Many of us are aware that our region produces internationally recognized Rieslings. But we are also producing some amazing red wines. Recently Wine Enthusiast Magazine, awarded several of our Finger Lakes reds with scores of 90 (out of 100) points and above. On the east side of Seneca Lake there are three wineries that have received these scores: Damiani Wine Cellars, Bloomer Creek Vineyard, and Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars. This region is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “Banana Belt,” because of the moderating “tropical” microclimate the lake provides.
Recently, I spoke with Mark Wagner, from Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, who grew up among vineyards. His family grew grapes and as he reached an age to taste wine, he started to appreciate them. Mark made wine at home and planted the varietals he enjoyed. Eventually, he opened the winery and his first commercial production began in 1990. Lamoreaux Landing is named after an old steamboat docking point on Seneca Lake, located below the winery, a place where boats could pick up and drop off local produce and people.
Though there are many factors that go into making good wine, Mark believes the two most important factors are the grapes coming from the vineyard and the site where the grapes are grown. “If you do your job in the vineyard, then the wines are going to come out a lot better. It’s pretty hard to make good wine out of bad grapes.” He also believes in the importance of grape treatment in the winery and bringing out the best qualities of the grape. Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars wines that have received these high rankings from Wine Enthusiast are largely Cabernet Francs: 2013 Estate Bottled Unoaked T23 (90), and 2010 76 West Red (90).
Lou Damiani of Damiani Wine Cellars planted his first vineyard in the ‘70s. In the ‘90s he really became passionate and obsessive about wine and in collaboration with his partner, Phil Davis, they planted red vinifera (species native to the Mediterranean region) vines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.
Deciding which grapes to grow often involves guesswork, refined over the multiple years and generations, as the region itself develops. That history is important in this region’s growth. As Damiani put it, “Initially everyone got excited when Dr. Frank successfully grew vinifera in the Finger Lakes, and equipment and farming techniques improved. People went wild and planted everything everywhere, it will take generations to figure out what grows best where.”
The winemaker working with Damiani and Davis, Phil Arras, believes that “specializing in red vinifera has been mostly a labor of love. People have recently begun to realize that given the right circumstances and the right vintage, certain of our red vinifera can truly shine and compete on the world stage.”
Damiani believes that red wines have great potential in this area especially Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Lemberger. A balance in the vineyard and the cellar are needed to encourage the red wines to achieve their maximum potential. They believe in sourcing from this area and creating wines that are true to this land. Damiani Wine Cellars has received this special rating from Wine Enthusiast with the following wines: 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir (91), 2012 Barrel Select Cabernet Franc (90), 2012 Reserve Lower Block Pinot Noir (90), and 2012 Meritage (90), a blended Bordeaux style of wine.
Kim Engle and his wife Debra Bermingham started Bloomer Creek winery in 1999. They were already producing grapes and because of the interest of others in buying their grapes, they decided it was worth making their own wines. They are constantly interested in exploring new red wine varieties.
Kim, working with assistant winemaker Katie Koken, selects grapes from different vineyard blocks, which can vary in ripeness, aromatic properties, density and structure. All their wines are from spontaneous fermentations, meaning they use wild yeast found on the grapes and in the wine cellars. All the red wines are aged in French, Hungarian, and/or American oak barrels for at least 3 years. Wine Enthusiast recognized Bloomer Creek’s 2011 Vin d’été Cabernet Franc (90) and its 2010 Pinot Noir (90).
The grape region of the Finger Lakes is an amazing area with such a bright future in making new and innovative wines. Producers like those mentioned in his article are the vanguard of continued evolution in viticulture and enology as the region continues to define itself as a major wine region! It is a great time to explore the wines, both reds and whites! §