There is a standing joke in the wine business that in Bordeaux, France, every vintage is the best ever and thus justifying raising the price. Fortunately, and unfortunately, this is not the case in the Finger Lakes of New York. Every year there seems to be some glitch that throws a wrench in to the works of what would be the best vintage ever. We’ve seen extensive winter bud kill from -20 degree temperatures; we’ve seen Spring frosts into the low twenties in May; we’ve seen hurricanes that wash out the harvest and turn a seemingly great harvest into a good harvest. There are so many things that can go awry. Wine growers must be super-resilient just to survive, not to mention excel.
2012 appeared to be another one of those years as we experienced devastating late spring frosts state-wide in early May, reducing potential crop loads by up to 25%. These difficulties were followed by localized hailstorms that actually wiped out some vineyardists’ crops. Surviving these events, we endured a summer long drought that further stressed the vines, and the farmers. As harvest approached, timely rainfall arrived and the brix (sugar) levels soared. Usually we are delighted to get 21° or 22° brix but this year brought up to 25° brix levels across the board. The rains held off and super-ripe, clean fruit arrived for crushing up to three weeks early. It was a very fast harvest with everything ready to come in at the same time. The production team scrambled and as the fermentations are now over we see – in my opinion after 40 years as a grape grower – the best year ever! Time will tell – next year we’ll know the results. Stay tuned…
Muscat grape is considered one of the oldest, if not the oldest, grape domesticated by man. Its origin is unknown but it could come from the Middle East or the Arabian Peninsula where it could have been cultivated about 4,000 years ago, if not longer. It is believed that traders and/or soldiers brought the Muscat vine from the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean: soon Egyptians, Greeks and Romans not only grew it but also took the vines with them during their conquests and spread it all around the Mediterranean. It then was propagated throughout all of Europe, from Portugal to Russia. In the Nineteenth Century, Muscat was introduced in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Because of such a long heritage, there are at least two hundred different varieties containing the name Muscat. They belong to the Vitis Vinifera family. Examples?
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is commonly used in Asti Spumante (sparkling) and Muscat De Frontignan (Vin Doux Naturel). It also has many different names: Muscat d’Alsace, Muskatelle, and Moscato Bianco. Moscato Bianco in Italy is used to make the sweet, effervescent Moscato d’ Asti wine that is currently on trend and widely referred to in the United States as just Moscato.
Muscat of Alexandria gets its name from the Egyptian City of Alexandria, one of the most advanced cities of its time, with the first and biggest Librairy, before tsunamis, earthquakes and invasions destroyed it. This Muscat grape can be found in Moscatel wines, sherry wines, or as table grape and raisin.
Muscat Ottonel, also called Moskately, is used in dessert wines in Austria and Eastern Europe.
Muscat of Hamburg has a darker color and is used as table grape or dessert wine in Eastern Europe and Northern Italy.
To make it even more confusing, each region can have a different name for the same grape.
Apart from settle variations, all these varieties of Muscat tend to express the same aromatic characteristic. The compound Linalol present in the juice is very aromatic and is described as musqué in French. It is reminiscent of Lychee, an Asian fruit you can find in…Asian Cuisine. It is somewhat similar to the aroma of a Gewurztraminer, which may be a sign of a Family tie between the two varietals. The spicy note in the Muscat bouquet is not too far fetched from the spicy aroma of the Gewurztraminer, Gewurz meaning spice in German.
At Heron Hill Winery, we grow Muscat Ottonel and we added a new planting of Muscat Blanc. Muscat Ottonel is used in the production of Dessert wines, but grape production has been so limited that we have not made a Muscat Late Harvest in a couple of years. Hopefully, with the Muscat Blanc coming into production in a couple of years, we will be able to produce a Muscat Late Harvest.
Crushing Muscat on September 12, 2012:
Some of our grapes come from various grape growers throughout the Finger Lakes (Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga and Skaneateles Lakes). One of our growers on the west side of Seneca Lake has planted a vineyard of Valvin Muscat. Valvin Muscat is a cross between Muscat Ottonel (Vitis Vinifera) and a hybrid called Muscat du Moulin. It was developed at Cornell University in Geneva, NY. Valvin Muscat is a hardier variety than most Vinifera, and exudes the same typical lychee and spicy aromas as any European Muscat.
