Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Advisor Wine Industry Network Lauds Hybrids, Stephen Casccles

Eastern Winemakers See Potential for Premium Terroir Driven Hybrid Wines
By Paul Tonacci, Editor April 18, 2016

On the west coast, hybrid grapes may hardly make a din in winemaking conversations, being chiefly used in the production of table wines and eating grapes. However, on the east coast where winemaking is an entirely different reality, hybrid grapes represent much more to many of its winemakers up and down the country’s eastern reaches.

Traditionally, hybrids were grown for high yields, ripeness and disease-resistance, but increasing numbers of winemakers are making wines from these cultivars that exceed the confines of the “table wine” category and challenge the idea of where great wine can be made. Inarguably, hybrids are here to stay, but as the discussion about their propagation shifts from which varieties give its growers the highest yields and transitions into discussions of wine quality, new questions are raised including whether hybrid grapes can display that wonderfully idiosyncratic French term, “terroir”, like their vinifera counterparts, or do these crossings come at a price that their terroir identity is lost.

For New Jersey winemaker and proprietor, Jim Quarella of Bellview Winery in Landisville, the question of whether hybrids manifest terroir can only be addressed if the grapes are being grown properly. If the vines are high cordon-trellised, they haven’t produced the same quality fruit as with vertical shoot positioning, he asserts. Backing his beliefs are the vineyard tests he performed over the years to know for sure, but as part of the local winemaking community, he’s quick to share his findings with others.

“Any discussion about terroir can only take place if the best possible fruit is being grown in the vineyard,” Jim says. He is so confident about the existence of terroir in hybrid wine he’s among a small group of winemakers in the Outer Coastal Plain AVA of southern New Jersey that led the charge to create a unique red blend called, “Coeur d’Est”, or in English, “Heart of the East” that must include 30% of the hybrid grape, Chambourcin. He hopes that people can taste the terroir that’s unique to his AVA but is also enjoyable and ageable.

In lockstep with these sentiments about producing the best possible fruit from hybrid cultivars is University of Maryland Professor and Extension Specialist of Viticulture and Small Fruit, Dr. Joseph Fiola, who recently gave a seminar at the Eastern Winery Exposition on March 9th in Lancaster, PA discussing his trials with the hybrid, Chardonel.

One of the most poignant takeaways – albeit obvious for those whom already practice it – was the necessity of tending to hybrid grape varieties with the same regard as vitis vinifera in order to produce the best wines. Not surprisingly, tasting his wines that afternoon left little doubt about the positive benefits. Dr. Fiola did share that in his visits to some vineyards and wineries it was clear some of these hybrid grape varieties more closely resembled a wine that was a “workhorse” in terms of total yields but wasn’t fashioned to be a fine wine producing grapevine.

The idea of terroir among hybrid grapes is very intriguing to many winemakers including Mike Sammons II, a consulting oenologist with his own practice called Mercenary Wine. Having done horizontal tastings of Chambourcin, he firmly believes terroir exists, but it’s the impact of the growing season on hybrids that he knows is incomplete; another hybrid like Baco Noir could be the best variety to grow instead of Chambourcin he may discover down the road, but that’s why he hopes more tests are being done by others equally as curious.

Mike’s first Chambourcin harvest at Plagido’s Winery, an operation in Hammonton, New Jersey, took place only last year, but he looks forward to seeing how his wines’ unique terroir manifests itself, and how it may contribute to the debate on New Jersey’s own distinct terroir.

There’s even some specific literature on the subject concerning hybrids cultivation and its regional styles, and one of the best books has to be Stephen Casscles’ “Grapes of the Hudson Valley,” in which the grape growing winemaker-cum-author shares what he’s learned in the field. For example, he’s chronicled from his tastings that a grape like Chambourcin takes on a more southern Rhone-like style with softer tannins and more supple fruit when produced in Virginia, but in the Hudson Valley, the grape tends to express itself with higher tartaric acid levels and is a bit leaner, comparatively.

These regional differences are his terroir: the hydrology of the soil, mineral composition, latitude, all are intrinsically part of any wine’s identity, Stephen affirms. Most interestingly, his work identifies that particular hybrid cultivars are better-suited to display terroir than others; Chancellor and Ravat 51 (a.k.a. Vignoles), being deeply flavored wines aren’t as keen barometers of a regional style as Vidal Blanc, Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc and others.

Richard Leahy, the Eastern Winery Exposition organizer and author of “Beyond Jefferson’s Vines,” sees things a little differently regarding the topic. He states that on a purely scientific level, all grapes – both hybrids and vitis vinifera – will manifest different metabolites (e.g. brix and acids) when grown in varying climates, something more akin to a snapshot than the classical understanding of terroir over substantial periods of time.

