Review: Saperica 1st Annual Saperavi Festival Finger Lakes

On May 14, 2022, an event took place in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York that was a landmark moment in the history of Saperavi, not only for the future direction of Saperavi in the northeastern U.S. but for all of North America. While Saperavi has been on a steadily ascending arc for several years this gathering of Saperavi winemakers, growers, and enthusiasts will prove to be the catalyst that fuels Saperavi’s meteoric rise into the conscience of the American wine lovers.

Saperica http://saperica.org, the nonprofit founded by Lasha Tsatava and Erika Frey, held its inaugural Saperavi Festival at the iconic Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery overlooking Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, New York. The one-day event was a sellout with more than three hundred guests enjoying winetastings and delicious traditional Georgian cuisine prepared by Chama Mama, a Georgian-themed restaurant from New York City. The trade and media portion of the festival drew over fifty participants that were greeted with opening remarks from Fred Frank and Saperica co-founder Erika Frey. Keynote speaker Lado Uzunashvili delivered a live virtual presentation on the importance of Saperavi that was followed by guest speaker Darra Goldstein (Flavors of Georgia). Both presentations can be viewed on Saperica’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUb_6pPRupQ Closing remarks were presented by Saperica co-founder Lasha Tsatava with a special thank you to Meaghan Frank for her tireless efforts to make the Festival a resounding success.

I ask some of the contributors to share thoughts and impressions about the festivities and their vision for Saperavi in North America.

Lasha Tsatava, Director @ Boston Sommelier Society and co-founder of Saperica Inc.

When we first started to tell the story of Saperavi and its connection to Georgian culture and the history of wine, we saw how people’s eyes lit up and we wanted to grow that feeling in FLX and beyond. At the Saperavi Festival’s Trade & Media event, I made it clear in the closing remarks, that our organization’s goals are, as a minimum, to make Saperavi a premier red grape variety in the Finger Lakes region and the ultimate goal is to build a Georgian Cultural Center with Marani (Georgian traditional cellar with qvevris) in Finger Lakes, NY. The 1st annual Saperavi Festival has reconfirmed the sensibility of these goals.

Fred Frank, President, and CEO of Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, grandson of wine legend Dr. Konstantin Frank & Meaghan Frank’s father

We were honored to host this first Saperavi Festival at our historic winery. I am sure Konstantin was looking down from the heavens with pride to see all the attention and acceptance that his beloved Saperavi was receiving from the hundreds in attendance. Konstantin was the first to plant Saperavi in the United States in the late 1950s in his vineyard above Keuka Lake. He was a big fan of this variety for its historic pedigree originating in Georgia and believed it would have a great future in the Eastern United States. Saperavi vines are cold hardy and the wines are of high quality with deep color. We look forward to the next Saperavi Festival and continued acceptance of this historic grape variety.  

Jim Baker, owner/winemaker of Chateau Niagara Winery, located on the Niagara Lake Plain, Newfane New York

My thoughts on the festival are quite positive. The media section contained two presentations featuring my good friend Lado Uzunashvili, and Darra Goldstein. Lado is an old friend and did a great overview of Saperavi in Georgia and the world, including history and all sorts of technical information on the grape in several world locations. He did a comparison of our winery and a Georgian location. Darra Goldstein presented a history of Georgian food and culture. Food was served up from Chamma Mama, a Georgian restaurant in NYC. It was truly a Georgian feast. We got to taste wines from a number of American and Georgian producers. It was surprising how well we held our own against some stunning Georgian producers. The afternoon consisted of more Georgian feasting and public tastings of wine. All in all a great celebration of Saperavi and Georgian culture.

Phil Plummer, Head winemaker at all three Martin Family Wineries in the Finger Lakes.

