I don’t consider Kris Matthewson, winemaker at Bellwether Wine Cellars, to be a “natural winemaker” (what does that even mean?). True, he doesn’t like to make a lot of cellar additions and prefers a decidedly hands-off approach, but he’s not above making adjustments if a wine needs them.
That said, his wines do lean toward the idiosyncratic. They invite the adventurous and open minded and aren’t for everyone. Some are truly unlike any other in the Finger Lakes region. I think he probably likes it that way.
Of a lineup that also includes a handful of single-vineyard rieslings, a gamay noir-dominant rose and a pinot noir, Bellwether Wine Cellars 2013 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir ($25) might be the most unique wine of the bunch. And also the most “natural” — which means I think fans of “natural wine” might really enjoy it.
Matthewson started with hand-picked pinot noir from Tuller Vineyard. 75% was de-stemmed with the remaining 25% of the clusters left whole. After crushing, the juice was left on the skins for 24 hours and then pressed, Ambient yeast fermentation took place in stainless steel over the course of six months.
That’s when it gets a little more interesting, as Matthewson then transferred the wine into older French oak barrels and added chardonnay lees, which were stirred once a week for another six months. After racking in stainless steel for two additional months, it was bottled without fining or filtering, with only a small SO2 addition.
The wine is more copper-orange than pink and noticeably cloudy, as you’d expect.
Right out of the bottle, there is a faint loamy earth aroma with some scents of fermentation and dried flowers –and not a ton of fruitiness, just a strawberry and cranberry. This is definitely not your typical fruity rose.
The bone-dry palate is fruitier, with more red fruits — think strawberry, cranberry and pomegranate — to go with a faint citrus zest and more of that loamy, earthy funk. What makes this wine super-interesting and delicious is it’s texture. It’s creamy and weighty on the mid-palate but still juicy and bright. That balance continues through to the end of a long, slightly spicy finish.
When I poured this for some friends who like wine but are far removed from the wine geek world, I wasn’t sure how they would respond to it, but they loved it. They missed the fruitiness they expect from rose at first, and weren’t quite sure about the lightly funky quality to the wine, but the rich-but-bright palate won them over.
Producer: Bellwether Wine Cellars
AVA: Finger Lakes
Vineyard: Tuller Vineyard
Price: $25 (sample)
(3.5 out of 5 | Very Good, Recommended to Outstanding and Delicious, Highly Recommended)