FLX: Finger Lakes Extravaganza – Part V

28 05 2016

Roll call for the previous chapters in this saga:

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
Part IV – Hermann J. Wiemer, Lamoreaux Landing


Kees Stapel, Boundary Breaks Vineyard

Ten wineries into our multi-day tasting tour of the Finger Lakes, we continued along the eastern shoreline of Seneca Lake for a different kind of meeting with a different kind of winery.  Rather than gather around a tasting room counter with a winemaker, we were told to head out to the vines at Boundary Breaks Vineyard for a grape-growing lesson with the winery’s conscientious viticulturist, Vineyard Manager Kees Stapel.  He is such an integral part of what Boundary Breaks is all about that he is the very first person listed and pictured in the list of personnel on the winery website; owner and president Bruce Murray doesn’t mention himself at all.  This unusual (but laudable) level of marketing focus on the vineyard team is partly because Boundary Breaks is a winery without a winemaker:  it was founded based on its vineyard, planted in 2008 to four different Riesling clones on an ideal sloped, breezy, sunny, west-facing site arcing gently downward to the lake.  It only makes Riesling and focuses its energies on only five different bottlings, which are presently vinified by Red Newt winemaker and FLX Riesling star Kelby James Russell.


Bruce Murray’s vision for Boundary Breaks would certainly break some boundaries:  he sees a rapidly expanding production volume over the next decade and ultimately aims to be a giant of the Finger Lakes, both in terms of annual cases made and in external market penetration, without sacrificing quality.  The gigantic new winery building and tasting facility currently under construction on site is reflective of these lofty goals, but commencing a winery tour with someone who drove a tractor up to meet us suggests that Boundary Breaks is managing to (quite literally) stay grounded despite its ambition.

Kees Stapel makes use of a variety of techniques in the vineyard to ensure that Boundary Breaks’ Riesling fruit consistent gets very ripe each year, a continual challenge in a cool-weather wintry region.  First, the winery made sure to install a comprehensive drainage system 4 feet below ground in the vineyard before the vines were planted, ensuring that the vines’ roots never stay soggy, a crucial element to ripening.  Like many other wineries in the Finger Lakes, Boundary Breaks also makes use of a Scott Henry trellising system, which sees Kees allow two cordons (vine growths off the base trunk from which that year’s fruit is derived) grow left and right off each trunk.  The growth off one cordon is trained upwards, while the growth off the other is trained downwards, which doubles the overall leaf area and therefore the amount of possible photosynthesis.  Kees then culls the fruit partway through, removing less ripe bunches to focus ripening energies in the remaining grapes.  Next, he removes the leaf canopy located near the east side of the fruit, but not the west side, so that the grapes get more morning sun but aren’t cooked in the warmer afternoons.  It is a ton of effort.  But it works.


With the grand winery building not quite finished, we tasted through the fruits of Kees’ labour in Bruce Murray’s cozy lake house on the property, which is about as close to an ideal dream getaway spot as I have seen (pristine lake views plus 20 feet to Riesling vines?  Sign me up!).  Both the meticulousness of Stapel’s vineyard practices and the exacting nature of Russell’s winemaking showed up in each of the three bottles we tried:

2014 Boundary Breaks #239 Riesling:  The number in the wine’s name refers to the clone of Riesling from which it was made; Clone #239 is from the Rheingau in Germany, which specializes in the production of rich dry Rieslings.  Unsurprisingly, then, the grapes for Riesling #239 were harvested very ripe (23.0 Brix) and fermented dry (12.8%, which may have been the highest alcohol reading on a Riesling that I saw in the FLX).  It was left on the lees for 8 months after fermentation.  The result is an Arctic tundra of a wine, cool and crisp and chalky, clean with frozen lemon, green apple and quartz flavours, tightline acid and absolutely geometric linearity, with just enough saving sweetness on the finish to give the palate some respite.  I think it cost $20.  Seriously.  Just a beautiful wine.  91-92+ points 


2014 Boundary Breaks Ovid Line North Riesling:  This was just as ripe as the #239 but only fermented to 11.7% abv, leaving considerably more residual sugar in the wine.  The flavours were correspondingly brighter and friendlier – white peach, limeade, apple cinnamon, sweet green pea – but there was still that underlying frozen sense about the wine, like it was perfectly preserved and crystalline, mountain spray and rain water.  The sense of focus about these wines was unbelievable.  90-91 points

2013 Boundary Breaks #198 Reserve Riesling:  Clone #198 is another German Riesling clone, a high-quality Riesling variant from Giesenheim.  This Reserve Riesling was made in a German Spatlese style, meaning low alcohol (8.9% abv), fairly significant levels of residual sugar (60 g/L) but high acidity.  The result is an overtly approachable and dangerously drinkable wine, all cantaloupe and blackcurrant Wine Gums and poached peaches, with flashes of its underlying substance peeking through on the amazingly mouthwatering acid-driven finish.  The weightless and floating texture is a hint that this bottle is just starting to scratch the surface of what it is.  91-92 points


Our final day in the Finger Lakes brought us back across the lake to western Seneca, where we started out at Anthony Road Wine Company, a place I had highlighted on our tour schedule from the start.  My first chance to taste through a full lineup of FLX wines came in the fall when local agent NBNW Imports set up a wide-ranging, Riesling-dominant trade tasting.  After a dozen-odd bottles, the wine that stood out to me was the Anthony Road Semi-Dry Riesling; getting to meet the person who made it was a tremendous experience.