I attended the festival, but mostly on the technical/trade end of the schedule. I can’t speak to marketing impact and the like, but the viticultural and enological information shared in the trade sessions was really compelling. Saperavi is a very exciting grape variety for us in the Finger Lakes, but I think winemakers should be excited about this one on a global level, too. Saperavi exists at the intersection of past, present, and future winemaking. As one of the earliest-cultivated grape varieties, working with Saperavi gives winemakers an opportunity to connect to the past–walking in the footsteps of the countless generations of winemakers who came before us. At present, Saperavi’s unique versatility allows winemakers to experiment, making wines in a widening array of styles. Looking forward, Saperavi’s resilience and versatility position it as a grape variety to embrace in the wake of a changing climate. As a blending component or varietal, Saperavi rarely disappoints. From a culinary standpoint, its rich phenolic profile, bright acid, and unmistakable aromatics present exciting opportunities for wine and food pairing, particularly with the Georgian cuisine available at the festival.

Erika Frye, co-founder of Saperica Inc., CS, CWE & Diploma WSET

When I started discovering Saperavi in the Finger Lakes several years ago, I could feel that there was something special about this grape variety in this region.  There is a buzz that surrounds Saperavi which started off whisper-like but has now grown into a conversation that cannot be ignored.  The 1st annual Saperavi Festival came at just the right time to give this grape variety a clear voice to tell the story of its past, present, and future.  It comes at a time when Saperavi plantings are increasing in the Finger Lakes region.  We hope that these new producers will be able to use the Saperica organization and the Saperavi Festival as resources to find information about the Saperavi grape variety, learn about its Georgian heritage and connect with other Saperavi producers.

The most exciting thing about the festival for me was the ability to build connections.  We had a great partnership between the three festival hosts – Saperica, Dr. Konstantin Frank, and Chama Mama.  An impressive group of wine producers and wine importers were present from both the USA and Georgia.  Two experts in their fields shared their knowledge of Saperavi winemaking and Georgian cuisine.  Most importantly, there were about 250 festival attendees who were connecting with the wines, the food, the environment, and the people.  When I was able to stop for a moment and survey the amazing crowd of people who had come together to celebrate Saperavi, that is what made me feel truly proud – proud of the community that we are starting to build and what we will all be able to accomplish together in the future.

John McGregor, Vice President of McGregor Vineyard

The Saperavi Festival was a great introduction to Saperavi for many.  Its Georgian roots were presented wonderfully!  McGregor Vineyard was the sole producer of Saperavi in the United States for decades. Now the Finger Lakes is home to numerous Saperavi producers, and more are sure to come in the near future. This festival really felt like a validation of my late father, Bob McGregor’s steadfast belief that Saperavi was perfectly suited to grow in the Finger Lakes and could make some of the region’s finest and most respected wines.

Bryanna Cramer, Assistant Winemaker Standing Stone Vineyards

I felt like the event was a huge success for the region, seeing as it was the first annual and it sold out and had additional tickets added on. It felt like the overall vibe was excitement about the variety as well as a general curiosity about its potential here in the FLX. It was really beneficial to have vendors pouring various Saperavi from Georgia to have as a reference, as well as Georgians giving their genuine feedback on the wines being made here in the Finger Lakes. I think they were pleasantly surprised by the quality and authenticity that can be achieved. From the customer perspective, I think the majority are still discovering the variety, its characteristics, and its history but I see that as an opportunity to continue educating not only at events like this but also on-site at Standing Stone and the other wineries working with Saperavi. 

This event and those all involved proved that Saperavi has progressed from being viewed as a grape variety with the potential to make outstanding varietal wine here in North America to being acknowledged as a proven producer of high-quality wine in various styles. Saperavi will continue to evolve as new winemakers add their interpretations of how it can be made and the newly planted Saperavi vineyards come into production expressing the terroir of their increasingly diverse geographic locations.

Congratulations to everyone involved in Saperica’s Saperavi Festival in the Finger Lakes on its successful endeavor to gather Saperavi lovers and promote this ancient grape. A special thank you to Lasha, Erika, Fred, Phil, John, Bryanna, and Jim for taking the time to share their thoughts and insights about Saperavi.

Photos Courtesy: Saperica Inc.

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.

Tips For Choosing Wine From A Wine List

If you lack confidence when ordering wine from a restaurant’s wine list you are not alone. You should never be intimidated by wine because wine should be fun and an opportunity to learn. Keep it simple and don’t get caught up in what you don’t know but have an open mind to any interesting suggestions that are offered. While many people fall back on the same old selections or point to a bottle and hope for the best, you can do better with a little preparation. Here are a few tips I learned from a sommelier that will help them find you the best wine for your dining experience.

