Sunday, February 24, 2013

Wagner Meritage 2010 - An Achievement (NY)

One of the things about this business that’s kind of fun is meeting all the individuals you come across when working in it. You meet mavericks, scions, dabblers, perfectionists, etc. And of course there are dynasties. And that’s where Wagner Vineyard comes in.
Four generations of the Wagner family have grown grapes in the deep glacial soils on the eastern slope of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. This heritage of grape growing has provided them with an intimate connection to the land. Since 1978, they have been making wine, and today they cultivate 250 acres of grapes and produce 50,000 cases of wine per year.
Wagner Vineyards was founded in Lodi, New York, by Bill Wagner, a lifelong resident of the area and grape grower for over fifty years. Bill began plans for his estate winery soon after passage of the Farm Winery Act in 1976. Construction of the distinctive eight-sided building, Bill's own design, was completed and the winery opened its doors in June of 1979. It rapidly developed into a major attraction in the Finger Lakes region and hosts over 100,000 visitors each year.
Wagner is unique in that it is also home to a brewing operation – Wagner Brewing Co was launched in 1997 and provides our beer loving patrons with a variety of award-winning craft-brewed beers to taste while visiting. Six standard brews are complemented by a variety of seasonal specialties.
Over the years Wagner has grown into a major label in the Finger Lakes in terms of quantity and quality. And with wine and beer at the same facility, it’s always a fun visit, and one of the most popular in all the Finger Lakes!

One of the unique things, the secret weapon, if you will, of Wagner, is the winemaking team of Joh Herbert and Ann Raffetto. They are two incredibly accomplished winemakers, and also two of the nicest people you will ever meet! They do an incredible job for Wagner making great wines with a wide variety of grapes….everything from Niagara and Melody and Delaware, to sparkling, to blush, to Cabernet Sauvignon. And they do a terrific job with every style. They are amazing!

John Herbert: “I received a home winemaking kit from my grandmother for my 21st birthday. I was living in Philadelphia at the time, and the following year, I made a batch of Zinfandel from grapes I bought at the Italian Market in South Philly. That was when I knew I wanted to be a winemaker. Shortly after this, a friend introduced me to the Finger Lakes region. When my wife, Susan, and I saw this area, with all the grapes and wine, we decided to move up here and find work. The center of the wine industry was in Hammondsport at the time, and the industry was in decline. I got a job working for a construction company, and as luck would have it, we got a job building a shop for Bill Wagner. As Bill and I became acquainted, we discovered our mutual interest in winemaking. Bill hired me in 1975, and I started to work in the vineyards and helped build the winery. I was working as assistant winemaker in 1982 when then winemaker Chris Johnson elected to return to California. Bill offered me the job of winemaker, but I didn’t feel I was quite ready to take on the job alone. The next week, Ann Raffetto walked into the winery looking for a job. She had a degree in Fermentation Science from UC Davis. Our backgrounds were complementary, and Ann said let’s work together and make some great wine. We have been doing that for the last 27 years.”

Ann Raffetto: “I was born and raised in California, where I attended the University of California at Davis and earned my degree in Fermentation Science (now called Enology) in 1981. Following graduation I wanted to work in an emerging wine region outside of California and fell in love with the Finger Lakes region. I found the natural beauty, the changing seasons and the region’s outdoor and lake activities appealing. I have been at Wagner’s since 1983. Other wineries I have worked for include Glenora, Herman Weimer, Columbia Winery in Washington and Adelsheim Vineyards in Oregon.”

That brings me to my point, the Wagner Vineyards Meritage 2010. Now, I cannot lie. I have had some very nice wines fromWagner, but I didn’t remember the Meritage. I wasn’t sure of what to make of it. Rieslings and chardonnays, and Cabernet Franc, yes, I had seen and tasted, but not the Meritage. It’s important to know, they bottle a Meritage blend only in exceptional years -- prior bottlings were in 2001 and 2007. But I remembered John and Ann, and thought, OK, let’s go with it. And I was thrilled with their results.
The 2010 Wagner Meritage is a Bordeaux-styled blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc. Fermented on skins until dry followed by malolactic fermentation. Individual varieties barrel were aged in American oak for 11 months prior to blending and bottling. They made approximately 998 cases, according to their notes.

The nose is a powerful big bowl of stewed dark berries, blueberries, blackberry, dark raspberry and cherries. There are whiffs of vanilla, spices, and mocha, and dark chocolate. On the palate the dark cherries, blackberries and raspberries come through with hints of dark chocolate and cassis. Incredible. The acidity is high enough that it makes for a great balance, and the tannins are present enough, but not over powering. The wine is very well balanced. It’s absolutely beautiful! Elegant, strong, and lean!

A nice wine you can buy and drink or cellar for a nice long time 5-10 year without question.

Congrats John and Ann!