Finger Lakes Saperavi Festival May 14, 2022

The wine made from Saperavi grapes being grown in the eastern United States has been a secret shared by a small but growing group of wine lovers. It isn’t a secret anymore as Saperavi plantings have aggressively expanded throughout the East Coast. As a varietal or in any of its unique blends Saperavi is gaining fans and increasing its vineyard acreage as forward-thinking winemakers join a movement to explore the possibilities this ancient grape from the “Far side of the world” has to offer.

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Lasha Tsatava the Georgian Gastronomy Ambassador, Director @ Boston Sommelier Society, and co-founder of the non-profit Saperica about its upcoming Saperavi Festival in the New York Finger Lakes on Saturday, May 14th, 2022 at the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery 9683 Middle Rd Hammondsport, NY.

My first question to Lasha was concerning what activities and attractions would be available to festival guests? Lasha told me that the entertaining and educational slate of attractions focuses on the food, wine, and culture of Georgia including:

  • Walkaround tasting of Saperavi & Rkatsiteli wines from the country of Georgia, the Finger Lakes of New York and beyond
  • Authentic Georgian cuisine created by Chama Mama restaurant from New York City (food included in ticket price)
  • Cooking demonstrations and educational seminars
  • Saperavi festival swag

My next question was why he and Erika Frey decided to start their nonprofit SAPERICA and what their mission was? Their reason for starting: SAPERICA saperica.org

“Saperavi has been growing in Finger Lakes, NY for about 50 years now. 

It’s a traditional grape variety for the region but not many people know about it.

Since June 2021, Erika and I had several trips to FLX and we would visit Saperavi and Rkatsiteli producers to learn more about them and discover their stories and their future plans with these grape varieties. At the same time, we were introducing the idea that these grape varieties have tremendous history and culture behind them including Georgian gastronomy. Every time we discussed these ideas with producers, people’s eyes lit up with excitement and there was a feeling that we needed to take the next step. So we did!” Their reason for starting Saperica and their mission statement complement each other perfectly!

http://SAPERICA.org mission statement: To promote Saperavi and other Georgian grape varieties along with Georgian gastronomy and culture in the Finger Lakes, NY, and around the U.S., by organizing and facilitating educational seminars and exchange programs between the regions, for wine and culinary professionals, and enthusiasts.

Lasha and Erika have worked closely with Meaghan Frank (Dr. Konstantin Frank’s great-granddaughter) of Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery and her team on this festival and prior events called “Finger Lakes Meet Georgia Experience”. These events were held conducted in a fully immersive environment where Erika, Lasha, and Meaghan educated, interacted, and guided their guests through the history and culture of Georgian wine before leading them back to the 1886 Reserve Tasting Room at the Frank Winery for a paired food and wine experience. One of the attendees told Lasha “This is why we fly to France and Italy to have experiences like this”

The first annual Saperavi Festival in the Finger Lakes will be held on Saturday, May 14th, 2022 from 2PM-5PM EDT at the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery 9683 Middle Rd Hammondsport NY. Tickets can be purchased at http://eventbrite.com or click this link to go to the event page https://www.eventbrite.com/e/saperavi-festival-tickets-274172135237

The following photos are of a previous “Finger Lakes Meet Georgia Experience” at the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery when Lasha and Erika collaborated with Meaghan and her team to highlight and explore the food, wine, and culture of Georgia.

Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill Harvest Update

I recently checked in with Dr. Rick Lynn at Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill in Mount Pleasant Pennsylvania to see what was happening at his winery and vineyards. 

Greendance is home to one of the three young Saperavi plantings in Western Pa. and I was eager to hear how his young vines were progressing. Rick told me: 

“We had some early to mid-season powdery mildew on only the Saperavi and on none of others that included Kerner, Riesling, and Cab Franc, I personally used the same spray program on all and they were all in the same location.   This reduced the Saperavi crop but the plants recovered and ended the year appearing healthy. There was not a large enough quantity to make a reasonable sized batch. We had about 40# of Cab Franc with good ripening stats as were the Kerner numbers.”

I am patiently awaiting next year’s Saperavi harvest that will hopefully provide ample fruit to produce Greendance’s first vintage of Saperavi. I am also curious how Rick will be able to integrate Saperavi’s signature acidity and dark color into his wine making style to yield new and completely unique blends. 