Peter Becraft, Anthony Road Wine Company

Winemaker Peter Becraft is another example of a passionate soul with no prior vinicultural experience who was welcomed into the Finger Lakes wine community with open arms and is now elevating it with his own creations.  He and his wife were New York City denizens, working completely outside of the wine industry, when they were personal witnesses to the tragedy of 9/11.  Shaken, they vowed to start following their lives’ passions, which led Peter to take a job in a local wine shop and then to the Finger Lakes on a visit about a decade ago.  A tasting with Anthony Road’s then-winemaker Johannes Reinhardt led to an offer to help with harvest that fall, after which Peter and his wife never left.  A few harvests later, Peter is Johannes’ successor at Anthony Road and making approachable yet daring wines stamped with his own personal style.  Almost makes you want to pick up stakes and go work harvest.


We might have tasted every single current-release wine produced by Anthony Road, 13 and all, which roughly divided into four categories:  entry-level pleasant yet crunchy quaffers made from blends called the Devonian Red and Devonian White; the core, largely varietal-based lineup centered around Riesling and Chardonnay; a reserve-level aged Riesling called the Art Series; and the “Grey Series” (actually likely called the “Gray Series” at the winery, but I’m on Canadian soil, so…), an experimental line of wines making use of unusual or avant-garde winemaking techniques to surprisingly deft effect given Becraft’s relatively short time at the helm of a cellar.  Here are a few Anthony Road highlights:


2015 Anthony Road Rose:  94% Cabernet Franc and 6% Lemberger, this rose got immediate credit from me for being one of the very few FLX pink wines with any semblance of real colour on it.  We were told an amazing story in one of the wineries that New York City drinkers are currently all over super-pale, orange-kissed rose…but not the slightest bit interested in any rose that was remotely darker, no matter who made it or where it was from.  Anthony Road thankfully bucked that ludicrous trend with a juicy strawberry-pink bottling that uncoiled vivid honeydew, pink grapefruit, honey and rosemary flavours riding chalky acid into a refreshing finish.  88-89 points

2014 Anthony Road Semi-Dry Riesling:  The bottle that put Anthony Road on my radar half a year ago, this costs $16.99 in the winery and drinks like it should be $40.  It is just textbook good Finger Lakes Riesling, with all the features that seem to go with this grape in this region:  key lime aromas, underlying brininess, fuzzy mouthfeel, and acid that just lays into your tongue after a pleasant attack.  Mix in ripe apple, honey, currant, lemon drop and rubber balls, add a perfect amount of residual sugar, and you have your house wine for the next few years.  90-91+ points


2014 Anthony Road Skin Ferment Riesling:  Now take that Semi-Dry Riesling, rewind to the start of fermentation, put all the Riesling skins in the tank with the juice instead of keeping them clear like you normally would, ferment to dryness, and you get this Grey Series experiment, which actually has a touch of Semi-Dry blended back into it post-maturation to restore more of its Riesling character.  As far as Rieslings go, it is out there:  a notably deep shiny lemon colour despite its young age, more tropical (pineapple, mango, orange zest) than the Semi-Dry yet simultaneously more earthy (black tea, dried leaves, parchment, spearmint, lake water), with a mouth-drying finish instructing you what Riesling with tannin does.  I fully expected to dislike this wine on principle, but I ended up buying one.  It’s fascinating.  90-91 points

2012 Anthony Road Riesling Art Series:  This is the current release of this wine, which Anthony Road intentionally holds back, partly to take advantage of the additional complexity brought on my bottle age and partly because the Art Series takes longer to create than the rest of the lineup.  Becraft allows fermentation to begin spontaneously instead of adding yeasts, a process which doesn’t usually begin for 3-4 weeks and can last for over 2 months once it starts.  The result is a Riesling bursting with hallmark diesel, tennis ball and wet asphalt aromas yet leading into friendlier flavours of juicy blackcurrant, anise, golden apple and lime peel.  The mouthfeel seems warm but weightless, the acidity sings, and you feel the depth of this wine long after you swallow.  This will be utterly absurd in five years – mark my words.  92-93 points


2014 Anthony Road Barrel Ferment Pinot Gris:  I have to end with another Grey Series wine because it was just so striking.  We had numerous examples of really solid Pinot Gris in the Finger Lakes, although the varietal isn’t likely to catch on there in a widespread way because it has an unfortunate habit of dying en masse in the winter.  This one, much like Keuka Spring’s Umlaut Gewürztraminer, takes PG’s flavour and richness and turns the dial up to 11.  Barrel fermentation and aging make this dry wine borderline confectionary, all creamy butterscotch and vanilla, carrot cake and orange Lifesavers, with hints of melon and a languid, opulent texture.  Fun stuff.  88-89 points

One entry and one winery remain in this trip summary that is itself becoming languid and opulent – stay with me for the impending conclusion of the voyage.




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