Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What's In a Name? Ask William Heritage Vineyards: New Name, Terrific Wine, DC Post Approves

I have been writing about Heritage Vineyards for some time now. Since 2010. Event wrote a feature about them for Edible Jersey magazine. And every time I taste them again, the wines just keep getting better.

Two recent tastings confirmed this for me. In May, Paul Vigna gathered winemakers and media types to Pennsylvania for a tasting of some of the Mid-Atlantic's best wineries. The results were impressive. 

Amng the dignitaries was Dave McIntyre, of the Washington Post, who wrote, "Gather winemakers from 12 wineries in five states along with a few wine writers to taste through two dozen wines and — well, it’s not exactly a party. But I can say that it’s a lot of fun, and it’s educational.

The scene was the barrel room at Waltz Vineyards, in Lancaster County, Pa., where Jan and Kim Waltz enjoy hosting such events. I first visited Waltz six years ago for a similar seminar in which East Coast vintners learned viticulture tips from a leading grape grower and a winemaker from California. My second visit, in early April this year, was for eastern vintners to share their wines and compare notes. It was organized by Paul Vigna, who writes about wine for and has become a leading voice on Maryland and Pennsylvania wines.

Participating were one winery from Virginia (Keswick); four from Maryland (Black Ankle, Boordy, Crow and Old Westminster); four from Pennsylvania (Allegro, Galen Glen, Penns Woods and Waltz); two from New Jersey (Heritage and Unionville); and one from New York (Paumanok). Aside from Vigna and myself, journalists included bloggers David Falchek and Carlo DeVito, and Linda Jones McKee of Wines & Vines magazine. The event was moderated by Joe Fiola, a viticulturist with the University of Maryland, and professor/agricultural agent Gary Pavlis of Rutgers University.

Vigna asked each of the participating winemakers to bring two wines. I expected a bunch of red blends and chardonnays, and there were plenty of both. But I was thrilled to experience a much wider and more exciting variety. The tasting was bookended by two scintillating sparkling wines that bowled me over.

Among the first wines we had were Bill Heritage's sparkling wine. As McIntyre wrote: "The first was a 2014 brut made in the champagne method from chardonnay and pinot noir from Heritage Vineyards in New Jersey. Winemaker Sean Comninos explained that he wanted to make dry chardonnay and pinot noir, but the grapes weren’t ripening. So he decided to make bubbly, which uses grapes picked considerably earlier and less ripe than dry table wines. The result was fantastic."

Yes, it was. The sparkling wine was superb. I got apples, pears, pineapple, with a big dose of bread and dough, and a lovely, creamy finish! 

But almost more notable was the new look! With the giant WH emblazoned on the label, there was suddenly a sea change going on at Heritage. This new wine signaled another new benchmark for one of the mid-Atlantic's rising wine stars.

When recently queried about it it seems another winery has already trademarked the word "Heritage." Despite being Bill's surname, that's not good enough in the world of trade marks (just ask Walter S. Taylor of Taylor Wines/Bully Hill fame). So,over the last 18-24 months Heritage has slowly been fazing out it's older labels, and releasing wines with a new look. This sparkling wine was the first to bear he new design this past May. Since then, especially with their late summer and fall releases, William Heritage (their new brand statement) is slowly moving toward creating a higher and better brand and product (if that was possible). It actually works out well for them.

According to Tina Morey, Owner-operator Certified Sommelier at Winestudio, "Heritage, obviously, is their last name but they couldn't trademark heritage because it's a used word. So, over the last 3 years they've begun trademarking William Heritage which makes sense because they are 7 generations of William Heritage."

We also tasted the Heritage Cabernet Franc Norman's Vineyard 2013 Outer Coastal Plain Limited Edition. Cabernet Franc, in the wrong hands, can be a deadly affair. But not so at William Heritage Vineyards. This was a big, dark cherry bomb of a wine, with hints of mocha and cedar and pekoe tea, and small doses of cranberry and vanilla. An amazing beautiful dry red wine fit for any table, good enough to shine in any region!  (above is an example of the old labels).

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Recent tasting of the sparkling and another wines from William Heritage showing the new logo and label design. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Lang Wideman)

The scene waiting for its stars off stage.

Wine writers Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post and David Falcheck of Pennsylvania.

No matter what! Tray a William Heritage wine. They are amazing, and you will no be dissappointed!

Here's a link to the Washington Post story:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Shelburne Vineyard Makes a Quality Statement!! (VT)

There is no one more excited about great wine than Ethan Joseph, head winemaker at Shelburne Vineyards. Just ask him about his Marquette(s).

