“Tastemaker” is a term typically used to describe a person — either a sommelier or writer in the wine world — who decides what is good, cool or otherwise interesting. With my new #Tastemaker profiles, I’ve decided to usurp the term to mean someone who actually makes the wines, ciders, spirits, etc. that we love. A “tastemaker” should make something, after all.
There was one person I didn’t take into account when I set out to ‘take back’ the term tastemaker from writers and sommeliers with this weekly series: Christopher Bates. He’s also a sommelier — and well-regarded one at that. But he’s also as intrepid and qualified a tastemaker as you’ll find in New York. He’s not just a sommelier and a teacher of other sommeliers. He’s also a chef, a restaurateur, a winery founder and a winemaker. He’s also probably forgotten more about wine than I know.
He’s also probably forgotten more about wine than I know. We haven’t met yet, but that will change later this month when I visit him at his off-the-wine-trail winery. In the meantime, get to know Christopher Bates:
Location: Finger Lakes, NY
Current Job: Element Winery, F.L.X. Wienery, F.L.X. Table, F.L.X. Culture House
Wine of the moment: There are roughly 50 open bottles on my side table, and about 15 open that we are working through from this week’s dinner parties. How about wines that I am super excited about? Muscadet, specifically intro cuvees from top producers (Ecu, Luneau Papin). Springfield Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa. Weinert Malbec from Mendoza.
My winemaking style in 1-5 words: Elegant, true, expressive, bright, pure.
First bottle of wine I remember drinking: Many along the way. Was hiding and fermenting cider by the time i was in 5th grade. Got in a lot of trouble for writing a story about it. Many Tots and Andres moments. There was a particular Red Cat experience. And first good bottle I ever had was Fetzer Reserve Merlot.
How I got here: I grew up here, so, for me, this is really home. I guess I’d been away long enough that it didn’t really feel like failure to come back, and, after a while, I realized this is one of the most amazing places on earth. We (Christopher and his wife Isabel) started the winery in 2006 when we returned from Italy, but, ran it from afar. It wasn’t till 2013 that we decided to move here to start opening restaurants on our own. It was the right time personally, professionally, and, I believe, strategically. We have a long way to go, and life in the finger lakes is far from a cake walk but, I believe that with so many amazing people doing great stuff, we are set to really move forward, and quickly.
My winemaking style — in more words: Simple and expressive. Or, just lazy. Or, maybe uneducated. I’m not a winemaker at all. I’m a chef, sommelier, server (maintenance man, toilet un-stucker, etc.), and a wine lover. But, not a winemaker. I know, this is all the easy BS rhetoric that I can pump out for marketing sake, and to sound cool, but, the reality is, we are simple because we want to be…and because we don’t know any better. Our winemaking really does, and is intended to, capture the fruit from our growers. We sort a lot, throw the fruit into one-ton fermenters, and wait. No additions — acid, sugar, yeast, enzyme, SO2, food, bs, crap, etc. Ferment goes, we press in a basket, settle from a day or 20 depending on life, tank needs, etc., and move to barrel. After a year or four, we select the wines that we believe are stellar for bottling, and bottle, no filtering or fining. Simple. Lazy. Pure.
Mentors: Chef Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange), Guy Stout, MS (Glazers in TX), Andrew Welder (Rock Hill), Walker Lunn (Envirilation & Grid Waste), Christopher Roberts.
Music playing in the cellar right now: Brother Ali, Jean Grea, Guru, Biggie
Favorite thing about Finger Lakes wine industry: Potential.
Least favorite thing about Finger Lakes wine industry: Insecurity.
One surprising thing that I’m really good at: Microsoft Excel
What I drink: Pretty much anything but my own wine. Muscadet, CdP, Northern Rhone Syrah, German Riesling, Loire Franc, Loire Chenin, Bordeaux, Old Cali anything, Scotch, Rum, Chartreuse, Beer, Vichy Catalan, and a ton of coffee.
My “Desert Island Meal” — wine included: Upstate sweet corn, my mom’s focaccia, amazing tomatoes on a sandwich with white bread, Hellman’s, salt and pepper, and a burger and fFries to finish.
Start with old Champagne. Not grower — big house tete kinda stuff like DP, Cuvee Louise, Champagne Charlie (from mag) or Krug. Then, a water glass full of muscadet (to be drunk as water). A great glass of Kabinett riesling — like Willi Schaefer, or Stattsweingutter, Kerpen, Zilliken or Kartauserhofberg — before they started the shift to dry wines. Next, three reds: old Ridge — Montebello, or zin. Old Dunn, Monadavi or BV — 70s or 80s. And lastly, a great glass of middle-aged CdP — 98 to 04 — like Bosquet des Papes, Vieux Telegraph, Mont Olivet or Monpertuis. Next an awesome glass of syrah like some older Graillot, Jamet, or B Levet. And finish with something sweet…