Hop, Skip, & a Jump

A favorite hand-me-down from mom.

I spent a semester (doing a decent job of pretending that I was) studying in London during my junior year of college, during which time I took a bunch of little trips around Europe with friends.  During a before-dawn cab ride from my homestay to the airport on my way to a 3-stop adventure through Rome, Barcelona, and Madrid, my cab driver asked where I was going.  I told him, and asked if he had ever been.  He answered no.  Like a know-it-all 20-year old I said, Why not?  You live so close!  He asked if I had seen all of America…Nope.

Touche cab driver, touchette.

Since then I’ve made more of an effort to see more of my country ’tis of thee and stuff like that.  She’s a beaut, no?  There is no denying the quality of Old World terroir, where “lies a soil so saturated with the past that however far back the mind roams one can never detach it from its human background” (H. Miller, who else?).  Wisdom can be tasted in wines sprouted from Old World soil , but New World vineyards are packed with their own sort of opportunity.  And we are still in the process of discovering all its possibilities.  It may take a long, long time.  Fortunately, there are winemakers dedicated to figuring it out.

Just a handful of hours drive from my Brooklyn locale is Upstate New York’s Finger Lake Region, a wine production area that is slowly and surely growing, harvesting, and vinifiying its way to our hearts, palate, and international recognition.  There is much worthy winemaking going on upstate, but the vineyard on my mind these days is a small production estate called Red Tail Ridge Winery, located on the western shore of Lake Seneca.

“Good Karma” (80% Riesling, 20% Chardonnay). 10% of profits per bottle are donated to a local food bank (Foodlink).

The winery was first brought to my attention by a friend from the wine world, Jared Rumsey, who is currently interning there.  Jared sent pictures of baby Lagrein vines this summer, and I thought, what is going on here?  Awesome!  I started to notice Red Tail Ridge Winery more and more on the market, and so was super excited when the lovely Tara Mathison pointed out the winery’s table at Martin-Scott’s recent portfolio tasting.

Manning the table was Nancy Irelan, co-owner and winemaker along with her husband, Mike Schnelle (who during the time of the tasting in the beginning of September was back at the vineyard harvesting some “very ripe chardonnay”).  Nancy and Mike have been taking great care of their plot of earth since about 2004 when they started up the project.  Permanent cover crops, composting, humane critter control, and integrated pest management- each a complex system of its own- are all being played around with to find the best ways to grow the best grapes.

Red Tail Ridge Winery co-owner, Nancy Irelan

Teroldego, Lagrein, Blaufrankisch, and Dornfelder…you hear these grapes and may think of Austria, northern Italy, Germany, or maybe even Alsace.  But this is New York state, yo, and Red Tail Ridge Winery, in addition to working with more typical Finger Lakes grapes like Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Chardonnay, are playing around with some of these lesser-known cold climate varieties, “to examine their potential in the Finger Lakes”.  They are even examining the potential of the potential- making interesting styles like sparkling (!) Teroldego.

They are getting weird, and there is nothing more beautifully mind-opening than weird.

I’ve noticed shops and restaurants, and in turn, wine-drinkers all around NYC paying more and more attention to New York wines.  And why not?  We are fortunate enough to be privy to the elegance of Chardonnay from the Maconnais and the long-lasting depth of a bottle of Foradori Teroldego.  There is nothing like them in the world.  But there also exist ambitious styles of these two grapes (and others!) that are made with enthusiasm and care without having to travel too far from their source to reach our glasses.

New things don’t really enter our orbit of habit until we experience, understand, and find a way to place them.  With these more rare varieties, Red Tail Ridge Winery is bringing something faraway, close to home.  Properly, too.

Thesir bird covered bottles are something to be on the lookout for!

 (You can find their “Rye Vineyard” Pinot Noir at Flatiron W & S website and shop in NYC.)

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