With these grapes, we produce the Heron Hill Muscat. The first release was in 2010 with the 2009 vintage. It sold out in a few months! We are now about to run out of the 2010 vintage, and we will then switch to the 2011, which has the new Heron Hill Classic label and a screw cap! So far, the Heron hill staff has been very excited about this new release about to happen. Just twenty-four hours after bottling, we offered a pre-release taste of the 2011 Muscat at our Label Launch Party on August 1st. It was very well received on a hot summer afternoon paired with roasted turkey and mango-cilantro coulis on a slice of baguette.
Ah...summer in the Finger Lakes. Much awaited, all too brief. I asked Team Seneca to share some of their summer “favorite things” moments. Aimee leads off, her words and those that follow from the rest, tell the story.
“Summer is long awaited in the Finger Lakes and once it is here we savor every beautiful sunny day and every warm summer night. My favorite thing is firing up the grill (OK…it’s gas but you still have to push the button, right?), then I pour 2 glasses of deep, rich Blaufränkisch to share with my 24 year old son, Mathew. Warm and welcoming, the wine gets your mouth ready for those steaks. My daughter, Katie will want chicken and classic Semi-Sweet Riesling. And my baby, 19 year old Ann, will invite a few extras over for dinner. This will only happen a few times this summer, when we are all together for a great meal and lots of laughs. (The rest of the time, it’s me and the dog hanging out on the patio with a glass of Cab Franc and a block of cheese on a paper plate.) But when it happens...it is truly one of my favorite things.” --Aimee
Erin enjoys sitting on the patio sipping a glass of Vidal Blanc while watching 4th of July fireworks and celebrating the start of summer.
Ed said, “Summer in the Finger Lakes is the best and there is nothing better than enjoying a Heron Hill 2011 Dry Riesling. Now with the new twist-off cap, I can kick-back in my hammock and open my Riesling with ease, savor it, and know that life doesn’t get any better."
Straight to the point, Bill replied, "Local produce, good wine and no snow."
Carol talked about the summer pleasure of sitting on her deck and watching the hummingbirds enjoy the light, lovely nectar of her flowers as she enjoys the soft, floral presentation of the Heron Hill Muscat.
Steve and I had the same thoughts…a full house for the 4th of July and watching our kids and grandbabies and goofy dogs play in the lake...sunset boat rides…grilled clams and sweet corn and son Dan’s 7 hour BBQ ribs (smokey, sweet, heat)…a chilled glass of Ingle Vineyard Riesling on the porch with friends.
We would love to hear some of your “favorite things” moments.
Cheers to summer! (It's not over yet.)
Wedding Season is in Full Bloom
With 12 weddings down this season, I have about 10 more to go.
Several new wedding trends have caught my eye this year.
Here are five that I love:
Trend 1 - No set rules. "Pick" a seat.
Many of my bride and grooms are opting out of seating charts and allowing guests to "pick" their own seat. Several have used Pinterest to come up with cute, witty signs to explain their decision for keeping the seating open.
Trend 2 – Let them eat ice cream cake!
I have had many couples express their dislike for traditional cake and they truly use their imagination for the dessert. Ice cream cake, shortcake bars, ice cream bars, cookie tables and a rice crispy cake are just some of the tasty trends I have seen.
Trend 3 – DIY Florals
I have had a few brides make their own bouquets out of fabric and buttons. The nice thing about these bouquets, you will have them forever. They never dry out, die or get ruined. Brides are also opting to go with versatile Mason jars and wildflowers for a more simple, romantic feel.
Trend 4 - Thumbprint Trees
As a guest book, I have seen several hand painted trees where guests use their thumbs to make a print and write their names. As long as you have a pre-done sample, it turns out nicely and you then have a piece of original artwork for years to come.
Trend 5 - The first look
The Bride and Groom have been using the Heron Hill Tower to "meet" prior to the wedding. This allows the couple a private viewing of each other prior to the ceremony. They also make time to organize and shoot pictures ahead of time, giving themselves the ability to join cocktail hour.
If you are looking for new and fresh ideas, I recommend visiting the following websites: Pinterest.com and GreenBrideGuide.com; as well as Well Wed magazine online and in print. They all have great ideas for weddings.
