I wake up every morning only to realize that it isn’t a reoccurring bad dream I keep having but a new day and the new reality of a world suffering through the Covid-19 pandemic, I struggle to believe that the images and commentary from around the world are actually taking place and isn’t the plot from a futuristic sci-fi novel. I take comfort in knowing while most of the country is safe at home under a “Stay at home” order Nature is moving forward at its own pace unaffected by the current state of human affairs. That won’t last long because crops will need to be planted and vineyards will need to be tended. Those jobs will take labor and labor will be hard to find now that the flow of migrant workers has been severely restricted to mitigate the spread of the virus.The biggest question yet to be answered is if the virus will peak and recede soon enough to allow work to start or will it linger causing a catastrophic interruption of all food and material commerce. That is a question that no one can answer while we’re in the midst of this unprecedented disaster. My best advice would be to explore some of those bottles you have been saving for a special occasion and enjoy them now because when will you be experiencing a more memorable event that this? Stay Strong, Stay Safe and Stay Home
I wrote this article as a guest post for Anatoli Levine’s wine blog http://talk-a-vino.com under the title “Desperately Seeking Saperavi”. I have updated it to keep my readers current with the evolving story of Saperavi.
The vintners of the Northeastern United States have long searched for a red wine grape that could be their signature grape. Over the years several have been on the cusp of becoming the iconic red wine grape that would be identified with the region for producing world-class red wine. Vintages of Lemberger and Cabernet Franc have produced stellar wines that can hold their own with other regions but just couldn’t elbow their way through a crowded field of reds to command the attention of the wine drinkers of the Eastern U.S. and beyond. The fact that you are reading this post proves that you are curious about something new in a world full of wine that can be overwhelming at times. The following is a summary of information I have gathered over the years about this intriguing grape from the wine makers and vineyard managers who know it best.
Saperavi is an ancient grape that can trace its origin to the Kakheti Region of Georgia and surrounding regions as far back as 6000 B.C. Saperavi is a teinturier-type grape, which means it has a dark skin and a pink-tinted flesh. A teinturier variety of grape will produce an intensely colored juice when crushed because both the skin and flesh contain the water-soluble pigment anthrocyanin which is responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their red, blue and purple color. Saperavi is a very adaptable loose bunch, late ripening, cool climate grape variety that can produce large yields without sacrificing much fruit quality. These vines are able to thrive in cool climate regions even at high altitudes because they have above average resistance to cold temperatures. A more cold/frost tolerant hybrid called Saperavi Severny has been developed by incorporating genes from the hardy Severny grape. Traditionally Saperavi wine has been blended with lesser wines but recently it has gained popularity as a varietal bottling. A common translation of Saperavi is “dye” because it makes an extremely dark-colored wine. Saperavi wine is known for having good acidity and firm but not overwhelming tannins. It is these attributes that make it a wine that takes well to aging with some examples being found to have aged nicely for fifty years. Georgia recently has had political problems with its neighbors over the export of wine, notably Saperavi, but that is blessing because it is diverting more wine to the world market.
When talking about Saperavi I can’t contain my excitement and expectations for the wine being grown and made in the United States. I have coined the term “New World Saperavi” for the wine being grown and made by four wineries in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York, one on the Niagara Lake Plain in Northern New York and one in Central Pennsylvania. In the FLX Saperavi is being grown and made at Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars by Frederick (Fred) Frank, the son of Willy Frank and the grandson of Dr. Konstantin Frank, two legendary wine makers. Dr. Konstantin Frank was familiar with Saperavi from his research and work in the Ukraine before World War II. After the war he left Europe and brought his knowledge of growing vitis Vinifera grapes in a cold climate to the FLX where he revolutionized winemaking in the Eastern United States. Saperavi winemaking is well established at Standing Stone Vineyards thanks to Martha (Marti) Macinski (owner/winemaker). She is one of the pioneers of Saperavi in the FLX and is making her wine using grapes from her ever-expanding Saperavi vineyard, arguably the largest in North America. In the Spring of 2017 Tom & Marti Macinski sold Standing Stone Vineyard to Fred Merwarth & Oskar Bynke, owners of Herman J. Wiemer Vineyard on the western shore of Seneca Lake in Dundee, NY. It is my understanding that the Standing Stone line of wine will be retained and that the Saperavi program will be continued. Anyone familiar with FLX Saperavi knows John McGregor at McGregor Vineyards, the maker of McGregor Black Russian Red. This wine is often refered to as “THE” cult wine of the FLX. McGregor Black Russian Red is a unique blend of Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni and is only produced at John’s Keuka Lake winery. Rob & Kate Thomas, owners of Shale Stone Winery produced their first vintage of Saperavi in 2014. They source their grapes from the Valois, NY vineyards of John Beckhorn. Shale Stone Winery will be planting a Saperavi vineyard in the Spring of 2018. The success of Rob & Kate’s Saperavi vineyard is assured because Shale Stone Winery is located right across the road from Standing Stone Vineyards. The old adage ” Location is everything” isn’t only true in real estate but also very important when growing wine grapes.
