FLX: Finger Lakes Extravaganza – Part IV

27 05 2016

To start from the start of this tale of adventure, click in order:

Finger Lakes Intro & Conclusions
Part I – Long Island, Hudson River, Dr. Frank
Part II – Keuka Spring, Chateau Lafayette Reneau
Part III – Red Newt, Knapp Winery


The morning of Tasting Day 3 started at the home of another FLX pioneer.  If you had heard of two Finger Lakes wineries before this travelogue (travelblogue?), I would be willing to bet they were Dr. Konstantin Frank (which we visited in Part I) and Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, another winery started by a European immigrant to the FLX with a prescient belief in the potential of vinifera grapes in the region.  In this case, Hermann Wiemer came to New York State from Bernkastel, Germany, about as close to Riesling Mecca as you can get in the world, and he was convinced that both he and his national grape could be successful transplants in the region.  He planted his first Riesling vineyard, the eponymous HJW Vineyard, on the western shores of Seneca Lake in 1976 and established his winery right beside it in 1979.  Thirty-seven years later, there we were.


I would have a framed print of this in my room if I could.

From my outsider’s perspective, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard seemed to have a slightly different feel and approach than the other FLX wineries we had visited.  They looked to be seeking to establish themselves as the super-premium estate of the region, and their entire operation appeared to be reflective of that goal, from the absolutely spotless and impeccably designed lux-barn modern-rustic tasting area to the pre-printed tasting flight placemats to the notably higher-priced bottles for sale at the cellar door.  I don’t say this negatively — there’s nothing wrong with aiming high, especially when you have the pedigree to back it up — but it stood out as a distinct sort of ethos from the rest of our experience, a bit more elevated but also a bit more isolating.


But HJW can walk the super-premium talk, and it did so consistently across a stellar and eye-opening tasting curated by the effortlessly cool Jeremy, who inadvertently epitomized the whole winery’s personality:  that guy who can wear a designer shirt and tie with a toque and just pull it off because he knows he can.  Wiemer also appears to have zeroed on what the Finger Lakes do best more quickly than many others and thus has spent more time to date on figuring out how to do it as well as possible.  From traditional method bubbles to Riesling to Gewurz to Cab Franc, they had it down cold, and in combination with the decor and feel of the place, it may have been the tasting that made the biggest impression, if not the largest emotional connection.  Some highlights from a masterful lineup:


2011 Hermann J. Wiemer Cuvee Brut:  Serious traditional method sparkler from 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir, steel-fermented with fairly low dosage (2.5 g/L), this sat on the lees for over 4 years and was disgorged a month before our visit, in April 2016.  An incisive combination of sharpness but roundness of texture, with lean citrus, stone and steel flavours slicing through more generous notes of beeswax, toast and currant.  Seriously impressive.  90-91 points

2009 Hermann J. Wiemer Cuvee Brut Rose:  Impressive, meet mind-blowing.  These 100% Pinot Noir bubbles spent a whopping 54 months on the lees (actual quote:  “we like autolysis”) before disgorgement and had the flavour profile Rolodex to prove it.  Tangy, toasty and tertiary, part white raspberry and roses, part English muffins and brioche, part chalk and rubber bands, all towering minerality, acidity and presence.  The finish is eternal, and our memory of the bottle may be too.  92-93 points




2014 Hermann J. Wiemer HJW Vineyard Riesling:  A single-vineyard Riesling from the plot of ground that started it all, this was a monument to the Finger Lakes’ true potential.  Stony and briny, with that now-familiar FLX powdery texture and perfectly delineated grapefruit, honey, slate and cucumber flavours, the wine just kept expanding and expanding on the palate, even after you swallowed.  I kept thinking of words like “stately” and “regal” – this is a towering Riesling with a noble presence.  I brought one home.  92-93+ points

2014 Hermann J. Wiemer Magdalena Vineyard Riesling:  This was the second of three single-vineyard Wiemer Rieslings (the third being the Josef Vineyard Riesling, which we didn’t taste).  I got the impression that our group favoured this one to the HJW, which is saying something.  It was friendlier and more tropical than its brother, featuring juicy cantaloupe, white grape and talcum powder laid overtop of a humming undercurrent of fresh acidity.  Another pristine wine, but I preferred the slightly sharper and more precise HJW by a hair.  91-92 points


2014 Hermann J. Wiemer Gewürztraminer:  I mention this bottle only because I remember laughing at the tasting that Wiemer managed to make the often-flouncy Gewürztraminer seem aristocratic.  From remarkably old vines (1967!), this had all the musky, friendly flavours that make Gewurz go, lychee and melon, peach cobbler and orange creamsicle, yet remained tight, focused and in control.  88-89 points

