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.

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

Chateau Niagara Du Monde 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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

                  

 

 

Turn the Page

Tom and Marti Macinski Photo Courtesy: Standing Stone Vineyards

     As I read an interview with Oskar Bynke, co-owner of Herman J. Wiemer Vineyard where he revealed the vision he and co-owner/winemaker Fred Merwarth had for their newly acquired Standing Stone Winery and Vineyards I had to accept the fact that change is inevitable even in wine country. The release of the 2017 vintages from Standing Stone Winery marks the first time since 1991 that Tom and Marti Macinski were not the owners of this iconic FLX property.

In the 1970’s this former Gold Seal Winery vineyard was planted with Riesling and Chardonnay by the legendary Gold Seal wine makers Charles Founier and Guy Devaux. Standing Stone Chardonnay and Riesling have always been highly acclaimed but it wasn’t those world-class whites that lead to my friendship with Marti, it was the dark red Russian wine grape Saperavi. Had it not been for the time Marti took from her busy schedule to answer my questions and keep me updated on her Saperavi program I would have never pursued my interest in Saperavi or have made as many friends around the world who also share my love of this extraordinary wine.

Thank you Marti and Tom for your devotion to making the best wine from the best grapes you could grow on the land you truly love. Please know that like the wake from a sailboat (that you now have time to enjoy) the ripples of your life’s work will be felt far beyond the shores of your beloved Seneca Lake.

The Shape of Wine

     The theme of the Oscar-winning movie of a similar name was that something could be completely different and yet possess qualities that could make you fall in love. Chateau Niagara Kagor 2016 is just such an animal.

Jim and Cathy Baker make their Kagor from Saperavi grapes grown in their vineyard on the Niagara Plain in Newfane, NY. Kagor is traditionally made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes but its name comes from Cahors, France where the predominant grape variety in French Cahors wine is Malbec. Kagor is best described as a red dessert wine with a very long and interesting history. 

Jim Baker describes his Chateau Niagara Kagor 2016 taste profile as  “Decadent, lush rich cherry that morphs into cassis on the tongue. A sweet wine that pairs well with dark chocolate.”

     Jim gave me very detailed instructions on how to taste his Kagor. He told me to be patient with this wine and give it time to develop its flavors by waiting until they all were revealed, then taste it again over fine dark chocolate for a cherry cordial profile.

     Chateau Niagara 2016 Kagor won Bronze at the inaugural 2017  Saperavi World Prize (SapPrize) wine completion in Tibilis, Georgia (Russia). Chateau Niagara Kagor 2016 and all the Chateau Niagara wines are available at  http://chateauniagarawinery.com