However, on the east coast where hybrid varieties are a tent pole of the local industry, there hasn’t been enough focus on quality production with a terroir focus in mind he believes. Be that as it may, some growing areas are ahead of the curve and embrace a particular hybrid grape. For instance, Richard goes on to say, “In the Allentown area [Pennsylvania] they have a Chambourcin Trail […] since it does so well there. […] In Indiana, they’ve made Traminette the state grape, but there’s a difference between “growing well”, being popular, and terroir.”

There is much agreement among the mid-Atlantic winemaking regions about hybrid grapes’ ability to capture site- and region-specific terroir, but the discussion has many nuanced opinions. Trial locations are being planted, new grape varieties continue to be tested, and many winemaking experiments are being conducted.

To some in the field, it has the feel of the next unexplored wine frontier, but terroir discussion is evidently still in its preliminary stages, though with each passing harvest east coast winemakers are steps closer to understanding the climactic challenges better. Perhaps, like grapes in a vineyard before harvest, the possibilities of terroir-focused hybrid variety propagation will yield very captivating results.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Deacon Giles Distillery - Something Wickedly Good This Way Comes (MA)

So one Saturday my friend Rich Srsich and myself were in Salem, Massachusetts at The House of Seven Gables where I had an event to attend. While talking to several of the folks at the House, we asked if there were any breweries, distilleries, etc. in town that worth seeing. They told us a new distillery had just in fact opened. It was call Deacon Giles Distillery, and it was definitely worth finding. It ook a little detective work. The address says one thing, but the entrance is on the side street, just so you know!

Who Was Deacon Giles?
The story of Deacon Giles was originally written as a temperance tract, here in Salem, circa 1835. This story inspired us to revive the art of distilling in a town once rich in both trade and spirits, but sadly devoid of distilleries for the last 100 years. As the story goes...
Amos Giles was an impious man, distilling rum on the Sabbath, paying his employees with liquor and selling bibles from his counting room.
After his employees finally walked out in anger, he unknowingly hired a gang of demons to operate his distillery. The demons decided to play a trick on Old Deacon Giles, secretly branding his barrels with messages of damnation that glowed with an unholy light when tapped. This story, first published in 1835, was purported to have been a vision of George B. Cheever, a young firebrand minister in Salem who went on to be a leader in both the temperance and anti-slavery movements. The story created a great uproar, as it was apparent to most that it was a thinly veiled lambasting of a popular local businessman. Cheever was whipped in the street and convicted of libel, but his story was reprinted numerous times under the title, “The Dream, or, the True History of Deacon Giles´ Distillery.” 

Deacon Giles Distillery was founded by two men: Ian and Jesse.
Ian Hunter was born and raised in St. Louis, and moved to Salem in 2001. After getting into homebrewing, Ian started writing a business plan to open a craft brewery, which is when he first encountered the story of Deacon Giles. Years later, during a serendipitous conversation over some drinks with Jesse, the two of them realized that together they could make Deacon Giles Distillery a reality. 
A native of New Hampshire, Jesse Brenneman has a degree from UNH, an Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering diploma from The American Brewers Guild. He has made many homebrew batches. When he and Ian ultimately met and realized their shared passion for owning their own distillery.

They make a lovely gin!

Loved the rum. Made with real molasses instead of cane sugar. You can always taste the difference. Much more intense flavor. Fantastic rum Really really liked this spirit. Hugely flavorful. Hoping they might attempt a barrel aged version of this. It would instantly be my favorite!

Master Distiller Jesse is a very serious guy. He's worked at several major craft breweries on the east coast, and is very knowledgable. He and his partner are intent on making Deacon Giles a household name in the craft spirit world. He's not someone to be overlooked or under estimated in anyway. Great guy and a up-and-coming new distillery. 

Can't lie - I am expecting big things out of Deacon Giles Distilling They are off to a terrific start!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Waters Crest - An Over Due Appreciation

Ok, let's start where we should - with Adam Slater - who is the general Manager of Water's Crest. He is a very cool guy. And I have done two extended tastings with Adam. I FB'ed both, but I have been tardy in reviewing the wines and writing about the winery. Adam is a very cool guy. An exceptional brand ambassador for this small, but potent family winery! Adam has invited me to numerous events, and offered me both future samples as well as library wines. He's well known and well liked by the North Fork wine crowd - and for good reason! He's terrific!
Now, the first thing is that while the winery is still located where it used to be, the tasting room has moved! The Waters Crest tasting room is one of the most intimate tasting rooms found on the North Fork of Long Island.  Their new tasting facility is located at 28735 Main Road in Cutchogue. Directly across the street from Wickhams Farm Stand in the red brick building.
I visited the new tasting room with Long Island and New York state wine guru Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report (the hairy looking dude to the far right). Adam gave us a preview of the space before it opened! A fabulous new room! Cozy, but with a ton of new features! 

