My Latest Michiganuncorked.com Article

I invite you to read my latest article “Field of Dreams” which was just published by michiganuncorked.com. It is about starting a vineyard and winery from scratch. It can be viewed by going to their website and clicking the “Read all about it” link under the “Winter Collaboration” heading. It will take you to their flip-page magazine https://issuu.com/userg123/docs/mu_-_winter_2022. It begins on page 8 or scroll down the page below the viewer window and it is also featured as an individual story just click on it. I hope you enjoy it. 

I wouldn’t have been able to write this story without the help of three successful winemakers that somehow found time to share their priceless advice on this subject. To Jim Baker Chateau Niagara, Jean Manspeaker, former owner of Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery, and Dan Matthies Chateau Fontaíne, I am truly grateful for your kindness and generosity. 

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.

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

 

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

Take Me To Church

Kagor is traditionally a fortified dessert wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Saperavi, and other varieties of red grapes in the coastal area surrounding the Black Sea. Kagor was originally made for the Russian Orthodox Church as a sacramental wine. Finding American-made Kagor can be very challenging and finding a well-made one is like finding the proverbial “Needle in a haystack”.

Jim Baker owner/winemaker at Chateau Niagara is making an award-winning Kagor from his estate-grown Saperavi. When I say award-winning, I mean that Jim brought home a medal for his Kagor from the prestigious Saperavi World Prize competition held in the Black Sea city of Tbilisi, Georgia plus numerous other awards. While Jim doesn’t fortify his Kagor, he does ferment it up to 15% ABV.

Opening the bottle is just the beginning of enjoying your Chateau Niagara Kagor, there is a method to tasting this unusual and extraordinary wine. I could attempt to explain it but I think there is no one better suited for the job than Jim Baker, so here is how to experience all that Chateau Niagara Kagor has to offer in Jim’s own words.

“Take a taste and swirl around once or twice in your mouth, coating all the taste buds and then stop. Let the wine take over. It will take you a journey, with flavors rising and falling. You want to go until they stop changing, and for most people it’s more than a minute. After that take a bite of a good chocolate truffle and when that is partially melted, taste the wine again, swallowing both together. They effect will be almost immediate with a burst of cherry cordial flavors.”

I asked Jim why he decided to grow grape varieties that are associated with Eastern Europe and make classic Eastern European wines from them. Here is what he said:

“We decided to make the Kagor as part of our Eastern European wine series. We discovered a number of little know Eastern European wines that we thought were pretty cool, and would allow us a little niche to specialize in. This includes a Hungarian Bulls Blood, our Saperavi, a Georgian style skin-fermented Riesling Chardonnay blend called Du Monde, and our Kagor. We planted a new Romanian grape last fall called Feteasca Neagra, but we will be calling it by the way cooler English translation of “Black Maiden”!”

Chateau Niagara will be doubling the size of their Saperavi vineyard to just over an acre of this versatile grape.

If you are interested in trying Jim’s Kagor or any of his other wines they can be found on his website http://chateauniagarawinery.com or by visiting the winery at 2466 West Creek Rood Newfane, NY. Please call before visiting. (716) 778-7888

Kagor 2017 Photo Credit: Chateau Niagara Winery
Saperavi Rose 2019 Photo Credit: Chateau Niagara Winery
Saperavi 2018 Photo Credit: Chateau Niagara Winery

Australian & South African Winemakers Need Your Help

Winemakers in Australia and South Africa are facing a crisis. Australia is embroiled in a trade dispute with China in which China has halted the purchase of Australian barley, most beef, seafood, coal, and yes,wine. By early December 2020 Australian wineries had lost 1.2 billion in sales. South Africa has banned all alcohol sales as it battles a resurgence of Covid-19. You can help by buying a bottle or two of Australian and South African wine when you visit your wine shop. This is a perfect opportunity to revisit an old favorite from these countries or explore something new, either way it’s a win/win situation.

                                                                       


 

A Wrinkle in Time

I just received an interesting email from my good friend Steve Casscles. You may recognize Steve from his many articles about wine grapes or his book “Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the U.S. and Canada” available on Amazon.com. Steve is a winemaker at Sabba Vineyard in New York’s Hudson Valley. He wanted me to share the exciting news with my readers that Sabba Vineyard has embarked on a new project and is offering a very limited quantity (about 20 gallons) of wine made from heritage wine grapes. Steve and Sabba Vineyard owner Abby Youghabi have worked tirelessly at preserving these and many other heritage grapes so they can be enjoyed by future generations. Anyone interested in purchasing these unique wines can go to sabbavineyard.com and click on “Order Now” to view the wines or use this link: http://sabbavineyard.com/s/order At this time they are offering:

 

-Baccchus Marion –  a Ricketts Red variety developed in the Hudson Valley in the 1870s  a flinty red variety, medium body, but a true wine grape developed in the 19th century (which was unique then) $25

– Baco Blanc – as steely and flinty white with fruits of soft lemons and green apples.  The variety is used a lot in Cognac and Armanac to make brandy. $25

– Pallmer Noir – a chance hybrid Steve found at his farm.  A big Malbec kind of wine.with lots of vinifera in its genetic makeup. $25

Invitation To My Latest Article

I would like to invite you to view my latest article that was just published on The Vintner Project website vintnerproject.com It is a candid look at the Saperavi being grown and made in the State of New York. It includes intimate and insightful commentary from four legendary N.Y. winemakers, Fred Frank, President of Dr. Frank’s Wine, son of Willy Frank and grandson of Dr. Konstantin Frank, John McGregor, Vice-President of McGregor Vineyard and son of the founder Bob McGregor, Martha (Marti) Macinski, the founder and former owner of Standing Stone Vineyards, and Jim Baker, the founder, owner, and winemaker of Chateau Niagara Winery. This piece offers a truly unique perspective into the mystique of American Saperavi like never before. A “must” read for anyone interested in the future of emerging winegrapes in North America. Photos Courtesy: Dr. Frank Winery, McGregor Vineyard, and Chateau Niagara Winery. If you like the article please share. Link to article: https://vintnerproject.com/wine/saperavi-the-next-cult-grape/

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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.