Monday, February 27, 2012

Michael Schnelle of Red Tail Ridge About the Obscure Red Varietal Series

Michael Schnelle is the other half of the dynamic duo that is Red Tail Ridge Vineyards along with his famous winemaker wife Nancy Irelan. Last week, while my own wife was attending classes at the Geneva Experiment Station, I drove around the Finger Lakes visiting tastingrooms on a Tuesday morning. It was great. Few wineries were opened on a Tuesday morning in winter, but on the other hand, the folks in the tastingrooms that were open had plenty of time to talk.

Before becoming the vineyard manager at Red Tail Ridge, Michael was working for a national company that rents heavy equipment to consumers. Mike used to manage the financial service center that supported most of the individual locations west of the Mississippi. He's a numbers-guy, with a lot of hands-on and practical experience in heavy equipment and construction. Winegrowing is a second career for Mike.

According to Nancy, "He picked up the basics quickly and has proven to be a great partner in trying new approaches and thinking “outside the box”. Mike is also one of the most meticulous and exacting viticulturists that I've ever worked with."

Michael talked about the last growing season and then we talked about different varietals. And of course, I began to talk about why I was really there. I wanted to try the Obscure Red Varietal Series. I am a wine geek. I admit it. Nothing much else you can say. And with the tasting of the Dornfelder I did about three to four weeks ago, I was intrigued to try the rest. Cold weather grapes from other parts of the world could be important to the region. And who needs another Cab Franc or Merlot? It's important for wineries to offer somethings no one else differentiate your winery from the others, and your region from the others. Grapes like Malbec, Viognier, and Norton have helped set other regions apart.

It's important to repeat here their vineyard philosophy. "We have 20 acres of cool climate varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. While you may be most familiar with these cool climate varieties, we are also examining some more obscure red varieties that work well in cooler regions of Europe--namely, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Trentino Italy. For example, we currently have a small plot of Teroldego, and a few rows of Dornfelder. Teroldego is a red Italian grape variety grown in Alto-Adige. The wines produced from this variety have been compared to Zinfandel due to their de0ep color, brambly blackberriness, solid acidity and moderate tannin structure. Dornfelder is a red variety grown in Germany that produces medium body wines with velvety texture, slightly floral notes and flavors of plums, blackberries and/or cherry. We also make Blaufränkisch from a local vineyard. The variety is well known in cooler regions of Europe; the wines are peppery and cherry with slight herbal notes of oregano and rosemary and a good balance of acidity in the finish. Over the next couple of years we will be planting small experimental plots of other obscure varieties to examine their potential to produce high quality dry red wines in the Finger Lakes."

One thing first off is that I always judge a vineyard by the condition of their vines. Health and training are key to understanding what's going on. Some vineyard managers and winemakers prefer to let their vines be a little wilder a little unkempt. But I must admit, when you see a lot of attention being paid to the vines, the wine is usually going to be pretty spectacular. And when you drive up in summer, you might not think you're at a vineyard. The vines are perfectly trained, so much so, you might think you're at the Ledew Topiary Gardens, and not a plot of land where grapes are grown and harvested. This is not only a sign of a gifted vineyardist, but of a serious winemaking operation where the winemaker and the vineyard manager are on the same page. And I can tell you from experience, the wines at Red Tail Ridge have always been pretty damn impressive. Great wine is made in the vineyard. It's an absolute truism in winemaking. That is why Micahel is the featured guest star here.

Now, I will repeat that I was appalled by Dornfelder when it was first pitched by the Cornell folks five or six years ago. I sat in a room full of growers, and I scoffed. Bad wine and an awful name...but Red Tail Ridge's Dornfelder really turned my head around. Wow!

The Dornfelder is a blend of their estate 2009 and 2010 vintages. Brambly aromatics infused with black cherry, strawberry preserves and dried fruit. Cassis also rears its wonderful head. Medium to light body on the palate with more dark fruit, dried fig and brown spices. Velvety texture with a tart finish.Excellent. I was intrigued.

So now I was onto the other obscure varietals.

2009 Blaufrankish - First off, I told Michael I was thrilled that the wine was no longer called Lemberger, but the more traditional Blaufrankish. Better to handsell the German name than trying to differentiate the wine from the stink cheese so many people confused it with. I pontificated. Michael seemed to agree. Maybe he was just being nice.

Just like Dornfelder, I have not been a Lemberger/Blaufrankish fan. Laurita's in New Jersey has been the biggest, plumpest one of them all that I have tasted n the east coast. But the rest I have found a little thin, and high in acid. Once again, Red Tail Ridge made me look just like the ass I am.

This was an intense wine. Big cherry up front and black pepper came through as promised. Also a big whiff of vanilla, and a hint of tobacco or forest floor. Big black cherry and tart red fruit came across on the palate, along with mouth-watering acidity and nice tannins. This had nice fruit, and instantly became my absolutely favorite Blaufrankish/Lemberger.

2009 Teroldego - This was my discovery of the day!!! Teroldego is a red Italian grape variety grown primarily in the northeastern region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Italy. Wine from this grape has been produced since ancient times in "Campo Rotaliano", an alluvial plain between the rivers Adige and Noce. Teroldego takes its name from its traditional method of cultivation, trained on a system of “tirelle” or wire harnesses, an explanation that's more likely, if less pretty, than its legendary association with German dialect for gold of the Tirol. It has recently been discovered to be a full sibling of the Dureza variety from France, which is one of the parents of Syrah. The grapes ripen around the last week of September or the first week of October. In fact these had been harvested in the first week of October.

Strawberry and blackberry jam aromas exploded out of the glass! And a hint of spiciness too! The flavors pouring out of the glass were no less robust, with huge ripe plum and prune and raspberry all vying for attention. Again, a hint of fall leaves. Nice, tannins, enough to be notice, but not enough to over power, and solid acridity, again again, not too big. A great soft mouthfeel but with fruit and acid that lingered on the palate. Fantastic! Awesome!

So, let me say this, if you like red wine, you now have a brand new destination in the Finger Lakes. And you have to have an open mind. Not that the wines need to be judged on a curve, because they absolutely do not. But obviously, the names are a little...obscure...which is the whole point after all.

They are mostly made in small quantities, and they are fantastic!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Peconic Bay Winery Lowerre Family Estate 2007

So, the Peconic Bay Winery Lowerre Family Estate 2007 won the prestigous Wine of the Year from the New York Cork Report. Hmmmm. How good was it? This question had been on my mind since the wine won the award a little less than a month ago at this point...or thereabouts.

So when Lenn Thompson, NYRC's Editor-in-Chief told me he was bringing a bottle, I asked my wife Dominique what we could make for dinner that would live up to that kind of wine, if it were as good as the editors of NYRC had selected.

She found a recipe for flayed lamb roast rubbed in rosmary, salt and pepper and grilled to perfection (bloody middle, medium away from the center, and crispy ends - done in the dark and rain I might add!). We paired it with a been and vegetable salad from CLEAN FOOD by Terry Walters (one of my wife's favorite new cookbooks),and a loaf of rustic bread from LOAF in Hudson, NY.