The room is filled with a large bar, but also with televisions and over stuffed arm chairs and small tables, like a cocktail lounge. Comfort is premium, and half this room is dedicated to having a good time right then and there.

I was especially appreciative of the small hooks under the bar like a real cocktail lounge should have. Loved that! Perfect for coats, jackets, knapsacks, and handbags.
I also loved the clever new recharging station!!

And of course there's the wines! Jim Waters is proud of his line, and he should rightfully feel that way. The wines are consistent and getting better with each vintage. Jim Waters just keeps chugging along, making solid wines. Sometimes they have been so under the radar, at least under my radar, that I have been chagrinned. I have to tell you I have poured three bottles of their wines for three different sets of friends, and all three times, people looked at me, refusing to believe these were New York state wines. They were absolute hits at the table.

The thing about Waters Crest is that it's not owned by an Academy Award-winning director, it's not helmed by a wealthy internationally connected entrepreneur, it's not being run by someone who's in the news every week. Jim Waters is a lunch pail type guy. He goes to work. It's not flashy. He's not going to bamboozle you with the latest technique. There's no gimmicks. There's no tricks. It's just solid, solid wines that have improved so much so, that one must now take some of their best wines, like their Chardonnay, their reisling, and their Cab Franc and their Campania Rosso and acknowledge that they belong in the conversation of the better wines in the state.

That said, I have visited with Adam twice in the last 12 months. I visited about 9 months ago, and then about 3 months ago. So, this review is waaaaay over due. And for good reason, I am still very thrilled to promote these wines. Because they were lovely!

Firstly, the Dry Riesling 2013 was spectacular! Green apple heaven with grapefruit and lemon. Bone dry! An incredibly lovely wine! Robert Parker gave this an 89!

The Waters Crest Chardonnay 2013 Private Reserve was fantastic! Loved their light touch with Chardonnay. This was a lovely, light, crisp, wine, with lots of complexity. Aged in oak for six months, it had green apple, tropical fruits, and a nice dose of vanilla. A gorgeous, lively wine!

Loved both of these Merlots.
The Waters Crest Merlot 2010 is 100% Merlot aged in oak (mostly French oak; some American oak). Big ripe and dark cherries mingle with eucalyptus and a hint of smoke which come through as the winery promises. Cranberry also comes through. Very complex. Very nice.
"Classic in most respects, this is a fine ringer for St. Emilion, with elegance in the mid-palate and a somewhat earth feel rising above the oak-imparted cream on the smooth texture," wrote Mark Squires in Wine Advocate,  where he gave it 90 points!
The Waters Crest Merlot 2012 is a 100% varietal wine. Aged in French oak, this big wine is dominated by big, fresh dark cherries, with cocoa and vanilla, as well as hint of smoke and leather. A very complex, gorgeous wine. Cellar at least five years. This wine will only improve. A lovely, complex, dry red from the North Fork. 

Adam poured me two vintages of the Capania Rosso, their big red blend. I love this wine!

"The 110 cases that came out of ’08 are a blend of 68 percent merlot, 18 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent petit verdot. All of which brings up the question of origin. Campania Rosso is a pretty Italian-nodding name, but those grapes? That’s straight-up classic Bordeaux. What’s up with that?" posited popular wine and spirits journalist and author Amy Zavatto in Edible East End magazine.

“My wife is Italian, and that’s where her family from. They moved here before and after World War II, and her dad first, and then her mom after, they came here to restart their lives.” Jim Waters told Zavatto.

"Sniff at it, and there’s the gorgeous, dark, juicy fruit: black and red cherries; dribbly plums; a little cigar box and baking spice lingering around the edges of your tongue when you sip and the bright, buoyant zip of acidity that keeps the party sitting up straight at the table," Zavatto wrote of the CR 2008.

Anna Ijima Lee wrote in Wine Enthusiast, "A touch of leather adds intrigue to bright cherry and fresh herb aromas in this Long Island Bordeaux-style blend...Medium bodied in style with a refreshing spray of acidity."

I thought the wine was wonderful. Big cherries, with layers of flavors throughout! And with a couple of years of age on it, I thought it was tasting incredible.

The 2010 Campania Rosso is a limited production wine (just 74 cases). It is a blend of 81% Merlot, 15.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3.5% Cabernet Franc. Darker berries than the 2008. Bigger notes of plums, blueberry, and dark cherries. Nice notes of vanilla, and red cassis. A lovely wine, with layers and layers of flavors and aromas. Can cellar this an easy 7 years no question. Loved it!
Mark Squires gave it an 89 at Wine Advocate!
I brought a bottle of this to my family's holiday celebration. A big hit at the table!