Ken Albert, Sam Coppola, and Scott Prom are all partners in Shelburne Vineyards. They have an absolute passion to make great red wines, not just good for their region, but wines that compete with any region in the world. While Vermont might still be a few players away from a championship, as we like to say in sports, it certainly seems that have many of the key parts to make a very good run at the gold. For Shelburne, it starts with the head winemaker, Ethan Joseph!

I have visited Shelburne Vineyards for many years, and their in no question, that in the last four and five years, Shelburne Vineyards has upped their game substantially. I spent time with them at Eastern Wineries Exposition as well as at Taste Camp Vermont in 2016.

Shelbourne grows lots of Marquette. The place is surrounded by the grape. And good thing. Because they do a great job with it. It's fast becoming the premiere red grape in Vermont, and rightly so.

Whether at Taste Camp or at EWE, there is no one more fun to hang with than Ethan. According to his winery bio, "Ethan has been growing grapes and making wine at Shelburne Vineyard since 2008. He is responsible for all aspects of production, from vineyard to glass, and appreciates this integral role in the full cycle of winegrowing. As such, he is committed to highlighting the potential of northern varietals through sound viticulture and premium winemaking. Most recently, Ethan has developed a sub-brand for SV called Iapetus, which represents wines with a strong sense of place and applies minimalism in the winery. Ethan also shares his experience and expertise as a speaker at national conferences and serves as Treasurer for the Vermont Grape and Wine Council."

According to the website, "It all started 35 years ago when Ken Albert planted grapes in his backyard while working as an engineer at IBM.  Inspired by the new wine industry he discovered on trips for IBM to Quebec, he leased 3 acres of land from Shelburne farms and began his commercial vineyard venture believing that viticulture and winemaking could be a success in Vermont. Scott Prom a Shelburne neighbor (still working at his “day job” as a mechanical engineer) joined as a partner early on....the first commercial vintage was released in 2000."

"When Ken, his wife Gail, his brother Bill, and Scott tasted the wine from the new cold-hardy Minnesotan hybrid Marquette, they made the decision to purchase the land that is now their customer friendly flagship site. Their LEED-designed winery, opened in Feb 2008 surrounded by Marquette vines now stands welcoming the public seven days a week.  Sam Coppola, an attorney by profession, joined the partnership in 2013. The operation now includes of 17 acres of grapes, mostly the super hardy Minnesota hybrids, with a small planting of Riesling and Vidal Blanc."

With Ethan I have tasted numerous bottlings of his wines. Above are the Marquette Untamed, the classic Shelburne Marquette, and the Shelburne Crimson Sails. I love this wine. Crimson Sails is their first bottling of a totally non-oak-aged Marquette. It's very fruit forward. According to the winery, "After a rainy 2015 spring, things suddenly changed in mid-July. Constant sun right through harvest time yielded, truly, some very excellent fruit." This wine, aged only in stainless steel is very fruit forward, with blueberries, and mixed red cherries, hint of cassis and strawberry, with nice tannins and well balanced acidity. A superb drinking wine perfect for cheese courses, roast chicken, or pork chops. Fabulous with cheese. I love this wine. (apologies for the blurry pic!)

Web Iccon Marquette 2016.jpeg

Shelburne Marquette is the classic edition of this wine. You may be familiar with their older label, but the newest edition of this classic style from Shelburne is now sold in this new packaging. I have been drinking their Marquette since they first started offering it. The 2015 vintage was aged sur-lie for 8 months in both hybrid French-American, and Hungarian oak barrels. Ethan likes Hungarian oak for Marquette. The tasting notes that the "aroma hints at ripe dark berries with undertones of vanilla and coconut. The wine is robust and rich with notes of black cherries and baking spices with a medium to full body, soft tannins and a complex, lingering finish." I couldn't agree more. I think there' also hints of cassis and cocoa. This is a beautiful wine that begs for lamb or pork or chicken. Game would be perfect, anywhere from duck to venison, to wild turkey. An amazing wine. A solid, go to wine, no matter what region you are from.

The Shelburne Marquette Reserve 2013 was a revelation. This Marquette was aged sur lie — that is, on its spent yeasts and aged approximately a year and a half in oak. This dark purple wine, tinged with red, was jammy with bright and dark cherries, with a big slap of cocoa, some nice spice, vanilla, and good acidity. To me easily the best of the bunch. A classic wine that shows immense, immense promise. If not quite on par with the likes of the top growths from Bordeaux, it nonetheless, it stands proudly on its own merits. An wonderful wine deserving of attention and accolades, as well as a spot on your table, and a few slots in your cellar. Shelburne has been looking to make a statement, and no question, they have. You need to drink Shelburne!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Big Blends Continue to Make An Impact In Cool Climate Regions - Consumers: Try One; Winemakers:Make One!

