Friday, July 26, 2013

Why I Am Angry at Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan - And Why I Love Red Tail Ridge

 First we start with a simple, unvarnished truth - I am confused about my feelings about  Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan. They are the owners of Red Tail Ridge, a husband and wife team, who are dedicated to producing great wine in the Finger Lakes. My first impulse is absolute envy and anger. My second impulse is sheer joy and excitement. Let me explain. The over riding thing is this: Something special is going on over at Red Tail Ridge. And this is where my confusion emanates from. I am so jealous of what they can do and who they are and what they stand for! I am angry that I don't live closer. And I am absolutely rapturous when I am in the company of a bottle of their wine!

Mike and Nancy moved to Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes of up-state New York around 2004 when they first purchased the 34 acre property. Mike moved east before Nancy and began the long process of clearing and preparing the land for vineyard development. The property was primarily woods and scrub trees, so he had his hands full. Says Nancy, "Mike is also one of the most meticulous and exacting viticulturists that I’ve ever worked with."
Nancy arrived in the Finger Lakes a few years later, leaving a large corporate California winery to start a new life with her husband. Nancy focuses on winemaking, sales and marketing. Says Nancy, "Once we harvest, I move my focus away from the vineyard and concentrate on the wine production process and eventually sales."
So let's get back to my anger. My anger emanates from sheer jealousy - Mike and Nancy seem to make no missteps. Everything they do is seemingly perfect. I mean everything. It's pissing me off! Whether it's the absolutely gorgeously manicured vines on their property, or their wines, or their freakin' stationery....everything is perfect. Everything is coordinated and professional. Not a hair out of place! They are buttoned down! Put together. Dressed to the nines. Done! One of the best in the region...and I'm not talking Finger Lakes - I'm talking east coast!
2012 Good Karma

Take for instance three recent Rieslings. Firstly there was Good Karma, a blend. Good Karma is their charity wine. Ten percent of the gross profit per bottle will be donated to regional food banks. Nancy and Mike are proud to support their regional food bank, Foodlink in Rochester, NY, and proceeds from there will assist in distributing funds from Good Karma to other food banks across the country.
This wine is a blend of 89% Estate Grown Riesling (harvested in October) and 11% unoaked Chardonnay (harvested in September) fermented in small lots of stainless steel. The result is a refreshing white wine. Limestone, pineapple, melon and lychee all come through as promised. Ripe pear and tropical notes. Nice minerality. Zippy acidity. Fantastic!
A few nights later I had the Red Tail Ridge 2012 Riesling Estate Grown which was harvested in October 2012. The original vines were planted in 2006-2007, clones 90 and 110. The yield was about 6 pounds per vine. Green apple and pears blended with tropical fruits, orange blossom, and citrus zest. Peach and minerality come through as well. Again, zippy acidity. A lovely, lovely Riesling. An absolutely wonderful wine.
The second wine I tasted alongside was the 2012 Semi-Sweet Riesling which was also Estate Grown, this one also stainless steel, but exclusively clone 90. This lovely wine had much bigger fruit notes. Honey dew, pineapple, cantelope and green apple explode out of the glass and across the palate. Pears too! Nice acidity helped to carry the sweetness without being cloying. There is no syrupy sweetness, but big fruit, and a delicious ending. Wonderful!
I've already raved and drooled over the very tasty and juicy over their Blaufrankish. Simply put, one of the best Lemberger/Blaufrankish east coast wines I have yet tasted, and certainly one of the versions of this wine that first turned my head.

And of course their Pinot Noir 2011 is amongst my favorite east coast Pinot Noirs. Dark cherry and cranberry and brown sugar and spice, along with hints of violet make this earthy estate Pinot Noir one of my absolute favorites. A nice bouncy acidity makes this burgundy-styled wine linger on the palate for a long, long time.

2009 Sparkling Rose’ is made using the traditional methode champenoise technique. Hand riddled and disgorged. 100% 2009 Pinot Noir. This is a Blanc de Noirs Cuvee made from 50% barrel aged Pinot (which was 100% malolactic aged) and 50% stainless with no maolactic and 15% of that barrel aged. Bread, apricot, strawberries and crème come through as promised. Citrus notes of orange and lime come through as well. A smooth, creamy finish with just enough acidity to make the fruit linger. Fantastic! 

Do they do anything wrong? Not that I am aware of. All I know is that the wine world is a better place because Mike and Nancy are making wine in it. And anything they produce deserves serious consideration, and more importantly, absolute enjoyment. Yes, I am still angry at Nancy and Mike. I am angry I don't live closer. And I am jealous of their absolute single-minded devotion to their craft and final product. And I am absolutely convinced that they were incredible craftsmen. They are undoubtedly one of the premiere producers of wine on the east coast, and that their wines are world class, and would be competitive in any market.