Unlike the humans that tend to them, grape vines can’t contract Covid19 they only respond to the influences of their environment. I asked Rick to share his thoughts on this year’s harvest:

“Our overall hybrid harvest this year, as for everyone else, was exceptional and in the range of 15T. We had 2T+ of Petite Pearl and 3T+ of Frontenac Gris/Frontenac Blanc. Our farm red blend is Frontenac and Chambourcin and there were plenty of them.  Our wine for American grape lovers is Niagara softened with Louise Swensen and Aldamiina.

I addressed the recent stretch of sub-zero temperatures that had overspread the region and he had this assessment:

“Concerning of course but only for the trial vinifera planting and not the hybrids. This is a better test year for their graft and bud survival. The advantage this year is a gradual but full opportunity for deep dormancy and then steady cold to keep them there up to this point and probably at least for the next 2 weeks.” 

Every year has its own challenges and 2021 was no different but winemakers always find a way to meet those challenges and craft wines that express the very best each year has to offer. I look forward to tasting the 2021 releases from Rick and his team at Greendance Winery. For more information about Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill  please visit http://www.greendancewinery.com Photos Courtesy: Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill

Chateau Niagara Bulls Blood 2019

Have you heard of Egri Bikavér? It is more commonly known as Bulls Blood. Egri Bikavér or Bulls Blood is the traditional dry red wine of the northern Hungary region of Eger. It is a controlled blend that must use at least three of the seventeen grape varieties that are permitted in the making of Bulls Blood. Bulls Blood is steeped in legend that dates back to a 16th century battle in which Hungarian forces were victorious over Ottoman forces.

Bulls Blood being made in North America is not easily found but one exactly like the one-of-a-kind Chateau Niagara Bulls Blood would be impossible because, to my knowledge it is the only one made with a blend of Blaufrankish (Lemberger), Cabernet Franc, and the Hungarian red grape Turan (Agria). Turan is a teinturier grape, meaning like Saperavi and Chambourcin it has pigment in both its skin and pulp making for a richly colored juice when pressed. Jim Baker got his Turan as clippings for his vineyard in Newfane New York by chance when a West Coast vintner included them in a shipment of Saperavi clippings and as they say “The rest is history”.

Chateau Niagara Bulls Blood 2019 is a deeply colored dry red wine blend that has a medium body with notes of smoke and flavors of dark berries. It has more than ample acidity to give it complexity. Each grape in the blend contributes something special to the finished wine. Cab Franc supplies the fruit while Lemberger adds the smoke then Turan provides the fire. I suggest decanting it and to consider adding some to your cellar to age for a few years.

This wine as well as others from Jim Baker’s award-winning Chateau Niagara Winery are are available online at http://www.chateauniagarawinery.com

 

Chateau Niagara Riesling Rosine 2019

When Jim Baker started his winery he didn’t set out to just make good wine but to make great wine in a traditional French style not only for New York but for anywhere.He has been doing just that since the beginning at his Chateau Niagara Winery with his award-winning wines featuring his signature Cabernet Franc. Sometimes you have to explore an avenue of innovation when it presents itself in the form of an interesting twist on a classic Italian wine making style. Jim developed an entirely new method of wine making that he uses to produce his Chateau Niagara Riesling Rosine. Riesling Rosine is a totally new take on Riesling that has to be tasted to be understood. Jim uses a modified appassimento method that he invented to dry his Riesling grapes to the point of them becoming raisins, hence the name Rosine. He chose the name with a tip of the hat because it sounded Italian but is the German word for raisin. 

Chateau Niagara Riesling Rosine 2019 is an off-dry Riesling with bright acidity and balanced sugar that produces a creamy mouthfeel that I found to be surprising for a Riesling. The flavors start with citrus but shift to tropical fruit as a result of botrytris doing its thing during the drying process. You can purchase Chateau Niagara Riesling Rosine and other Chateau Niagara wines online at http://www.chateauniagarawinery.com

The Milea Heritage Grape Project

I was pleasantly surprised recently to hear from my friend and mentor Steve Casscles. Steve is known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the Heritage and hybrid grapes of the eastern United States.He is well-known in the wine community for his articles, lectures, Grapes of the Hudson Valley and other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada book, and his Cedar Cliff vineyard where he cultivates over 110 Heritage grape varieties along with his own hybrids. Steve has taken a new position at Milea Estate Vineyard where he and the winemakers there have just launched the Heritage Grape Project. Steve and his colleagues are taking on the important task of identifying and promoting the production of wine from Heritage wine grape varieties and those developed during the 19th century in the Hudson Valley and Boston’s North Shore.

