I recently checked in with Dr. Rick Lynn at Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill in Mount Pleasant Pennsylvania to see what was happening at his winery and vineyards.
Greendance is home to one of the three young Saperavi plantings in Western Pa. and I was eager to hear how his young vines were progressing. Rick told me:
“We had some early to mid-season powdery mildew on only the Saperavi and on none of others that included Kerner, Riesling, and Cab Franc, I personally used the same spray program on all and they were all in the same location. This reduced the Saperavi crop but the plants recovered and ended the year appearing healthy. There was not a large enough quantity to make a reasonable sized batch. We had about 40# of Cab Franc with good ripening stats as were the Kerner numbers.”
I am patiently awaiting next year’s Saperavi harvest that will hopefully provide ample fruit to produce Greendance’s first vintage of Saperavi. I am also curious how Rick will be able to integrate Saperavi’s signature acidity and dark color into his wine making style to yield new and completely unique blends.
Unlike the humans that tend to them, grape vines can’t contract Covid19 they only respond to the influences of their environment. I asked Rick to share his thoughts on this year’s harvest:
“Our overall hybrid harvest this year, as for everyone else, was exceptional and in the range of 15T. We had 2T+ of Petite Pearl and 3T+ of Frontenac Gris/Frontenac Blanc. Our farm red blend is Frontenac and Chambourcin and there were plenty of them. Our wine for American grape lovers is Niagara softened with Louise Swensen and Aldamiina.
I addressed the recent stretch of sub-zero temperatures that had overspread the region and he had this assessment:
“Concerning of course but only for the trial vinifera planting and not the hybrids. This is a better test year for their graft and bud survival. The advantage this year is a gradual but full opportunity for deep dormancy and then steady cold to keep them there up to this point and probably at least for the next 2 weeks.”
Every year has its own challenges and 2021 was no different but winemakers always find a way to meet those challenges and craft wines that express the very best each year has to offer. I look forward to tasting the 2021 releases from Rick and his team at Greendance Winery. For more information about Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill please visit http://www.greendancewinery.com Photos Courtesy: Greendance The Winery at Sand Hill
Let’s play a game. Close your eyes and imagine your favorite Italian winemaking region. Next, conjure up images of its beautiful landscapes, vineyards, and signature architecture. Finally, remember how wonderfully the wine reflects its terroir and expresses the true characteristics of the land. Now, open your eyes and tell me was it Alto Adige? No, then let me tell you about this spectacularly grand alpine province which includes parts of the Dolomites and is also known as South Tyrol. This enchanting Italian wine region is nestled between Switzerland to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria to the east.
Alto Adige is home to Elena Walch wine estate. The Elena Walch wine estate is among the elite of Italian
wine producers and has been the standard-bearer for quality and innovation under the guidance of Elena Walch and now her daughters Julia and Karoline. The estate’s philosophy toward winemaking has always been defined by its dedication to the land and terroir. Elena Walch wines are a direct expression of their soil, climate, and care in the vineyard. The disciplines of sustainability and care for the land are strictly adhered to and passed down to future generations. Julia and Karoline Walch have steadily advanced and evolved the viewpoint of their mother since taking over as General Managers of the estate in 2015.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Karoline Walch about how they are carrying on that commitment to excellence and how you can taste it in their wines.
Elena Walch wines have always been faithful to the ideology of respecting the land and the environment so your wines are a direct reflection of the terroir. How do you see your commitment to that principle manifest itself in your wines?
Since the beginning, my mother wanted to produce wines that are a true reflection of a single site. Our two most important single vineyards are the Vigna Castel Ringberg and the Vigna Kastelaz, both very distinct and unique sites. With a combination of limestone soils and its microclimate given the lake influence, the vineyard Vigna Castel Ringberg is farmed sustainably to best adapt to the characteristics of the site. It is finally the salinity and depth that distinguishes it from many other wines within that category. The Vigna Kastelaz, on the other hand, is one of the very few vineyards facing completely South, and hence, benefitting from very sunny and dry growing conditions. Not only, it is extremely steep and due to its proximity to the Mendola mountain ridge, the temperature fluctuations are huge. This allows us to develop the primary aromas to the full spectrum, yet retaining the acidity. Not surprisingly, this is our icon site for Gewürztraminer. Finally, to further highlight the importance of those two vineyards, since 2014 our wines that grow on those two sites, carry the prestigious denomination of Vigna – It is an additional mention of a smaller geographical origin and designs the smallest historical/geographical unit of a vineyard. Every single Vigna must be officially admitted and registered within the regional government. It expresses the ultimate thought of terroir philosophy with the idea of a parcel wine from an exact plot and hence having a historical or traditional name.