Peconic Bay Winery was founded and the vineyards planted in 1979 by the late Ray Blum and originally managed by the late viticulturalist and winemaker Charles Flatt. Originally the farm meant to sell all of its grapes, but by 1989 the fruit was all going towards producing wines there on the estate.

Incredible changes were coming though as more attention was paid to the region. In January of 1999, Manhattan based banker Paul Lowerre his wife Ursula purchased the winery from Blum with the intention to bring the property to new heights. A renovation of the vineyard by Charlie Hargrave including new vineyards on nearby Oregon Road, and the introduction of the outstanding winemaking of winemaker Greg Gove was meant to bring about these changes.

In 1973, Charlie Hargrave worked with his brother Alex and his sister-in-law Louisa Hargrave to establish Hargrave Vineyard, Long Island’s very first winery. As the area’s first vineyard manager, Charlie brings a wealth of experience with him to Peconic Bay Winery. Guiding our viticulture and stewarding of Peconic’s beautiful and sprawling waterfront acreage Charlie is on top of every vineyard concern, from winter pruning through the harvest post-season wrap up, and everything in between. His work is critical to the winery’s success. Currently managing about 55 acres under vine, Charlie applies sustainable vineyard practices, and aspires to take the vineyard on as organic a path as possible.

After studying Chemistry at both Cortland and Columbia Universities, Greg Cove launched his winemaking career right here on the North Fork. His innate understanding of local soil, climate and quirks of nature are reflected in his wines, as are his instincts for weaving nuances of flavors, sensations, bouquet and acidity to achieve the fullest expression of a harvest. “Complexity and balance,” Greg says. Really. He says that all the time. And people listen to him, since he’s won more than 50 medals in various competitions, including two international Golds, and the coveted Double Gold at the New York Wine and Food Classic.

Aged 26 months in oak, this 2007 vintage blend is an encapsulation of the best that vintage had to offer. The finest lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot were blended to create a magnificent red wine.

The wine was a dark, inky purple red. And nose was full of blackberry, cassis and chocolate and mocha. Maybe some violets as suggested. On the palate lots of fruit - raspberry, blackberry, and hints of pepper. Plummy with hints of cassis or prune. The acid is kept in check, the acids are soft, and the tannins are in balance with the acids. When you drink this wine, fruit is the lasting flavor on your palate. Fantastic!

Wine of the year? I don't know. Always hard to say. But I do know you couldn't go wrong picking it. This was one incredible meritage style wine with sophistication and flavor. A tremendous accomplishment! You could serve this to the biggest wine snob and they would walk away utterly impressed. Wow! Great wine!

Sparkling Pointe 2007 Brut

Sparkling Pointe winery is dedicated solely to sparkling wine. That's the first thing you need to know. I've read about them from afar, but have not had the opportunity to taste their wines....until now.

Friend and Editor-in-Chief of the New York Cork Report Lenn Thompson brought over a bottle for me to try recently, bringing along his lovely wife Nena. We sat down with Dominique and a plate of Hudson Valley cheeses...R&G Maple-Chipotle Goat Cheese, a wedge of Hudson Red from Twin Maple Farm, and a square of Old Chatham Sheepherding Camembert. Life just doesn't get any better.

But back to Sparkling Pointe. Owners Cynthia and Tom Rosicki have always been Champagne lovers. According to their website, "Tom recalls having found true love with Cynthia over a romantic dinner and a seductive bottle of Champagne. Fate brought Cynthia and Tom to meet Steve Mudd, a renowned and award winning viticulturist on the East End of Long Island, who immediately sparkled the bright idea of dedicating the first ever planting of a new vineyard to the sole production of sparkling wine. Having spotted the perfect site for their venture, Cynthia and Tom contacted the owner of the property and placed a down payment the same day on what would become the future vineyard site."

The couple joined forces with multi-talented winemaker Gilles Martin. Gilles is one of my favorite winemakers on the North Fork. He is quiet and understated, and he lets his wines do the talking for him. His stuff, no matter who he's working with, is always fantastic. Here, with Sparkling Pointe, he shows how absolutely comfortable he is with making sparkling wines. Gilles is always about quality. You know you're getting a good wine when Giles is making it. This 2007 Vintage of their Brut wine was an incredible shock.

Sparkling Pointe’s cuvées are made with the Champagne region's three classic grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Instead of France, they are rooted in the terroir of the North Fork of Long Island.

Lenn popped th cork and started pouring. We were immediately hit with the pleasant scent of fresh bread. And there was fruit on the nose as well, a little green apple, a touch of peach or mango. And then on the palate, the wine was terrific, with big green apple and lime dominating. A refreshing, delicious, exceptional and elegant sparkling wine!

Thanks Lenn! Thanks Gilles Martin! And congrats to the Rosicki's!

p.s. go to this video at New York Cork Report to see Gilles open a bottle of sparkling with a sabre!

Friday, February 24, 2012


In the March-May 2012 issue of The Valley Table, Steven Kolpan stresses to Hudson Valley winemakers to celebrate their region. Promote the "Hudson River Region" AVA when making estate wines and wines made from Hudson Valley fruit.

"Last year, when I judged the Hudson Valley Wine Competition, I was happy to see far more labels sporting the Hudson River Region AVA than ever before....Some of the truly local wines were extraordinarily fine, some were quite good..."

"...I want to encourage those Hudson Valley wine producers that are making their wines from grapes grown in local vineyards to be proud of what they have accomplished..."

An extraordinary article for the winery owners, makers, and consumers!


NYWGF's New York Drinks New York Program a Recipe for Success!

Below is a piece form Jim Trezise, of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. It is about a new program, which has started to gell, of pitching New York wines in New York City. New York City is the grand stage of wine, one of the true Broadway of the world where wine is concerned. And New York Wine has been playing out of town for a long time. It's time to star on the Big White Way. I cannot applaud the NYWFG, Jim Trezise or the board of directors enough for this program and for what it means for New York wine. The media there is hungry for a news story, and the wiens we make have recieved enough good reviews, from all our regions, that it is time New York wine got the recognition it deserves.

Jim Trezise and his organization have helped to grow this industry from its infancy to it's very robust state. No one had overseen such an expansion on the east coast. This new mature industry is burgeoning at the seams. This new direction is the one we need. I applaud this move wholeheartedly. This program won't do it all by itself. The wineries need to work it too. And the stores and restauarants need to support it too. But it is the right first step, and step which needs repeating every year or every other year! Big hand for all those involved! - CD

New York wines are going into New York City--but not before New York City sommeliers, wine store professionals, and wine writers visit "wine country" in the Finger Lakes, Hudson River, and Long Island regions.

That "exchange program" is a key part of our "New York Drinks New York" promotion, which involves 38 wineries from various regions that are eager to get their slice of the Big Apple. Wineries from the Niagara and Thousand Islands regions are also participating.

The first step involved some great market research conducted by First Press Public Relations, the superb small agency that is orchestrating the program for us. The information and opinions shared by the New York City wine intelligentsia provided valuable insights into the perceptions, challenges and opportunities facing New York wines.

