent regional wine profiles that exhibit fresh fruits, liveliness, moderate alcohols, with world-class aromatic white wines – most particularly Riesling.

3. Terrific hospitality and very consumer friendly pricing.

MD: Are you satisfied with the visibility and progress of the region? If yes, please explain why. If not, what are the strategies that you favor to raise awareness?

BM: The Finger Lakes is gaining visibility on the strength of Riesling and aromatic white wines. As Chair of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and President of the Cayuga Wine Trail – we have been developing and offering media visitation and tasting programs, coordinated participation in national wine media evaluations and the expansion and enhancement of visitor facilities.

A comprehensive program of traveling tasting programs for consumers and media in major markets, modeled after the FLWA Riesling Summit in New York City would further energize interest and support for the Finger Lakes.

MD: What are your greatest challenges in promoting your wine, both to consumers and to the trade?

Consistent and stable funding for outreach programs such as those provided by national agencies in Germany, various French export groups, Italy and others.

MD: What hopes and dreams do you have for the future of the Finger Lakes Wine Region?

Continued growth in our visibility and recognition as a world-class region for wine growing and visitation leading to wider distribution of our wines directly to enthusiasts.

MD: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

An invitation to taste, visit and enjoy Finger Lakes wines and wineries!

Georg Riedel Charms and Educates a Group of Finger Lakes Wine Lovers

Last Friday, I was honored with an invitation by Christina Chely of the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association, Inc. to attend a recent Riedel Glass Workshop with 10th generation glassmaker and owner of Riedel Crystal, Georg Riedel, for a comparative wine glass tasting that included three world class Finger Lakes Rieslings. As you can see from the clip, Mr. Riedel is charming and funny and was quick to share his thoughts on the Finger Lakes Wine Region and his affection for it and the people found here. He told our group that he came to the Finger Lakes for the first time in March of this year and fell in love with the people and the region and considers the Finger Lakes an emerging wine region.

Although there were many skeptics as to the importance of a wine glass to wine enjoyment, the attendees I spoke to at the event were convinced of the subtle enhancements of distinct characteristics of the wines we tasted by glasses of different shapes and sizes. Among the key points that Mr. Riedel taught us, he emphasized that when buying wine glasses, you should never buy them on aesthetics alone. He insists that you taste wine with them first.

As Georg walked us through the tasting, some glasses brought out a wine’s minerality, bitter components, acidity, warmth, fruit and complexity. We were asked to vote on our favorite glasses for each of three Finger Lakes Rieslings from Knapp Winery, Glenora Wine Cellars and Sheldrake Point Vineyard in a horizontal tasting, meaning that the same wine was tasted from seven different Riedel glasses and then the next wine was tasted across all seven glasses.

The result was that there were two distinct favorites, the #454/05 and #446/15 for the Rieslings that we tasted. But more than the educational aspect of enhancing wine appreciation via Riedel glassware, I came away with something else…a connection to Georg and his company. He was rather humble in his presentation and quick to jump in with questions to winemakers as they explained some of the complexities of the winemaking process, ever mindful of the newbies among us. Georg was hands-on and poured wine before the event, assisting his staff and taking pains to assure that the wines were ready for the event and not corked. He was quick-witted, inviting and warm in his presentation and his passion for his family’s famous glasses was palpable and much-appreciated.

“Big Business” Wines Are Proper and Have No Soul

I was recently inspired by the Sauvignon Blanc episode of Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course on DVD. During the lesson, Jancis traveled to the Loire Valley in France and spoke to its rebel winemaker, Didier Daugeneau “The Wild Man of Pouilly-Fume.”

The things that struck me so much about this interview were these key points that Didier made to Jancis:

Big business wines are proper and have no soul. They are technically correct and well-made, but have no heart, no terroir, no identity.

Wine is more than a drink, when you want pleasure, you drink wine. I make wine to give people pleasure. To me, wine is art and an expression of the artist.

Yes! One of the most attractive things about exploring new wines and regions of my favorite varietals is the excitement of experiencing the winemakers’ individual expressions of it. I am now beginning to understand that the corporate, accessible wines that were a majority of the wines I purchased in the past are drinkable in most cases, but lack the hand-crafted and loving individual elements that I am coming to appreciate and seek out now that I understand how much more soulful and gratifying these wines are.

Have you had a similar breakthrough in your wine appreciation?

PS-Thank you to wine educator Kathleen Lisson for the recommendation of Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course on her blog.