Take a walk on the dark side: Pinot Noir made by Riesling producers

Moderated by David Schildknecht and Andrew Hedley, this session focused on Pinot Noir made by Riesling producers, as part of the FLXcursion event. We gathered at Forge Cellars on Seneca lake to taste through an interesting set of wines. Joining remotely, Forge Cellar’s Louis Barriol said, ‘the king of the Finger Lakes will always be Riesling, but the fact that the climate is getting hotter is going to make the future of red wines better. The two grapes we really believe in are Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. We can reasonably think that people are going to plant more red grapes in the Finger Lakes in coming years.’ He adds that there isn’t much Pinot Noir but it has the best potential of the reds here.

Graham Tatomer is from Santa Barbara, where Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling were the three main varieties. ‘Riesling was difficult to sell in the USA,’ he says, ‘so it lost out to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and a lot was grafted over.’ Graham got to taste some surviving Rieslings, and he thought they were fantastic. This sparked him on a path of learning more about Riesling, and he started looking for the remaining Riesling vineyards in the region.

Barnaby Tuttle has Teutonic wine company, inspired by German and cool climate wines. Riesling was the gateway wine for him. ‘The idea of cool climate, fresh acidity.’ He also loves Pinot Noir.

JF Hugel explains that Pinot Noir was a minor grape variety for them until 10 years ago. ‘It has seriously changed. We are finding ourselves on the right side of climate change. Riesling is 40% of Hugel’s plantings, with Gewurztraminer second. Pinor Noir is picking up. The plantings of Pinot Noir today are vastly different, and it is taking more importance in the region, along with Riesling, at the expense of Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. ‘Limestone is essential when it comes to Pinot Noir,’ says JF Hugel. ‘We don’t use the same soils for Riesling and Pinot Noir. At the moment the big challenge is to find vineyards suitable for Pinot Noir, because we want to plant more.’

Stephan Attmann is from Von Winning in Germany. He’d not been a drinker, but then he came across Pinot Noir and it won his heart. The first great Pinot Noir that touched his heart was the 1993 Clos de la Roche from Ponsot. He drove to Burgundy from the Black Forest and it only took him 2 hours. He spent all his money on Pinot Noir, and then he became a Riesling winemaker.

Morten Hallgren of Ravine says that the Finger Lakes climate dictates significant swings from one year to the next in terms of winemaking approach and wine style, and also in how the Pinot Noir grapes are used: in some years, lots has to go to rosé or sparkling wine. In good years like 2020, most can be used for red wines. Christopher Bates of Element in the Finger Lakes says that in the Finger Lakes, good drainage is really important for Pinot Noir because of the regular rain events during the season. He says that one of the biggest challenges in the Finger Lakes is sour rot, and it’s becoming a bigger problem in the region. For this reason, it’s best not to use large harvest bins. He sorts for both sour rot and botrytis, which are the two challenges.

Flight 1

Teutonic Wine Company Alsea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018 Oregon Coast
20 m from the coast, west of the coast range. 120 inches of rain a year. Sweet bright cherry fruit aromatics. Bright, supple with good acidity and a rounded character to the cherry and plum fruit. Quite mineral and stony with some autumnal hints. Shows restrained ripeness here with lovely precision, and a sense of coolness. 93/100

Nathan K Wines Pinot Noir 2019 Finger Lakes
Seneca Lake, one acre parcel, eight clones. 35% whole cluster, 10 months neutral barrels. Herby and spicy on the nose, with tart red fruits. The palate is focused and bright with red cherry and redcurrant fruit, with fine sappy green hints and good acidity, with just a hint of grippy structure. Nice tart and savoury, with lovely freshness. 93/100

