By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Wine Correspondent
Photo Courtesy of Dave Whiting
Dave Whiting does not simply want Red Newt to survive. He wants it to thrive, and he admits that it's tougher now than ever.
"Ten, twenty years ago you could open a winery in the, open the doors, and be viable as long as the wine was decent," Whiting said after bottling a wine that he thinks will make a serious impact in markets outside New York state. "Now, with more wineries opening and production rising, you have to find ways to differentiate yourself. I don't just want to increase production. I want to focus on what I believe we do best, and before anything else, that's riesling."
So here's Red Newt's blueprint:
- Crank up riesling production.
- Offer it at a price point to compete with high-volume producers such as Chateau Ste Michelle and Covey Run.
- Make it better than those high-volume producers.
- Ditch the marginal wines, otherwise known as chardonnay and sauvignon blanc for Red Newt.
If this works, it could become the model for other mid-size Finger Lakes wineries.
Red Newt's riesling production is jumping from 800 cases in 2007 to 2800 cases in 2008, and it should rise to well over 8000 cases within four years. Whiting has contracted plantings with several local growers, and there are now 20 new acres of Riesling in the ground, all of it earmarked for Red Newt.
The winery will still produce a Dry Riesling and the Reserve Riesling will sell for around $22, but most of the Riesling production will be devoted to the new, so-called "Circle Riesling" — the unofficial name is a kind of joke at the winery that comes from the circular label on the bottle.
"We think this wine is a breakout wine that will compete extremely well with wines from other regions," Whiting said about his new wine that clocks in at 3.2% residual sugar. The idea came not long ago, he said, when he was in a local wine store.
"I walked into the Finger Lakes aisle and everything was about $14 or $15. The Finger Lakes tends to offer a lot more in a riesling when it comes to fruit intensity and structure, but the market is price-sensitive. It's time to enter into a pricepoint that is a little bit lower so we can be highly competitive."
Circle Riesling will retail for $11.99. "It's definitely a medium-sweet wine, and that's by design," Whiting explained. "It's similar in sweetness to what you'll find from the high-volume producers, but we think it's much crisper and carries more structure."
NExt is ditching the marginal wines. Whiting enjoys a good sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, but it's clearly not where his passion lies as a winemaker.