What Do People Think of New York State Wines? (Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Edition)
I am always curious to know what people in wine country think of New York State wines. Not Finger Lakes wine country, mind you, or Long Island wine country. I mean just about any other state or country.
My visit to Santa Barbara County, and then Los Angeles, has to be encouraging on the anecdotal, entirely unscientific level.
“The Finger Lakes is doing some special things,” said Sashi Moorman, one of the finest winemakers on the west coast and a huge force in the Santa Barbara wine industry. “I’m not fully up to date with what they’re doing, but riesling, cool-climate varieties… It’s exciting.”
Matt Dees, the winemaker at Jonata, went further: “Is it possible that in 20 years, we’re talking about the Finger Lakes like it’s the finest wine region in the country?”
“No,” I replied.
“Well, maybe that’s a stretch, but everything is trending in their favor.”
I didn’t mean to be so curt with Matt; I take his point that there are very positive signs. I don’t think 20 years is quite enough time to see the changes necessary to elevate an entire region. Thirty or fifty years, perhaps. The challenge for the region will always be disease pressure, which is something that, say, the Santa Ynez Valley sees only rarely. A lack of disease pressure gives growers more options.
Another winemaker, an assistant in the Santa Ynez Valley, had less enthusiasm for New York wines. “They make ice wines out there, right?” he said. “That’s what New York is known for.”
In Los Angeles, I spoke to a conference of design bloggers and writers. Most were women, and most were wine lovers, if not wine aficionados Halfway through my presentation, the doors in the ballroom swung open, and servers in black tie brought out 800 glasses. Each attendee had the chance to taste two Finger Lakes rieslings. I could have chosen a wide range of strong options; I went with wines recently getting hot national press. The group tasted the 2011 Forge Cellars Riesling and the 2011 Hermann J. Wiemer Reserve Riesling.
Only one person in the audience, a designer from Rochester, had tasted Finger Lakes wines. Selma Hammer later told me, “Thanks for putting New York wines in front of a new audience.”
It was my pleasure.
The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. These are two outstanding, very different wines. The group debated the merits of each, but came down firmly in favor of wanting to taste more New York wine.
If you want to check out their thoughts, it’s easy to find a wave of commentary on Twitter. Check the #dbc2013, and you’ll find more than a few happy tasters. This photo comes from a designer’s twitter feed.
There’s nothing scientific to learn from this, of course, but it is always an interesting experiment. Lately, the trend is toward greater awareness of New York wine, and upon tasting, the trend is to want more. New York marketers don’t necessarily have it easy, but there is a willing audience out there, waiting to be educated.