Heart & Hands Wine Company Mo Chuisle Pinot Noir 2020 Finger Lakes
13.8% alcohol. A good vintage. Planted in 2010, seven clones of Pinot Noir in 3.6 acres, east side of Keuka Lake with some limestone in the soil (a think band here). 100% whole cluster. Lovely ripe sweet fruit here with sweet cherries and strawberries. Nice freshness but also a sweetness to the fruit and a bit of spicy structure. Has a touch of warmth to it, and nice density. Fruity style with spicy detail. 92/100

Bilsborough Winery Pinot Noir 2020 Finger Lakes
2006 was first vintage. Had worked for Wolffer in Long Island before. From Seneca Lake, clay on shale and then another site that’s pure shale. 1 ton fermentations, 25% whole cluster, punched down, pressed to neutral oak after 8-9 days. A really fresh, supple style with juicy red cherries and plums, showing nice structure. Has good acidity with a fine spiciness. Some nice tartness here, with lovely fruit and a hint of green. Stylish. 92/100

Koelher-Ruprecht Spätburgunder Kabinett Trocken 2019 Pfalz, Germany
Sandstone, limestone, gravel soils, 10 tons/hectare, mostly machine harvested. Sweetly aromatic with cherry and berry fruits, as well as a strong green hint. The palate is fresh and green with juicy cherries and plums, showing nice acidity. Quite a green style of Pinot Noir, with a sour cherry finish. 90/100

Forge Cellars Pinot Noir Leidenfrost Vineyard 2016 Finger Lakes
Highly friable shale soils, Pommard clone. 20% whole cluster, fermented in big wooden vats, aged in oak (20% new). Supple, refined and juicy with sweet cherries and plums, as well as some grainy, spicy notes. Has a hint of dried herb and silage sitting under the fruit. Very satisfying, combining sweet fruit and nice savouriness. The age adds and interesting dimension. 93/100

Flight 2

Weingut Günter Steinmetz Kestener Herrenberg Pinot Noir 2018 Mosel, Germany
The Mosel region was a red wine region but for a long time has been a white wine region. Pinot Noir is coming back. Open fermenters with 60% whole cluster. Used oak. Sweetly fruited and textural with strawberry and cherry fruit, as well as a hint of greenness. Textural with a bit of warmth, with a rounded quality. Smooth with quite good concentration. The sweetness of the fruit and the greenness are merged quite harmoniously. 91/100

Weingut Von Winning Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad An den Achtmorgen Pinot Noir Grosses Gewächs 2018 Pflaz
Selection massale. A hot vintage. No whole cluster this year: normally they do 20%. 66% new oak. Assertive aromatics with lively, spicy cherry and raspberry fruit. Lively, vivid and juicy on the palate with lovely brightness, good acidity and some woody, spicy, savoury notes. Lots of intensity here with a sour cherry finish, and more of the spicy character. Impressive, but needs some time to come together. 93/100

Sheldrake Point Winery Pinot Noir Block 3 2020 Finger Lakes
Less than an acre, makes 90 cases in a good year. Pale cherry red in character. Lovely freshness here with beautifully focused strawberry and red cherry fruit, showing elegance and refinement. There’s a liqueur-like character with good acidity and structure. Very fine and bright – a lovely Pinot Noir. 94/100

Ravines Wine Cellars Pinot Noir 2020 Finger Lakes
Ravines began in 2002 exclusively working with growers, and now 85% estate grown. Pinot Noir comes mainly from 16 Falls vineyard on a lyre system. Four weeks on skins, and aged in 2 year old oak. Juicy, bright and vivid with a stony mineral edge to the pure cherry and raspberry fruit. Nice spicy detail and a hint of green here: a very expressive, sweetly fruited Pinot with a fresh edge and a bit of grippy structure. 93/100

Weingut Bründlmayer Pinot Noir Reserve Käferberg 2019 Kamptal, Austria
Lyre training, planted in 1991, 777 clone (with a bit of older massale selection). Whole cluster depends on the vintage, and in the hottest vintages it gets to 50%, this is 35%. 1300 litre open top vats, punched down by hand, then 300 litre oak barrels, 35% new, for 18 months. A distinct green edge here with nice density of cherry and plum fruit. Nice density, good acidity, good structure. A little green and angular here at the moment, with potential for development, but this is currently hard. 91/100

