Saperavi Expands South & West

As this years’ harvest nears its end I thought it would be a good time to report on the new

Greendance Winery Saperavi vines grow out of tubes Photo Courtesy: Greendance Winery

Saperavi plantings that have come to my attention. The Spring of 2019 was undoubtedly the most prolific planting season for Saperavi in its relatively short history in North America. 

Saperavi’s first stop on its trek south from the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York is at the Ripepi Winery & Vineyard in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Rich Ripepi added one half-acre of Saperavi to his vineyard that is located approximately twenty miles south of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River. Just east of Monongahela, Dr. Rick Lynn at Greendance Winery Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania added one hundred Saperavi vines to his already diverse vineyard that includes the intriguing cold-hardy Petite Pearl grape and PA’s largest planting of Marquette.

Continuing south our next stop is the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where Dr. Tim Jordan has planted an acre of Saperavi in his Fort Defiance vineyard. While to the east in nearby Ruckersville, Justin Falco has added two thousand Saperavi vines with plans for more at his Montifalco Vineyards. The four-year-old Saperavi vineyard at Whitebarrel Winery in Christiansburg will yield Virginia’s first substantial harvest of Saperavi grapes this fall (2019). Dr. Rik Obiso has been anticipating this day for years and has submitted two research grants for funding with the intent to bring Saperavi vines to his vineyards from Armenia and Georgia. In the same area of Virginia that these three growers call home, John Kiers III of Ox-Eye Vineyards in Staunton has planted “a couple of hundred vines” and is in the early stages of evaluating them.

You will probably be as surprised as I was when Rich Nunamaker at Grand Mesa Vineyards Cedaredge, Colorado contacted me to ask my opinion on the viability of planting Saperavi on his property in Spring 2020. Rich successfully grows Rkatsiteli in his vineyard on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains so he logically assumed Saperavi would also be a good fit for his conditions. I told him I believed he would be able to grow Saperavi in his environment and altitude based on his success with Rkatsiteli and referred him to Jim Baker, Chateau Niagara Winery, for the technical side of the project. It will be extremely interesting to watch the development of Rich’s vines as he writes a new chapter in the story of Saperavi.

After a long trip around America Saperavi always finds it’s way back home to New York. When Jeff Sawyer, owner/winemaker Wellsprings Vineyards Sterling, New York, ordered six hundred Saperavi vines and only received two hundred seventy-five he changed his plans and planted three hundred Dornfelder vines the next year. Now he has the enviable problem of deciding which one he likes the best in his vineyard on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario.

In other Saperavi news of note, August Diemel, Keuka Springs Vineyard (Finger Lakes New York) made a 2018 Saperavi from grapes grown by Harry Humphrey on Seneca Lake. He made one hundred twenty cases that quickly sold out. Also on Keuka Lake, Weis Vineyards has recently released its 2017 Saperavi after twenty months in the barrel.

2019 has been a banner year for Saperavi in the U.S. It continues to expand its footprint and attract the attention of wine drinkers as more producers recognize the potential of this versatile grape. If you know of any growers or producers please contact me at wpawinepirate@gmail.com 

Just Saying!!!

Here are a few of my views on recent trends.

I am not a big fan of bottle caps on wine bottles. I have no problem with screw tops or wine in cans but when I see a wine bottle with a cap on top I think back to my childhood and remember bottles of my favorite “Pop” Regent Cherry soda. In Western Pennsylvania carbonated soft drinks, like Coke and Pepsi, were and still are to a certain extent referred to as “Pop”. Maybe it was a shortening of soda pop that led to this regional slang.

Rosé has been riding a steadily ascending arc of popularity over the past several years. I have heard reports that Rosé sales hit their crescendo in the Summer of 2017 and have consolidated over the last 18 months. Although Rosé is thought of as just a summer wine by many it is a category that has proven itself and is here to stay. Traditionally Rosé sales peak during the warm months but year round sales are starting to rise as people realize that this wine pairs well with food in any season.

Orange wine is a curiosity to me because I like to try new things. It has received plenty of attention but I don’t know where it fits into the big picture when it comes to wine in general. We will have to wait and see if it will be taking a place in your wine collection or in the closet next to your Beanie Babies and Cabbage Patch Dolls.

My prediction for Chinese wine is that it is too early to tell if all the money China has invested in its domestic wine industry will pay off. There is certainly enough demand for better wine in China now that its middle class is expanding exponentially. In time I believe China will become a major player in the world wine market simply because it has a diverse collection of growing regions, climates, terroirs and affordable labor that can be developed. Will their wines taste like traditional European or New World wines? No, they will taste like those traditional wines made from grapes grown in Chinese soils and expressing a terroir unique to China.

Everyone has an opinion when it comes to sweet wine, French-American hybrid wine and Vitis vinifera wine. Every winemaker that I have visited in Western Pennsylvania is always eager to have me taste their dry wines but are quick to admit that it is the sweet wines that “Keep the lights on”. While it is true the sweeter wines make up the largest segment of wines sold in local wineries it is also true that interest in dry wine is increasing as tastes evolve and wine drinkers look for something new. I have always said that a “Good” wine is one you enjoy drinking. My theory is that many of the people who start going to wineries with friends will enjoy the easy to drink sweet wines and will be content with these wines. Some will become curious and explore the French-American hybrid wines, of which there are many and can be found in both dry and sweet styles. The wines made from French-American hybrid grapes can provide a bridge from sweet wines to Vitis vinifera wines. It is easier for a wine drinker to transition from the sweeter offerings to the drier Vitis vinifera wines by learning to appreciate the differences in wine grapes and the different styles that they can be made into by experiencing these approachable hybrid wines.

I believe wine is at it’s best when enjoyed while making lasting memories with friends and family. If you are doing it right you will always remember the good times and the people but you probably won’t recall what wine you were drinking.  Just Saying!