Don't forget to sign-up for the Heron Hill Wedding Show happening on Sunday, August 26th from 1:00 - 4:00. We will have a selection of great vendors to help you with your big day…brides enjoy a complimentary glass of wine!
Have you heard? The Palettes of Keuka are out and on display all around the lake! I am so excited to be joining the event for the 5th consecutive year. The Palettes of Keuka is actually in the sixth year of the very successful arts event. This year the artists really “stepped it up another notch!” I was at the preview showing of all the palettes at Pleasant Valley Winery and was beyond impressed with all of them. I am so glad to be part of bringing art to the forefront all around Keuka Lake. The event allows the committee to provide funding for numerous art related activities and scholarships for the ongoing arts development in and around Hammondsport and Keuka Lake.
I again went out of the box this year and made a stand up wine rack that hold 6 bottles. It was another idea that come to me in the middle of the night (…like usual)! For the grape design, I sawed off the tops of red wine corks to give it another creative feel. I currently have left the back blank but am willing to paint a design on the wine rack for another hundred (or two) at the auction. I am sure my favorite auctioneer, Steve Muller, will help draw the price up with this piece of information!
This year’s auction is scheduled for Saturday, September 8th. I really hope anyone who appreciates art and wants to give back to the community WILL be there! The preview begins at 10:00 am and the live auction starts at 1:00 pm sharp. I will be there to help bid up the prices, I can’t wait….it’s always exciting to see what everyone is willing to pay for great art.
Greetings from the tasting room of Heron Hill on Seneca Lake.
Spring marked the beginning of our 7th year here, and we are pleased to welcome back many of our outstanding staff including Alicia, Erin, Carol, Ed, Bill and Virginia, with the addition of a new assistant manager, Aimee, who brings experience and some new ideas to our tasting room.
When you visit this year, you will notice that we now offer wine served by the glass to be enjoyed on our patio. We are conveniently located on route 14, nearly halfway between Watkins Glen and Geneva, a great place to bring your picnic and take a mid-day break.
You will also notice that the really special features that keep our guests returning have not changed. We continue to pride ourselves on our excellent service by a well trained team, a relaxed and fun tasting experience, and most importantly, great wine.
Summer traditions of entertaining and fresh farmstand food are an anticipated part of the season. Combine that with a lovely chilled wine, maybe the Classic Chardonnay 2010 or Semi-dry Riesling 2010 and you have a perfect match. Another perfect pairing is grilled peaches with vanilla ice cream and our 2008 Vidal Blanc Late Harvest dessert wine. It is truly an unforgettable summer taste.
We look forward to seeing you this summer so pack your picnic, come for a tasting, and then relax at one of our tables or on the lawn with a chilled glass of your favorite Heron Hill wine. It just sounds like such a good way to spend a lazy, hazy summer afternoon.
They say that a vine must struggle to make great wine. If that’s the case then this year should be a great vintage. After our “winter that wasn’t” awoke the vines too early, they were smacked by frost with mid-twenties temperatures in the first week of May. There was loss of 20-50% of the crop, depending on your micro-climate. This was a situation where your location was crucial to spare you from frost damage. Heron Hill on Keuka Lake happens to be in one of the coldest, most difficult locations in the Finger Lakes and they lost about 30% of the Riesling crop. Ingle Vineyard on Canandaigua Lake is more favorable, being at lower altitude, down by the lake. There, frost damage was minimal, at 5-10%.
Last week, just as I was about halfway through my “Thank you, I’m so grateful, mother nature” soliloquy, we were broadsided by one of the most intense storms that I’ve experienced in forty years of farming. Fifteen minutes of hard driving, marble-size hail, strong winds and rain. Time stopped, you couldn’t drive or walk in this stuff. When it had blown over, the vines were beaten and bedraggled. The leaves were torn as if by cats’ claws, and the canes were snapped off half-way like they’d been hedged. There were dead leaves everywhere. In shock and dismay, I surveyed the damage. The fruit was mostly intact. We won’t know until after bloom, but there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of potential disaster.
We’ve just barely made it through May and it already seems like it’s been a long summer. After almost 40 vintages, it does seem like they tend to slip by, but one never knows what pot of gold may lie at the end of rainbow – only time will tell.