First and foremost, be honest and engaging when asked about your preferences. Tell them the body and style you like because a restaurant invests a lot of money to have a sommelier help you make the wine selection process more enjoyable so take advantage of their knowledge. Here’s a tip that will get the best wine available for the price you want to pay. Simply point to a bottle on the list with the price you are willing to pay and say “I have had (wine name) before but I would like to try something different”. This will let the somm know what you are willing to spend and they can guide you to a bottle in that price range. After you make your selection the somm will retrieve your bottle from the cellar and open it tableside. They will present the cork to you but this is purely ceremonial and there is no need for you to either touch or smell it. Next, they will pour a small sample for you to taste. This sample is for you to check for flaws not to see if you like the wine. If it is acceptable give them a small nod and they will begin serving your dining companions with you being served last. One last tip, during your initial exchange ask your sommelier if there are any wines they are excited about. This allows them to share hidden gems now that they know you share their love of wine.  

Photo by Ray Piedra on Pexels.com

Food Truck Wine Pairings

 

After reading an article recently about pairing wine with food truck fare I suddenly realized the perfect synergy that food trucks have with the wineries they visit. The eclectic menu items provided by the ever-changing food truck line up at wineries offer a unique opportunity to experiment with wine and food pairings that is simply impossible to achieve in a brick and mortar restaurant.

The following suggestions are only a starting point so I urge you to be creative when composing your pairings. The mind-boggling variety of food choices offered by these vendors provide winery goers an exciting range of dishes and cuisine to explore.

Every item will be accompanied by a Pennsylvania-made wine and one that is widely available and value-priced because remember you are being served your food through a window of a food truck.

BBQ & Grilled Meats: Without question these are the menu items on which the food truck industry was built. When you order from these trucks you need a wine with some backbone to stand up to the flavors of grilled meat, smoke, and sauce. These two bottles fit the bill nicely.

Fero Vineyards & Winery Estate Lemberger http://ferovineyards.com or Zuccardi Q Malbec

Pierogies: This Polish specialty is a comfort food favorite in Western Pennsylvania. Pierogies are most commonly filled with either potato, sauerkraut, or cheese but they can be filled with any number of unusual stuffings. A sweet option to the traditional savory ones is Prune Lekvar. A testament to how beloved pierogies are in the fabric of the community is that the Pittsburgh Pirates hold a pierogie race at every home game. I suggest pairing them with South Shore Wine Company Grűner Veltliner http://enjoymazza.com or Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewűrztraminer

Pizza: You can get anything from an authentic Neapolitan pie to the latest trendy gourmet creations seen on Instagram from a food truck these days. High temperature brick ovens have become the norm in food trucks so it calls for an equally impressive wine to complete your pizza adventure. Try Ripepi Winery & Vineyard Zinfandel http://ripepiwine.com or Menage-A-Trios Pinot Noir

Tacos: A mainstay of the food truck culture on the West Coast, taco trucks have developed a loyal following in Pennsylvania. When it comes to variety and originality you can always find something good at taco truck. I recommend selecting a Rosé or Blush. Consider these wines when doing your pairings. Greendance Isabella http://greendancewinery.com or Château ď Esclan Whispering Angel Rosé

Mac & Cheese: These trucks have filled a niche that has blossomed into one that provides choices not found in the mainstream trucks. When you have the chance please try some of what they are serving up because I think you will be happy you did. My wine picks here would be Narcisi Riesling http://narcisiwinery.com and Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

Chicken: Chicken is a blank canvas for the chefs in a food truck. They paint masterpieces using broad strokes of flavor and style. To keep up with their always evolving flavor palates you must pair them with wines that can handle a broad spectrum of spices and preparation methods. These wines are well-suited for that challenge. Winslow Winery Vidal Blanc http://winslowwinery.com and Bogle Vineyards Merlot

Seafood: Seafood themed food trucks offer more than just fish sandwiches. They run the gambit from lobster rolls to sushi. While not as numerous as other cuisine focused trucks, when you find one it will likely be a memorable alternative to standard food truck grub. These two wines are sure to please. Bella Terra Chardonnay http://bellaterravineyards.com and Cantina Zaccagnini Pinot Grigio

My last word to you about pairing wine with any food, not just food truck food, is to trust your instincts because you just can’t make a mistake. So get out there and get the most out of what the wine world has to offer.

