Seeking out delicious wine doesn’t always involve looking overseas. In fact, I often have to remind myself that top-quality juice is being produced right here in our own backyard. Although America’s wine scene is young compared to Europe’s growing regions, I believe that what’s being done here viticulturally is definitely worth shedding light on. To kick off this new year/decade, we’re keeping it close to home with the highly underrated growing areas of New York State.
New York’s winemaking history dates back to the 1600s, when the Dutch and Huguenots arrived in New York’s Hudson Valley. Here, settlers planted grapes and made wines for their own consumption, though commercial sales didn’t begin until about two centuries later. [Fun fact: New York is home to America’s oldest continuously operating winery, Brotherhood Winery.]
However, New York’s modern winemaking legacy began in the mid-20th century with a man named Dr. Konstantin Frank. Originally from Ukraine, Frank, a rather esteemed winemaker in his homeland, immigrated to New York and took a janitor job at Cornell, as this was the only job available to him. Frank often discussed the region’s viticultural failures with his coworkers, and was convinced that the right types of vines weren’t being planted. When French winemaker Charles Fournier arrived in New York, the duo became fast friends and began planting vitis vinifera together. Ten years later, the two were producing wines from a handful of well-known vinifera varieties, including Riesling, Pinot Noir, and more.
Today, New York’s wine scene is made up of four major growing regions : Lake Erie, Finger Lakes, Hudson River Region, and Long Island. The state is now home to an impressive 200+ wineries, most of which were created in the last 75 years. Soil types vary across the state (for example, Long Island’s soils tend to be sandier whereas the Finger Lakes’ soils are more laden with clay), though above all, water proximity plays a huge role in the state’s wine regions. On Long Island, the temperature is moderated by the Atlantic Ocean, and vineyard sites are more humid than those upstate. In the Hudson Valley, the region’s namesake river plays a huge role in moderating climate conditions, and in the Finger Lakes and Lake Erie AVAs, both areas’ namesake lakes have the same moderating effects.
The most popular vinifera varieties planted in the Finger Lakes are Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. These varieties are also cultivated on Long Island and the Hudson Valley, though vineyards in the latter tend to be a bit more experimental in their grape planting. Hybrids, which are crosses between two vitis species, also play a rather significant role in New York’s viticultural scene. Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, and Cayuga are a few of the more commonly recognized hybrid varieties. In addition to still bottlings of white, rosé, and red wines, most of New York’s cooler climate areas are also ideal for sparkling and dessert wine production.
Beyond grapes, New York is also regarded for its apple orchards. To reflect that in this month’s shipment, I thought it’d be fun to swap out a bottle of vino for a seriously delicious bottle of cider. Although cider fell out of fashion for a bit, it’s definitely back with a bang. We’ve sourced this month’s bottle with the same mentality we use when searching for great wine: fruit must be farmed responsibly, the juice reflects the place from which it comes, and above all, the final product is super enjoyable to drink.
Here’s to sipping with an Empire State of Mind!
Dustin Wilson, Master Sommelier
Sundström Cider ‘Sauer’
Sundström Cider is owned and operated by Leif Sundström, an unofficial “cider pioneer” who is working tirelessly to bring back the centuries-old tradition of fermenting apples into cider. After his stint in New York managing the Terry Thiese portfolio, Sundström headed to the Rheingau to work under Johannes Leitz. It was here that Sundström discovered his love for the incredible potential of fermented orchard fruit. Upon returning to New York, Sundström intensely studied apple growing and eventually began planting organic apple orchards across the Hudson Valley. Today, Sundström operates one of the most progressive cideries in the northeast and is proud to produce small yet delicious quantities of textured, nuanced ciders from organic heirloom apples. All ciders are fermented with wild yeast and are aged on the lees.
PAIRING IDEAS: Sauer is produced in a similar style to that of Spanish “sidra,” which is known for its bright acidity, tanginess, and pleasantly sour kick. Simply sip it on its own as an aperitif or pair with an array of traditional tapas (think cured meats, fried squid, or patatas bravas).
Terrassen Blaufrankisch Rosé
Terrassen was founded by our friends Thomas Pastuszak, wine director of The NoMad Hotel, and his wife, sommelier Jessica Brown. While majoring in neurobiology at Cornell, Pastuszak began working at restaurants to help pay off his student loans. He was instantly fascinated by the combination of art and science that goes into a wine program, and he immediately decided to pursue a wine-focused career in the hospitality industry. The duo has since made it their goal to put the incredible viticultural potential of the Finger Lakes region on the radar of both the industry and consumers. Their Blaufrankisch rosé is savory and balanced, marked by flavors of red currant, rose petals, and strawberry.
PAIRING IDEAS: Although this juicy and fruit-forward rosé makes for an excellent aperitif, the food pairing possibilities for this wine are basically endless. We recommend serving this insanely food-friendly bottle with smoked fish, crisp salads, or fresh goat cheese.
Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling
Hermann Wiemer is one of the OG pioneers of viticulture in the Finger Lakes. Originally from Bernkastel, Germany, Wiemer immigrated to the States back in the 1960s. Upon his arrival in the Finger Lakes, Wiemer was amazed by the region’s climate and soil similarities to that of his native Mosel. Wiemer used the grafting skills he learned from his father to successfully plant one of the first vinifera vineyards on Seneca Lake during the mid 1970s. The winery has been operated by Fred Merwath (Wiemer’s longtime apprentice) and Oskar Bynke since 2007. The duo focuses on creating pure and precise varietal Rieslings that distinctly reflect the place from which they come. Fruit for their signature Dry Riesling comes from three organically farmed vineyard sites in the Finger Lakes and is harvested at Spatlese level ripeness, leading to a textured, acid-driven wine marked by a lingering finish.
PAIRING IDEAS: This bone dry Riesling (less than 1% residual sugar) is insanely versatile on the table. We recommend serving with baked fish, roasted poultry, or various Asian fare.
Ravines Cabernet Franc
Ravines was founded by European oenologist/winemaker Morten Hallgren and his wife Lisa back in 2000 with the belief that exceptional wine could (and should) be made in New York’s Finger Lakes region. Hallgren, a student of physics and oenology, began working on projects in Bordeaux and Texas, which eventually led to a chief winemaker position for Dr. Konstantin Frank in the Finger Lakes. Today, the duo crafts sophisticated and vibrant bottles from a slew of varieties. Their Cabernet Franc is produced from estate-grown fruit and is aged in large casks. Notes of black cherry, sweet baking spice, and pepper dominate this textured and mineral-driven wine.
PAIRING IDEAS: The bright acidity and soft tannins in this varietal Cabernet Franc make it the perfect match for roast poultry, black bean tacos, and vegetable stews.