How does your state-of-the-art fermentation cellar help you in accentuating all the unique terroirs of your diverse vineyard sites?
Our estate’s philosophy is inherently connected to terroir – the idea that the wines are an individual expression of the vineyard’s soil, climate, and cultivation. We start with quality in the vineyard, but the way the grapes are handled at the winery is an important step in how the finished wine expresses its sense of place. Our new, high-tech cellar allows us to be flexible and adjust to the requirements of both single vineyards and individual varieties.
With the new cellar, there are three important changes: the option between whole-berry or whole-bunch fermentation; the strict use of gravity to process the grapes as gently as possible; and four different points of quality control before the grapes reach the fermentation tanks. The aim is to create wines that have more structure, more fruit, and soft, supple tannins with great aging potential while being more elegant and refined at the same time. KW
Elena Walch set sail into uncharted waters when she built her winery on the idea of producing the highest quality wines that are terroir-driven and sustainably grown. Her daughters, Julia and Karoline, are continuing the journey she started but are always adding their own contemporary interpretation to their winemaking.
We can talk about how Elena Walch wines express their terroir and how producing wine sustainably can be tasted and experienced in a tangible way but it is impossible to truly understand what Elena Walch wines are like without tasting them for yourself. I feel quite confident that after reading Karoline Walch’s perspective on how she approaches making wine that you have a desire to taste her wine just to see for yourself why it is so special. The only question that remains is which one to try first. Luckily for us, Elena Walch wines are superior wines so you can’t make a mistake. Since Alto Adige is the northernmost region in Italy the Germanic grape varieties tend to be prevalent but that is to be expected since it is so close to Germany that 70% of its population speak German while only 25% speak Italian. Elena Walch is known for its white wine, which includes their popular Gewürztraminer and “Beyond The Clouds” but their reds are also top-notch.
When I explore a wine region I am always curious about the wine made from its indigenous grape varieties. When I looked at Alto Adige, Schiava caught my eye. Schiava is an indigenous grape varietal often associated with the region. Schiava typically produces an aromatic light but acidic red wine that is highly versatile when it comes to food pairings. Elena Walch Schiava is a solid choice because it ranks high in quality and taste for this varietal. Elena Walch Schiava 2019 has a cranberry color, mild tannins, and bright acidity with flavors of red fruit and Schiava’s signature tinge of bitter almond on the finish. It is best when served between 60-65ͦ F/16-18ͦ C. This wine pairs well with Mediterranean fare and pasta.
Elena Walch wine estate is only one of the extraordinary wineries in the Alto Adige region of Italy that are
eager to share their enchanting culture and remarkable wines with you.
While scrolling through my Instagram recently I came across a mention of
an Oregon-made Saperavi. It piqued my interest because I wasn’t aware of any Saperavi being made, let alone grown further west than a few newly planted vineyards in Southwestern Pennsylvania. After a quick internet search, I located Golden Cluster and its owner/winemaker Jeff Vejr in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. I contacted Jeff to find out if he and Golden Cluster were as unique and cutting edge as they appeared at first glance. The short answer is “YES” plus so much more than meets the eye when you realize what he is accomplishing.
Jeff Vejr, Owner/Winemaker Golden Cluster Photo Credit: Laura Domela
The Golden Cluster website goldencluster.com is packed with fascinating information ranging from the uncommon grapes they use in their wine, the wine they make, the history of the area, and Jeff’s story and winemaking philosophy. There is so much information that it can be confusing so I asked Jeff to clarify the structure of his operation. He told me all of his wines are made under the Golden Cluster umbrella but there are some individual wineries that have different themes or points of view. He is the winemaker of all the wine and he makes all of his wine at the David Hill Winery which was originally the Charles Coury Vineyard & Winery. His Saperavi is not grown at the David Hill Vineyards but is grown in the Columbia Gorge AVA of Oregon. The uncommon grapes he sources from David Hill Vineyards were planted between 1966-1972 by Charles Coury. Those grape varieties are Semillon, Savagnin Rose, Flora, Melon de Bourgogne, Sylvaner, Perle of Csaba, and Gouges Blanc (aka Pinot Gouges).
