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.

More Wine For Less $$$

When I’m asked what is a good wine to buy I always ask what wine they like to drink? When they tell me their favorite wine I say “Then that’s a good wine for you.” This sounds very non-committal but I tell them this because a wine is only a good wine if you enjoy drinking it not because someone tells you it is a good wine but you don’t like it. Not enjoying a wine deemed a shining example of winemaking is not a judgment of your wine quality preferences but a measure of personal taste. The idea that a “processed” wine, you may remember as an “industrial” wine, can actually be enjoyed by millions of wine drinkers has sparked spirited discussions among wine lovers.

These widely distributed wines have to be mass-produced to accommodate the logistics of supplying every retail outlet that offers them for sale. Benefitting from the economy of scale wine conglomerates are able to make these wines readily available at affordable prices and in a mindboggling array of choices. This type of wine is produced in facilities that resemble an oil refinery more often than the small family-run wineries we are accustomed to visiting.

Marketing of wine is a complex procedure that relays on what a consumer is willing to pay for a product as opposed to its quality and production cost, take note that we are back to the perception of what is a good wine and who determines it. Most of the brands I am referring to fall into the $8-$25 range where the completion for sales is fierce. When you look at the bottles in this price range at the store it is easy to be fooled into thinking each is from an individually owned winery but the truth is that they are divisions of a handful of large corporations. E & J Gallo Winery has over 100 unique brands, you will be surprised to see just how many of their brands you recognize but didn’t associate with it. It is virtually impossible for a small winery to compete in this area of the wine market.

The corporations make the decisions on which of their brands are marketed to each consumer demographic and it is carefully produced to satisfy as many of the qualities that group of wine drinkers is looking for in their wine purchase. Depending on how and to whom the wine will be sold ultimately determines its ad campaign and if it gets put in a bottle, jug, box, can, or keg, well you get the picture. Due to certain unknown factors in these decisions, it is possible to find some very drinkable wines at bargain prices. The reason may be the vintages are better than expected and there are limited distribution channels to handle the excess wine. Just like those late-night TV commercials for warehouse furniture stores that tout the “Everything must go” pitch, winemakers often end up with more wine than they can sell. That is why you often find name-brand wines on the shelves of deep-discount retailers.

Just as the economy of scale can have a huge influence on the way wine is produced the clout of buying power has an enormous effect on how wine is sold. I live in Pennsylvania where the government controls all alcohol sales. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (P.L.C.B.) maintains a network of retail stores statewide and offers online sales through its website. The P.L.C.B. is the largest purchaser of wine in the United States and this gives them immense leverage when negotiating deals. The P.L.C.B. uses its Chairman’s Selection program to offer customers an ever-changing lineup of interesting wines at a discounted price. Wine is like any other product, in that getting it on sale is no bargain unless the quality is there. Doing your homework before you go wine shopping can be very helpful when you are cruising the aisles looking for a “GOOD” wine. Happy Hunting!

Photos Courtesy: Vivino.com

New York City Wine & Food Festival 2018

     Tickets are now on sale for the 11th Annual Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival. The festival runs from Thursday October 14th, 2018 thru Sunday October 14th, 2018 at various event venues throughout the city. Tickets can be purchased at a discount in packages that group several events together over the length of the festival or individually to suit your own preferences. Last year the 10th Annual NYCWFF saw 47,000 guests celebrate the joy of food and wine with celebrities from every corner of the food world and this year’s line up looks even more exciting. The roster of over 80 events and numerous personalities appearing is simply to long to report here. I suggest going to http://nycwff.org to review the dates and times of all the events to construct a plan for your visit. It would be beneficial to click on “Personalities” and scroll through the lengthly list to see if your favorites will be appearing and plan accordingly.

If you can’t find the answers to your question on the website here are some other information options. General information: info@nycwff.org    Ticket questions: 800-764-8773.  Social media: @nycwff  on twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Eat Drink S F Festival

sea-city-mountains-landmark-medium     I have become fascinated with the proliferation of food and wine festivals across the U.S. The well-known events take place in cities with a strong identity that form an immediate visual image of what you might expect to encounter there. When I say Nashville, Miami, New York or Newport your mind immediately goes to you impression of those areas. Now when I say Eat Drink San Francisco what comes to mind.

Eat Drink S F is being billed as San Francisco’s premier food and drink festival. The event will be at Fort Mason, San Francisco, California on August 25-28, 2016. The Grand tastings at EDSF can’t be described they have to be experienced. Thirty six of San Francisco’s best restaurants will be under the festival pavilion roof at Fort Mason. You will  sample delicious dishes from all of them plus drinks from over 70 beer, wine and spirit makers. Demonstrations on the main and food stages, as well as, beverage classes will be lead by experts in their own field of interest. This type of gathering brings together “Like-minded” people. When I say “Like-minded” people I mean people who enjoy good food and drink. After that there is a world of new ideas and opinions to be exposed to.