At Milea, they are also consider, at least for the Hudson Valley, that certain French-American Hybrids should be considered as Heritage grape varieties for the Milea Heritage Grape Project. This is because their introduction to the Hudson Valley in the mid-1950s by grape pioneer Philip Wagner, and his local proteges such as Everett Crosby, Mark & Dene Miller, Ben Feder, William Wetmore, Richard Eldridge, Cesar Baeza, and others fostered an explosion in the number of wineries in the area that made quality wine from these Heritage French-American hybrids. These Heritage grapes include, Baco Noir, Chelois, Leon Millot, Foch, Burdin, Le Colonel, and Chambourcin (reds) and for the whites Seyval Blanc, Vidal, Vignoles, and Verdelet.

With the effects of climate change already being felt here on the East Coast and throughout the wine growing regions of the world, the time to begin implementing long range solutions has arrived. The key to the future success of countless vintners globally may lay in these forgotten grape varieties whose adaptability could provide the answer to the dilemma of climate change in our vineyards. 

After Steve’s foreword on the goals of the Milea Heritage Project on http://www.hudsonvalleyheritagewines.com. I asked Steve to tell us about his vision and objectives for the project.

The goals of this project are to re-introduce to a national and international audience the significant contributions that the Hudson Valley has made to American horticulture and to encourage the cultivation of these heritage varieties to produce superior wines. Coupled with this effort to bring back these heritage grape varieties is the desire to promote the cultivation of such grapes because they can be grown in an environmentally sustainable manner. Steve Casscles

First, I am honored by Rich’s comments and posting about our exciting new project at Milea Estate Vineyards. I think you will soon hear more of our work to identify and promote heritage grape varieties, be they French-American hybrids, Hudson Valley or North Shore bred grape varieties of the 19th century, or new chance seedling grape varieties that we are working with to make quality wine. These quality wines will be made in a manner that is acceptable to the marketplace and which are highly fungus disease resistant, winter and summer tolerant of cold and heat, can roll with the punches that Mother Nature seems to be throwing at our growers, and are consistently productive, even in the most challenging of years. We will be posting information on our Project’s progress, and very much relying on Richard and his wonderful blog to post this information as well.  Be well.  

Thank you Steve for the kind words and for sharing this timely information with us. The Milea Heritage Grape Project is beginning its mission at a pivotal time for viticulture. It is critical to the success of this undertaking that its important message be heard and understood by the people who are most affected by the issue it seeks to address. I am including this link to the Milea Heritage Grape Project’s email sign up form at the bottom of their contact page so you can to receive news and updates from the project http://www.hudsonvalleyheritagewines.com/contact-us Please sign up. Thank you.

Photo Credit: Hudson Valley Heritage Wines

Chateau Niagara Saperavi Express 2020

Chateau Niagara Saperavi Express 2020 checks all the boxes for what you would expect from a “New World” Saperavi and then some. Jim Baker extracts every bit of color and flavor from his estate grown Saperavi grapes by adding extra enzymes and processes in the making of his Chateau Niagara Saperavi Express. The first thing that catches your attention about Saperavi Express is it’s incredibly deep and dark color. Big in body, especially for a cool climate red wine, it displays Saperavi’s signature acidity along with flavors of plum, black currants, and black pepper complemented by supple tannins through a medium finish. I tasted it again the next day and it had opened up nicely. 

Saperavi can trace its origins back to 6000 B.C., so when you drink Saperavi you are joining a long line of wine lovers. If anyone doubts your rightful place in that line just show them your purple tongue. http://www.chateauniagarawinery.com

Chateau Niagara Du Monde 2020

Jim Baker is a visionary when it comes to the wine he makes at his Chateau Niagara Winery located on the Niagara Plain near Lake Ontario in Newfane New York. Jim isn’t afraid to think outside the box or even outside of North America when it comes to the grapes he grows, styles of wine he makes or even the techniques he uses in the cellar. Chateau Niagara Du Monde 2020 is a perfect example of a blend of two well-known white grape varieties that yield a surprising unique wine when they are made using centuries-old methods from the fabled cradle of wine making. 

Chateau Niagara Du Monde 2020 is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Riesling with a R.S. of nominally 0 and an A.B.V. of 12%. Everything from how this wine is made, to the fascinating character these two highly stylized grapes yield when blended together using a process almost exclusively reserved for red grapes is far from the common place. Du Monde 2020 must be tasted to be understood but don’t wait because only twenty three cases were made. I asked Jim to explain how he makes Du Monde so we can appreciate the nuances of his wine.