If you find this prelude to my interview with Jeff Vejr owner/winemaker Golden Cluster interesting please read on for my conversation with Jeff. I didn’t believe I could convey Jeff’s passion and vision for his winery better than he did so I am publishing our interview “In his own words”. Enjoy!
1) Why did you choose to make wine from uncommon grapes?
The Semillon grape holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first white wine that brought me out of my “I only drink red wine” ignorance.
In early Spring of 2013, I was visiting the historic David Hill Vineyard with fellow winemaker Barnaby Tuttle of Teutonic Wine Company. We walked around the vineyard looking at some of the rows of Sylvaner and Riesling grapes that he contracted for. At the end of our walk, we came across these vines that were much larger than anything else we were looking at, so we asked the vineyard manager what they were. We couldn’t believe our ears when he told us that they were Semillon planted in the mid-1960’s.Upon further questioning, we came to find out that the Semillon was picked with the “other” mixed white grapes on the property and blended away. This news brought Barnaby and I considerable pain. On the drive back to Portland, we decided that Barnaby would call up to the winery the next day and ask about the availability of the Semillon for the upcoming harvest. Barnaby made the call to inquire and they agreed to sell him the Semillon.Their only question was why he wanted to even bother with it.
The original Charles Coury Vineyard (now called David Hill Vineyard) is one of the first vineyards planted in the Willamette Valley after Prohibition. For Barnaby and myself, it was a travesty that these historic grapes were not made into a single varietal bottling. To know that these grapes had been here for nearly 50 years without anyone making a stand-alone wine from them was unbelievable to us. Once I received this news, I was keenly aware of the rare opportunity and the responsibility involved. What I did not realize was that this chance encounter of Semillon grapes planted in 1966 would expand into a wider untold story about the famous pre-prohibition Reuter Vineyard and the man who planted these original Semillon vines, both originating on the exact same piece of land.
It was as if Dionysus was sending a message and a mission. It was at this time when opportunity and duty converged and Golden Cluster was born.
In proceeding vintages, I was able to source and make wine from other uncommon grapes from the original Charles Coury Vineyard. Grapes such as Flora and Savagnin Rose. Flora was one of the first American wine grapes to be developed after Prohibition, by the famous grape breeder, Dr. Harold Olmo at UC-Davis. The Savagnin Rose was a grape that had been misidentified for 50 years as Gewurztraminer in the David Hill Vineyard. After trips to Alsace, extensive research, DNA analysis, and most importantly visual identification, I was comfortable in correcting the record in 2016. To my knowledge, it is the oldest known Savagnin Rose in the U.S.A.
In the past 3 years, I have been afforded the opportunity to source other grapes that are not common in Oregon. Grapes such as Saperavi, Bon Noir, Sagrantino, Fiano, Alvarinho, Vignoles, Garanoir, Regent, and Agria, just to name a few. Some of these grapes are the first plantings of these grapes in our state. Oregon is a far more dynamic wine region than what our industry touts and than what the general public is led to believe. From a grape-growing perspective, Oregon is just as diverse as France, Italy, or Spain. Many of our vineyards can be grown non-irrigated, which is the standard in Europe. While most of the attention that Oregon receives is directed towards one grape and one of our wine regions, the most exciting work and resulting wines are coming from grapes that are not “typical” for Oregon. It is within this framework, where Oregon can be appreciated in a wider sense. We are operating with the same commitment, sacrifice, spirit, and hard work that it took the Somer, Lett, Coury, Erath, Ponzi, Sokol Blosser, Adelshiem, Vuylsteke, and Campbell families to reestablish Oregon wine after prohibition. We have a strong foundation to launch from, thanks in part to their work. The story of Oregon wine continues.
2) Tell me about your wine journey and how it has brought you to where you are today?
I am the stereotypical wine lover who left their previous profession to throw themselves into the wine business I started at the bottom, working in every facet of the wine industry from vineyard work, cellar work, harvest intern, wine buyer, importer, wine educator, and wine delivery driver.
At every step in this journey, I have stayed hungry to learn more. For those that are intellectually curious, the wine world is an incredible place to reside. It encompasses so many other professions; geology, chemistry, language, history, botany, meteorology, biology, music, anthropology, business, art, economics, religion, politics, etc….This is part of the beauty and curse of wine, as it is a galaxy of knowledge that never ceases.The minute you think you know something, you quickly realize that you know nothing. Wine is far more than just an alcoholic beverage.