Frank Schoonmaker insisted on varietal wine names in order to help establish an identity for American wine, instead of the horrid bastardizations he saw in California and elsewhere, such as California Burgudy and New York State Champagne. He insisted we call it Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, or sparkling wine. And he was right. He was incredibly influential, and helped turn the tide of American wine forever. 

But I think this also had a deleterious effect. American winemakers have chased the varietal wine down the proverbial rabbit hole, to the point we'd rather make a bad Cabernet Franc or Merlot rather than make a good blend. I think this practice has to stop. I think each winemaker, especially in the east, need to start adding one or two red blends to their arsenal - and I am not talking about that sweet crap, as so many do! Make a decen red blend. It will out perform your bestselling red for sure. That's not to say your can't make varietal reds, but your sales will improve and your customers will be happier if you add one or two solid red blends to your lineup!

At EWE 2017 back in March, Richard Leahy assembled a killer panel on red blends. Here was the entry from the program.

EV01 | Crafting Fine Red Blends in Cool Climates
Vinny Aliperti, Peter Becraft, JL Groux and Luke Steele
This in-depth session will feature four speakers from cool climate sites: J.L. Groux of Stratus Vineyards, ON; Luke Steele of Dr. Frank Vineyards, Finger Lakes; Vinny Aliperti of Atwater Vineyards and Peter Becraft of Anthony Road Vineyards, both of Seneca Lake. The first two speakers will pour and discuss a meritage blend, while Becraft will do the same with a cabernet franc/lemberger blend while Aliperti will pour a “big blend” with 43% syrah, 3 red Bordeaux grapes, and lemberger/blaufrankisch. All speakers will include viticultural practices and site circumstances, along with winemaking stylistic goals, processes and managing both from one vintage to the next.
J.L. will specifically address the art of assemblage at Stratus and how this traditional European winemaking technique is applied with a New World twist: assemblage vs. blending; tasting techniques to assemble your own wines; what to avoid; and how to overcome the marketing challenge.

Now, before we start, I have to tell you that I very much admire the work of all four of these winemakers! More so, I think the eastern seaboard needs to strike a better balance between varietals, which are a uniquely American invention, and blends. I am becoming more and more a fan of red blends! Especially in the east, where, like in say, Europe, blends have always been more the norm than not.

In a blend, especially a red blend, one adds hopefully complexity and layers of flavors and aromas to build a bigger, better red. Many varieties, made as single varietal wines, often exhibit their positive and negative natures. The most striking is Cabernet Franc, which will show of it's variety of cherry flavors and pencil shavings and immense dept, as well as it's verdant side, smelling of green grass or even worse, green bell pepper. By blending in say Merlot, or Baco Noir, or any number of vinifera or hybrid grapes, to create more depth and add more complexity. The great-great grandfathers of wine knew that.

Peter Becraft's Anthony Road Cab Franc/Lemberger blend was an excellent example of a blend. A lot of FInger Lakes winemakers growing Lemberger or Blaufrankish (which I prefer) have often blended this highly acidic red with a vinifera red to make a more classic styled table wine. Here, Beecraft has blended 53% Cabernet Franc with 47% Lemberger. The final product exploded with bright and dark ripe cherries and had a lovely balance of acidity and tannin to make a lovely medium-bodied red wine to please almost any palate! Truly, a lovely red!

Atwater Estate Big Blend by Vinnny Aliperti was what we tasted next. This was a revelation!!!!! Originally started off as an affordable red blend, this wine blossomed into one of the best red wines being made in the Finger Lakes today! No ifs, ands, or buts. I wish more New York and New England winemakers would buy a bottle of this and see what I mean. If you like California reds, you will LOVE this wine!

The wine was predominantly Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot and Cabernet Franc in strng support, and a dollop of Blaufrankish. This was a big red, with big jammy notes of cherry, stewed strawberries and raspberries, lead the attack, with soft tannins and lovely balance and complexity. Every time you sip this beautiful red wine, you get a little something more out of it. An amazing wine. Vinny and Atwater have a true industry leader on their hands! 