Next up were "cellar visits" to wineries in the Hudson River and Finger Lakes regions by groups of New York wine professionals, with a second Finger Lakes trip starting tomorrow and the Long Island session next weekend. The groups have the opportunity to visit some of the wineries, taste the regional wines, savor some great local foods, and learn how to prune vines (in winter, of course). The Finger Lakes visits also involve great local foods at the New York Wine & Culinary Center and several food-focused wineries like Heron Hill, Knapp, Red Newt, Sheldrake Point, and Wagner Vineyards--topped off with a visit to the awesome Finger Lakes Distillers operation of Brian MacKenzie and Thomas MacKenzie (not related!)

The tables turn on March 9-12, when represenatives from the participating wineries descend on New York City for a series of in-store tastings, a bus tour of Brooklyn wine shops, a group dinner, and the grand finale tasting for the trade, media, and consumers on March 12 at Astor Center. New York wines have already become such a hot item that more than half of the consumer tickets sold out within hours of when they went on sale.

Another fun part of the program is advertising on taxi tops, with the "NY Drinks NY" message accompanied by names of participating wineries and the mini-web site created specifically for this program (

The "New York Drinks New York" program will provide a great start to getting a larger presence for New York wines in New York City. The next challenge will be finding the money to maintain the momentum.
- Jim Trezise, The Wine Press

Democrat & Chronicle: Finger Lakes Wine Region Grown and Growing

Finger Lakes winery pioneers watch and welcome changes
4:49 PM, Feb. 10, 2012 | Democrat & Chronicle (NY)

John McGregor and his sisters used to get excited when a car stopped by their family winery in Barrington, Yates County.

He was just 9 years old in 1980 when McGregor Winery started welcoming visitors to try the wine made by his parents, Bud and Marge McGregor. These days John is the winery’s general manager and he sees 1,000 visitors a weekend at the height of the season.

While McGregor was one of the first farm wineries that opened after the New York Farm Winery Act of 1976 allowed farmers to sell wine right from their vineyards, the McGregors and the other pioneers now have plenty of company.

According to the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, the state passed the 300 mark for wineries in 2011, ending the year with 316.

The Finger Lakes region alone accounts for more than one-third of those, 118 wineries, most of them lined up in rows along the individual Finger Lakes.

Numbers and newcomers are changing the face of the Finger Lakes wine industry, the fastest growing of the state’s four wine growing regions, which also include Lake Erie, Hudson Valley and Long Island. But those changes are raising some concerns that even with the $3.76 billion annual impact of New York’s wineries and related tourism, there might not be enough business for everyone to share.

“It’s great having more wineries, it makes us more of a destination,” said James Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.

A drive along Seneca Lake from Geneva to Watkins Glen tells why: You’ll pass 25 wineries. But, Trezise said, “The number of tourists is not growing as much as the number of wineries.”

The growth is picking up speed, too. Since 2001, 198 wineries have opened, outstripping all those that opened between 1829 and 2000. The 152 wineries that opened since 2005 represent a fourfold increase over the previous 20 years, according to the Wine and Grape Foundation.

And now, because of a 2011 law that allows wineries to set up satellite tasting rooms in other locations, the tourism part of the business can be miles away from the vineyard and the vintner.

Read the whole thing at:

Democrat & Chronicle: Keeping Wine in the Finger Lake Family

William Boutard-Hunt is the seventh-generation of the Hunt family and takes his first steps on the family farm, walking from his grandfather, Art, to his dad, Jonathan.

This will become more and more an issue in New York state wine over the next 20 years. Laws of inheritance and tax complications are a difficult and complex issue. And ofc ourse, the idea is that these wineries should stay family run. You don;t want suits making local wine. Also, congrats to the Hunt family. Nice people. Good folks.- CD

Keeping the vino in the family
9:42 AM, Feb. 8, 2012
Written by James Battaglia
Democrat & Chronicle (NY)

Art Hunt, at right, pours his son, Jonathan, a glass of 2011 Cabernet Franc as he holds William Boutard-Hunt, a seventh-generation member of the family. / Brady Dillsworth

When Meaghan Frank was admitted to Cornell University, she planned to earn advanced degrees in communications and work anywhere but the family business.

Plans changed, however, when a course revealed how her great-grandfather planted the first European vinefera grapes in the Finger Lakes. It helped convince her to become the fourth generation to work at Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinefera Wine Cellars, the longest family-owned winery in the Finger Lakes.

“It just made me feel really proud to learn about our reputation through other people,” Frank said. “It spurred me to learn more about the business.”

There has been a recent increase in the number of Millenials in the Finger Lakes region working for the family winery, said Jim Trezise, president of the New York state Wine and Grape Foundation.

“The next generation is getting involved to a surprising and wonderful extent,” he said. “It’s very inspiring and uplifting because what it says is that the younger generation has confidence in the future of our industry.”

About one in five wineries are multi-generational in the Finger Lakes. And with a growth of new wineries, tourism and production across the state, it’s a figure that’s expected to increase.

From 2001 to 2011, 198 new wineries opened in New York — more than in the previous 170 years combined. Also, wine production since 1985 has increased by more than 50 percent and from 2000 and 2008, tourist visits increased by 85 percent.

Frank is a sales associate and marketing assistant at her family’s winery. She drives to work every day with her dad and eats lunch with her grandmother whenever she can. Earlier this month, she left to study wine business at the University of Adelaide in Australia and hopes to receive additional experience in Australia or California, before coming home for good.

Wine makers, retailers

Mark and Jeanne Wiltberger’s parents, Len and Judy, planted the first vines at Keuka Springs Vineyards in 1981, when Mark was 12 and Jeanne was 7. Growing up in Greece, neither expected to become professionally involved in their parents’ business.

Read the rest of the article at:

McDowell News: DeMariano Vineyards Ready To Start Corking

Mike DeLuca is pictured testing his Merlot, which won’t be ready for a couple years. Once a red and white wine have been established, the DeLuca’s will open a winery.

Vineyard ready to cork first bottles
By: Holly Ramsey | McDowell News (NC)
Published: February 07, 2012
Updated: February 07, 2012 - 4:18 PM

More than 400 individually-owned grape vineyards are in the state
N.C. is home to over 100 wineries, the number having quadrupled since 2001.
The state ranks ninth in the U.S. for wine production
Asheville’s Biltmore Estate is the most visited winery in the U.S.

DeMariano Vineyards, a local family-owned wine producer, was the recent recipient of a $6,000 WNC Agricultural Options grant. The vineyard was among 25 farms in Western North Carolina, including three in McDowell, that were awarded last month.

These grants are provided through N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission and are available on a yearly basis.

DeMariano Vineyards is in its fourth year of grape production and begins bottling its first fruits of labor this spring.

“This came at a good time,” said Mike DeLuca, co-owner of the vineyard. “We’ve got 120 gallons of Chardonnay ready to go in April and still need to purchase equipment for bottling – among other things.”

The vineyard is a father/son partnership. Mike’s dad, Mario, works the vineyard, while Mike handles the winemaking. The vineyard is named after Mike’s great-grandfather, Mariano, who kept one of his own in New Jersey.

“I’ve always had a love for it,” said Mario. “I grew up helping my grandfather in his vineyard, and Mike’s been making his own wine for a while now, too.”

Grape varieties growing on the land include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sangiovese and more. The men planted their first vines in May 2009.