For me, I have been guided by my own taste. As my palate has changed and as I have learned more, I have come to appreciate diving deeper and deeper into the proverbial rabbit hole.
I am not classically trained as a winemaker or sommelier. I have not taken any classes, nor earned any certificates or credentials in any area of the wine business. This has provided me with an uncluttered headspace to discover my own palate organically. I did not enter the wine world framed by institutional biases.
3) What are your plans for the future both near term and long-range?
My plan has been consistent since I humbly entered the wine industry. The plan is to never quit, never stop learning, never stop exploring, and accept opportunities as they arise. The commitment remains the same because this is more than a profession to me, it is a lifestyle. What is also important to me is to continue to research, unravel, and learn from the twin stories of the Reuter Vineyard and the Charles Coury Vineyard. To unify the histories of the Oregon wines that were grown and made on this hill behind Forest Grove, in the northern reaches of the Willamette Valley.
Photo of Reuter daughter in the original Reuter Vineyard circa 1904 Photo Credit: David Hill Vineyard
The story Jeff is writing with his forward-thinking view of winemaking is absolutely just the beginning and where it takes him and Golden Cluster will be thought-provoking to watch as it unfolds vintage after vintage.
Today’s forecast for Western Pennsylvania was for sunshine and
Smoke from West Coast wildfires hazes Western Pennsylvania skies.
mild temperatures. The prospect of an extended period of sunshine and mild weather after a summer that set record high temps and a moderate drought was a welcome prospect. When I was outside doing some work around the house I suddenly noticed that while the temperature was in the ’70s the sky was not blue even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Later, a meteorologist on the local news gave me the explanation for the gray overcast conditions that had overspread the region. The reason was smoke from the wildfires on the West Coast. He said the smoke had risen and was swept eastward to the point that it was passing over the area at 30,000 feet. At that altitude, it didn’t affect our air quality but did filter out some sunlight leading to lower temperatures at the surface.
The smoke from the fires proved to be a curiosity for me but for the wine industry on the West Coast, it is presenting the possibility of being a disaster. The vineyards and wineries not directly impacted by the flames are subject to having their unharvested grapes damaged by “Smoke Taint”. Smoke taint is when grapes are exposed to smoke in the vineyard. Smoke in the vineyard doesn’t necessarily mean that the grapes will be damaged by contact with it. The grapes aren’t harmed by smokey soot settling on them but are injured because the smoke can be absorbed through their skin and goes directly into the grape’s sugars. It then gives the glycosides a smokey aroma, think what your clothes and hair smell like after you stood too close to a campfire. With that is in mind, growers aren’t finding much smoke damage from the wildfires, in fact, many are hopeful that any harm will be manageable. With the testing labs experiencing substantial backlogs of grapes for testing a definitive answer to the extent of the problem remains unknown. We will have to wait for the final judgment on the wine quality from the 2020 vintage in the affected regions.
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
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.
Pittsburgh born and raised winemaker Jerry Pompa started his wine journey at his childhood home in the close-knit neighborhood of Morningside. After earning multiple degrees including an MS in Comp. Sci. at the University of Pittsburgh Jerry made his home in the Pittsburgh area. While building a successful career and raising a loving and supportive family his passion for winemaking only grew stronger. Jerry’s path to becoming a winemaker is very similar in many respects not only to winemakers here in Western Pennsylvania but around the world. His first exposure to winemaking was when his father brought home a bucket of wine grape juice from a supplier in the “Strip District” of Pittsburgh. Today Jerry returns to that same part of the city to procure his supply of wine grapes with the same goal every year of making the best wine he can possibly make. After thirty years of making wine, countless events, seminars, and shows that saw Jerry become one of the co-founders of the American Wine Society’s Pittsburgh-East Chapter no one can tell Jerry Pompa’s story better than Jerry himself. The following is my interview with him in his own words.
How did you get started making wine?
The short version is that about 30 years ago, my Father who owned a small Italian groceria on Larimer Ave in East Liberty, would go to the Strip (we called it the Yards then) and one of his suppliers gave him a bucket of juice and told him…” put it in your basement and in the spring it will be wine”…so he gave it to me and said the same. I figured there may be a bit more to it so I did some research, bought a kit (carboy, yeast, hoses, etc) and made my first Cabernet. Really not knowing anything about it I joined the American Wine Society, entered that first wine in a competition, won a 2nd pace ribbon and was therefore encouraged to continue.