Luke Steele presented the Dr. Konstantin Frank Meritage 2012. This wine is a blend of predominantly cabernet sauvignon and merlot with about 25% cabernet franc. Individual parcels of each variety were fermented in open top fermenters with an extended post ferment maceration on skins. The wines were then aged in French oak barriques for 15 months. The best barrels from each parcel were selected and blended. The wine comes in at 13.5% ABV.

Lots of big black cherry and black cassis run through this glass. Big fruit, big acid, and big tannin. It was lovely as a 2012 fresh out of the bottle, but it's also the kind of wine that will age for the next ten years in your cellar. If you are a fan of older Bordeaux, park a case of this in your cellar for the next five eyars, and it will begin to soften and mature like few other eastern reds will. BTW, make no mistake about it, if you have a nicely charred steak, you better break this puppy out ASAP!

If there is a list of the 7 wonders of the modern world, JL Groux better be on the list - otherwise throw it away! JL Groux is the winemaker at Stratus. I have written about stratus before. In my humble opinion, there is no question, that Stratus is one of the most impressive wines made in North America. No matter what region you put it in, it would rank as one of the best wines from that region (all of California included!).

Groux has blended the classic meritage, taking all five of the major noble grapes, and created something immensely impressive. Big helpings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc are bolstered by dollops of Petite Verdot and Malbec. And then he through in a dash of Tannat!

JL Groux has crafted an incredible wine. Coming in at a solid 13.8% alcohol, this wine had fruit and structure in spades! Big dark fruit like plumbs, dark cherries, blackberries, cassis, moocha, vanilla, and orange pekoe tea, this wine was something wholly exceptional! Utter proof, that in cold weather climates, a great blend is a great blend!

If you are a consumer looking for great red blends in the northeast start here. There are others I could mention, but I think that will be a separate post! If you are a winemaker, start working on a blend now!!!!!! Great stuff from these four incredible winemakers and houses! Enjoy! 

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Stoutridge Winery & Distillery - Steve Osborn Has Found Nirvana

Stoutridge Vineyard and Distillery is a premium estate winery and distillery owned by Stephen Osborn and Kim Wagner located in Marlboro, NY. Next to the winery is a picturesque and historic stone farmhouse known to elder locals as "The Homestead." Its ten foot high fieldstone foundation was built around 1855 and was dug out of the vineyard hillside. This house had a barn, which between 1902 and 1919 was the "Marono Winery." Its one dry-stacked stone foundation wall remains.Their impressive new winery building is directly on the site of the "1902" Marono Winery. 

Stoutridge features a "gravity flow" style production with an emphasis on the use of traditional "hands-off " winemaking techniques. Their solar photovoltaic array on the south roof of the production area is over 2,000 sq. ft of cell area and can produce 30 kW of electricity on a sunny day, making this a net neutral facility. None of the wines are pumped in anyway since it is all all gravity system. 

Stoutridge Vineyard

Stephen sells his whites a little older. He likes the maturity that they experience. The Seyval Blanc and Cayuga White blend was convincing of that belief.. And the Hudson Heritage White also provided a very nice older white. Both were impressive.Heritage White was my favorite.

I was always a fan of the Quimby Rose, and I was equally impressed but slightly darker Ridge Rose, light and full bodoed, but still more like a rosatto was eight years old...Lovely. Also loved the Chancellor 2008 (which was begging for a steak) and always my favorite here the Gravitas 2008 (a bend of Frontenac and DeChaunac). 

Now, Stephen has had a fully operational distillery since he opened. He just never fired it up. I will not lie It's a lot of expensive equipment, and I never understood how it wasn't working, paying itself off. But in the last year, Stephen finally got his license, linked up the last few connections, and started firing up these big bad boys! And its a good thing for all of us he did.

Stephen has always been a good winemaker, His natural wines are popular within the Shawangunk wine trail, and his natural winemaking is always grabbing press, and winning solid reviews and stories. But from what I have tasted form his new still, there is no question that Steve is about to move into a whole new stratosphere.

First off the bat was the Vodka. Stoutridge Six Vodka has been run through 36 distillation plates before it's ready for sale, according to Osborn's specifications in order to create the purest, cleanest vodka that is made today. The vodka is smooth as silk, and easy t drink straight, let alone with ice, or even in a cocktail. Goes down super easy without a burn. Hints of vanilla and just clean. Amazing.