Jim & Kathy Baker planted 1/2 acre of Saperavi vines on their Niagara Lake Plain
property in New York five years ago. They used the grapes from that vineyard to produce Chateau Niagara’s newly released first vintage of Saperavi. This wine turned out so well that Jim is strongly considering adding substantially to his Saperavi vineyard. Jim also uses his Saperavi grapes to make a dessert wine called Kagor.
The only Saperavi producer outside of New York state is Fero Vineyards and Winery in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Chuck Fero is the owner/winemaker at Fero and is experimenting with different wine making techniques and styles to capitalize on the distinct characteristics this grape exhibits. Fero’s Saperavi planting has grown to about an acre and is projected to yield about 4-5 tons of fruit. Chuck will turn that harvest into 300 cases of his award-winning Saperavi wine.
Fero isn’t the only winery exploring the possible of Saperavi, all five of its counterparts in New York continue to hone in on their particular vision of what Saperavi can be and what styles it can be made into. Their success isn’t going unnoticed as more vineyard managers are planting Saperavi but the addition of newly planted acres is slow. There are several factors that have hindered the spread of Saperavi not the least of which is the scarcity of the vines themselves. White Barrel Winery (formerly Attimo) in Christianburg, Virginia has a young Saperavi vineyard that will be maturing in the next few years. Anyone considering adding Saperavi to their property can start their search at Grafted Grapevine Nursery Clifton Springs, New York a longtime supplier of Saperavi and other varieties to the wine industry. http://graftedgrapevines.com
The next stop on our search for “New World” Saperavi is Australia. South Australia to be more exact, home to Dan Traucki wine industry consultant, Director of Wine Assist Pty Ltd., freelance writer and my friend in the search for Saperavi wherever it may take me. Through his articles and our correspondences Dan has given me an insider’s perspective of the current state of Saperavi and other lesser known wines being made in Australia. Australian wine production from its nearly 4000 wineries is dominated by Shiraz and Chardonnay making completion for market share acutely competitive. Fourteen ground-breaking vineyard managers have taken the speculative position of planting Saperavi in their vineyards. The majority of these plantings are in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale Regions. Saperavi can also be found in the cool climate of the Alpine Valley region of Victoria. The cool climate Saperavi produces a slender wine with an angular taste profile while the warm climate renders a wine of muscular body and vivid taste. I helped Dan with an international Saperavi tasting that he organized earlier this year. Dan collected 33+ samples of Saperavi from wine makers around the world and the results of the tasting confirmed that Saperavi is a rising star. The next big Saperavi competition is being held in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia by the online publication Hvino News under the auspices of their publishing house Hvino News http://sapprize.hvino.com with the support of Georgia’s National Wine Agency. The “Saperavi World Prize” is open to non-Georgian producers worldwide and is free to enter.
I am interested in how Saperavi’s innate ability to express its terroir plays out when it is being planted in a diverse assortment of locations around the globe. Even though these vineyards are planted in vastly different regions of the world there is a high probability that over the course of time the DNA of other wine grapes has found its way into the DNA of Saperavi as it has with all other “pure” strains of wine grapes. The vines for Australian Saperavi were sourced from the Archival Saperavi of Roseworthy Agricultural College. This note-worthy collection of vines has been amassed from vineyards worldwide over the past 100 years. With this thought in mind I am sure that Saperavi produced anywhere will display the unmistakable qualities that we associate with it but will also manifest certain site specific characteristics that will be inevitable because of its genetic tendency to adapt to the growing environment.
The story of “New World Saperavi” is in its early chapters but luckily for us it is being written by skilled wine makers that are fearless visionaries when it comes to the future they see for their wineries. The possibilities surrounding this wine are fascinating and evolving with each new harvest. I am a curious person and have always enjoyed exploring something new and exciting. I invite you to join me in this adventure. A journey in the pursuit of an ageless red wine grape reinvented in vineyards a world away from its ancestral home by dreamers and risk takers as full of life as Saperavi itself. I urge you to indulge your inquisitive side and try Saperavi from anywhere in the world. I think you will be surprised and glad you got to taste something a little different before any of your friends.