Tickets are $119.00+$7.97 fee for the GA Grand Tastings and $209.00+11.80fee for the V.I.P. Grand Tastings. Click here for a list of participating restaurants http://eatdrink-sf.com/talent/restaurants Click here for the list of chefs that will be appearing http://eatdrink-sf.com/talent/chefs EDSF is a 21+ event. Your ticket is good for admission and everything you care to eat and drink at the festival so can have fun and keep your wallet in your pocket. To buy tickets go to the festival website http://eatdrink-sf.com This event is using #EDSF for social media posts about it.

 

Pittsburgh Wine Festival

Heinz field

Heinz Field Pittsburgh Pa

     The 2016 Pittsburgh Wine Festival will be held Thursday May 5th, 2016 at Heinz Field East and West Club lounges. The 14th annual Pittsburgh Wine Festival will be pouring more than 500 wines and will be hosting several celebrity wine makers. Among the celebrities appearing will be Lida Bastianich and Charles Woodson. Lida will be signing copies of her latest cookbook “Lida’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine”. A tasting of specialties from her restaurant Lidia’s Pittsburgh will be offered as will a tasting of wines from her family’s winery in Italy, Azienda Agricola Bastianich. Former Oakland Raider Charles Woodson will be presenting a tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from his Napa Valley boutique winery, Twenty Four Wines.

Tickets are $250 for V.I.P. Tasting and $125 for Grand Tasting. Tip! Grand Tasting tickets are available for 1/2 price for a limited time. Tickets and event details can be found at http://pittsburghwinefestival.com

2015 Seven Springs Wine Festival

Wine

     The 2015 Seven Springs Wine Festival will be held August 28th through the 30th at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort Champion, Pa. With paid admission you can enjoy complimentary tastings from 31 Pennsylvania wineries with your free souvenir wine glass along with wine-themed seminars, live musical entertainment and other interesting attractions. A 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. Friday night session has been added this year in addition to the regular 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. hours on Saturday and Sunday. More information and the option to buy tickets can be found at the Seven Springs Resort website. www.7springs.com/events/wine-festival/ 

2014 TASTE Philadelphia Festival

wine fireworks     The 2014 TASTE Philadelphia Festival of Food, Wine and Spirits will be held at the Valley Forge Casino Resort King of Prussia, Pa October 15th – 17th, 2014.  This year’s festival will showcase the talents of local and celebrity chefs.  The featured guest Rocco DiSpirito will be joined by chefs Nicholas Elimi and Nicole Gaffeney.  The festival will also include wine, beer & spirit seminars, wine & spirit tastings, bottle signings and much more.  Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.gourmetshows.com/philly or by calling 609-398-4450.  Some of the events are being offered at a reduced price online and group discounts are available by phone. 

It’s Wine Time at the Colony

wine time     It’s Wine Time at the Colony wine festival returns to 365 Saxonburg Blvd Saxonburg, Pa on June 21st and September 6th, 2014.  The event has expanded and will feature 13 Pennsylvania wineries spanning three of the states most popular wine-producing regions.  Food purveyors will provide you with a taste of Pennsylvania cuisine using fresh and wholesome ingredients to prepare creations not found on a typical festival menu.  A wide range of artisans will be on hand to display their creative wares.  The tasting admission is $20 gets you wine-tasting and a souvenir wine glass while the non-tasting admission is $10 and is good for admission only.  Check their website for ticket specials.  winetimeatthecolony.com

3 Pennsylvania Wine Festivals

     May 8th thru May 10th will be the dates for three separate wine festivals presented by Fine Wine & Good Spirits, which is the retail arm of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (P.L.C.B.) who control and regulate all alcohol sales in Pennsylvania. 

Wine Festival in Hershey will be held Wednesday May 8th on the Concourse at the Giant Center in Hershey Pa.  V.I.P. Tasting is 5:00-6:30 P.M. with tickets $95 per person and Grand Tasting 6:30-8:30 P.M. with tickets $45 per person.  Parking for the event will be free and festivities benefit Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.  For more information, including a list of vintners go to http://www.winefestivalinhershey.com

Pittsburgh Wine Festival will be held Thursday May 9th at Heinz Field East & West Club Lounges with V.I.P. Tasting 5:00-7:00 P.M. and Grand Tasting 7:00-9:00 P.M..  Ticket prices for the V.I.P. Tasting are $250 per person and $125 per person for the Grand Tasting with the V.I.P. guests welcome to stay and enjoy the entire evening.  This is the eleventh year for this event and will feature 165 vendors showcasing 500 different wines while benefiting innovation and discovery at U.P.M.C..  Pittsburgh Wine Festival is running a special limited time price offer of two Grand Tasting tickets for the price of one and can be accessed at http://www.pittsburghwinefestival.com.

The New Philadelphia Wine & Food Festival is Friday May 10th at Lincoln Financial Field SCA Club from 5:30-9:30P.M..  This year’s expanded program combines food, 600 different wines, access to wine makers and chefs coupled with demonstrations, educational sessions and intimate tastings.  A silent auction will be held throughout the evening with the proceeds benefiting the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  V.I.P. Tasting with early entry 5:30-9:30 P.M. is $250 and Grand Tasting with general admission 7:00-9:30P.M. $125 per person.  To purchase tickets and get more information go to www.phillymag.com/wineandfoodfest/index.hmtl