Sunday, July 20, 2014

Peter Becraft - A New Artist in Residence at Anthony Road

I will never forget the first time I met Peter Becraft. Neither of us was in the wine business when we met. We met on Long Island. That's where it all seemed to start.
We (Dominique and myself) met Peter and Cary Becraft at Wine Camp which was being held in the North Fork. We stayed for three nights and four days. We planted vines. We did our own blending trials at Lenz (we were on the same team) and we were at the same dinner table with Marco and Ann Marie de Borghese, and in general we had a ball together. And we tasted a lot of North Fork wines. They loved the Atlanta Braves and we were Yankees fans so there was some jawing going back and forth. A great time was had by all. 

But something funny happened on the way to wine-dom. Peter was bitten by the bug. By 2006 Peter was working in the cellar at Anthony Road. A cellar rat. For the first few years he moved back and forth between the vineyard and the cellar, learning the craft of winemaking. He saw the fruit mature and go through it's stages, and he husbanded the wines in the wine cellars. Whatever it took. By 2008 he had worked his way up to associate winemaker. 

Peter toiled under the tutelage of Johannes Reinhardt, the dashing, captivating, star winemaker of Anthony Road for many years, whose career seems set totally on "ascend", and who was one of the featured characters in Evan Dawson's SUMMER IN A GLASS, a world wide wine hit!

Johannes Reinhardt, a German native, was born in the little village of Franconia, 80 miles east of Frankfort. Johannes grew up in a family that has been in the wine business since 1438. He has been in the vineyards and wine cellars all his life and his attraction to wines and winemaking began at a very early age. He joined Anthony Road in 2000.

Johannes issued forth a string wines at Anthony Road that scored high-80s and low-90s, and brought prestige not only to his house, but to the region. It was not unusual to see Johannes and Peter deep in conversation. Whether walking a trade show together or at a viticulture or winemaking conference, the two could be seen stepping at a lively pace, like two physicists discussing some exciting new theory. Reinhardt is now starting his own winery, Kemmeter, and so the transition between a legend and his understudy began. That said, and as happy as I am for Peter, there is no denying that Johannes' shadow casts tall and long over the winery he brought such fame to. It will take a string of many more successful vintages before Peter will finally emerge on his won. That said, I do not think he could have been better prepared. He could not have found a better teacher. And of course, Johannes is not really going anywhere. He will remain a consultant with Anthony Road, while situated across the street at his own winery. It is the best of both worlds for owners John and Ann Martini.
With an education in Fine Arts and an incarnation as a casting director for a fashion photographer in New York City, it was only natural that Peter would end up becoming a wine maker in the Finger Lakes! Peter was bitten by the proverbial wine bug and found his life moving quickly in a new direction. A chance encounter with winemaker Johannes Reinhardt in the Anthony Road tasting room on a slow day in May of 2006 led to a cellar visit.

Peter attributes the special tour to his feisty chocolatier wife Cary who boldly asked Johannes what they had to do to get a barrel tasting. The afternoon was spent with talk of German and Austrian wines and free samples of CaryMo Chocolate. As Johannes was walking to the car with the couple he happened to mention that he is always looking for help during harvest. Cary jumped at the opportunity and volunteered her husband! You have to know Cary. Is is one of the most charming characters you will ever meet. A lovely, lovely woman, who makes everyone feel comfortable and who is a power in her own right as a supreme chocolatier. Peter was perhaps too elated to even speak but numbers were exchanged and Peter started that fall and stayed on splitting time between the vineyard and cellar.
Over the years we kept in touch but life got in the way. Jobs, kids, I would see Peter occasionally at a trade show here or there. We'd chat for a minute, but both eager to complete the tasks we were both there to perform in a limited time. Or I would see Cary at the Finger Lakes wine festival.
It is important to know something about Anthony Road. It is a family affair, owned by Ann and John Martini. Ann grew up in Rochester, New York and the New York City suburbs of New Jersey; John grew up in the same New Jersey suburbs. After working in teaching (Ann) and Peace Corps and business (John), they moved to Yates County in 1973 to grow grapes and raise their family on 100 acres overlooking Seneca Lake.

Ann managed the vineyard and raised the children, while John worked for Cornell University at the Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York. The grapes from their vineyards were first sold to the Taylor Wine Company and eventually to wineries across New York State. In 1990, Ann and John Martini opened Anthony Road Wine Company with wines made from the 1989 crop. They built it up from nothing. And now they are a fixture at the Union Square Greenmarket (where John himself goes almost every Saturday, still), and they are one of the premiere wineries in the Finger Lakes.