I have made wine since. The first 10 years or so from juice but now from grapes. Again, the rest continues as a long story.
How would you describe your wine making style?
Primarily “big” reds are what I make. I have made whites and in fact this year I am making a Rosé (like everyone else) using a saignee method from a red Sangiovese I am making. Other style comments would be dry, tannic, and intended to be good food wines. Consistency drinkable wine is another goal, maybe not style but each year I am trying to make the best wine possible.
Who and what influenced your style of wine making?
I suppose a lot of personal taste. Doing it for so long and visiting so many wineries around the world I have learned a lot and still learning. But all of those experiences have certainly influenced my style. I have a strong Italian heritage, again growing up in an Italian Groceria started by my Grandfather in 1905 (which I worked in from – I claim – before I could stand on my own until the business was sold in 1990) I have been around food and wine all of my life. So again we make wines to go with food. That is the biggest influence.
Other people that have influenced me are Eric Miller, Rick, and Ron Lanza, Ron Casertano, “the Winemaker’s Podcast” and many more.
What are your favorite varietals to work with?
For the past 10 years or so I have a group of very close friends who help out with the winemaking. Together we decide on the varietals for the particular year but generally, my favorite to make are Cabernet blends. We also make Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Super Tuscans, and others. Again all “big” reds. But my favorite is Cab because of its ability to show so much fruit, integrate the oak, age well, have a beautiful nose and taste, go well with food, etc.
What are your favorite wines, regions, and producers?
I wish I knew more about French wines but in life, there is only so much time. My focus has been on California, Italy, and Australia for the most part. I enjoy wines from everywhere, red, white, dry, sweet, etc. I really consider it food on its own and have taught my children (now all drinking age 😉 the same. It is all about how it accompanies a meal.
It is so hard to specifically name producers since I try so many and tend not to just buy from the same. Windy Oaks from Santa Cruz makes an amazing set of Pinot Noir, Wooden Valley (the Lanza brothers) from whom we recently buy our grapes does a fantastic job with Petite Sirah, Sangio, Cabernet, and really anything they grow. Gregg Hobbs (no relation to Paul in California) from Australia does a fantastic Shiraz. Domain Huet makes an amazing Chenin Blanc, Antinori wines of any kind from Italy are excellent. Really there is not any one or two from a producer or region.
Do you have any tips for someone just getting into wine making as a hobby or as a profession?
Wow, now that is a question. Those are 2 very different questions. As a hobby, I have plenty to say. As a profession, I would love to do it myself but without the large fortune, I would never be able to make a small fortune.
Actually, I don’t like to say that I make “homemade” wines. Yes, I make wines at home but really people have a preconceived notion that a “homemade” wine will taste “bad, strong, vinegary, etc” and often they are right. I instead prefer to say I make “Handmade” wines. I am doing exactly what a professional would do except on a smaller scale and I don’t sell it. But the tips are first to buy the best fruit you can afford (actually spend more than what you can afford) since wine is mostly made in the vineyards. Winemakers can stylistically change a few things, enhance some characteristics, but mostly they can either guide the grapes into a very nice wine or screw it up. Most of the work is in cleanliness, sterilization, good process control (e.g. with regards to yeast nutrition, oxygen management, temperatures, bacteria, etc). I have taken many classes (some at Penn State Enology), gone to both amateur and professional conferences, and read many many books to learn the proper process and techniques and am adjusting and learning more every vintage.
What wines are you working on now and what are your expectations for them?
Our 2019 wines are an 87% Sangiovese/13% Merlot (and a small experiment Rosé from the same) and an 80% Barbera/20% Primativo (Zinfandel). The 2018 vintage, still aging, is a Cabernet blend and a Petite Sirah. Expectations are high otherwise why do it ;-). Seriously so far they are coming along very well.
Can you share what you’re planning next as a winemaker?
Well, as far as what I plan next as a winemaker is not much different than now. So, for now, because of a very busy day job, I will continue to make wine as an amateur but one day I will work in “the industry”. Not sure if that will be making wine myself and selling it, or working as a winemaker for one of the urban wineries, or working for some company in the wine industry one way or another. This all very much depends on my day-job for now. As an amateur, my next step is to finish the 2019 vintage and start planning for the 2020 vintage. The plan is to improve in some way each year.
What are some of your most memorable experiences as a winemaker?
