Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Keuka Lake Vineyards Leon Millot 2010 an Historic Wine!!

Keuka Lake Vineyards is a small farmstead estate winery that from estate controlled vineyards that are situated on the southern slopes of Keuka Lake, the Y-shaped crooked lake, in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. They sell the majority of their grapes each year to other producers, while designating particular varieties and vineyards for their own use.

Keuka Lake Vineyards specializes in wonderful Riesling and Vignoles but they are also trying their hand at producing wines with special finesse from hybrid grape varieties. One such "experiment" as they refer to with their hybrid program is Leon Millot.

The winemaker here is of great import, especially because it is made by Ian Barry. Ian has a great resume. He started at Heron Hill where he was the Assistant Winemaker from the spring of 2003 until the fall of 2006. In 2006 he joined the team at Swedish Hill and was soon promoted to Head Winemaker, collecting many high ratings, gold medals and “Best of Show” awards for his wines, most notably earning the winery the coveted “Governor’s Cup” at the New York Wine and Food Classic in two out of his four years in that position.

In 2010 Ian went to the smaller Keuka Lake Vineyards to replace retiring winemaker and good friend Staci Nugent. Staci entered the wine program at the University of California at Davis and received her Master’s degree in Viticulture and Enology. She worked consecutive harvests at Ornellaia in Italy, Hardy’s Tintara Winery in South Australia, and Williams Selyem in Sonoma, California. Then, in 2008, Staci was winemaker at Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars. She developed an incredible track record of successes while at Keuka Lake.

Ian met his wife Tricia in the spring of 2005, just a week after she had relocated to the Finger Lakes from San Francisco. They were married in July 2007 and their son Declan was born in June of 2009.

This wine is actually a product of a superstar combination. Which of course make it all that much more exciting. Staci made the first part of the wine. She crushed it, she fermented it, and pressed it. Ian finished the wine. He oversaw it's life in the barrel, committed to the blend, and bottled it.

Together with vineyard manager/owner Mel Goldman, Ian an the team decided to set themselves a challenge...make a world class wine from a red hybrid.

The Fournier vineyard is umbrella trellised and consists of 70% Boordy and 30% Foster clones. This is an historic vineyard. The densely planted vineyard is located on the east side of Keuka Lake and is named after the legendary Charles Fournier, an early vinifera pioneer in the Finger Lakes. Fournier planted their Leon Millot over fifty years ago on a site he considered ideal for growing grapes.

Fournier was a legendary figure. French born and raised, Fournier nonetheless had the immense forsight to see the benefits of both the French noble grapes as well as those of hybrids. And Fournier was the only man able to work with both Konstantin Frank and Philip Wagner (the two champions of vinifera and hybrids, respectively, and who hated one another), and have successes with both. The Leon Millott vines Wagner sold to Fournier were of tremendous quality. And let's face it, these are old vines! From the man who made hybrids popular in America.

Exactly four tons of fruit was machine harvested, crushed, and fermented in small 1-ton bins. Over the seven-day fermentation, the cap was punched down by hand twice daily to achieve gentle extraction of flavor and tannin. The wine completed malolactic fermentation in eleven barrels followed by seven months aging in neutral oak with weekly lees stirring to enhance mouthfeel.

This is a big, inky dark dry red wine. The color is purple. Lots of soft, dark plum and blackberry as promised with a dollop of cassis, and a hint of vanilla. It's aged in older oak, for that hint of vanilla. This is an incredible wine. Way too young, you could age this another 10 years minimum! Fantastic!

2011 New York Wine & Food Classic competition named this Best Red Wine, so I was intrigued on that point. I felt especially impressed because this wine carries so much history and weight....and yes, baggage.

Hybrids, especially reds, are the redheaded stepchild of the wine world. Many critics will publicly disparage them. Also, they are treated as the bastards of the wine world, not among the noble grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, or a host of other well know red wines. Of course, that exactly right there, is why I love them. Am I a contrarian? Possibly, but I'd like to think I'm a little more open to experiences than some others.

Regardless, this wine, whether it likes it or not, is a new standard bearer for all those looking at growing hybrid reds. Leon Millott. Chambourcin. Chancellor. Baco Noir. These are all good, viable reds grapes.

Since Konstantin Frank first proved that vinifera could be grown on the east coast, there has been a wave of winemakers pushing the envelope on vinifera wines (more power to them). And of course, the disparragement of hybrids has continued. This wine, and this win, is a stopping of the pendulum in it's wild swing towards hybrid ridicule, and suddenly shines a kind light on Philips Wagners' forgotten legacy.

Philip Wagner

That's a lot of weight for any wine to carry. That's a lot of history of one winemaker. But this one had big enough shoulders. This one can carry the legacy, no problem. And Staci and Ian are accomplished enough to make it stick. Fantastic!