 Their children, Peter, Sarah, Maeve and Elizabeth, have been involved in the vineyard and winery throughout their growing years and beyond. Peter, is the vineyard manager at Martini Vineyards.
Peter Martini grew up on the family farm, working in the vineyards from a young age. He graduated from Clarkson University in 1990 with a BS degree in business management and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the summer season. He returned nine years later. After working for a year in the vineyards Peter was given the responsibility for managing the vineyard operation for Anthony Road. Recent plantings of Cabernet Franc, Lemberger and Pinot Noir have been added to the existing Riesling and Vignoles acreage. Beginning in 2002, Peter started managing Anthony Road's joint project with the Young family of California and planting the first section of the new vineyard on Nutt Road.

So, it was a big deal when John and Ann released a statement elevating Peter to head winemaker a couple of months ago. "We are pleased to have Peter with us here at Anthony Road, and we are confident he will continue to produce the quality wines as he has working with Johannes for the past six years," Martini said in a statement. "His appreciation for style and quality is evident and reflected in the wines he has made here."

I could not be happier for Peter. he's a nice guy, well liked. He's chatty and extremely well informed. And he loves to talk wine. You can get really geeky with Peter and he never seems to lose his sense of excitement. There is nothing that seems to distract him from his thinking process. Even watching him taste his own wines. he is constantly evaluating, questioning, reassessing the final product. In any wine, there are a thousand small decisions. Thinking about what you can do differently, at each step, and how it might affect the wine, is very much what Peter it is all about. That's the sign of a winemaker who has good background and a good understanding of his job and a love for it.



 "Finding my voice as a winemaker in a region that is coming into its own has been a privilege. My mission is to respect the quality of our fruit and make finished wines that speak of the vintage and our unique site. I feel that winemaking presents a lifetime of learning in that each vintage is so variable for year to year that there is never time for complacency. The opportunity to become Head Winemaker and continue to make the world class wines that Anthony Road and Johannes have established is a dream, so please don't wake me!"
I had not been to Anthony Road in some time. And so, while it was fun to go see Peter in his newly ensconced position, it also gave me an opportunity to revisit Anthony Road, whose wines I had not been able to try in some time.

That said, it was time to focus on the wines. The first wine we tasted was the Anthony Road Pinot Noir 2012. This a lovely, light-to-medium bodied red, with big whiffs of cherry, vanilla, and mocha. A nice hint of spice. It was a delicate Pinot Noir. So elegant and pretty. Absolutely lovely!

The next wine was the Anthony Road Merlot 2012. There as something important here as well. This exhibited the newest labels from Anthony Road. On the way out are the more staid labels of the above Pinot noir. These new labels are a significant step in the maturation of Anthony Road. These labels aren't abut singling them out in the finger Lakes, but to be more visible in the wine shops throughout the country. These are labels meant to compete on shelves with wines from Germany, California, France, and Italy and Spain and so forth. These will stand out nicely in the local shops, yes, but they are meant to be a new identity as Anthony Road takes on a new challenge - the world market. 
The Merlot 2012 was an impressive wine. A nice mixture of cherry with hints of raspberry and cassis, this medium-bodied red was a very nice, complex wine with hints of vanilla and spice, as well as a lovely balance between the acidity and tannin. Very good structure. This wine made us all want to go out to dinner immediately! An incredible red, and one of my new favorite reds in the Finger Lakes. 

Let me say, firstly, as I told Peter before he poured, that I am not a huge Lemberger/Cab Franc fan. Never have been. And I hate the name Lemberger...ugh! That said, this wine, (55% Lemberger and 45% Cabernet Franc) from 2012 was a pleasant surprise. It had all the medium-and-dark cherry you could want, with hints of raspberry and nice spice. A lovely, medium bodied red wine with lots of beautiful complexity. Not usually my bag, as stated, but a very nice version of the varietal blend becoming so popular in the Finger Lakes.  

I will be blunt. I have never really thought of Anthony Road as a red producer. Years ago they put out Devonian Red, which I thought was among the better reds in the region at the time. And now they are so well known for their whites. But this small flight of reds was top notch and shows yet another of heir leaps forward in the maturation of this fine, fine wine house.

I cannot lie, the real exciting part of this tasting was just beginning. Peter insisted we go backwards, normally starting white to reds, he had said let's start with the reds and work our way that way. And it was absolutely the right call. The next wine was Rose of Cabernet Franc 2013. This was spectacular. Nice bursts of fresh strawberry and light, bright cherry, there were whiffs of mineral, lime, citrus, and tropical fruits. A zesty, bright, light, refreshing wine. Everything you want a bright Cab Franc rose' to be. Fantastic!!!

The Pinot Gris 2013 was another wine that blew me away. The nose exploded with Bosc pear, melon, tangerine, honey and pineapple as promised. Lovely tropical fruits, melon, orange zest, and a nice minerality also come through. Elegant in balance, lovely, zesty acidity with great balance.   The structure of this wine delicate yet vibrant with lingering sweet fruit notes and a mineral exit. A fantastic wine!! Beautiful!