When I began following the Saperavi grape in North America it was viewed as a grape with great potential in the vineyard and winery but still unproven as to just how the public would receive it. It had the reputation of being a “cult” wine because its limited production caused demand to exceed supply. With the four major Saperavi producers increasing their
Saperavi vineyards plus new producers and growers beginning to enter the market Saperavi availability has improved. What’s driving this interest in Saperavi you may ask? There are plenty of reasons for wine makers to like Saperavi, not the least of which is the higher price this dark red wine commands.
One of the new producers that I learned of recently contacted me after reading my guest post about Saperavi on my friend Anatoli Levine’s wine blog http://talk-a-vino.com Jim and Kathy Baker own Chateau Niagara in Newfane, NY. They grow many of the well-known varieties of wine grapes on their 31 acre Niagara Lake Plain property along with several exotic plantings that include Saperavi, Turan and Feteasca Neagra. Jim uses Saperavi from his 5-year-old 1/2 acre vineyard to produce Kagor and his soon to be released first vintage of a dry Saperavi varietal. He got his first Saperavi clippings from a friend in Washington state but suspects that is Saperavi-Svernyi. The vines came through Nova Scotia then traveled to British Columbia and finally across the border into the U.S. He bought his Saperavi vines from the Amberg’s and their Grafted Grapevines Nursery Clifton Springs, N.Y. Jim told me he is tempted to plant another 4 1/2 acres of Saperavi but will wait to see how his varietal sells. Chateau Niagara is one of the few wineries in North America to make the traditional Hungarian wine “Bulls Blood” http://chateauniagarawinery.com
Shalestone Vineyards owners Rob & Kate Thomas offer a Saperavi for sale at their Lodi, N.Y. tasting room and online. Shalestone doesn’t currently grow Saperavi in their vineyard but expect to plant it in the Spring 2018. They currently source their Saperavi from grower John Beckhorn in Valois, N.Y. Before visiting always check their website for tasting room hours. http://shalestonevineyards.com
To my knowledge the White Barrel Winery Christiansburg, Virginia is the only Saperavi grower in Virginia. White Barrel’s Rik Obiso tells me that things are going well in their young Saperavi vineyard and they will be adding 200 new vines in the Spring of 2018 bringing their Saperavi planting to about 1/2 acre. White Barrel won’t be relying entirely on its own vineyard to produce Saperavi but instead building upon its excellent relationships with Georgian (Russia) vineyards to possibly begin importing bulk Saperavi wine to meet their needs. This story is just starting with more to come in 2018 and 2019. http://whitebarrel.com
The big news this year has been the sale of Standing Stone Vineyards Lodi, N.Y. (east side of Seneca Lake) to premier Riesling maker H.J. Wiemer Dundee, N.Y. (west side of Seneca Lake). Standing Stone is one of the original four producers that I began to follow when I took an interest in “New World” Saperavi. H.J. Wiemer will keep the Standing Stone line of wines and continue its Saperavi program/nursery operations.
At McGregor Vineyard John McGregor told me that the latest release of his iconic Black Russian Red, which is the only Saperavi – Sereksiya Charni blend in the world, was the best he had ever made. From his Dundee, N.Y. tasting room he pointed out the areas in his vineyards where he plans to plant more Saperavi in the very near future.
Chuck Zaleski owner/winemaker of Fero Vineyards & Winery Lewisburg, PA. remains committed to his Saperavi program. Chuck planted his first Saperavi vines in 2010 and has kept expanding his plantings and knowledge of this grape ever since. Fero is the only grower/producer in Pennsylvania and benefits greatly from its site in the heart of the Susquehanna River Valley. Due to high demand Fero Saperavi always sells out so it is wise to check online or call the winery about availability before you visit. http://ferovineyards.com
The first sentence on Dr. Konstantin Frank Wines home page says it all!!!! “Dr. Konstantin Frank ignited the “Vinifera Revolution”, a movement that forever changed the course of wine growing in the Finger Lakes and United States.” That same pioneering spirit is alive and well at Dr. Frank’s today thanks to the efforts of his grandson Fred Frank. It only made sense that Dr. Frank would favor grape varieties he knew well from Eastern Europe and Russia. He cultivated Saperavi, Rkatsiteli and vitis Amurensis in the Finger Lakes. Dr. Frank has two Saperavi vineyards, one the west side of Keuka Lake and the other on the east side of Seneca Lake. Once only available at their Kueka Lake tasting room in Hammondsport, Dr. Frank Saperavi can now also be purchased on their website. http://drfrankwines.com
The Saperavi story keeps getting more exciting as these producers and growers continue to push the development of “New World” Saperavi forward while always improving the quality of the wine. If you are a Saperavi grower or producer or if you know of a grower/producer please contact me at http://email@example.com
I attempted to contact Knapp Winery about their Saperavi vineyard but I did not receive a response before I posted this article.