“It’s a family operation,” said Mario. “Our wives (Margaret and Keisha) help run things too, and during harvest season, we have other family members and friends who turn out to help.”

Wine-making is a slow (and costly) process. It takes four years to get a vineyard’s trunk and root system stable enough for full production. In its first year, a vine yields no grapes; the second, around 15 percent; and the third, around 75 percent.

It’s estimated that an acre of grapes cost around $14,000 to $15,000 to turn into wine. This does not include equipment, labor, accommodations or unforeseen situations. The DeMariano vineyard is currently one acre in size.

“Hopefully after this year, we should have about 90 percent of the necessary equipment and facility accommodations to move on,” Mike stated.

Plans to build a winery will come to fruition once the business has established a red and white wine for sale and tastings.

“We’re thinking of situating our winery where patrons can enjoy views of the vineyard and South Mountain range,” said Mario.

The vineyard sits on 105 acres of open pastureland in Dysartsville.

After their first vintage is bottled in April, the wine will have to sit at least another year, maybe two, before being sold. Their red wine, even longer.

From the labor aspect, not much is to be done during winter months. In March, however, things will pick up. The DeLuca family will begin pruning and preparing vines for the upcoming crop. From then, two to three days of work each week is required to maintain healthy grapes.

“We enjoy it. It’s an old family tradition, and runs in our blood,” said Mario. “This was my plan after retirement, and I’m happy to be able to work with my son doing something I love.”

See the video at:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Switchback Ale (Burlington, VT)

So, we're at Dinosaur BBQ and I'm thinking I might want a local beer as we're standing there waiting for our table. Of course, on my list, local comes first. I scan the tap handles looking for something different. It's then I see the Switchback logo, and I know exactly whaat I am looking for.

Located in Burlington, Vermont, Switchback Brewing Company was founded in 2002 by a formally trained master brewer and his friend, the vision was to concentrate limited resources into making just a few beers to achieve the highest quality possible. The success of Switchback Ale beer has driven constant expansion for over 7 years and made the release of three Rotating Specials.

Switchback Ale was first sold October 22nd, 2002. Using only traditional ingredients, Switchback Ale is a reddish-amber ale. Five different malts, select hop varieties, and their specially cultivated yeast create an ale which leads with hop flavors and a subtle impression of fruit (the yeast’s contribution), followed by a malty finish. Their special process uses the yeast to naturally carbonate the beer, and they leave it unfiltered. This ale contains 5.0% alcohol by volume. IBU 28.

The beer is excellent. Smooth and clean, well balanced. It's got lots of complex flavors, including a nice burst of hops, as well as some wonderful malty notes, but finishes refrreshing. Had some with the BBQ wings, and it proved an exceptional accompiment to food! A great beer!

Old Burneside Dity Penny Ale (Hartford, CT)

So there I was at Dinosaur BBQ staring down a mountainous plate of Memphis-styled ribs, with coleslaw and whipped sweet potatoes and corn bread. Ah, is this heaven? But what to wash down this lusty dinner with?

How about an Old Burneside Dity Penny Ale. Old Burneside is one of the more colorful east coast breweries, with their llove of bag pipes, but they made good beer. So, here's the story on Old Burneside and the beer.

The Olde Burnside Brewing a spinoff of an old family-owned ice manufacturing business, The Burnside Ice Co., which was founded in 1911. In keeping with their roots, they add a bit of Celtic color in all they do, including theirsponsorship of a local bagpipe band, Manchester Regional Police & Fire Pipe Band, as well as their local rugby team, The Hartford Wanderers. Come fall, join us at “Pipes in the Valley,” Connecticut’s premier Celtic music festival, showcasing the finest local and world renowned Celtic talents.

It all actually started two generations ago, when The Burnside Ice Company was established by Bob McClellan's grandfather just after the turn of the century. Coming from a long line of hardworking Scotsmen, Albert McClellan wasted no time in making Burnside Ice a leading supplier of ice to homes and businesses throughout the greater Hartford, Connecticut area. His tradition was carried down to Bob's dad, Clifford and to Bob as well. As the story goes, Bob remembers his grandfather speak of the ales that were brewed locally in those days and how refreshing they were after a long day's work. Often the cost for a pint of ale back then was a mere nickel. On special occasions, the brewers would produce an extra fine ale for which they would charge a little more; often as much as a whole dime or ten pennies! Those were the ales that Albert McClellan lamented were no longer available in later years.

Bob, being a beer lover in his own right, dreamed of someday being able to savour a true "Ten Penny Ale". He even fancied the idea of becoming a brewer someday, brewing the stuff himself. As years went by, the ice company flourished, now supplying mostly grocery stores, package stores, restaurants and caterers as well as folks planning parties and picnics. The popularity of Burnside's product was due largely to the purity of the water emanating from the aquifer deep beneath the earth under the East Hartford neighborhood. At the urging of several local residents Bob began to offer the water through a dispenser at the front of the building on Tolland Street.

Back around 1994, Bob noticed several of his water customers coming in for fairly large quantities of the water. Out of curiosity, Bob inquired as to their use of so much of the water and they heartily responded with “Brewing beer!” Apparently, Bob’s water had qualities that made an especially clean, pure and flavorful ale, without chemical or other unwanted tastes. Bob was immediately intrigued and sent off a sample of the water to a local lab for analysis. The tests revealed that the water was surprisingly similar in mineral characteristics to the famous waters of Burton-on-Trent, the source of water for many of the celebrated ales of the United Kingdom.

The original recipe for Ten Penny Ale was an award-winning creation of their first head brewer, Ray Ballard, and local beer guru, Paul Zocco. A subsequent search for used brewery equipment to outfit the new brewery resulted in a trip to Sheridan, Wyoming, to the Wyoming Brewing Co., which had just recently closed. Transported by four trailer trucks, the brewery was assembled in what was a 4-bay truck garage at the ice plant, which now houses the entire Olde Burnside Brewing Co. The current head brewer, Joe Lushing, along with his assistant brewer, strive to carry on the tradition of making great ales.

“Ten Penny Ale,” their flagship brew is a smooth, amber-hued mellow version of a Scottish Ale.* (5.6% ABV). It’s a good “session ale” and was awarded “Hartford’s Best Microbrew” for 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009 by The Hartford Advocate’s Readers Poll. This beer is available year-round.

On the other hand, “Dirty Penny Ale” (5.2% ABV) is a hearty, but never heavy “black’n’tan” style* which is mixture of 60% Ten Penny/40% their own signature stout. There's lots of roast here, with nice hints of roasted coffee and chocolate. There's a slight hint of hops, but nothing too overpowering. This beer comes together nicely, and if both mouthfilling, and refreshing, as any good black-and-tan should be.

Two Dirty Penny's later, and an empty plate, and I was a happy boy. It's a nice stand alone beer, but it's also a great food beer. Important. Great stuff!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Patriot News: Tour de Tanks of Mason-Dixon Trail is a hit!

Ready or not, here comes bigger Tour de Tanks
Published: Monday, February 20, 2012, 8:25 PM
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2012, 8:51 PM
By PAUL VIGNA, The Patriot-News

The first real test of the new Mason-Dixon Wine Trail takes place in under two weeks, as the seventh annual Tour De Tanks will get under way.

