Finger Lakes Riesling: the Terroir Project at Fox Run, Part 2

Oct 19

Just about two months ago, I wrote here about the “Lake Dana Vineyard” series of rieslings released in spring by Fox Run Vineyards on west Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes (NY).

While Fox Run winemaker Peter Bell is a well-known and respected riesling specialist, with both a reserve label and one third of the “Tierce” collaborative effort with fellow Seneca Lake winemakers Johannes Reinhard and Dave Whiting, he doesn’t rest on his laurels. Looking east to the Old World, while standing in the New World, he started digging into the geologic roots of the Fox Run Vineyard and discovered (under his feet) that its western boundary was the prehistoric shoreline of Lake Dana  (no connection with long-time Finger Lakes winemaker Dana Keeler).

As a press release from Fox Run states, Lake Dana was the ur-lake formed by retreating glaciers that superseded the present-day Seneca Lake, with a higher shoreline, and the soil is thick loam over lakeshore shale, “ideal for Riesling.”

There are three wines made in this Lake Dana series, named 10, 11 and 12, all from the excellent 2010 vintage.

The first wine, Riesling 10, was a dry riesling made in a New World technique that was described in a blog post here on August 21st.

The next two wines, Riesling 11 and 12, were both made with over 6% residual sugar (auslese range for Mosel rieslings), with 8% alcohol, but processed in different styles, which made an interesting contrast. Both rieslings were harvested on October 14, 2010 at 21.1 Brix and whole-cluster pressed, but the 11 was fermented with native yeast and “benevolent laissez-faire” with no modern intervention until the wine reached 8.5% alcohol when it was stopped, retaining 6.1% residual sugar (pH 3.0, acidity 8.5 g/L, 22 cases made).

My tasting notes on the Lake Dana Series Riesling 11 (2010):

Delicate and fragrant aromatics, classic Middle Mosel hallmarks of white flowers, slate, red apple and peach. Palate: ripe white/yellow peach flavors, definitely sweet but fruit still fresh,  spring-like and with balanced acidity; a long fresh fruity finish. I was instantly reminded of great Middle Mosel vineyards like Erdener Treppchen, Wehlener Sohnnenuhr or Graacher Himmelreich. Delicate and delicious now, but will benefit from longer aging (best in a decade).

The Riesling 12 was harvested on the same day from the same vineyard and the grapes were also whole cluster pressed, but the main processing difference was that this lot was inoculated with Epernay II commercial yeast, and the fermentation “was carefully managed using current new-world winemaking techniques” then stopped at 8% alcohol (with a slightly higher residual sugar than 11 at 6.4%; 74 cases made).

My tasting notes on the Lake Dana Series Riesling 12 (2010):

Much more closed  than #11 on the nose, but also delicate and fresh. Aromas of complex smoky minerality and green apple, much like a classic Saar riesling, not nearly as fragrant and forward as #11. On the palate, light, lively and fresh, but with finer, more racy acidity than #11 and less lushness in the fruit, although the finish seems sweeter.
This wine is reminiscent of an Ockfener Bockstein or Maximin Gruenhauser (Saar or Ruwer), and needs time to integrate. While those who like a sweet riesling might quaff this in a jiffy, the terroir elements need time to emerge, integrate with the acidity, and let the sweetness fade a bit, for it to reach its potential. It will be very rewarding with more time.

Assessment:

It’s great that Finger Lakes winemakers continue to experiment and push the envelope, whether it’s planting old German clones, making reserve bottlings or high-end dry rieslings like the Tierce collaboration or  sweet, traditional German style late harvest rieslings.

This terroir project of the Lake Dana Series at Fox Run is a new interpretation of riesling through the lens ofterroir,in this case finding the shoreline of an ancient lake with well-drained soils that provide superior sub-strates for the expression of site-specific terroir within the larger terroir of west Seneca Lake.

We are told in the winemaker notes that the source juice for all three rieslings was the same, and so we have the constant of the terroir and the fruit, then we see how winemaking choices of dry vs. sweet and native vs. cultured yeasts affect the final wine.

As I mentioned in the August post, the dry version made a clean and fresh wine, but I think that in dry processing, the whole cluster technique for riesling seems to strip all the fruit from the aroma and palate, unless you return to the wine a decade later, and how many people will do that…with a riesling? The Riesling 10 reminded me of the high-end dry rieslings from Washington State’s Columbia Valley, but a very austere and lean wine it was. I want more fruit in my riesling.

I was far more intrigued by these two low alcohol, auslese-style interpretations in rieslings 11 and 12. Part of this was that, controlling for residual sugar and alcohol, the only main variable being the yeast strain, the wines are surprisingly different, yet having far more recognizable riesling hallmarks than the uber-dry riesling 10.

I liked how both these rieslings took me right to Germany, specifically the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer river system, but how the first one was classically Middle Mosel while the second was more Upper Mosel or Saar-Ruwer like. Ripe juicy fruit versus racy citrus minerality, yet both with the same amount of hefty residual sugar.

I like them both and would like to see them age. These would be great food wines because of their delicacy and fruit/acid balance, but also because with lower alcohol you get more of the naked grape and more versatility; high alcohol rieslings lose a lot of grape aromatics and flavor because the flavor compounds are lost in the process of fermentation. The only trouble is, riesling 11 only produced 22 cases, while riesling 12 only made 74 cases.

If I were Fox Run management, I’d put half of this small production down to age, for trade education purposes and library releases, and plan to sell the rest to the wine club and key restaurants who can appreciate low alcohol, high residual sugar rieslings as fine food wines or connoisseur collectibles, and not dismiss them as only fit for “girly-men.”

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