The second Friday of the month is a very special time at Ripepi Winery Monongahela, Pa. It’s special because that’s the monthly Happy Hour from 5 – 8 PM. If you would like to enjoy a good Pa. wine with friendly people in a festive winery setting mark your calendar for these events. You’ll get to meet Rich Ripepi and his stellar staff while tasting Ripepi’s large selection of wines.
When you visit be sure to talk with owner/winemaker Rich Ripepi. His warm and welcoming personality will make you feel right at home. Take advantage of the opportunity to discuss wine and wine grapes with him. He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge on the subject and is one of the very few Western Pennsylvania wine makers that grows his own wine grapes. Take a minute before you enter the tasting room to savor the view of his ten acre vineyard next to the winery.
During our conversation on that Friday evening Rich told me his vineyard had made it through this past winter in good shape but had experienced an unusual frost event after the flowers had emerged. Rich and I went out into the vineyard where he showed me how frost had covered the ground and coated the tops of the vines roughly five feet above the
ground. The strange thing was that there was a zone between three and four feet off the ground that did not frost. The flowering tops of the vines in that zone remained frost-free and undamaged despite the lack of overstory growth to protect them. What caused this curious phenomenon is hard to say but while a frost is never welcome it didn’t damage enough of the flowers to have a negative effect on this years crop.
Rich pointed out the young Cabernet Sauvignon vines he had planted to replace the “Old” Cab vines he had lost to winter damage a couple of years ago. While his new Cab vines continue to mature Rich will buy Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the Lanza Vineyard in California. The Lanza Vineyards are in the Suisun Valley just east of Napa Valley. Grapes from Lanza are used to produce the exceptional wines of the Wooden Valley Winery. Pete Abdulovic, winery manager at Ripepi told me an interesting side note on their grape purchase. During a recent visit to the Napa Valley he made a stop in the Suisun Valley and when he was tasting there he heard that the Caymus Winery had leased a considerable
amount of vineyard acreage surrounding the Lanza Vineyards and throughout the Suisun Valley to supply grapes for their iconic Caymus wines. It will be very interesting to follow the transformation of these grapes from start to finish and taste what characteristics Rich can coax out of them.
At the end of the evening as we were saying our goodbyes Rich told me he had ordered Saperavi vines to plant in a one half acre section of his vineyard from Grafted Grapevine Nursery Clifton Springs, NY. He was hopeful that they would be able to fill his order because the demand for these vines has created a supply shortage. The increasing popularity of this grape is due in large part to the very good wine that the only four North American producers of Saperavi are offering to the public. When Rich gets his vines he will become the second vineyard in Pennsylvania to grow Saperavi commercially joining Fero Vineyards & Winery in Lewisburg. Chuck Zaleski, owner/winemaker of Fero planted his first Saperavi vines in 2010 and released his first vintage from the 2013 harvest.
I just got the good news about this years harvest at Fero Vineyards from Chuck Zaleski, owner/winemaker, Fero Vineyards & Winery Lewisberg,Pa. Instead of me telling you what he said I decided you would get a more personal view into the harvest if you heard it from the man who knows Fero Vineyards better than anyone. The following is an excerpt from an e-mail Chuck sent me.
” We had a great harvest this year. Fruit quality was excellent and the yield remained at historical levels. I think we found the right site for our varieties.
My Saperavi is leveling out at about 2 ton on 1/2 acre. This gives me about 125 cases of wine. We will be bottling last years vintage this December. I like the way it has matured. We picked earlier that year so the acidity is a little higher. This years harvest is hopefully hitting the peak ripeness for flavor, smoothness and durability. I have been doing some benchmark tastings of domestic and foreign Saperavi. There is a large variation in the level of oak exposure. I am leaning away from the oak. It also is historically not an oak aged variety. The grape has such a nice flavor on its own and this gets overwhelmed by the oak. It also is historically not an oak aged variety. “
I am happy to hear that the harvest at Fero Vineyards was excellent. I have always been told that great wine is made in the vineyard and after hearing that the harvest was record-setting in both quality and quantity at every vineyard I talked with I have the highest expectations for the 2015 vintage. Thanks to Chuck for taking the time and effort to keep me and my readers updated with events at his winery and in his vineyard.