Since we have had a mild winter, allowing us to get a lot of work done in the vineyard besides pruning, bud break has been early. And an early bud break means that the open buds and young leaves are very sensitive to frost. When the bud is swelling up or is “in the cotton”, it can endure temperatures down to 28 F before seeing significant damage. It was the case in early April. But once the young leaves are apparent, the threshold rises to 30 to 32 F.
Well, for the last three days, we have had brutal cold temperatures at night. Tonight is technically Monday morning, April 30, 3 o’clock in the morning. It is the third night we have been burning hay bales in order to protect the young buds. Friday night the lower temperature measured in the vineyard was 25 F, Saturday night the thermometer plummeted to 23 F at five o’clock in the morning, and right now we are at 30 F and expecting the temperature to drop to 28 F by five o’clock.
Needless to say, we got hit by spring frost! The damage is hard to estimate at the moment on the primary buds. Some of them are brown and crisp on the outside, so we can hope that only the outer leaves have been touched. Some others are very crispy: they are obviously lost. Saturday night being the coldest, some of our neighbors were also burning hay bales.
Doing so, as long as the wind velocity is minimal, creates a foggy blanket above the vineyard which limits the loss of heat from the ground, limiting the frost damage. Too much wind can have a dramatic effect: the warm air created by the burning moving out, it sucks in more cold air from underneath, accentuating the frost damage.
At ingle Vineyard, John, Nate and Kyle also burned hay over the weekend. The temperature there did not drop as much as here at the winery. I have good hope that the damage there is minimal. John found himself a sweet spot for his vineyard, on Canandaigua Lake!
So, for the last three nights, with Zac and Ethan, we have been staying up all night, burning hay bales, and replenishing the vineyard with new ones during the day.
Saturday, April 28 was the first round of our Wine club members VIP tour. The second round is scheduled for May 12. The event is reserved to our Wine Club members and their guests: after meeting in the tower around a glass of Chardonnay, Muscat or Cabernet franc Reserve, the group headed down to the cellar where we sampled a couple of tanks and a few barrels. Lunch was prepared by Mike “Ollie” Oliver, Blue Heron Café Director, and paired with a selection of Heron Hill and Ingle Vineyards’ wines. And I added a sneak preview of soon to be released wines. Ollie surprised us with a few discoveries of his own, and a to die for dessert! I don’t want to ruin the surprise for the Club members coming to visit us in a couple of weeks. I personally had a blast meeting newer members and seeing some die-hard fans whom I had met last year during this very same event. It was great for me to share wines “in the making” and explain the stage a particular wine we tasted was in and what was still to be done for its completion. Everyone left happy, and so was I! I always have a good time when I talk about wine and share my passion with others! While enjoying some delicious food…
Oh well, it’s time to get back outside and check on those hay bales again. The forecast for the rest of the week looks pretty warm, for now.
Participating in a Wine Trail Event? Your questions answered here!
Why did Heron Hill decide to participate in the Keuka Wine Trail?
Heron Hill has been an active participant of the Keuka Lake Wine Trail since the inception. As a participant of the Keuka Lake Wine Trail, all the wineries participate in each and every event. We spend countless dollars on advertising and making sure that we have the absolute best brochure in the region, with a center section dedicated to the 6 events that we do over the course of the year. Established in 1985, the Keuka Lake Wine Trail aims to provide a high-quality, lively experience where guests will feel excited by the food, wine and scenery and stimulated by the conversation.
You can download the brochure at: http://www.keukawinetrail.com/contact-us/
How many people, would you say, the events draw?
Each event draws a different size crowd, for the “off season” events (Cheese & Wine Lovers, this past February, Viva Italia on March 31 & April 1st and Keuka in Bloom May 5 & 6), we generally expect to draw about 500-600 people. It is a very manageable number considering that the event is spread over 8 wineries over 2 days. The “in-season” events (BBQ at the wineries, June 9 & 10 and June 23 & 24, Harvest Celebration, Sept 15 & 16 and the Keuka Holidays Nov 10 & 11 and Nov 17 & 18) are generally sell outs or close to sell outs. The number of tickets sold range from 800-1200 over the course of a weekend.
What can you tell me specifically about Viva Italia?