Element Wines Pinot Noir 2017 Finger Lakes
Gravelly loam soils. This was quite a wet vintage. Lots of sorting after hand picking, fermented in one-ton macrobins, with 30% whole cluster, punched down twice a day. 18 months in large old oak. Sweetly aromatic with a slight lift, and spicy cherry fruit. Lively palate with a sweet spicy edge and some marked spicy acidity, showing cherries, dried herbs, and a savoury twist. A bit volatile (around 1), but there’s lovely fruit. I’ve had much better examples of Element’s Pinot before, which is normally ethereal. 89/100

Flight 3

Andrew Hedley Out to Lunch Pinot Noir 2021 Marlborough, New Zealand
Bought fruit from a friend who was working for Terravin, the Calrossie vineyard, with clay soils. This wine is made for friends and family: Andrew doesn’t sell this. 10% whole bunches, 90% whole berries. It has lovely sweet cherry and berry fruit with nice texture. There’s a sweet core to the palate with lovely weight and a nice freshness as well as sweet strawberries and raspberries. Shows purity and elegance. Has lovely structure, too. 94/100

Tatomer Wines Kick-on Ranch Pinot Noir 2020 Santa Barbara
Close to the coast, with sandy soils. This site is mostly Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. The Kick-on Ranch Pinot Noir was often chemically unstable with high pH (3.9), but adding some new oak helped give it some stability, and some tannin and acid were added to bring it into a stable zone: this was a difficult decision. Before this, they could only make this wine once every three years. Beautifully aromatic, with sweet cherry and strawberry fruit, as well as some lovely fine green whole bunch characters, leading to a lively but supremely elegant palate with cherries, raspberries and some fine spices. Textural, fine, detailed and showing lovely complexity and elegance with real finesse. So fine. 96/100

Damiani Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve 2020 Finger Lakes
No sorting (a good vintage), fully destemmed into one-ton bins. Inoculated, with some tannin added. Neutral oak. Pale cherry red in colour this has real elegance and freshness, with sweet cherries, plums and cranberries, showing good acidity and a sense of precision. There’s a bit of power here, as well as elegance. Very stylish. 94/100

Martin’s Lane Winery Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard 2019 Okanagan Valley, Canada
From the only vineyard they own on the east side of the lake, which is warm. 1 hectare of Pinot. Soils are glacial till, with solid clay a metre down. Clone 115. 50% whole bunch, with SO2 the only addition. 20% whole oak. Deeply coloured. Sweetly aromatic with black cherries and some notes of wood spice and coffee in the background. The palate is structured with firm tannins and lovely black fruits. Dense but fresh with lots of potential for development. Grippy and dark, it’s a big Pinot; and an impressive Pinot; but still has balance. Immense structure. 95/100

Love & Squalor Temperance Hill Pinot Noir 2017 Eola Amity Hills, Oregon
Generous, sweet, fleshy cherry and plum fruit with nice richness. There’s a softness and generosity here, and a bit of development has opened it and softened it a bit. Lovely richness with a spicy edge. Some grip on the finish. 93/100

Hugel & Fils Pinot Noir Grossi Laüe Clos de Pflostig 2018 Alsace, France
13.5% alcohol. Limestone soils with some clay, a small patch of Rosenberg, next to the forest. A hot vintage. First made in 2003, when it was like Côte-Rôtie. In 2018 it was 100% whole cluster. Foot trodden (it took 30 minutes). 20% new oak for four months then foudre. This has great concentration, with a chalky, mineral edge to the sweet strawberry and cherry fruit with good structure (but fine) and a slight salty edge to the lovely textured fruit. There’s lovely weight, balance and elegance, as well as good structure. Very fine. 95/100