I have developed a fascination for the Saperavi grape. This may seem odd even if you have heard of Saperavi wine because it is nothing new to the wine world. The Saperavi that fascinates me isn’t from the Kakheti region of Georgia , Russia but “New World Saperavi” that is being produced here in the Northeastern U. S., namely the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York and in Central Pennsylvania. Saperavi is a very deeply colored red wine made from the ancient Saperavi grape that originated in one of the oldest wine growing regions of the world. Saperavi grapes are a teinturier grape, meaning its skin and flesh both have pigment which leads to a very delicious dark wine. What follows is the current state of Saperavi in America as told to me by the producers themselves.
Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellar
When the Finger Lakes Wine Region is mentioned undoubtably the first name that comes to mind is the iconic Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery in Hammondsport. The legendary Dr. Frank proved everyone wrong not only by growing vinifera grapes in the FLX but producing world-class award-winning wine from them. I would like to thank Frederick Frank for the time and attention he showed me while assisting me with this post. Dr. Konstantin Frank first planted Saperavi vines in his vineyard in 1958. Dr. Frank would use that fruit to produce his first vintage in 1962. Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery now has 1.5 acres planted in Saperavi vines and expects to produce 250 cases of Saperavi wine. That 1.5 acres of Saperavi vines is divided between their Keuka Lake vineyards in Hammondsport and their Seneca Lake vineyards (on the eastern side) in Hector. Dr. Frank’s Saperavi is only available at their winery tasting room in Hammondsport but they are planning to expand their plantings and hope to offer their Saperavi wine to their wholesalers in the future. Due to high demand and limited production they haven’t entered Dr. Frank Saperavi into wine competitions. drfrankwines.com
Standing Stone Vineyards
For years Marti Macinski owner/winemaker of Standing Stone Vineyards has extolled the virtues of Saperavi while methodically expanding her Saperavi vineyard and constantly improving her wine. Having appeared in many local, regional and national publications Standing Stone wine sales have ridden a steadily ascending arc but no member of Marti’s solid menu of wine appears to have create a devoted following like her Saperavi has.
Standing Stone planted their first 80 vines in 1994 and they are the source of the fruit for their newly released 2013 Reserve Saperavi. Since 2006 a deliberate and steady expansion of the Saperavi program has led to a vineyard that is just over 5 acres. 2005 was a trial run that yielded 23.5 cases. 2010 was Standing Stone’s first commercial release with 200 cases produced that year. This year the 2015 vintage is anticipated to be about 500 cases but Marti adds the caveat ” if we manage to hold off the deer.” Those deer will have more fruit to choose from because Standing Stone continues to plant more Saperavi vines to increase supply and build inventory for market after the winery has enough grapes for their own wine production. That future production may include experimenting with longer aging, some sweeter versions of Saperavi or possibly a Rosé or Port. Standing Stone Saperavi is very round with delicious ripe flavors of tart cherry fruit when young that evolves into plum and pomegranate that are integrated into complex layers of aroma and flavors as it ages. Marti doesn’t enter her Saperavi into many competitions so when she does it comes as no surprise that Standing Stone Saperavi 2012 was awarded the Wine & Food Classic Gold Medal last year and the 2013 Saperavi won “Best Other Red Vinifera” at this year’s Classic. A special thanks to Marti Macinski for all the time and effort that you have taken to help me with this post and all the other projects you have assisted me on. standingstonewines.com
Fero Vineyards & Winery
Fero Vineyards & Winery is the only winery in Pennsylvania that I am aware of that has Saperavi planted in it’s vineyard. Chuck Zaleski owner/winemaker of Fero planted his first 500 Saperavi vines on 1/2 acre of his Lewisburg, Pennsylvania vineyard in 2010. He conducted trials as his vines matured until he released his first vintage from the 2013 harvest which consisted of 50 cases. The first Saperavi I ever tasted was Chuck’s 2013 Saperavi from that first 50 cases he produced. After tasting that wine I was sold on the potential of this Georgian red grape here in the East. The 2014 harvest produced 125 cases and the 2015 harvest , expected to be in October, is estimated to yield similar volume. With the addition of 1/2 acre of Saperavi plantings the projected production will be 4-5 tons per acre. The final production number for Saperavi produced should be approximately 300 cases.
Chuck’s philosophy is to let the grape determine the style, so the style of his Saperavi really does remain “Fluid”. He let the 2013 vintage hang and made a ripe jammy style the both of us loved. He picked earlier in 2014 for added acidity and weather concerns plus because of some reading he had done. He said the 2014 may take a little longer to soften but may have more longevity. Chuck doesn’t use much oak at all because he wants to showcase the grape’s unique rich flavor. He tries to mimic traditional methods as much as possible by fermenting in tall containers at constant temperature, very similar to a Qveri and age it with minimal disturbing on the lees. Fero Saperavi 2013 won a Gold Medal at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition this year. Enough said!
