Now, then, here is a fact which truly deserves your attention: in 2010 New York's Finger Lakes region had a warmer growing season than either California's Napa or Sonaoma Valley. Perfect for red wines. And good Riesling was made, too.
The 2010 vintage was the warmest growing season in the Finger Lakes in the last 37 years. It was wet, too. And it was a continuation of the roller coaster ride of past growing seasons in this region: the warm 2005 was followed by the cold 2006, which was followed by the hot 2007; the perfect 2008 was followed again by a very cold 2009. The warm (but not terribly hot) 2010 was, in a way, the logical consequence. These extreme vintage variations are difficult for the growers and require wise judgment both in the vineyard and in the cellar. But instead of lamenting they see it as a positive challenge. Johannes Reinhardt, winemaker at Anthony Road Wine Company, thinks that it stimulates "a greater sense every year of thinking outside the box". And they certainly had to think outside that box in 2010!
Budbreak in 2010 was almost a month earlier and the warm temperatures continued throughout the year - unlike 2007, which started out cool and then got very hot. 2010, in contrast, started out warm and stayed warm. In their "Finger Lakes Vineyard Notes" Cornell University reports that "the Finger Lakes actually had a warmer growing season than either Sonoma or Napa Valley this year". The warm weather meant an early harvest in 2010, but no drought - in fact, there was plenty of rain towards the end of the growing season, enough to keep the vines healthy, but not too much to interfere with the harvest or cause rot. In short, 2010 is considered to be one of the best vintages of the last decade in the Finger Lakes, particularly for red varieties. But Riesling did well, too.
The 2010 vintage also marks changes in the Finger Lakes towards expressing the region's typicality by subtracting technicality from the winemaking process. Two of the most prominent of the region's Riesling producers, Fred Merwarth from Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards and Morten Hallgren from Ravines Wine Cellars have deviated at least in parts from the existing state of affairs. Fred Merwarth did not add any cultured yeasts to ferment his Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines in 2010, relying instead on the naturally occurring yeasts in his vineyards and in the winery. Cultured yeasts had always been used judiciously at the estate. Hermann Wiemer himself used to only inoculated two tanks and then used those as starters for other tanks. In the case of the Hermann J. Wiemer 2010 Riesling Dry the now completely spontaneous fermentation lasted well into August 2011, an unusually long primary fermentation, resulting in a wine with beautiful balance and structure. Bloomer Creek is another Finger Lakes winery that uses only indigenous yeasts for their wines, which have already a fanatic fan base amongst consumers and critics alike. It will be interesting to see if other Finger Lakes winemakers will evaluate the effect of wild yeasts on their wines in the future.
Morten Hallgren at Ravines Wine Cellars broke with another winemaking rule for Riesling in the Finger Lakes, where virtually all Riesling is fermented in stainless steel. Morten fermented some of the Argetsinger Riesling (his finest wine) in barrel an some in stainless steel. "My main motivation was to keep the wine on the lees and provide a richer texture", Morten told me in an email. He used old French oak barrels which were 6+ years old. At this age the oak does not impart any flavors to the wine but gives the wine additional structure. Wines fermented in barrels are not as hermetically sealed from the exposure to air as are wines fermented and stored in stainless steel and some oxygen can interact with the wine in a beneficial way, polishing bright primary fruit characteristics and adding overall structure to the wine.
And Morten continues: "For the 2010 Harvest, I fermented some of the Argetsinger Riesling in barrels and some in stainless steel. 2010 was an unusual vintage with warmer and sunnier conditions than we normally encounter in the Finger Lakes. However, the Argetsinger Riesling still showed its typical structure and I'm happy with the results. The Argetsinger Riesling I bottled was entirely barrel fermented. The stainless steel portion is part of my Dry Riesling blend." The 2010 Argetsinger Riesling will be released in early 2013.
Forge Cellars is another Finger Lakes winery (and one, I have to admit, I am not familiar with) that uses old oak for their Riesling. Clearly, not every Riesling from the Finger Lakes will benefit from barrel ferementation but I would think that there are a few vineyards in the Finger Lakes that grow Riesling grapes that give a wine the necessary structure. The judgment will be out soon. The examples of Hermann J. Wiemer, Bloomer Creek, Ravines and Forge Cellars show that the Finger Lakes is a region of restless winemakers.
For this article I tasted close to 40 Finger Lakes Rieslings from the 2010 vintage, some of them blind at a tasting hosted last fall by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance in New York City. Overall, the quality of the 2010 Riesling in the Finger Lakes is very good. As expected, some winemakers were more successful in coping with the extreme growing season than others. A handful of wines lacked freshness or tasted out of balance in the case where musts had been acidified (although I must admit that the latter is purely speculation on my part as I don't know which growers actually did acidify in 2010). In general, 2010 seems to have produced exceptionally aromatic Rieslings in the Finger Lakes. Delicate floral aromas have always been a trademark for Riesling from this region, but particularly the drier wines from 2010 offer complex floral and deeply perfumed aromas on top of a solid structure and ripe fruit flavors. The sweet wines surely benefitted from the lush ripeness of the grapes in 2010 and where sufficient acidity had been retained the wines offer exciting complexity and depth.
Next page: Finger Lakes 2010 Riesling tasting notes