I Regret Nothing!

After seeing how well a couple of my posts on Instagram (@rich_wpawinepirate_ ) were received I realized a lot of people were just as curious as I was about the wine they sell on QVC. I posted a bottle pix of Kevin O’Leary’s Malbec and Rosé. Like me, everyone had seen his wines being presented and wondered after listening to him hype the virtues of his wine if they might be an interesting wine to try. I know all too well the risks of buying “processed wines” as they are now being called. You might remember them as “industrial wine.” With that being said, this type of wine is widely distributed, readily available, and enjoyed by millions.

I ordered the Kevin O’Leary Fine Wines Reserve Series Malbec Argentina 2020 and the Kevin O’Leary Fine Wines Reserve Series Rosé Vintage 2019, to be exact. O’Leary wine is sold as groupings or as three bottles of a single variety. The wine arrived promptly, well-packed, and cost about $15 a bottle when purchased from QVC.

The Malbec has a light/medium body and wasn’t overly dry with “middle of the road” acidity. This wine is best suited for an evening of grilling on the deck with family and friends. Rosé was my favorite. It is a very drinkable wine with a lighter body and a touch of sweetness. The most noticeable feature of this Rosé is its inviting vivid color. Kevin mentioned in his sales pitch that it is a blend of seven grape varieties and you can taste that because no one variety stands out, it is truly a blend.

If you are feeling adventurous and want to try some of “Mr. Wonderful” wine I would suggest starting with his Rosé. It is not a serious wine and can be enjoyed either alone as you relax at the end of the day or paired with lighter fare on a picnic in the country. You don’t have to over think these wines.

White Russian

If you have visited this blog you know I am a big fan of the Georgian wine grape Saperavi. I have written about it often here and in print publications, websites, and online magazines. There’s another ancient Georgian white grape that is extremely widespread in that region whose wine I have also become fascinated with and that is Rkatsiteli. Rkatsiteli is a pale-skinned cold-hardy Vitis vinifera wine grape that can trace its origins as far back as Saperavi and like Saperavi it is considered to be one of the oldest wine-producing grapes in the world. Rkatsiteli is widely planted in the Caucasus Region, the area that connects Europe and Asia. While its acreage is considerable it is far less than it occupied during the Soviet-era when quantity was valued for the mass production of wine. The main reasons for the popularity of Rkatsiteli in that part of the world are that it has a strong resistance to cold temperatures while retaining a good level of acidity in hot growing conditions and versatility in the cellar where it can be made into anything from table wine to sparkling wine and everything in between. Rkatsiteli can be found outside of the Caucasus in China and the United States. You can find it being grown as Rkatsiteli in the northeastern U.S., mainly in the Finger Lakes Region of New York and also in Virginia. In China, it is being grown and produced as Baiyu.

Rkatsiteli is made in many styles and types of wine but it usually displays a light body and high acidity. Since Rkatsiteli is made into such a wide variety of wine by a diverse community of winemakers and cultures I will focus on the Rkatsiteli wine made on the East Coast of the United States where it is taking on the characteristics of each unique terroir it encounters. 

Like Saperavi, Rkatsiteli was first planted in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York by the legendary Dr. Konstantin Frank where it continues to be grown and made into a classic style of Rkatsiteli by his family at the Dr. Frank Winery in Hammondsport on Keuka Lake. When you taste Dr. Frank Rkatsiteli 2019 the first thing you will notice is Rkatsiteli’s signature acidity and a lean body upfront but the flavors tropical fruit and pear come out on the finish. This wine is a nice light-bodied white wine now but will improve with time in the bottle.

McGregor Vineyard is one of the two vineyards that grow Rkatsiteli in the Finger Lakes. McGregor is most recognized for its iconic Saperavi blend Black Russian Red but their Rkatsiteli is one of their most popular and exclusive wines with only 41 cases produced in 2019. McGregor Rkatsiteli 2019 is a light wine perfect to drink at a festive gathering or on a picnic with friends because it has refreshing acidity and a long finish filled with fruit flavors.