 Stephen actually makes three gin-styled spirits. I'm only going to talk about two: Gen and Gin. Stoutridge GenX Genever Style Gin is  86 Proof gin made from rye and corn. This is a  classic Jenever (or very light styled gin, due to the way it's made. It's not a spirit that is passed through the gin basket full of botanicals, other most gins. This is a special gin because, firstly, this is a white whiskey (rather than a traditional vodka), and is made in a Genever-style (also known as Jenever -an old styled gin) that is a white whiskey made from a pot still and flavored with the juniper berry, cubeb pepper and gentian root botanical flavors. Here the botanicals are added to the mash. No gin basket. The final effect is a light, etheral white whiskey gin with a multitude of flavors. Lovely. Impressive.  

Stoutridge Gin0 94 Proof is made from 100% Hudson Valley grain which offers a classic London Style gin. Here, gin is run through a traditiotnal gin make a dry gin. Lots of lemon and lime, with notes of pie crust and baked bread. An exceptional bold, craft gin. Lovely. 

At Stoutridge W Light Whiskey is made from a mashbill of 50% corn and 50% rye grown locally at  West Wind farm near Albany. I tasted Batch 2. According to the distillery, "Light Whiskey is a Federal definition that means distilled at a higher proof than bourbon or rye." The whiskey is aged in New York grown, white oak wood barrels.  It's stored in 28 gallon barrels from Quercus for 6 months. This is an impressive whiskey. For a young whiskey, it has immense flavor. There's light caramel, soft vanilla, and sweet maple, and lovely soft cereals. A beautiful easy light whiskey. 

Stoutridge Rye will be due out in about 18 mos. Maybe a little less. It's is nothing short of spectacular. It has the softness of wheat but the boldness of a big rye -a profile with the softness of Willett rye. The finish is extraordinary with caramel, vanilla, and gingersnap in a big swirl. It will be when released one of the best rye whiskies made on the east coast. 

Also tasted the Stoutridge Single Malt that will not see the light of day again for many years (it had only been in the barrel for six weeks or so). But that too showed immense promise!!!!

Amaro (Italian for "bitter") is an Italian herbal liqueur that is commonly drunk as an after-dinner digestif. It usually has a bitter-sweet flavour, sometimes syrupy, and has an alcohol content between 16% and 40%. Stoutridge Amer is an homage to that idea. And let me say this - its a seriously legit Amaro! Tastes like Aperol! Get you Negroni on Hudson Valley style!

According to Wikipedia, "A kirschwasser (German for "cherry water") or kirsch is a clear, colorless fruit brandy traditionally made from double distillation of morello cherries, a dark-colored cultivar of the sour cherry. However, it is now also made from other kinds of cherries. The cherries are fermented completely, including their stones.Unlike cherry liqueurs and cherry brandies, kirschwasser is not sweet. The best kirschwassers have a refined taste with subtle flavors of cherry and a slight bitter-almond taste that derives from the stones." This Stoutridge Kirschwasser is made from Hudson Valley cherries. A bright, clean eau de vie. Excellent.

Again, Wikipedia says that "Slivovitz, Šljivovica, Śliwowica, Slivovitza, Schlivowitz, Slivovitsa or Slivovica is a fruit brandy made from damson plums, often referred to as plum brandy. Slivovitz is produced in East-Central and South-East Europe both commercially and privately. Primary producers are in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia. In the Balkans, Slivovitz is considered a kind of Rakia, in Hungary Pálinka and in the Czech Republic and Slovakia Pálenka, corresponding to the distilled spirits category."

Stoutridge Slivovitz is made from 100% plums grown as a neighboring farm. Stephen says, "They were very clean, very pretty. I'll try 'em." The result was a spectacular plum eau de vie. Clean, bright, with notes of fresh fruit and vanilla. Fantastic! 

There is no question that Stephen Osborn has found his true calling. While he is a very good wine maker, he was born to be a distiller! He has a light touch, and a discerning palate. He has a brilliant distilling future in front of him!  


I like that Stephen is sing authentic wooden fermentors and pot stills to make his products!

Stoutridge is also among the only distilleries in the state malting their own grains in their own malt room (and he will be smoking his own malt as well).

They have their own self-designed bath for their grain which makes sure the grain is watered and rotated evenly before its given a chance to germinate on the distillery malting floor.

Stephen intends to be so legit, he hired Chip Tate's new distilling firm to create a handmade copper pot still so that he could make eve more legit single malt and whiskey. The pot has a classic fluted neck like the best Alembic stills. This behemoth will be Stoutridge's fourth still! It just arrived a few days ago!!! Chip is one of the best distillers in the world, himself, and his new stills are nothing short of amazing!

If you like distilleries, or great gin or terrific whiskey, your next top in the Hudson Valley should be Stoutridge!