Most memorable experiences… I have fond memories of the classes I have taken, the people I have met at conferences, the camaraderie in making wine with my close friends. As far as a single event, although I don’t spend much time competing in wine competitions, I did win best of show twice at a regional conference. If you are not familiar with best of show, they take all of the best wines (first place winners) and then judge them and select one over-all “best of show”.
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
I didn’t know of any Petite Pearl being grown or made in Pennsylvania so when I had
The tasting room at Greendance Winery Photo Courtesy: Greendancewinery.com
the opportunity to do a barrel tasting of a Petite Pearl wine that was grown and made just a short drive from my home I couldn’t wait to try it. First, a little background on the Petite Pearl wine grape and the winery growing and making it.
Petite Pearl is a relatively new red wine grape hybrid that was recognized by the federal government as a varietal in 2014. It was developed by renowned Minnesota grape breeder Tom Plocher and was introduced to grape growers in 2010. Petite Pearl has many of the traits vintners in the Upper Midwest value, mainly its cold tolerance (-32ºF) and the ability to ripen well in cool conditions.
I visited Greendance – The Winery at Sand Hill in Mount Pleasant, Pa on a cold day in early March. I met with Rick Lynn, one of the owners of Sand Hill and his fellow winemaker Robert Blosser. Robert has been a winemaker at Greendance since it opened in September 2007. I asked Rick and Robert about the barrel fermenting technique they used to make their Petite Pearl. Rick said they destemmed the grapes and wrestled them into oak barrel then we all laughed when Robert told me of a mishap they had along the way. Even with all the modern technology available wine making will always remain an artful expression of a wine maker’s skill and intuition. They decided to put this barrel on Petite Verdot skins in an attempt to enhance the overall quality of the wine. Petite Verdot has a very thick skin and is very helpful in adding structure to a wine while increasing its acidity and tannin character. The skins used on this Petite Pearl had been used on a batch of Merlot before being added to the barrel and as a result we thought the remnants of the Merlot had rounded and softened the Petite Pearl. The wine I sampled was light-bodied and smooth with low acidity. It’s dark red color may have been lighted by the time it spent on the Petite Verdot skins but it still was a darker cool-climate red. In my opinion when this wine is ready it will be a very enjoyable wine and a solid first effort for Rick and Robert. They are already talking about the things they might try on their next harvest of Petite Pearl. Rick will be expanding his Petite Pearl vineyard this year to ensure he will have more grapes to work with as he hones in on how to coax all the flavors and aromas out of this intriguing new grape. The unrelenting desire to improve their wines with every vintage is the one trait that is a constant in every winemaker I have every met.
That day I got a bonus barrel tasting of Greendance Chardonnay that was made from grapes they sourced from Equivine Vineyard near Coatesville, Pa. Still early in its timeline
Greendance Chardonnay in new oak barrels
this Chardonnay displayed a very promising profile that should produce a good Pennsylvania Chardonnay.
If you are looking to spend an enjoyable afternoon in a picturesque setting consider visiting Greendance – The Winery at Sand Hill. For directions and a list of events go to http://greendancewinery.com
Riesling has long been a stalwart for anyone frantically searching a wine list to pick a bottle that would pair well with everyone’s dinner. Riesling is hard to beat when you need a versatile food-friendly wine that can be easily found in styles ranging from sweet to bone-dry. In the past this varietal has labored under the misconception that the lower-quality sweet offerings that filled store shelves was the best this grape had to offer. This
view of Riesling has begun to change as world-class Riesling are being added to restaurant wine lists, websites and store shelves worldwide.
Riesling is a cool climate grape that has excels in rocky soils, like the ones found in the Rhine Valley and Mosel Region of Germany and the Alsace region of Northern France for centuries. Wine makers in the Columbia Valley of Washington, the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York have found great success with their Riesling vineyards. All three regions produce very good Riesling, each with its own special personality that is sure to please any wine lovers palate.
You could make a strong case that Riesling with its many incarnations is the most food-friendly of all wines, either red or white. It is the safe choice when following the rules for white wine by pairing it with seafood, chicken and salads. My favorite twist is to pair a sweet Riesling with spicy Mexican, Chinese or Thai cuisine. The extra sweetness cuts through the heat to give balance to your meal.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Dry: Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling 2016. (From a legendary FLX winery that received a Robert Parker Wine Advocate 90pt rating)
Off-Dry: Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling (A trendy favorite with a Wine Spectator 89pts)
Sweet: Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select Riesling 2016 (Wine Spectator 87 pts and a bargain at $10.00 or less)