“Tastemaker” is a term typically used to describe a person — typically either a sommelier or writer in the wine world — who decides what is good, cool or otherwise interesting. With our new #NYTastemaker profiles, I’ve decided to usurp the term to mean someone who is making the wines, ciders, spirits, etc. that we taste. The traditional “tastemaker” doesn’t really make anything, after all. Not really, anyway.
Peter Bell, winemaker at Fox Run Vineyards, has been a reader of the New York Cork Report (and LENNDEVOURS before that) for many years. He’s also served as an informal proofreader, often sending emails that point out typos and other irregularities over the years. I appreciate it more than he probably realizes.
I’ve also long appreciated not only his technical knowledge around winemaking but also his sense of humor.
Peter is a well-regarded, respected pillar of the Finger Lakes wine community, so I spoke — virtually — with him last week to get a little more insight into how he’s gotten where he is today, and what makes him at New York Tastemaker.
Location: Penn Yan, NY
Wine of the moment: Guigal 2007 Hermitage, a white blend that a close friend had given me. It was certainly at the edge of my comfort zone, but held its high alcohol and phenolics well, in an exotic but not gaudy style.
My winemaking style in 1-5 words: I chase deliciousness.
First bottle of wine I remember drinking: Mateus Rosé, around my parents’ dinner table, probably in about 1969. Why? That’s pretty much what aspirants drank back then. And we teens wanted the empty bottle to stick drippy candles into.
How did I wind up here: I saw a great opportunity here, after running into some personality and professional clashes at another winery that had no chance of resolution.
My winemaking style — in more words: Straight down the middle. I am very skeptical about winemaking fads such as eschewing filtration and not inoculating. I am more than happy to intervene whenever that action makes for a better wine.
Mentors: There have been plenty of winemakers whose approach to their craft left an impression on me, but I never really had someone take me under his or her wing. Perhaps that’s why I am more than happy to act in that role with people entering the field.
Music playing in the cellar right now: “My Morning Scene” by Jonah Smith. How’s that for obscure? But it contains some gorgeous chord changes, and one of the most compelling guitar breaks ever. Check it out on Spotify.
Favorite thing about Finger Lakes wine industry: Collegiality. I don’t need to elaborate.
Least favorite thing about Finger Lakes wine industry: I used to be annoyed by the ubiquity of wines based on native and hybrid grapes that had little appeal outside the area, but now have more respect for them. And they are no longer what people think of when they think of Finger Lakes wine. Currently, nothing irks me. The Finger Lakes and I are like a sweet old married couple.
One surprising thing that I’m really good at: I used to speak Dutch fluently. If it had been French or Spanish, I would have gone to greater measures to get it back, but you don’t get much traction with Dutch these days.
What I drink: Sherry, whenever I can get my hands on the good stuff. That wine gets mentioned in every interview I ever do, since it is so central to my pleasure-seeking instinct. Also, sparkling wine; good Pinot (such a rarity, alas); and, of course, as many Finger Lakes Rieslings as I can pour down my throat.
My “Desert Island Meal” — wine included: I’m not too good at these kinds of hypotheticals. But here goes: a little sashimi, since it’s presumably swimming around a few feet from where I sit, with a gulp of cold sake. Then some roasted almonds and tiny green olives with a bottle of cold Fino. Some crusty bread and a bit of cheese, with Champagne. Then a slice of perfect mango.