A number of regional wine trail across both states hold events that feature barrel tastings -- the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail, for instance, will hold a similar event the same five weekend in March -- and some individual wineries make the wine in the barrel available to case club holders.

Tour de Tanks has grown substantially during the first six years that it featured the wines of the UnCork York Trail. Many of them remain on the trail that was conceived and announced last fall, but there are several important changes. The new trail includes two Maryland wineries -- Fiore and Boordy -- and one new winery -- The Vineyard at Hershey -- southeast of Harrisburg in Londonderry Township, off Route 283.

This is the first major trail event for Cara O’Donnell, destination marketing manager for the York County Convention & Tourism Bureau, which handles publicity for the trail. She noted that it’s bigger and longer (thanks to the five weekends in March) yet continuing to offer the winemaker’s dinners that have become a staple of this event. You can find the list of dinners here. Passes cost $25/person and $15/designated drivers, still allowing them to sample the many foods that will be out. Tickets are available on the trail's site and through the individual wineries.

“Everyone does things a little differently," she said Monday by phone about what pass holders can expect. "and we give the winemakers a little flexibility there to personalize the experience. But I would say that people are going to experience special barrel tastings, kind of that sneak preview experience of what this year's vintage is going to bring. There are also generally food pairings and special tours of the winery that aren't usually available on a regular day."

The 10 days will give those holding the passes a change to drive to the various clusters of wineries. There are the several in York County, another few in Adams County around Gettysburg, a grouping around Harrisburg/Hershey, and some heading out Route 30 toward Lancaster.

Wine Off The Vine, the trail's inaugural event, took place last November over two weekends, and some of the winery owners north and east of York said afterward they were disappointed in attendance. Five weekends should provide a far more accurate barometer of whether this many wineries, spread out over two states and four counties, can all benefit from a trail event.

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Paumanok Assemblage 2001 (LI, NY)

So the other night we had some friends come to dinner with us – Duncan and Robin Ross of Arrowhead Springs Vineyard. We grilled some nice steaks, and had couscous and creamed spinach. It was a last minute kind of deal, but we had fun, starting off with Arrowhead Springs Meritage (a fantastic wine) and some Hudson Valley cheeses. We also had a bottle of Louis Latour 2007 Nuit St. Georges. Also fantastic.

For dinner, Duncan and Robin went down to the wine cellar and they went hunting for something different. Duncan wanted a wine he’d never had before, and he wanted to be local. You gotta love a guy who thinks like that! That’s why we’re friends.

Duncan decided on a Paumanok Assemblage 2001. I was thrilled. I’ve been writing about older vintages, and haven’t tasted one in the last few months. So this was a great opportunity. Many people feel there is not enough imperative information on older vintages of east coast wine – but my own tasting experiences absolutely show that east coast wines can last a good long time – 10 to 15 years minimum – of the better wines). Duncan was just as intrigued by the wine's age as I was.

Founded in the spring of 1983, Paumanok’s 103 acre estate is entirely owned and managed by Ursula and Charles Massoud, and their three sons. Born and raised in the "Old World", wine has always been a part of their lives. This is one of the Old Line wineries on the North Fork, and remains one of the better wineries there. They have a real commitment to quality. Kareem Massoud, one of their sons, is the young, engaging, and accomplished winemaker.

We opened the bottle and set it on the table. We had out the good wine glass (as opposed to the ones that fit in the dishwasher, that don’t have to be hand washed).
With the steaks hot off the grill (I hate letting meat stand – so have me shot by firing squad at CIA) and we poured the wine.

The 2001 Paumanok Assemblage received 89 points from Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate. Assemblage is basically made up of the following: 70% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Franc. This is just a general guide. I could not find the actual make up of the wine anywhere online, and subsequent vintages have varied somewhat, with the Cab Sav and Merlot changing percentages, and in some vintages balancing out. While it is the 2001 vintage the wine itself was released in 2005.

The wine was a dark reddish-purple. Right off the bat the nose was impressive. Plum, prune, dark stewed fruits, with hints of vanilla and spice. Just really, really impressive! And then there was the tasting. More prune, plum, and dark stewed fruits. Big fruit up front. Nice acidity and medium or better tannins for a nice finish. The flavor lasted a long time in the mouth, with the fruit outlasting the acidity or tannins. A nice clean, dry ending. A absolutely fantastic wine!

Duncan and Robin were very impressed. Even my wife, Dominique, approved. She’s a tough customer. This was an exceptional wine, we all agreed. I thought the wine could have stayed in the cellar another 3-4 years easy.

Right now, Paumanok is releasing their Assemblage 2007, made by Kareem Massoud. Buy it…buy four or six bottles. Lay down half, and drink the rest whenever company comes over. They will be impressed.

Here’s a great post by another blogger about selling Paumanok Assemblage 2001:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Imbibe Magazine Raves About Hudson Valley Distillery Industry

Still Life
New York’s distillery boom revives a spirited tradition.
Story by Paul Clarke
Photos by Martin Thiel

One thousand to one. As ratios go, this one’s pretty fierce. It’s also roughly the ratio of the number of small-scale distilleries scattered across New York at the state’s 19th-century peak to the number that existed in New York less than 10 years ago.

One thousand to one would also have been the likely odds of New York’s distilling industry ever bouncing back, had you wished to place a bet on such a thing in 1920, after the Volstead Act shuttered the state’s last legal distilleries. But some people are attracted to long odds, and when that happens, something that seemed less than possible can suddenly appear inevitable. As the old slogan for the New York State Lottery put it, “All You Need is a Dollar and a Dream”—a dollar doesn’t go quite so far nowadays, but a dream? That still counts for something.

“My personal ambition and fantasy, ever since I was 14 years old, is simply to produce something,” says Allen Katz, a partner in Brooklyn’s New York Distilling, one of the newest distilleries to open in New York. “Some of us write books or paint pictures, but I’m not good at either of those. So my passion led me to distilling.” Katz and partners including Tom Potter—who sparked New York’s brewing boom when he opened Brooklyn Brewery in 1987—leapt fully into the DIY fray in 2010, when they released two new gins to a thirsty city, part of a flash flood of locally produced, small-scale spirits that is washing across the state on a scale that New York hasn’t experienced since before Prohibition.

A little more than a century ago, New York distilleries produced oceans of whiskey, lakes of apple brandy and deep wells of other spirits made from the fruit that grew in the Hudson Valley and downstate orchards, and grain from the rich soil in west-central New York. Industry consolidation followed by Prohibition turned off the taps by 1920, and New Yorkers thirsty for (legal) local liquor often had little choice but to go dry. This all started to change in 2002, when state laws regulating distilling began to loosen; in 2007, the trickle of New York whiskey and vodka became a geyser, when the New York Farm Distillery Law lowered the financial bar for beginning distillers (provided they source at least half of their raw material from New York), and allowed qualified distillers to open tasting rooms and sell spirits right from the distillery.