Horton Vineyards in Gordonville, Virginia began growing Rkatsiteli after losing vines to the bitter Winter of 1996. Horton Vineyards Rkatsiteli 2017 displays aromas of nectarines and Meyer lemon that when combined with its prominent minerality and acidity renders a fresh-tasting wine that you can enjoy alone or pair with lighter fare. 

As fall gives way to winter and our tastes turn to more full-bodied reds don’t forget about Rkatsiteli. My suggestion to you is to buy a couple of bottles to save for next summer because it will be here before you can say Rkatsiteli.           

Dancing the Zweigelt Waltz

When a vintner is considering adding a new variety of wine grape to their vineyard the thought process involved in choosing which vines they eventually plant can be very tedious and time-consuming. The most important consideration when making that decision is the vine’s compatibility with their growing conditions but it’s not the only factor to study when making a selection. Of all the other variables probably the most important influence on a winemaker’s decision to grow a particular grape is their belief they can make a premium wine from it. Winemakers often begin their search for that “perfect” match in wine regions around the world that are similar to their own and are producing quality wines from the grape under consideration so they can use them as a guide.

Zweigelt (pronounced TSVYE-gelt) is beginning to attract attention from growers in the northeastern United States and a few Canadian vineyards in British Columbia and Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. Zweigelt is a cool-climate Austrian hybrid red grape developed in 1922 by the hybridization of two Austrian grapes, Blaufrankisch (Lemberger) and St. Laurent. Zweigelt is the most extensively planted red wine grape in Austria. It is a very fertile grape that requires intensive leaf control and yield regulation because of its prolific yields. Zweigelt is a good choice for growers as an insurance grape because it’s bud break is later in the spring than many other varieties when the danger of a killing frost has passed and it ripens mid-season before most of the bad weather that damages the crop later in the harvest. These are some of the reasons why the acreage of this red grape has increased substantially in Austria between 1999-2015 but has now stabilized in recent years. Zweigelt displays characteristics from both of its parents. Blaufrankisch makes a bigger, bolder and deeper wine while St. Laurent is described as being fresh, agile, and akin to a Pinot Noir but with more muscle. Zweigelt is generally made into a dry, medium/light-bodied wine with low tannins and medium/high acidity but can also be made in a sweet style or ice wine. In the glass, it has a violet/reddish color and flavors of red cherry, raspberry, black pepper, and chocolate with a spicy floral aroma.

Zweigelt is a fresh light wine that pairs well with a wide range of food, making it a great picnic wine. It is common to find Zweigelt as a varietal but it is also widely used in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to yield an Austrian spin on the classic Bordeaux blend. It is frequently blended with Blaufrankisch to double down on its Austrian lineage.

The great thing about wine is that there are so many completely different wines to explore. With that in mind, I suggest when judging a new wine grape don’t base your impression on a single bottle because with these unusual wines every winemaker has their own vision for the wine. It is a good idea to try as many samples as possible before forming your opinion. If you would like to taste an American Zweigelt consider trying one made in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York by Rob and Kate Thomas at their Shalestone Vineyards. http://shalestonevineyards.com

Times They are a Changing

Organic, biodynamic, natural, sustainable, and many other techniques of viticulture and winemaking are once again making their existence known in the wine world. Yes, I said again because these farming methods are being updated using current technology but the basic premise of all of them is nothing new. The idea behind all of these methods of producing wine using the least human intervention possible was once done by necessity rather than by a conscious choice. In the not too distant past, there were no chemical controls and spraying programs available to vintners. Winemakers had to rely on taste and experience to know how their grapes and wine were progressing without a lab to verify their assumptions. Even after chemical controls became available the poorer producers still had to rely on biological controls and manipulating the natural conditions to bring in a harvest.