Now, let me say, I love dry Riesling, so the best of the list here is based mainly on my own prejudices. Let me counter balance this by saying, this is where Johannes excels. The Riesling Dry 2013 is a spectacular achievement. This is a big, big bite of juicy Granny Smith apple, with hints of pear, melon, lychee, and other tropical fruits. A fabulous citrusy ending makes this wine an incredible achievement. The mouth is left puckering, and wanting for more. A wine worthy of the world stage. Impeccable.  

The winery notes for the Riesling Art 2011 say, "Aromas of lime zest, candied lemon and wet stone with lemon zest, tangerine and green apple on the palate." They could not be more on target. A lovely, balanced wine. Very impressive. Note that the wine label is by Ann Martini herself!

Next in the tasting was an incredible treat, the Semi-Dry Riesling 2008! The one thing I have always experienced is that the semi-dry Rieslings seem to age the best -  in my opinion. I am not sure why I find that is so. This one was no exception, but rather, re-enforced that opinion and experience. This was a beautiful wine with a complexity and elegance that one really only expects from Alsatian version of such wines. Gorgeous apples and pears were rich and thick. Hints of apricot and honey were also right up front. But this was not super-sweet. It was incredibly well balanced. An absolute stunner. I love tasting older wines, because it tells you something about the quality of what you are about to taste. What you are about to buy. And Anthony Road makes wines that will age.
 Vignoles. Where does one begin? According to Wikipedia: "Vignoles is a complex hybrid wine grape variety that was developed by J.F. Ravat originally named Ravat 51. According to Ravat, "Ravat 51" was the result of a cross made in 1930 using the complex hybrid wine grape Seibel 6905 (also known as Le Subereux) and a clone of Pinot Noir known as Pinot de corton. Originally named "Vignoles" by the Finger Lakes Wine Growers Association in 1970, genetic testing has recently proved that Vignoles does not share any major genetic markers in common with Seibel 6905 or Pinot Noir. Thus, Vignoles is unrelated to the "Ravat 51" grapevine that was imported into the USA in 1949 and the parentage of Vignoles is currently unknown. Vignoles is often prized for its ability to produce balanced and fruity late-harvest style sweet white wines, including ice wine, although Vignoles is also used to produce fruity dry and off-dry white wines as well."
All that said, Vignoles exhibits none of the foxiness that one associates with hybrids. Instead, as Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report likes to chide, calling it an "honorary vinifera." In my opinion, it deserves such a place, especially of you are tasting Anthony Road's version of the varietal wines form this grape. We tasted the 2012 and the 2013. Both were absolutely mouth watering.
The Vignoles 2012 was a beautiful, complex wine with apples and pears mixed with hints of honey and apricot. Good balance, and well constructed. On the other hand, the Vignoles 2013 had a hint more acidity that I thought made it just slightly more desirable in my opinion. This differentiation was slight, as I bough a bottle of each.
Here's another image to show the difference between the two labels.

Previous editions of this wine had scored as high as 90 Points from Wine Enthusiast! This is a late harvest wine, with incredible flavor and complexity. Apples, pears, apricots, honey and hints of honeysuckle comes across in this gorgeous, unctuous wine that is like liquid gold. While it is very sweet (duh, a dessert wine) it never tips the scale of cloying. Instead, the wine had a wonderful sense of balance and finds it's center pinned down by it's incredible acidity. It keeps the wine sweet (8.2% residual sugar) but honest. An absolutely incredible, ethereal experience.
Next on the tasting was the Martini Reinhardt Selection 2012. This wine was made from select vineyard block

This Martini Reinhardt Selection Vignoles Trockenbeeren 2008 was spectacular!! At 25% or more Residua Sugar, this wine was as sweet and unctuous as any other I have ever tried. And as absolutely beautiful. I found it utterly disappointing to have this at the end of our tasting, because what I really wanted was a loaf of bread, some cheese, and maybe some figs or dried fruits to sit there and just drink this bottle with that, and call it a day! Meyer Lemon and pear, as the tasting notes promise, come screaming through! But there are also honey, apricots, honeysuckle, and other wonderful flavors. Amazing! Impressive. There are not enough superlatives to throw at this wine! Again, another link in the chain of amazing wines Anthony Road has produced in the last six years, and another huge mile marker in Anthony Road's ascension to top quality wine producer.

And in the meantime, I am thrilled for my friend Peter Becraft, who is in the right place, at the right time, with the right background, to succeed in this great next new adventure. He is an artist following an artist. It has all the promise one could want. And congrats to both Johannes on these wines and on his future vintages, and to John and Ann. A fantastic line up of wines!!!

Read the piece I wrote about the wine camp four years later...I still wasn't in the wine business yet...LOL: