Winemaker Johannes Reinhardt at the Tierce blending session

By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Correspondent
All photos by Morgan Dawson

"These are the most precocious aromatics I've ever seen at this point in a wine's development," Peter Bell said, surveying more than 40 glasses containing Riesling blends from the 2008 vintage. "I mean, it's December. This is remarkable. Wine does what it wants to do, and the aromatics could drop a cliff. But I doubt it. This is just remarkable."

This is not propaganda. Some winemakers play up the virtues of each vintage. They have to answer to accountants, after all. But Fox Run Vineyards winemaker Peter Bell's assessment came in the privacy of the 2008 Tierce riesling blending session. He made these comments to fellow winemakers Dave Whiting of Red Newt Cellars and Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road Wine Company, not to the press or potential customers.
Tierce is entering its fifth vintage in the Finger Lakes. Conceived by Reinhardt, Tierce combines the winemaking talents and best riesling lots from three Seneca Lake wineries. The only exception came in 2007 when the winemakers agreed that the hot, draught-stressed vintage offered a rare opportunity to create a red wine together. Tierce Red, or Tierce 2007, is still in barrel and won't see the public until at least next summer.
Last week they were joined by their assistant winemakers: Tricia Renshaw (Fox Run), Brandon Seager (Red Newt) and Peter Becraft (Anthony Road). The six of them spent hours blending and tasting and re-blending and tasting, searching for the right balance for Tierce 2008 Riesling.
And what were they searching for? "A wine that is linear, intense, and looooong," Bell explained.
In other words, they were searching for the kind of dry riesling that has come to define the very best that Finger Lakes winemakers can offer. It is not meant to mimic the great Rieslings of Mosel or Alsace; it is meant to be ripping and crisp, electric but balanced, with less of the lush edges found in Europe's best of the aromatic whites. Each winemaking team brought four lots of riesling with which to start, and after a day spent tasting and debating they pared the blending components down to six.
 Reconvening a week later with fresh energy and focus, each winemaker created a new blend, privately choosing different percentages from the various remaining lots. Some of the lots provided mouth-filling fruit; others offered the crackling acidity that evolves in the best cool-climate regions. Each new blend was scored and discussed, with some scrapped instantly and others highlighted as base components for yet new trials.

DaveWhitingWhen Whiting wanted to convince his colleagues to keep one lot in play, he urged them, "Think of this one as our child. It's time to find out how our child plays with others." As the hours passed the winemakers spit out metaphors like jacks from a destemmer; they were looking for creative ways to sway the room.

Finally, with five new blends on the table, an eruption rocked the lab and sent tremors through the massive steel tanks standing only a few feet outside. Five of the six winemakers awarded the top score possible to one of the blends — it was nearly unanimous and instantly clear that Tierce 2008 had been born.

Through the din of the cheers and clapping, Reinhardt pounded a celebratory fist on the lab table. The sound of exploding wine glasses immediately silenced the room, but only for a moment before laughter covered Reinhardt's embarrassed grin.

"We've got a new baby," he said proudly. "You just saw the birth of the new Tierce."
Reinhardt, Bell and Whiting expect that they'll keep the same price — $30, one of the most expensive in the appellation. They'll deliver their baby to the public in mid-2009 and wine drinkers will have a chance to determine if the many hours and painstaking blending trials produced a wine worthy of the effort.