A New York State of Wine

May 31, 1999 | News & Noteworthy

A New York State of MindThere are more than 125 wineries in six appellations in the nation’s second-largest wine-producing state. Think you can’t find a bottle? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Standing at the threshold of the new millennium, wine consumers are experiencing their most adventurous mood in decades. And that’s very good news for one prolific if unheralded wine-producing state in particular: New York.

Hermann Examines WineEmpire State wines offer an amazingly broad spectrum of location, grape types and wine styles, from sparkling to still to dessert wines. The problem is, many people don’t yet realize it. Allow me to change that perception.

Whenever I write about New York state’s underrated and misunderstood wines, I count on one man to offer a candid, ground-zero perspective: Hermann Wiemer, the German-born proprietor of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard of Dundee, New York. His forthrightness and honesty are as refreshing as his delicate Finger Lakes rieslings.

Wiemer and I both know that although New York is the nation’s second-largest wine-producing state-and one with a rich winemaking history, starting in 1647, when the Dutch first planted grapes on Manhattan Island- rarely are its wines spoken of with the same breathless reverence routinely bestowed upon those of the top producer, California. Over the past decade, however, the dubious reputa­ tion of New York wines (which I must say was well-earned) is gradually being upgraded, among consumers as well as restaurateurs. The reason is simple: The wines just keep steadily improving.

From Long Island to the Hudson River Valley to the Fin­ ger Lakes, New York is producing more world-class wines than ever before. Money is being invested. Technology and expertise are cutting-edge. Retailers are stocking their shelves with better varietal-based wines like chardonnay, riesling, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir from New York rather than the sweet, insipid wines for which the state was known years ago.

Anyway, Wiemer is no neophyte winemaker. He studied oenology at Germany’s Geisenheim Institute before moving to western New York. This is an astute, ambitious guy who, starting in 1968, has seen the dismal days of the state’s wine industry gradually give way to encouraging days-all from the inside.

Finger Lakes/Cayuga

Riesling, chardonnay and gewürz­ traminer, all classic Vitis vinifera vari­ eties that thrive in cooler locales and can survive cold, snowy winters. The region’s rieslings are the best in the United States, period; they compare fa­ vorably with the flowery, delicate and complex styles of Germany. This area produces some excellent sparkling wines. Pinot noir is making some in­ roads, but the jury is still out. Try some of the so-called “French hybrid” grape types, especially the beguiling seyval blanc, which is responsible for more than a few of the Lakes’ most delec­ table dry white wines. Dark-horse red: cabernet sauvignon.

Riesling: Hermann J. Wiemer, Lamoreaux Landing, Treleaven, Swedish Hill, Standing Stone, Kon­ stantin Frank, Prejean, Glenora, Heron Hill, Fox Run

Gewürztraminer: Heron Hill, Treleaven, Prejean

Sparkling, made from chardonnay and/or pinot nair: Glenora, Fox Run, Chateau Frank, Lamoreaux Landing Pinot nair: Fox Run

Chardonnay: Lamoreaux Landing, Hermann J. Wiemer

Seyval blanc and vidal: Glenora, Standing Stone, Swedish Hill

Hermann J. Wiemer makes some of the most critically acclaimed wines in the East, yet one could spend several days here in the Finger Lakes region and easily overlook his unpretentious spread on Seneca Lake’s western shore.

Wiemer, who has been producing wines under his own name since 1979, prefers a tighter focus. He concentrates primarily on four wines (riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir and a sparkling variety), spends relatively little on promotions and advertising and maintains a modest tasting room in a restored barn on his l40-acre former soybean farm.

Hermann also runs a profitable nursery that supplies the vines to top producers around the world.

Start Spreading The News (About New York Wine)

For the latest information about the wines of New York state through the New York Wine & Grape Foundation’s “Uncork New York!’ campaign, visit the website www.nywine.com·(or call 315- 536-7442). The website offers a com­ plete listing of the state’s wineries, vin­ tage ratings, recommended wine trails for tourists and a look at each of the state’s grape-growing regions.

Two notable New York wine events :

• The Finger Lakes Wine Fes­ tival, July 10-11, at Watkins Glen Inter­ national Speedway in Watkins Glen. More than 40 of the region’s producers will offer their wines for sampling. Info: 607- 535-2481 or www.theglen.com/winefest.

• And on October 9 at the Millbrook Vineyards & Winery in Hudson Valley hunt country, the 8th Annual Har­ vest Party, featuring the latest Mill­ brook releases poured alongside an al­ fresco meal.

Merlot: Palmer, Bedell, Peconic Bay Lenz, Gristina, Pindar, Macari Chardonnay: Pellegrini, Peconic Bay, Gristina, Paumanok, Hargrave, Channing Daughters, Macari Gewürztraminer: Bedell, Lenz, Palmer

It’s easier (and tastier) than ever to get ahead of the learning curve of YOU wine-drinking friends by trying out thE wines from what will be America’s hottest wine state of the new era.

F. Paul Pacult is the editor of The Spirit Journal (www.spiritjournal.com) and the author of Kindred Spirits and The Beer Essen­tials, and host of the talk-radio pro­gram “Paul Pacult’s Good Life-New York!”

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