There are now around 30 craft distilleries in New York; almost all are less than four years old, most less than two, and new startups appear with such frequency that any exact count is almost immediately obsolete. Today, New York’s new distillers are engaging in a complex blend of reinvention and innovation: many seek to explore New York’s bibulous heritage by making whiskeys from heirloom varieties of grain, or fruit brandies in styles rarely seen in the past century, or distinctive styles of gin that reflect New York’s inimitable culture and history; others are tinkering with entirely novel styles of spirits. Wiped out by the temperance movement and still virtually nonexistent only a decade ago, the Empire State’s craft distillers are emphatically striking back.

Uptown Brown
“There was a time before Prohibition when every small town had a distillery,” says Ralph Erenzo, co-owner of Tuthilltown Spirits, a distillery in the Hudson Valley hamlet of Gardiner. From the earliest colonial days well into the 1800s, distilling was a way for farmers to preserve excess fruit and grain, as well as to—in economist parlance—produce a value-added commodity. “If the bottom dropped out of the corn or the grain market, you could convert your grain to alcohol, which reduced the volume considerably,” Erenzo says.

When Tuthilltown opened its doors in 2004, it was one of the first of New York’s contemporary crop of craft distillers. Using apples from area orchards, Erenzo and partner Brian Lee distilled an apple-based vodka; the Hudson line of whiskeys soon followed, with bourbons made from local corn and a Manhattan Rye that added a fresh spin to a venerable style of spirit. In 2009, Tuthilltown’s Hudson line of whiskeys—packaged in squat, wax-capped bottles that were an increasingly familiar sight in cocktail bars—had become so popular that Tuthilltown entered a distribution and marketing agreement with liquor giant William Grant, giving the New York-made spirit a spot on the global stage.

This deal made Tuthilltown a craft-distiller success story; Erenzo’s now working to see that other New York distillers have the same opportunities, lobbying for changes in the state’s laws and tax codes that will make it easier for New York’s farm communities to once again add liquid value to their crops. “How many apples are thrown away or left to rot in the field each year? That could be made into vodka or brandy, and those could be sold on a farmstand shelf,” he says. “Our goal is to get more farms involved by hooking them up with a local distillery to make whiskey or another spirit that they can sell at a farm market. It’s an enormous way to raise revenue for farmers, and increase tax revenue for New York.”

Rye whiskey is made from the hardy cold-weather grain well suited for New York’s climate, and was first distilled in the then-frontier region by Scottish settlers in the 18th century; it remained the cornerstone spirit for New York distilleries for more than 100 years. This historic connection—not to mention the availability of New York-grown grain, and the burgeoning demand for rye whiskey among fans of craft cocktails—has made rye an attractive spirit for many New York distillers.

“I’m a culture and history buff, and the idea of reclaiming part of our regional or state history was really appealing,” Katz says. New York Distilling is making rye whiskey using varieties of rye that were common in New York in the 19th century; the first bottles should be available next year (a Rock & Rye liqueur, made with younger whiskey, may be released later this year).

Much of New York’s rye is grown in and around the Finger Lakes region in west-central New York. At Finger Lakes Distilling, Brian McKenzie and Thomas Earl McKenzie (the distillery partners are unrelated) use grain grown directly across the lake to make McKenzie Rye Whiskey. Using a 300-gallon Holstein pot still, the distillers make more than a dozen different spirits, ranging from vodka and grappa to cherry and blueberry liqueurs, and featuring whiskeys including a bourbon and a corn whiskey, and an Irish-style pot-still whiskey made from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley.

True to the farm-distiller ethos, the McKenzies source almost everything from local farms. “Ninety percent of what we use is grown right here in the Finger Lakes,” says Brian McKenzie. “We work with 25 to 30 farms for grain, grapes and all kinds of local fruit.” This local connection continues even after the spirits have been distilled; McKenzie Rye finishes its aging in casks that previously held a sherry-style fortified wine from a local winery, and the bourbon is finished in casks that recently held local Chardonnay.

Rye is also likely to be the first whiskey produced at Coppersea Distillery in the Hudson Valley. Coppersea’s owners Michael Kinstlick and Angus MacDonald are taking the whiskey-as-history angle to heart. When the distillery opens later this year, the approach will be as 19th century as possible, without modern conveniences such as plastics or mechanical pumps, and the rye and corn whiskeys will be made from heirloom varietals and single-farm grain as much as possible. The goal is to maintain a historically authentic approach that could result in a style of spirit familiar to New York’s horse-and-buggy era inhabitants. “I would hope that when we’re in production, if I were to have the people working the stills trade their American Apparel t-shirts for sack suits and bowler hats, there’d be nothing about this to suggest it’s the 21st century,” MacDonald says.

While rye whiskey is integral to New York’s liquid heritage, bourbon and corn whiskey are also flowing. In a 325-square-foot Williamsburg loft, Kings County Distillery produces an unaged corn whiskey and a one-year-aged bourbon, made in miniscule batches using five 8-gallon stills (the distillery is relocating to a 7,000-square-foot space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard this year, and production capacity will likewise increase). For owners Colin Spoelman and David Haskell, the distillery started as a not-quite-legal hobby at home, and corn whiskey and bourbon have special significance for Spoelman, a Kentucky native. “I didn’t come to distilling to start a business, necessarily,” Spoelman says. “I was discovering my lost Kentucky heritage.” Though the distillery is still in its infancy and Spoelman and Haskell have kept their day jobs, Kings County’s spirits have whiskey drinkers talking: the simple flasks of bourbon are carried at whiskey-savvy bars, such as Brooklyn’s Char No. 4 and the Brandy Library in Manhattan, and its corn whiskey was awarded “best in category” by the American Distilling Institute.

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Delaware River Valley Wine Trail is Here!

There is a new wine trail in New Jersey! The Delaware River Valley Wine Trail!

The four wineieries included are:

Unionville Vineyards
Old York Cellars
Hopewell Valley Vineyards
Terhune Orchards

This is a very nice new trail in central New Jersey. Four great wineries. A lot of fun!!! A great addition for the state. Some of my favorite wineries all in a row.

Time to hit the trail!

Old York Winery (Ringoes, NJ)

OK, so I like to wander. If you’re a grown up with a car and time on your hands, this can lead to a lot of new things. Exciting discoveries. But with two kids in the back seat, there’s not always a lot of joy in Mudville when Dad starts following the winery signs down winding country roads. I mollified the growing angry mob in my back seat by reminding them that I had in fact brought them to a fast food chain outlawed by my wife, and that another such stop, while away on a “man trip”, would be nullified if the raucous dissent continued. There is nothing like bribery. I know, I’m a bad parent.

Anyway, the current quarry in my sights was a winery I had never heard of before in central New Jersey named Old York Winery. While there was much apparent newness about the place, something about it was also familiar. Then I realized this was the old Amwell Vineyards.

Amwell Valley Vineyard was established in 1978 by Michael and Elsa Fisher. Dr. Michael Fisher was a Distinguished Senior Scientist at Merck Research Laboratories in Rahway, N.J. and was a recipient of the 1987 Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award. After reading an article in Scientific American about the various grape growing regions in the world, Dr. Fischer contacted one of the contributing authors, Philip Wagner of Boordy Vineyards in Maryland. Under the tutelage of Mr. Wagner, the Fishers planted various types of French/American hybrid vines.