Chuck’s most intriquing observation about this varity is it’s ability to rival the full-bodied red wines of the warm climate regions. He doesn’t know where the ideal location to produce Saperavi in the U.S. is but is pretty sure it isn’t too far from Central Pa. Chuck’s only problem with Saperavi is that it is selling out too fast before he can satisfy demand. Looks like a great problem to have. Thanks to Chuck Zaleski for introducing me to Saperavi and all the help he has given me. ferovineyards.com
John McGregor and his McGregor Black Russian Red have always been an enigma in the FLX. In the Spring of 1980 he planted Saperavi, Sereksiya Charni, Rkatsiteli and Sereksiya Rosé in a limited area of his vineyard. From that first planting his Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni has expanded to 4 acres. In 1985 John made a small experimental batch from these grapes and bottled it in half bottles. McGregor Saperavi and Sereksiya are bottled together and produces over 300 cases per year. That number is certain to rise as more Saperavi vines are planted over the next 3-5 years.
If you are wondering what McGregor Black Russian Red Saperavi & Sereksiya blend taste like here is how John McGregor described it to me ” It’s a very rich, dark red wine that typically spends over two years in oak barrels. It has great structure and depth with flavors typically reminiscent of black currents, blackberries and elderberries entwined with a sweet oak character. It has plenty of tannic structure and generally high acidity, lending it well to long-term cellar aging.”
McGregor Saperavi is entered into few , if any, annual competitions but earlier vintages have been awarded Double Gold and Gold Medals. The 2010 vintage received an 87 point rating in the May 2014 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. After decades of hard work Black Russian Red has grown into what John calls “The Cult red wine of the Finger Lakes.” No matter what you call it the one thing you can call it is “Successful.” The label to the right appeared on the McGregor 1985 Saperavi bottle. Thanks John McGregor for the invaluable help you gave me with this article. McGregorwinery.com
Will Saperavi develop into the signature Red wine of the East? The quality is certainly there and the vines are able to express the terroir of the vineyards in which they are planted to produce a wine on par or better than their Russian counterparts. The demand for Saperavi is increasing to the point where demand is out pacing supply while supply is also increasing but at a slower rate because of many factors. I believe Saperavi will find its place as the top varietal Red wine of the East but it will take time simply because there are so many obstacles to overcome and that things move slowly for new wine grape development in any region of the world. If you can’t find Saperavi from one of the producers mentioned in this post I recommend that you try a Saperavi from any of the regions where it’s made. Help me tell the secret of Saperavi wine to wine lovers everywhere. Please repost this article.
With the official start of Summer just a few days away thoughts of picnics under brilliant blue skies and sunsets enjoyed with friends while sipping Rosé start to fill the minds of winter-weary romantics everywhere. Pennsylvania wine makers have produced a variety of easy drinking wines that will offer the perfect accent to any of your summertime activities.
Briar Valley Winery Proprietor’s Rosé is a dry Rosé made from a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Lemberger. A great easy drinking wine that displays soft cherry and berry notes with subtle tannins and nice acid. You can enjoy this Rosé along with all the Briar Valley offerings, plus the added bonus of live music when you visit the B.V. tasting room on Pitt St. in the metropolis of Bedford, Pa. on the first Friday of each month.
Fero Winery owner/winemaker Chuck Zaletski shows the wide range of his winemaking skills with his Sweet Blush. Sweet Blush is a rose-colored semi-sweet, not dry wine with smooth flavors of fruit. Chuck calls it his “Party Wine” and it would be great over ice, especially after running the Wine-N-Mile through the Fero Vineyards in Lewisburg, Pa. on May 29th.
If it is a blush made from a blend of four grapes that you are looking for, then Arrowhead Winery has the wine for you. Four Winds Blush has a light body with a smooth semi-sweet fruit finish but don’t take my word for it. Arrowhead Winery has just opened its newest wine shop inside Schramm Farm Market in Harrison City, Pa. Connie and Joanne will be happy to lead you through a free tasting of the wines of your choice.
Valley Sunrise is a fresh and sweet blend from Rich Ripepi at the Ripepi Winery. Rich has struck a balance with Valley Sunrise that produces a very drinkable wine perfect for any casual gathering. Stop by the Ripepi Winery in Monongahela, Pa. for the “Summer Sip Series” to experience live music and great food plus group vineyard tours + tastings.