Understanding the delicate interactions between nature and agriculture has always been a passion of mine. My preoccupation with keeping the ecosystem clean and free of dangerous residual chemical compounds is completely understandable once you know a little about me, my background, and my education. I grew up across the road from my mother’s family farm where I watched my uncle, aunt, and cousins farming and caring for the land. I would pursue my higher education at California University of Pennsylvania where I graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Nature Conservation. I have since combined that education with my interest in writing and the love of wine into an exciting journey of discovery. My writing has allowed me to become friends with many winemakers and vintners, not only in the northeastern United States but around the world. I have leveraged my access to these remarkable men and women to further my understanding of the practicality of using less chemical intervention in the vineyard. After years of conversations with the people who know first hand which practices work and which don’t work for their particular circumstances, I have assembled a mosaic of the feasibility of organic viticulture across North America and the world. My findings are that success and failure is very location and climate-specific. Climatic factors have never been predictable but are in flux now more than ever before.

In my ongoing effort to gather opinions on growing grapes organically, I recently had the pleasure to discuss the subject with Greg Winslow, owner/winemaker/vintner of Winslow Winery concerning his efforts to keep his vineyard as organic as possible using the options available to him. The Winslow winery and vineyards are located in the picturesque southwestern Pennsylvania town of Perryopolis. Greg grows a diverse collection of wine grapes, including a recent planting of a favorite of mine, Saperavi. Greg quit using glyphosate in 2016 because of the uncertainty surrounding the effects it might have on the eco-balance of his vineyard. That same year he decided to take a chemical-free approach to weed control when be purchased a weed burner manufactured by Flame Engineering. A weed burner is basically a flame thrower that incinerates the vegetation in the vine rows. It’s easy to see how this method of weed control is environmentally friendly even if it can be visualized as a plot from a cartoon where the results can be

Greg Winslow’s weed burner Photo courtesy Winslow Winery

both hilarious and disastrous. Greg pointed out some nice positives of using his weed burner. On the positive side is that it’s organic, weeds can’t develop a resistance to it, all the weeds and grass in the target area are destroyed instantly, and it has the unexpected benefit of helping sterilize the ground under the vines of fungus and mold that might splash up onto the vines during a rain. He also noted on the negative side the extra cost when compared to chemical herbicides and it doesn’t have the duration of chemical controls. Greg included one unforeseen danger of using this device in the vineyard that I hadn’t thought of. “It is absolutely devastating to bird netting. We use side netting that we leave up all year round then roll it down to cover the fruit zone during version. Once you drop the nets, don’t even think about using this.” 

Not completely satisfied with the weed control the weed burner was providing Greg purchased an offset tiller, a Rineri EL170 to be exact, to complement his weed control program. In addition to using his offset tiller to work the floor of his vineyard, he added drainage tiles and annual ryegrass between his rows to improve the water flow out of the vineyard and lessen soil compaction. His efforts are proving to be effective but are labor-intensive and costly but sustainable by definition. I suggested

Rineri EL
170 offset tiller Photo courtesy: Winslow Winery

he consider the organic broad-spectrum herbicide Weed Slayer to enhance his other weed controls. I first heard of Weed Slayer from Mary Rocca at Rocca Vineyards in the Napa Valley of California. I saw photos of her vine rows completely clear of weeds after vineyard manager Sergio Melgoza had applied the product. Weed Slayer consists of two separate products that are mixed with water to produce an effective herbicide. Weed Slayer is the herbicide and Arg Gold is the biological adjuvant. These two products work together to kill weeds from the root up while leaving no toxicity in the soil. If you have used Weed Slayer in your vineyard or another agricultural application please let me know of your experience with this product.

Greg Winslow believes in the idea of growing organically in his vineyard and pursues it as best he can while having to battle the same problems all producers of agricultural products face in the northeastern United States. When asked about the viability of growing his grapes completely organic and chemical-free he answered honestly and realistically. “I think that growing organically is a noble cause and it would be nice to market wines that were grown that way”. “I think growing organically would be difficult at best, at least in the mid-Atlantic states”. ” I haven’t met anyone in southern Pa and points south that is doing totally organic”. I do however use some organic products in my spray program, I use copper, sulfur, and hydrogen peroxide in my spray rotation, especially as harvest nears”. “I am trying to use only what I need when I need it and not spray irresponsibly for everything”.