Dr. Fisher was among a small group of winemakers who helped overturn the somewhat archaic wine laws of New Jersey. With the help of then Congresswoman Barbara McConnell, who introduced and got passed into law, the Farm Winery Act of 1981 in New Jersey was born. Amwell Valley Vineyard was the first New Jersey Winery licensed on August 31, 1982, under the Farm Winery Act.

The Fischers closed the winery three or four years ago. Then it was bought by David Wolin, who purchased it in 2008, and reopened it in 2010. He later sold it to Laurin Dorman and Scott Gares who now own it. Gares is the winemaker.

The winery has been completely redone. The tasting room is stylish, with a beautiful room, complete with stone and chrome and soft beautiful woods. The bottles are as much a part of the décor as thy part of the experience.

The first wine I tried was the 2009 Chardonnay. The chardonnay has some nice fruit up front with touches of green apple and honeydew with hint of vanilla and spice.

2009 Malbec was the next wine. This is not the big, deep Chilean or Argentinian type . This is a medium bodied Malbec. It’s got great fruit, with plum and a light jammy-ness. With fun, smooth and low tannins. Very nice long lasting finish.

Then there was the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. This had big fruit up front, with hints of cassis, plum, and prune. The is a very nice medium-to-big wine. There’s good acidity and nice tannins. A well balanced wine. This wine won a Gold Medal at the Riverside International Wine Competition. This is a very pretty red wine. Impressive.

2009 Syrah was also very nice dry red wine. Big, deep fruit flavors of dark raspberry with a hint of prunes. A light hint of fallen leaves, or barnyard – but in a good way. Big fruit, nice, acidity and nice, balanced tannins. Very Rhone-ish. Very nice.

There is also a lovely separate space for parties, performances, and art exhibits. During my visit, there was an art exhibit.

Old York Cellars is a special little winery. Everything old is new. And all the wine is good. And the views, even in winter, were wonderful!

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Core Black Raspberry Vodka and Cornelius Applejack from Harvest Spirits

Derek Grout of Harvest Spirits in Valatie, New York, loves to fool around. With tousled blonde hair, and turtleneck sweater, he looks like a guy who just walked out of an LL Bean catalog or into a ski lodge. And he’s got a pleasant disposition to boot. He is confident and cheerful, with a wry sense of humor. Derek is the moving force behind Harvest Spirits (along with his wife Ashley) which is the home of the now famous Core Vodka, made from 100% apples.

Harvest Spirits is based at Golden Harvest Farm, which has been in Derek’s family for three generations. It is one of the largest commercial farms in the region, and is one of the biggest points of interest in Columbia County, popular for its farm store, filled with fresh apples, baked pies, cider doughnuts, and in the fall, pumpkins. On Saturdays and Sundays the most difficult part of getting to Harvest Spirits in sneaking in and out of the parking lot.

Derek, in the meantime, has fun fermenting and distilling almost anything. He seems to want to try anything once. While on my recent trip to Harvest Spirits, he had a dozen different concoctions going, and on any visit he might pay us, he’s always got something new to try. The distillery is packed with highly decorated barrels and tons of mason jars with anything from fruits to herbs to other spices trying to find the next fun flavor. So it was no surprise when he enticed me over to his tasting counter and started talking, that I would try something new.

The first thing he wanted me to try was the new Core Black Raspberry Vodka, made from distilled apples and raspberries. Packed in the classic Core package, the vodka is decisively dark pink, with the same distinctive lettering that has made Core Vodka such a hit, and which has made Harvest Spirits one of the most highly regarded distillers on the east coast. The nose is all raspberry. And the taste is fantastic.It’s not sweet by any measure. I had to taste it twice. Looking at the liquid and smelling it, one could taste a very robust essence of raspberry, but with eyes closed, it finished like a fine vodka. This was an exceptional flavored vodka. An incredible accomplishment. Great alone or an intense part of any cocktail.

The next thing that was new was the Cornelius Applejack. Now, I have had and drank much Cornelius Applejack. Nothing like a cold night, with a glass of crushed ice, and you pour three fingers of Cornelius Applejack in a glass, and relax by your favorite fireplace with your loving companion. Mmmmm. It’s like a fine apple bourbon.

What you need to know is that Derek is a traveler, and he has spent lots of nights in France as part of a cider and wine making exchange program in concert with French cider makers and distillers. While in France, Derek learned how to put the fruit in the bottle. Cornelius Applejack now comes with a locally grown apple inside. A little bit of old France right here in the Hudson Valley.

Harvest Spirits is an excellent small craft distiller. And you need to try their products.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hermann J. Wiemer Bunch Select Late Harvest 2007

Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes Wine Country, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard stands on the western shores of Seneca Lake. The New York State winery – producing approximately 14,000 cases each year – was designed in 1982 by an award-winning team of Cornell architects. Enclosed within the shell of a 90-year-old scissor-trussed barn, the structure accommodates a full wine production area and tasting facility. Its unique white cathedral-like interior balances the bare wooden walls and sleek Italian stainless steel tanks.

Hermann himself is one of the most important people in the history of east coast winemaking, and his bio on these pages would need to be done in two posts, so we'll have to leave that for another post.

Recently, along with some friends of ours, Tom and Mary Hack of Hudson, New York, and owners of East Chatham Wines and Spirits, we tried a Hermann J. Wiemer Bunch Select Late Harvest dessert wine.

This Trockenbeerenauslese style dessert wine is pressed only from hand-selected grapes that are affected by the botrytis mold or noble rot. These wines are difficult to harvest, requiring hand picking in usually cold, miserable weather. And it takes four to seven more grapes per bottle than any other wine. So it's an incredibly difficult wine to make.

The wine was incredibly intense. There were peaches, honey and apricots on the nose and in the glass. We had it with cheese and light fruit tarts with light cream. It was an absolutely wonderful and delicious experience. Just fantastic!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Unionville Vineyards Just Keeps Getting Better and Better

Zeke Johnsen, the assistant winemaker at Unionville said hello as soon as I walked in. I was disappointed. I had wanted to go in unnoticed. On the other hand, Stephen "Zeke" Johnsen is one of the nicest people you'll meet. And one of the most affable winemakers in New Jersey. So much for going incognito, I was assure, however, a thorough and chatty tour. And I couldn't have asked for a nicer guide!

Unionville's home vineyard is an 88.9 acre farm that had originally been part of the largest peach orchard in the United States. The farm was split off as a dowry present when one of the original owner's daughters was married in 1856. The main house and the oldest section of the winery building were built in 1858. In the heart of America’s Colonial Crescent, Unionville Vineyards offers breathtaking natural beauty, bountiful terroir, historic significance and award-winning artisanal wines. In 1900 the farm was sold and became a successful dairy farm. In 1965 the farm was sold to developers who originally had it planted in grains. The property was purchased in 1980 with the goal of saving the farm, returning the land to its fruit growing tradition and starting the Unionville Vineyards. The first Unionville vines were planted in 1988 and the winery opened to the public on April 1, 1993. Unionville Vineyards is a collection of four farms with over 300 acres of preserved farmland and is currently operated by a group of local landowners.

Unionville Vineyards is an example of New Jersey’s commitment to enabling farmland to exist in the “Garden State,” the most densely populated State in our country. The property is part of New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation Program. Unionville Vineyards currently has over 40 acres of vine stock under cultivation.