“Du Monde is a wine made as a Georgian style white. These wines are traditionally skin fermented in clay amphora called qvervi for long periods of time. We did not use a qvervi, but we did a long skin maceration of eight weeks. This is similar to red wine making technique and results in a wine with many red wine characteristics such as deep color of amber rather than red. The skin tannins and phenols that give a sense of drinking a red wine, with a white wine finish. Our Du Monde is a 50/50 blend of Riesling and Chardonnay making a unique and promising blend. The combination yields a certain spiciness that is not apparent in either grape variety. This results in Du Monde pairing fantastic with all sorts of Mexican food.”

It would be correct to say this wine is a simple 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Riesling but that is a much too simple description. It would be better to use the analogy of two perfectly matched dance partners where neither one outshines the other so you can enjoy their performance in its entirety. Chateau Niagara Du Monde 2020 opens with notes of candied fruit leading into flavors of melon and tropical fruit followed by a medium finish with a tinge of lemon peel. This wine is perfectly balanced and displays a deep amber color in the glass. 

All of Jim Baker’s wines can be purchased online at http://chateauniagarawinery.com and by visiting or calling the winery at 2466 West Creek Road Newfane NY 716-778-7888

Ensenada, Mexico’s Napa Valley

V is for Vino host Vince Anter enjoys a toast to the wine of Ensenada. Photo Credit: V is for Vino

Ensenada is often called the Napa Valley of Mexico for good reason. This region has been growing grapes and producing wine for hundreds of years. The renaissance of the area began in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when the commercial production of wine began to expand so quickly that it now boasts over one hundred wineries. When we talk about Ensenada, Mexico we are including the City of Ensenada, the major winery/vineyard area of Valle De Guadalupe, and several grape growing areas just to the south. Ensenada is less than a two hour drive from San Diego in the Mexican State of Baja California. I would strongly suggest you take the advice of the travel show V is for Vino host Vince Anter and use a tour company, local tour guide or go with someone familiar with the area until you feel comfortable enough to visit by yourself. 

Ensenada wineries offer you the opportunity to experience a wide selection of wine that is not available anywhere else in the world. The vintners are still trying to identify which grapes are the best match for their terrior. In the vineyards around Ensenada you can find the white wine grapes: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and the red wine grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Malbec, and Zinfandel. These red grapes all make big red wines because of the warm dry climate. Surprisingly, the one grape that is emerging as the region’s signature grape is Nebbbiolo. Yes, the Italian wine grape from Tuscany, Italy. The Nebbiolo that is made in Mexico is a completely different wine than is made from the same Nebbiolo grape in Italy. Since there are no commissions or governing bodies restricting winemakers there they are free to experiment with different production methods and make unusual blends that are exclusive to the region. Blends of Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon/Tempranillo/Sangiovese, and Tempranillo/Syrah are common.

If you are interested in learning more about the food and wine culture of the Ensenada region I invite you to watch the wine and travel show V is for Vino Episode 2 Season 3 Ensenada Valle De Guadalupe Mexico. You can view all of the episodes from the first three seasons for free at http://visforvino.com, Amazon Prime, Roku, YouTube, Facebook Watch or Instagram. Here’s a link to the V is for Vino Ensenada episode. http://visforvino.com/ensenada-mexico Host/Producer Vince Anter gives you an insider’s look into the How. What, and Where when planning a trip to Mexico’s premier wine region. Salud!

Time After Time

You might be familiar with the name Meiomi from its immensely popular Pinot Noir, That Pinot has the dubious honor of being deemed “drinkable” in the controversial 2/4/2019 New York Times article by Eric Asimov titled “Supermarket wines are poured, and worlds collide.”https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/04/dining/drinks/wine-school-grocery-store-wines.amp.html In his article Mr. Asimov named three “processed” wines, as he called them, to show the divide between how the consumption of wine is viewed between two distinctly different groups of consumers. He used Apothic Red Blend, Meiomi Pinot Noir, and The Prisoner as examples of wine manufactured and marketed to the masses as an industrial product while another smaller group of wine consumers are targeted by the producers of wine that is made in small batches and is an artisanal agricultural product. He also mentions a third even smaller group of wine drinkers who can appreciate and move between both groups. I am a member of that group. While I can enjoy wine from both of Eric Asimov’s groups, I must be careful when recommending a bottle that is in limited distribution making sure it can be found in traditional distribution channels. 

Meiomi Chardonnay 2019 is widely distributed and is very affordable with a price tag under $20. This California Chardonnay is made to check as many of the boxes that Chardonnay drinkers are looking for as possible. It is a blend of grapes from Santa Barbara County, Sonoma County, and Monterey County. Meiomi Chardonnay 2019 was fermented entirely in stainless steel tanks and underwent 100% malolactic fermentation before being aged with French oak. This is not a bone-dry California Chardonnay but has a little sweetness to it, along with flavors of apple, pear, and vanilla followed by a buttery finish.