Greg Winslow’s candid answers are very similar to the sentiments expressed by all the growers that I have posed these questions to in the Northeast. They say going totally organic would be great but it isn’t feasible at this time. Growing grapes and making wine is no different than any other business in that you need a product to sell. Growers are challenged every year to produce a harvest whether it be organically or with the help of chemical controls or a combination of both. I am always amazed by the ingenuity of these tenacious individuals and their sheer will to succeed.  

Winslow vineyards Photo courtesy: Winslow Winery

                  

 

 

Bohemian Rhapsody

If you like Sauvignon Blanc but sometimes want a wine with a little more body and complexity then you should try Grüner Veltliner. Grüner Veltliner is the signature grape of Austria and has evolved almost entirely as the result of natural hybridization over time in the region. It is a white Vitis vinifera grape also called Grûner Mushateller but is better known by the colloquial name “Grūner”. Grüner Veltliner is a versatile grape that can be made into a wide variety of wines ranging from light and easy-drinking to rich and packed with varietal character. Grüner vines have medium-sized leaves with 5-7 lobes. It’s grape clusters are medium to very large conical clusters of medium density with round or oval greenish-yellow berries. These vines have adapted perfectly to the wet mineral-rich loess and loam soils of the lower vineyard sites near the Danube River. The lots higher up the hill are planted with Riesling. The rocky soils of these sites force the Riesling to struggle to survive but result in a wine that has concentrated flavors and complex taste profile. This farming practice utilizes the attributes of the land and yields the best grapes possible from the prevailing conditions. Although the largest plantings of Grüne Veltliner are in Austria and surrounding countries it has been dispersed throughout many of the wine regions of the world. While most Austrian Grüners are dry, full-bodied and acidic with flavors of citrus fruit, spice, and white pepper you can easily find others that are weightier with a more structured body that requires years to reach maturity in the bottle.

If you haven’t tasted Grüne Veltliner and you’re curious about where to start I would suggest trying a few from Austria first then expand your search to

The United States and Italy to find good Grūner at very reasonable prices. Here are a

South Shore Wine Company Gruner Veltliner 2015

Gruner Veltliner 2018 Photo Courtesy: Fero Vineyards & Winery

few to get you started on your journey.

AUSTRIA: Singing Grūner Veltliner 2017 Niederösterreich, Austria or Domane Krems Grüner Veltliner 2018 Kremstal, Austria 

ITALY: Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Grüner Veltliner 2018 Alto Adige, Italy

 

The United States of America: Grüner Veltliner Fero Vineyards & Winery

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania,  Grûner Veltliner South Shore Wine Company North East, Pennsylvania or Grüner Veltliner Hosmer Winery Ovid, New York (FLX)

Hosmer Estate Winery 2017 Gruner Veltliner

 

Winemaker: Adam Sabelli-Frisch

                As with most things in life the saying “What was old is new again” rings particularly true when it comes to trends in the wine world. Anyone that has read this blog can attest to my curiosity with the ancient wine grape Saperavi and its resurgence worldwide but more specifically here in the U.S. The Mission grape has a storied past in California but fell out of favor with the winemaking community in the early part of the last century. Countless acres of vines have been pulled out and the land used for other projects. When I heard of a winemaker producing wine from Mission grapes and other lesser know varieties I was intrigued. I contacted Adam Sabelli-Frisch owner/winemaker of Sabelli-Frisch Wines in Santa Clarita, California and asked him for an interview to find out more about him, his winemaking philosophy and his plans for bringing back some very interesting wine grapes that haven’t been widely produced in decades.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Adam for the time and honesty he shared with me for this article. What follows is my unedited interview with Adam Sabelli-Frisch of Sabelli-Frisch Wines.

 

                       How did you get started making wine?

Like so many others, I started with home winemaking. Very bad at first, but it gradually improved. Like most home winemakers, I harbored a dream of eventually doing it professionally, which

Mission Grapes Photo Courtesy : Sabelli-Frisch Wines

certainly isn’t a new idea by any means. And one of my bad or good character traits, depending on how you look at it (or if you’re my wife), is that when I decide something, I launch into it pretty quick and without much fear. So by the summer of 2018 I’d decided I wanted to try this for real, and in Sept of that year I was already doing my first harvest!

How would you describe your winemaking style?