The Vineyard at Hershey winemaker L. Paul Vezzetti has produced a spot-on wine for a summer evening of music in the open air of their vineyard. Twisted Kiss is a blend of white Vidal and red Chamboursin. This wine has hints of tropical fruit and subtle strawberry flavors. There is no excuse for having a boring weekend when you can go to The Vineyard at Hershey Middletown, Pa and dance to live music and drink fun wines under the stars at their “Decked Out Live” concerts.
No trip into the Laurel Highlands would be complete without a stop at the C.W. Klay Winery Chalk Hill, Pa. The “Pavilion Music Series” at C. W. Klay fills the air with the sound of free live music. You can relax and listen to a concert under the pavilion by the lake with a bottle of Chestnut Ridge Sunset. This wine is a delicate semi-sweet crimson blush with a hint of cherry aroma in a Zinfandel style.
These are just a few of the possibilities that you have available to you in Western & Central Pa. A complete directory of winery and brewery events can be found on the website: West Pa Winery & Brewery
Welcome to the 2nd Annual ” State of the Vineyard” address. the purpose of this post is to give everyone a first look at the 2015 growing season as seen through the eyes of the people who know it best, the growers and wine makers of Western and Central Pennsylvania. After a winter that broke records for cold and snow I found unexpected good news on all fronts. But don’t take it from me read what the experts had to say.
We will start in Central Pennsylvania with Paul Vezzetti winemaker at The Vineyard at Hershey. Paul tells me that their vineyards made it through the winter relatively unscathed by the sub-zero temperatures, even the normally cold sensitive Chardonnay and Riesling showed little damage and with pruning complete he is looking forward to a really big year. A year that will see a new block of vines added to the vineyard that will consist mostly of Muscat but also some Sauvignon Blanc.
Staying in Central Pa. our next stop is Lewisburg and Chuck Zaleski’s Fero Vineyards & Winery. Chuck grows only vinifera vines and over the last two winters his vine injury has been limited to only a “couple percent”. He feels fortunate to have his vineyard in the Middle Susquehana Valley on a small hilltop in a wide river valley at 41ºN latitude and 600 feet above sea level. He attributes his site for his excellent survival rate that his vineyard has experienced over the years. I want to congratulate Chuck on winning a Double Gold medal at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (FLIWC) with his 2013 Estate Lemberger and a Gold with his 2013 Saperavi also at FLIWC.
We now move west into Washington County the home of Ripepi Vineyards & Winery. Rich Ripepi is pleased with how his vines came through this winter. He lost some of his Cabernet Sauvignon vines last winter but the ones that survived made it through this winter in fine shape. The bud count is very good and is a product of an extremely strong growing season in 2014. The only negative Rich could report was a little damage to his 28-year-old Chancellor vines but he couldn’t put his finger on the exact cause. With all the primary trimming complete and half of the secondary done Rich could only express the highest hopes for this coming growing season.
I can never go to Bedford County without stopping to see Tod & Jean Manspeaker at Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery. Tod tells me that this winter was better than the winter of 2014 for their vineyard. The 2014 winter had two freeze events with the second damaging some vines by splitting their trunks and causing “Crown Gall” which will eventually destroy a vine once it’s infected. But this year was different, most of Briar Valley’s vines came through in good shape with the only exception being their Merlot. They had thought they lost 100% of the Merlot vines and had order new vines only to discover that a third of the vines had survived. Tod commented on how differently each variety of his vinifera grapes vines adapted to the environmental factors even though they were all on the same site. The Manspeakers are very busy now with about 1 to 1 1/2 weeks more of pruning to do on their 10 acre vineyard. They do all the pruning themselves to insure that the fruit meets their very high standards. The job this year was made even more difficult by the fact that all the extra canes left on last year had to be removed to prepare the vines for this years growing season. I am happy to report that Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery won two Silver medals at the Finger Lakes International Wine competition (FLIWC) with their 2010 Proprietor’s Red and 2012 Lemberger.
Our next stop is Greene County to visit Rick Thistlewaite at Thistlewaite Vineyards in Jefferson. Rick told me his vines had a “little more die back” this year but overall damage was minor with it limited to one or two vines per acre. The bud count at Thistlewaite is reported to be good. A two tier pruning protocol is employed where the first pruning leaves a long cane to develop buds that is then cut back with a second pruning after the first frost to give protection against late frost bud damage. When I asked Rick if he thought the site was a contributing factor in this year’s losses, he said that he didn’t think it was because his five acre vineyard is on a hilltop and is planted with all French hybrid vines. His opinion was that this past winter was wetter than last year and he had less snow cover to protect his vines. Thistlewaite Vineyards are planted with nine different varieties of wine grapes with the majority of the vineyard composed of Chambourcin and Traminette. Rick is anticipating another above average harvest this year.