The Waters Crest Cabernet Franc 2010 ‘Grand Vin’ is an incredible wine. These bottles represent hand picked bunches, the best of the best, and then go through a second sorting process at the winery on crush day on the sorting table. This is a select wine for a reason. The wine is all kinds of cherry - Bing cherries, ripe cherries, and dark cherries, with a double dollop of cocoa and espresso. The wine was aged 21 months in 100% French Oak. Fantastic wine. Couldn't help myself. Drank the bottle I bought less than a week later.

The Waters Crest Cabernet Franc 2013 exhibited many of the same characteristics, except that the brighter notes of cherry were more prevalent. All though the color and depth truck me as slightly darker. Easy to drink now, but don't! Lay this bad boy down ASAP and don't touch for at least 7 years. It will absolutely reward you!!!!

Jim Waters won't be in Men's Journal anytime soon. Nor will he be leading the next avant guard wine movement. But he will be making some very, very special wines. And you need to make your way to his new tasting room, ask for Adam, and settle in for a powerful and impressive tasting! He's getting some very nice notices from some very good people in the business. If you haven't bubbled them up to the top of your tasting rounds, you need too!

Old Claverack Brewing - Quietly Making Great, Truly Local Beer

OK, the first thing to note. It's way in the back country. Think dirt roads. And when you get there, you think you might be at the wrong place. There's just enough signage to let you know you're there, but not enough to suspect that its a thriving craft beverage business. Don't let that fool you! Old Klaverack (presumably the old Dutch spelling?) is named for the town of Claverack, NY in Columbia County, not far from the Hudson River.

Old Klaverack has kind of been operating under the radar. I'd heard about Old Klaverack Brewery first in the newspaper, seeing that the planning board had approved the business. But then hadn't heard about them at all after that. Then someone told me they'd been open for a while. And that was it, I made the trek out. But most folks don't know about Old Klaverack....yet!

Firstly owner/brewer Erik Bell is serious about his business, especially his brewing. He see's it as a craft, and art, not just as a means of commerce (although, that don't hurt). They are the town of Claverack's first brewery. Eric's mission is to craft a one of a kind beer using locally sourced ingredients from the town of Claverack along with surrounding towns, counties, and NYS. He even grows his own hops! Erik doesn't use any extract. He uses grains, local when he can get them. All from New York state.

This is a small operation, housed in a small, two-car garage. But the beer has made quick friends for Erik. He is starting to build a small, loyal following. And it's understandable why. The beer, though a limited selection I had, was wonderful!

The Longbeard Stout was easily my favorite. Rich, dark and deep, it instantly wowed me with it's maltiness! Next favorite was the Belgian White. A very elegant, floral beer, with a hint of sourness. Absolutely fabulous! The Theilman Pale Ale was wonderful. A nice, rich maltiness, with just a whiff of hops. But incredibly drinkable. And the Roxbury IPA was wonderful as well. Incredibly aromatic without being over hopped.

One of the things I liked most about Erik's beers were that they were not suffering fro the same over hopped mania that seems to have swept through the rest of the craft industry. Erik pulled back the reins. Many of the hops he used were more aromatic than biting. His beers let the malt show through, and the hops, fresh from his own family's farm, gave the beers a lovely essence. These beers definitely exhibit terrior!
"I've had a passion for craft beer as long as I can remember, but started brewing it myself in 2011," says owner/brewer Eric Bell. "I wanted to emphasize most in each type of beer I brew, to make them unique to Old Klaverack Brewery."  . 

Old Klaverack Hop Farm
Old Klaverack Hop Farm was started in 2014 as an experimental project started because Eric’s father wanted desperately to grow hops for his son. He convinced his fatherto plant a few hops rhizomes to see if the well-drained soil of their farm land had characterizes for hop production.   After the initial planting of three varieties of hops, Cascade, Galena, and Fuggles in the spring the plants did extremely well and we hoped that harvest would tell the tale we wanted to hear, and it did.  Harvest time yielded more than we expected for 1st year plants and the size, quality and aroma was exceptional.  We did not send any of the harvest out for alpha acid testing but plan extensive testing next harvest and beyond!
According to their website: “We are expanding in our 2nd year to approximately 200 to 250 plants of the same three varieties.  This includes the installation of an extensive trellis system to accommodate the vibrant hop bine growth.  If the second year planting yields anything like the first year we plan to expand with a third year planting with a approximate total of 500 to 650 plants to supply not only Old Klaverack Brewery but also any other local brewery and home brewers.” At Old Klaverack Hop Farm they look forward to supplying Old Klaverack Brewery and other local brewers the best hops possible.


The other cool thing to note, if you can't get your butt down to Old Klaverack is that you can go the Main Street Public House, in Philmont, NY, and try his beers there, because they have 'em on tap!!!! You can also find them at the Vanderbilt House in Philmont, or on tap in Hudson, NY, at Wunder Bar! Run, don't walk. These are limited, small batch wonders!!! And they are a local piece of art! And they are just good drinking!