I would say that I lean towards making more old world type wines in the new world. Not austere in any way, just a little more restrained than perhaps is the CA style that has prevailed in the last decades. But still embracing the possibilities of the warmer climate wines we can make here. Perhaps a more accurate description would be that I try to make them in the earlier California tradition of the 60’s and 70’s before the big

Flame Tokay Grapes Photo Courtesy : Sabelli-Frisch Wines

styles became the norm.

Who and what had the greatest influence on your winemaking?

I wish I could mention a mentor, but since I didn’t come up through a traditional winemaking background, and have another job to support this still, I never had the chance to work under others (which I very much regret). I would say that maybe Emile Peynauds book Knowing And Making Wine was the closest to something like that.

How did you get interested in growing and making wine from grapes not being widely grown commercially?

That is a long story that I will try to shorten as much as I can: During my early winemaking I was predominantly drinking and making so called ‘natural wines’ (I prefer to refer to them as low-intervention wines these days, rather than natural).That

Petit Manseng Grapes Photo Courtesy: Sabelli-Frisch Wines

was the focus I wanted to bring to making my own wines – naturally fermented, not filtered and with low sulphur additions. In any case, I thought it would be interesting to also take that concept one step further. And in my mind it didn’t make sense to do low-intervention wines and then use imported and non-native grape varieties to do it from. So I wanted to make my wines using the American native strands, vitis labrusca and vitis rupestris etc. But after personal research and trials, I came to the conclusion that they are very challenging to make good wine out of. It was just a bridge too far for a new winemaker. So I regrouped and said: “well, which is the oldest vitis vinifera strand in the US?” And the answer is of course Mission. It’s the oldest European grape in the New World and has been in the Americas for more than 500 years now. So that seemed like a good fit. Only when I started making wine from it did I fully realize how amazing and rewarding that grape is.

What are your favorite varietals to work with and why?

I love Mission with a passion. It has been maligned, discredited, mistreated and ripped out for over a century now. You open older winemaking books and they all refer to the grape as inferior and not suitable for making wine at all. It is completely misunderstood. And when you take the time to understand it, you’ll find it makes world class wines. That might sound hyperbolic, but I actually believe that is the case. Mission has a great future ahead of it, and I’m convinced it will have a big resurrection.

What are some of your favorite wines and from which regions and producers?

I used to be heavily into Amarone in my youth and have a good

Syrah Grapes Photo Courtesy :Sabelli-Frisch Wines

collection of them still. But as you get older, seems like the palate changes and you go for more subtler styles. Last years it’s for me mainly been California or Oregon wines with a good mix between natural wines from small producers and a lot of Pinot Noir. My knowledge is limited to CA and OR wine and I don’t have a lot of knowledge about European producers, which is kind of ironic as I’m from there myself. I really enjoy Lioco, Failla, Ceritas,, Stirm, Broc Cellars, Deux Punx, Sandlands and producers like that here in CA. It’s a very exciting time for CA wines and there’s a change of guard as we move away from the Napa style.

What wines are you working on now and what are your expectations for them?

Well, my interest for rare, underused or strange grape varieties continues. Beside Mission, this year I did a Petit Manseng white for my limited edition Milk Fed line. It’s a yearly recurring edition where the grape changes, but the vinification in amphorae and with light skin-contact doesn’t change. Very small production and one-off’s for each vintage, so they’re always exciting. I also came back to my Alicante Bouschet which turned out so well in 2018 vintage. Really a wonderfully subtle wine. And my Flame Tokay rosé I continued this year as it also turned out so nice last time (Flame Tokay is another almost extinct grape). In the future I’m looking to explore more varieties – I almost got some Negrette and Cabernet Pfeffer this year, so I hope I can revisit those down the line.

Please feel free to to add any personal thoughts and insights you think would be of interest to my readers.

Well, maybe that first release will be sometime early 2020. No fixed date yet, but I would guess around March. I bottle in January and depending on how long they take to get over bottle shock, that’s when they’ll come out.

For more information you can contact

Adam Owner/winemaker Sabelli-Frisch Wines Photo Courtesy : Sabelli-Frisch Wines

Sabelli-Frisch Wines via email at info@sabelli-frisch.com

Phone: 310-383-2944

Follow on Instagram @  sabellifrisch