Acclaimed winemaker, Cameron Stark, formally trained at UC Davis and spent his early career under the tutelage of Napa Valley wine experts perfecting his skills and mastering his unique, creative style of winemaking. Cameron’s wines have earned him respect and recognition in the wine establishment including Wine Enthusiast ratings of 90+ points.

I have been writing about Unionville Vineyards for almost a decade. In that time I have seen them go from a committed higher level local winery, to one of the best wineries on the entire east coast.

This trip was as much to confirm my belief in that conviction as much as seeing if they were being consistant. Consistancy in the wine business is not a bad thing. They'd accomplished a lot at Unionville over the years. To maintain would be substantial.

I did a wide swath of tasting with Zeke. Here's where we ended up. Some Beverage Tasting Institute (BTI) ratings included.

Fox Series Reisling 2010 - A semi-sweet light white. Great tropical fruits on the nose. Apricot and honey as well. But the taste was green apple and a bright, fresh zestiness. A wonderful, refreshing wine.

Next were the single vineyard Chardonnays:

Pheasant Hill Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 Tangerine and lemon zest come through come through as promised. A lovely dry Chardonnay with wonderful fruit. This is as lovely a chardonnay as you are going to find. Excellent.

Unionville Home Chardonnay 2010 BTI 91 This wine is made from some of the first chardonnay vines planted in the state of New Jersey. Kiwi and lime come through as promised. Also a nice hint of vanilla come though, as well as creamy finish. Elegant.

And then onto some reds:

Cam Jam #2 2010 - Pinot Noir, Petite Verdot, and Chambourcin - This is a wonderful blend of wines. The two vinifera grapes are blended with the hybrid. I really liked this. This was a wonderful blend. Big flavors of cherry, dark raspberry, plum, and some chocolate. I really liked this wine.

The Big "O" 2010 - This was barrel tasting. Won't be bottled at least for two months, or so. This is a classic Bordeaux style wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. This is a big beautiful classic wine. Lots of dark cherry and blackberry, hints of cassis and prune, with a big whiff of vanilla. Touch of chocolate and a hint of leather. This is a fabulous big red wine. Buy it by the case - put at least half the cases away for five years, and put the rest in the rack to drink when you like. Fantastic!

Mountain Road Pinot Noir 2010 BTI 90 This is a single vineyard Pinot Noir. This has lots of bright, fresh cherry. Aged in neutral French oak This is as pretty and beautiful a pinot noir that you can find on the east coast.

Pheasant Hill Pinot Noir 2010 BTI 90 A delicate Pinot Noir. Lots of bright, fresh fruit. Big cherry. Lots of vanilla. This was an exceptional wine. Litter than some wonderful east coast pinot noirs, it is a classic Burgundian style pinots. A brilliant dark garnet color. This wine was chosen as the only east coast wine for Charlie Palmer's 7th Annual Pigs & Pinot event in Healdsburg, CA. Fantastic wine!

All of these wines were not just equal it quality to wines I have tasted in the past. Cameron and Zeke had raised the bar yet again. Their chardonnays were incredible. The red blends were awesome! An the two Pinot Noirs were among the best I have tasted on the entire east coast.

And thanks, Zeke!

Howard G. Goldberg Raves About Lenz (LI)

Inspired by Bordeaux
Published: February 10, 2012

Wines from the Lenz Winery, in Peconic, have had a French accent since Eric Fry became winemaker in 1989. It seems even more pronounced in the latest releases.

“I don’t look to California for inspiration — I look to Bordeaux,” Mr. Fry said in a telephone interview. Broadly speaking, this stylistic distinction means consumers can expect his reds to be understated; they are also some of the most interesting reds made on Long Island.

The fine Lenz 2007 Estate Select merlot ($23) and 2007 regular merlot ($17) mimic their counterparts from the St.-Émilion region of Bordeaux. The Estate Select, a model of restraint, offers a scent of late-summer roses and, as it lingers on the palate, myriad subtleties; the longer it is cellared, the more profound it is likely to become. The punchier, flavorsome regular merlot is a meaty everyday wine.

The light, fresh 2008 cabernet sauvignon ($23) evokes cabernets from petits châteaux, small estates in the Médoc region.

As for whites, the attractive, slightly oaky, round 2008 Old Vines chardonnay ($25) has a Burgundy character, and the salmon-tinted, aromatic 2008 Blanc de Noir ($15), made from pinot noir, echoes the especially food-friendly bone-dry whites and rosés of southern France.

Mr. Fry is a gifted maker of sparkling wine, as his appetite-whetting all-pinot noir 2005 Cuvée ($30) and yeasty, nutty 1999 Cuvée ($60), fashioned from chardonnay and pinot noir, both attest.

The 1999 sparkler is a re-release. When it was first released, in 2005, Lenz retained 40 cases to enable the yeast in the bottle, which allowed a second fermentation and generated the bubbles, to keep influencing the flavor. In November, Mr. Fry ejected the yeast from a batch of bottles and began selling them.

In the Champagne region, such intermittently released wines, designated récemment dégorgé, are known as R.D., which is also a Bollinger trademark. Lenz’s label carries a translation: “recently disgorged.”

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Howard G. Goldberg Raves About Waters Crest (LI)

Like an Avocado in a Glass
Published: January 27, 2012
New York Times

The food-friendly whites made at Waters Crest in Cutchogue and sold in its adjacent tasting room, in the North Road Commons industrial park, are noteworthy for their texture.

This characteristic, known in wine jargon as mouth feel, significantly contributes to the pleasures of all the winery’s 2010 whites. Think of it as approximately the fluid equivalent of a ripe, soft, buttery avocado.

Waters Crest, which was founded in 2001, is owned by James Waters, a self-taught winemaker. It is tiny: only 48 cases of its 2010 Private Reserve chardonnay were made, for example.

Mr. Waters owns no vineyards, buying grapes from North Fork and Finger Lakes growers.

My favorite white in a recent tasting was the smooth Campania Bianco ($23.99), a blend named for the Italian region that was home to the family of Mr. Waters’s wife, Linda, before they immigrated to the United States.

Made up of 50 percent chardonnay, 40 percent riesling and 10 percent sauvignon blanc, this young, perfumed wine, full of nicely melding fruit-salad flavors, is a winner. In four months, when the flavors evolve more fully in the bottle, it is likely to be even better.

Mr. Waters’s suave, appetite-whetting dry riesling ($19.99) is redolent of young peaches. His graceful sauvignon blanc ($22.99) possesses an attractively floral scent and a rich grassy flavor.

The light-bodied chardonnay ($23.99), described by Mr. Waters in an e-mail as “a limited-production wine made in distinctive vintages,” was detectably fermented in new French-oak barrels. It underwent a partial secondary fermentation that softened the acidity. Spicy and lemony, it is pleasing now and is likely to benefit from six months’ aging.

All four whites should be consumed only moderately chilled.

I also liked two of the Waters Crest reds, the mature Grand Vin cabernet sauvignon ($44.99) from the 2007 vintage, perhaps Long Island’s greatest vintage to date, and the light 2008 merlot ($34.99), an everyday wine.
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