2013 Hermann J. Wiemer Magdalena Vineyard Cabernet Franc:  Without question the most polished and luxurious Cab Franc I had in the Finger Lakes, albeit one made in the opposite style than that towards which many in the region seem to be trending.  The Magdalena saw extended hang times on the vine and aging in a combination of small and large oak barrels, and as a result came across plush and glossy, with a pickle-y relish-y tang on the nose (like Peters’ Drive-In burger sauce, for you Calgarians reading this) to go with generous cocoa powder, black cherry and liquorice on the palate and a weightless, levitating sort of texture.  This richer, fuller, oakier style doesn’t always work here, but man does Wiemer do it well.  90-91 points


After wrapping up at Wiemer (and buying many Riesling magnums in the tasting room), we headed to picturesque Glenora Cellars for another tasting and lunch, where we were amazingly greeted by a Canadian flag flying outside the winery – now that’s hospitality.  Glenora is owned by Gene Pierce and Scott Welliver, who also own two of the prior stops on our FLX tasting tour, Chateau Lafayette Reneau and Knapp Winery.  Knapp winemaker Steve DiFrancesco does double duty at Glenora, making him assuredly one of the busiest wine professionals in the Finger Lakes, given the scope of Glenora’s lineup and the size of its tasting facilities.  On the massive postcard-picture patio at Glenora’s Veraisons Restaurant, we had another FLX wine epiphany as Steve poured for us perfectly preserved bottles of 1991 and 1998 Glenora Traditional Method Blanc de Blancs.  The 1991 was a brilliant gold and radiated lemon curd, toasted pumpkin seed and French toast flavours; after 25 years the acid was still alive and kicking.  I would also be remiss not to mention the lightly chilled steel-matured glass of Glenora Cab Franc, served out of a keg at the restaurant, that was about the perfect bistro patio wine with a deftly toasted Cuban sandwich, the ideal meld of wine and experience for that moment.


After lunch came a comprehensive tasting at Lamoreaux Landing, a 24 year-old winery on the eastern shores of Seneca founded by a family that has spent three generations growing grapes in the area.  It thus comes as no surprise that owner Mark Wagner and family have a substantial 105 acres of vineyard land spread over an astounding 23 different blocks strewn along the lake’s eastern hillsides, particularly towards Seneca’s south end, known locally as the Banana Belt because it is the warmest ripening area in the Finger Lakes.  Lamoreaux was one of the few estates that was able to take on a wide variety of different grapes and do them all well.

I feel compelled to start the tasting summary with the 2013 Lamoreaux Landing Gruner Veltliner, as Lamoreaux is one of only about 10 FLX wineries to try their luck with the grape.  This one hit the mark, bringing in just enough of Gruner’s lovable weirdness to an intriguing profile of lemon pepper, black jellybean, cucumber water and orange peel.  The 2014 Lamoreaux Landing T23 Cabernet Franc was one of the pinnacle examples of new-age oak-free FLX Cab Franc that we came across, fully transparent and beaming out huckleberry, strawberry, pomegranate and thyme before the tannins clamped down on the finish.  Lining this up against the Wiemer Magdalena Cab Franc would be the clearest possible example of how winemaking choices can make the same grape from the same place taste completely different, made all the more interesting by the fact that both approaches yield dynamite results.


Lamoreaux’s showstoppers, however, are its trio of single-block semi-dry Rieslings:  Yellow Dog, Round Rock and Red Oak, all with pHs of 3.06 or less (with the Round Rock at an insane 2.83, which must make it close to one of the lowest-pH wines in the world, Okanagan-style).  Monstrous acidity paired with saving sweetness is Riesling’s calling card, the thing it can do better than any other grape, and these wines flaunted this feature to gorgeous effect:

2013 Lamoreaux Landing Yellow Dog Riesling:  This was my favourite of the three bottles, with a classic Riesling lemon curd, pitch, stone and burnt rubber profile, mouth-coating furry texture, hidden tension, roiling acid and an impossibly clean, mineral-laden finish.  You can’t get more Riesling than this.  91-92+ points

2014 Lamoreaux Landing Round Rock Riesling:  A little backwards and closed at the moment, but hinting at great things to come, the Round Rock seemed (and was) slightly sweeter than the Yellow Dog but was slightly reticent with its flavours of lemon-lime, Gala apple and tennis ball.  Give it a few years and a whole lot will bubble to the surface.  90-91 points

2013 Lamoreaux Landing Red Oak Riesling:  Juicier and prettier than the other two Rieslings, the Red Oak had so much going on that it was almost hard to keep track:  crystallized ginger, honeydew, cassis, lime margarita, nectarine, anise.  Incredible purity and acid structure led into a soaring finish.  91-92 points


Stay tuned as our FLX visit began its slow wind-down with our first detailed vineyard tour, complete with trellising details…



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