Meiomi Chardonnay is a crowd-pleaser because it is made to appeal to the broadest range of tastes while maintaining consistency from year to year. If you are planning a gathering where the majority of your guests are casual wine drinkers, I think serving a popular mass produced wine is a wise choice. It is better to be throwing out empty wine bottles than to be pouring half-full glasses of wine down the drain. 

Watching V is for Vino Wine Show

Have you seen the wine and travel show V is for Vino? If you haven’t, I strongly recommend that you add it to your must see list. This show isn’t just about the wine and winemakers of a region but is an immersive experience into how the food, wine, and culture of a region are all intertwined. V is for Vino delivers it’s viewers several options to interact with the show. It offers the wines featured in each episode for sale so you can be drinking them along with the host as you watch. You can also become a member of the VINO VIP CLUB for exclusive perks, like early access to new episodes, virtual tastings with the host, and discounts on wine plus much more. V is for Vino has plenty of entertaining and informative content making it perfect for both the novice and seasoned wine lover. 

I recently had the opportunity to ask the show’s host/creator Vince Anter to tell my readers about his wine journey and the story of V is for Vino. I want to thank Vince for taking the time from his busy schedule to work with me on this project. 

My name is Vince and I’m a certified sommelier and the producer and host of the wine and travel show V is for Vino. Each episode, I host the show in a new wine region, so wine lovers can really be transported to where their wine is made! You learn about the place, the grapes, meet a local winemaker, and learn how to cook dishes from a local chef that pair perfectly with the wine featured in the episode. We also always try to explore as much of the local culture as we can, and meet people who can really tell the story of the places we visit. For instance, in the Finger Lakes we went ice fishing , and in Mexico we went to the local seafood market in downtown Ensenada. Wine is as much about the place and people around it as it is the beverage itself, and the goal of the show was always to capture that. Then, you can actually buy the wine from the episode on our website. I tell people it’s like the Anthony Bourdain of wine: and you can actually drink the wine along with us! 

I started the show in 2016. I had come out to LA in 2010 to be a rock star, but as it turns out, a lot of other people had the same idea. During the 5 years spent pursuing music, I paid my way through gigs with bar and restaurant jobs and discovered a love for wine. I spent a year becoming a certified sommelier, which was one of the most challenging things I’d ever done; it involved many textbooks and flashcards. I decided I wanted to find a way for people to learn and understand more about the wine in their glass without having to pick up a book. And thus, V is for Vino was born. Video content is everywhere now, and I knew the timing was right for a video-based wine company. I’ve always been a fan of Alton Brown, Anthony Bourdain and Dinner’s, Drive-ins and Dives, so I decided to model my own show as a hybrid of the three. I knew I could host the show myself, as I was used to being in the spotlight from my days with my band, and I learned how to interact with all walks of life from my time bartending. Plus, I’ve always loved teaching, so this whole idea came very naturally to me.

So many people put their heart and soul into their wine and cooking, and it’s so awesome to be able to tell their stories. I think we’re unique in the sense that no one is getting as in-depth into the stories behind the wine as we are. And, we’re even turning non-wine lovers into fans: I try to break down topics plain and simple so that everyone can enjoy wine! Wine isn’t this mystical beverage that only snobs can understand and I think, I’m helping contribute to busting those perceptions! People often say that show helped them learn more about wine than years tasting in tasting rooms, and that’s always one of the best compliments I can receive; I want wine to be as accessible as any other beverage out there!  

We’re currently filming season 4 of the show, and most of our upcoming episodes are in Europe, which has been a blast. It should come out by May 2022. The best way to see the first 3 seasons is on https://visforvino.com/ for free! They can also be seen on Amazon Prime (paid), Roku, and YouTube. One of the best parts of the show is you can purchase the wines from the episodes at https://visforvino.com/buy-wine so you can order before you watch, and drink with us as we taste the wines on the show! We also have a virtual VINO VIP CLUB that has a TON of benefits, including behind the scenes content, full length interviews, raffles and giveaways, virtual tastings and events, and discounts on wine! It’s only $5 and really helps you get more out of the show; we work hard to over-deliver on value for our VIP members! https://visforvino.com/vino-vip-club/  Cheers, and I hope you enjoy the show! -Vince 

All photos courtesy: V is for Vino