InfluencerieslingBy Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor

You may not know who Erik Bilka is, but chances are he’s helped make at least some of your favorite Long Island wines.

Bilka, who launched Influence Wines in 2009, has been working at Premium Wine Group — a custom crush facility responsible for several Long Island labels — since 2001. In fact, he was employee #3 when he joined founder Russell Hearn and John Leo.

Prior to joining PWG, he worked the 2000 harvest with Alice Wise as a Cornell Cooperative Extension vineyard assistant.

Working at PWG, Bilka has worked with many consulting winemakers over the last decade and each has helped Bilka hone his winemaking talents, but he points to his fellow PWG winemakers, Roman Roth, Gilles Martin and Eric Fry specifically.

“Seeing all of these different cultures, educations and philosophies along with results in the glass have made PWG the greatest place to learn the wine business,” he told me in an email.

He describes his winemaking style as “minimalistic” and he eschews acid, tannin, sugar or fining manipulations whenever possible. And, Bilka has more of an artistic than scientific attitude about winemaking. “I do not believe winemaking is necessarily about numbers. Brix, pH, TA and alcohol are numbers we all look at during the process, but I don’t subscribe to the belief that there a perfect numbers. Wine is an imperfect process but I try to always allow the fruit to be the star.”

Influence Wines 2010 Riesling ($20) is made using fruit grown by Bill Dalrymple at Ovid Farm on Seneca Lake, and is made without any sugar or acidity adjustments.

Sweet lime candy, ripe peach and bright floral aromas drive the nose with notes of lapsang souchong (smoked tea) and musk melon in the background.

Fruit-forward and off-dry, the palates is a bit more citrusy, dominated by lime and grapefruit flavors with soft layers of peach and green apple. While not as linear or as focused as some Finger Lakes rieslings, it is fresh and shows good balance.

The finish is fairly lengthy and shows lots of sweet fruit — peach candy, candied lime and just a little grapefrult zest.

For now, Influence Wines only makes this single riesling, but Bilka hopes to expend in the future, perhaps with cabernet franc he said “Just because I like it.” Influence Wines are distributed through Lieb Familiy Cellars and are available in Lieb’s tasting room.

Producer: Influence Wines
AVA: New York
ABV: 11.5%
RS: 22 g/L
pH: 3.10
Production: 392 cases
Price: $20*
Rating: 86

(*Ratings Guide)