Rockin’ with Reds at Damiani

Posted May 14, 2009 by Lenn Thompson in News & Events

By Jason Feulner, Finger Lakes Correspondent

There are a few Finger Lakes wineries that have made the production of red vinifera the cornerstone of their business plan. What makes Damiani Wine Cellars, located on the eastern shore of Seneca, unique is the winery's original emphasis on red to the exclusion of whites.

When the winery opened in 2004 after several years of experimentation, it offered a variety of reds and only a limited number of whites.

Damiani 004 "Well, we are red wine drinkers," shrugs Phil Davis, a second-generation grower who oversees the grape growing and production. Lou Damiani serves as the winemaker of the operation.

Both Davis and Damiani own several acres of vineyards around and near the winery property. Davis explains that the site is ideal of red growing because it is part of the "banana belt" the area on Seneca Lake that receives favorable sun and air treatment to remain slightly warmer than the immediate surrounding area. "We are near the deepest part of the lake and the afternoon sun is strong here. It can sometimes mean a 5-10 degree difference on important growing days."

Davis admits that even with an extra bit of warmth that growing red grapes is not easy in the Finger Lakes. To emphasize and concentrate flavors, Davis believes in stressing his vines, keeping them small and making them work very hard to find their roots. Yields are kept as low as needed, and harvests stretch well into November as Davis tries to find the right pH levels, the indicator he finds most telling about red potential.

Damiani 008 The results are impressive. Damiani offers several versions of merlot and pinot, as well as a cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, a meritage, and even a syrah.

The 2007 Barrel Select Merlot exhibited a great deal of potential but needs some years to downplay the oak a bit to let its ripe flavors of raspberry, chocolate, and tobacco shine. The 2007 Pinot Noir was very well-balanced with an interplay of earth and cherry, and the Meritage from the same vintage kept developing in the glass and will likely offer some fun and nuanced flavors as it ages.

Despite their demonstrated enthusiasm for reds, Damiani recently began to offer a few more whites ("We are white wine drinkers too," Davis assured me). I had the opportunity to taste the batch of 2008 whites from tank and I found the upcoming Gewürtztraminer extremely compelling as it danced on the tongue with sharp acidity, spice, and an aromatic maturity consisting of moss and floral scents. The 2008 rieslings should also offer riesling lovers fine examples of this variety.

I arrived at Damiani to sample and examine their devotion to reds, but left with an appreciation for their willingness to fully explore the ability of the Finger Lakes region to produce good wine of all varieties. In addition to their expanding white portfolio, the winery is also working on a sparkling wine made in the méthode fashion. Asked what his goals are, Davis talks of his hobby of buying up Old World wines to compare and contrast methods, styles, and results. "The Finger Lakes isn't Europe, but Europe's style is a good reference point. We can make good cool climate wines and we're just figuring out what works here."