For our last stop in Pennsylvania we will travel to the heart of the Laurel Highlands and make a visit to Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill. I had the pleasure of meeting Sharon Klay recently and had the opportunity to hear for myself how the winter effected her vineyard. Sharon said this winter wasn’t nearly as destructive to her vines as the last winter was. I could hear the lingering lament in her voice as she recalled losing two acres of her oldest Chardonnay last year but she quickly brightened when she reported the lack of damage this year and the promise of another banner year that lay ahead. I laughed as she told me the resident flock of wild turkeys at the vineyard had discriminating palates for which grapes they ate while leaving others varieties relatively untouched. On the day we talked her son, Christian had just received government approval for his distillery. After becoming fully operational it will offer a synergy with the winery by not only producing its own distilled spirits but using C.W.Klay wine to make grappa, brandy and other distilled products.
No report would be complete without checking in with our friends in the Finger Lakes Wine Region. Martha “Marti” Macinski reports the vines at Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery Hector, NY do not seem to have suffered damage from this winter. She said the current bud count numbers are showing minimal damage, so minimal that “We did some samples twice”. Last year the samples also showed minimal damage and the crop was of normal quantity with overall quality outstanding. Riesling and Gewürztraminer continues to be strong varieties for Standing Stone with positive growth in the New York Metro area due to the efforts of distributor Fredrick Wildman. When visiting FLX a stop at Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery is a must for any wine lover.
Thank You to everyone that helped me with this post. I wish all the vineyards and wineries the best of luck in 2015 and I hope to see you soon. Rich
I talked with Chuck Zaleski of Fero Vineyards & Winery in Lewisburg, Pa recently and got the inside story on “What’s New” at his winery. When I asked about the 2014 harvest his voice filled with pride and excitement saying it was a record year in both quality and quantity. The harvest was so good that he even sold some grapes this year. It is a good thing that his vineyards are producing extraordinarily well because Chuck was planning on sales growth of 20% last year but it came in at 30%. This year he will hold growth to 20% because his focus is always on the quality of the wine being maintained and improved. Fero is the only producing Saperavi vineyard in Pennsylvania and Chuck’s plan is to double his acreage of Saperavi grapes as soon as he can acquire the vines.
Fero will be adding three new sweet wines to the menu this year. The apple, cherry and peach wines will be made from the same Grüner Veltliner grapes grown in their vineyard that produced a Double Gold medal winner at the 2015 Pa. Farm Show. Chuck makes great sweet wines but his real passion is for his excellent dry wines. The judges at the 2015 Pa. Farm Show awarded Fero Vineyards & Winery 8 medals, they are: Double Gold: Grüner Veltliner , Gold: Pinot Gris, 3 Silver: Reisling, Pinot Noir and Saperavi and 3 Bronze.
This year’s fund- raising schedule is nearly full with only a very few dates still available. New this year will be the Wine-N-Mile on May 29th. This event is similar to a Beer-N-Mile where runners race a figure 8 course through the vineyard stopping at six stations to drink 2 ounces of wine at each. After the race guests are invited to stay for live music and the summer “Happy Hour” kickoff.
If you would like more information about Fero Vineyards & Winery wine or events visit www.ferovineyards.com or call 570-568-0846
I have written several posts lately extolling the virtues off the Saperavi grape as the “Next Big Thing” for Eastern winemaking. I have never written one single post about the forgotten role that the late-ripening Lemberger grape has been cast to play in the evolution of the wine industry above latitude 40° north. Fero Vineyards & Winery in Lewisburg, Pa produces a superb example of what can be done with Lemberger grapes that have been painstakingly cared for and expertly transformed into their Estate Lemberger 2013. The beautiful garnet color is the first thing you notice about this Lemberger followed by the notes of oak. Chuck Zaleski is a master at using oak to coax out the hidden flavors from his wine while adding a sophisticated complexity at the same time. Chucks light-handed use of oak with this wine brings out the red fruit and spice (think black pepper) taste while adding depth. A medium body carries the soft tannins into a long and lingering spicy finish. This wine has good acidity which makes it pair well with red meat, barbeque and even red sauce. Note: Winemaker Chuck Zaleski suggested I should let it breath. I not only let it breath I used an aerator on a couple of glasses. His suggestion was right on the mark, the added aeration opened it up and added a little something extra. www.ferovineyards.com Update: Fero Estate Lemberger 2013 won a Double Gold medal at the 2015 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (FLIWC).