Each of the eight member wineries around Keuka Lake will prepare a rich variety of food inspired by the flavors and cooking styles from different regions in Italy. Samples of food will be served with complementing local wines. Event attendees will sample a delicious variety of dishes prepared with high-quality ingredients and wineries will make recipes available to enjoy at home. A preview of the event menus includes pasta e fagioli, gorgonzola tortellini, roasted red pepper polenta, zuppa di scarola, pistachio biscotti and lemon-almond cookies.
What are you most looking forward to about it?
I am very excited to see what the attendees thought about all the different regional styles of food. The different regions of Italy all have such varied cuisine and I believe that all the wineries are taking advantage of it!
What would you say people enjoy most about the wine trail events?
All of the returnees are generally commenting on what delicious wines all the wineries have, saying things like “They have great wines and the services has always been warm and welcoming” & “A must-stop on your tour of Keuka!” Another returnee raved about the amount of food they received, the wine tasting, recipes, etc.... Great fun, great wine! They commented on how much they enjoyed the view, the wine, the drive and the smiles.
When does it start?
Event hours are Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Event attendees may visit all eight wineries in one day or plan an overnight stay to spend more time enjoying the area’s other attractions.
Where should they begin? How much does it cost?
Two ticket options are available for this self-guided food and wine event. Sunday-only tickets are $19.00 per person; tickets for the full weekend are $25.00 per person. All ticket holders will receive a souvenir wine glass. When the ticket holder purchases their ticket, they will be assigned to a starting winery and will then start on their highly manageable drive around the Keuka Lake. It can be done in a day, still allowing time to stop at each of the unique eight wineries on the trail or it can be broken up over the weekend. The striking overlooks, on-the-water restaurants, parks, antique barns and charming villages will encourage you to slow down – spend a few days and discover what makes the Keuka Lake Wine Trail different.
Where and how do I purchase my tickets?
Purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended as most events sell out. A limited number of tickets may be available at the door for a $5.00 surcharge. For all Keuka Lake Wine Trail events, conveniently purchase tickets by calling 800.440.4898, by visiting a Wegmans customer service desk or online at www.keukawinetrail.com.
With the Tasting Room at Bristol closed for the season, I’m off and running to seek out new homes for our Heron Hill Wines. It’s been a great season for this, since our weather has been unseasonably mild. No worries about traveling in snow and ice.
In the Wholesale Department, January is a relatively slow month, most people are resting from the busy holiday season which begins just before Thanksgiving. The shelves are still loaded with wines, store inventories are being done and staff is regrouping for spring.
I’ve been visiting prospective clients for over 7 years now, it has been a breath of fresh air to hear more and more customers wanting to support New York’s growing wine industry. Their consumers are asking for NY, and the retailers and restaurants are listening. It is a shame that it has taken so long for this to happen, but it’s here and wholesale staff is ready to present Heron Hill all over the State. John Coco, Sales Director has led his team (Mike Oliver and I) to all parts of NYS and we have been having great success.
Last month, I travelled to Oneonta and Binghamton to find several restaurants that listened to their customers and want to bring Heron Hill wine to represent their voids in wine lists. We have several features starting next month: The Oneonta Depot and Bella Michaels.
The Oneonta Depot, which is a charming old train station whose food looks fantastic. Too bad we were on such a tight schedule, after looking at the menu, I would have loved to try it. They will be featuring Heron Hill Chardonnay and Riesling, which we are very excited about. Bella Michaels, an Italian restaurant will be featuring our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay this month. This is very exciting for us, since we are not very prevalent in this market.
One of the most interesting restaurants that I have gone to is in Perry, New York. The Hole in the Wall, which opened in 2001, brings upscale and innovative cuisine. Anita Billings, her daughter Jacki and son-in-law Travis have wowed their customers with their creative wine dinners. Weeks ago, Jacki and Travis visited Heron Hill on Keuka and tasted several wines. We’re excited that they’ve chosen Heron Hill for their annual dinner in July. This dinner is a real adventure, its beautifully prepared and presented, with distinct taste and is all around delish! We’re looking forward to July’s dinner to see what the staff at the Hole in the Wall has up their culinary sleeves.
All-in-all life on the road has brought me some pleasant surprises and I am looking forward to educating new customers about Heron Hill wines.
January 7, 2019
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