Chris Bates is a master sommelier and restaurateur who also has his own winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York: Element. On a recent trip I caught up with him in Geneva (NY) to hear about how Element is progressing, and also how things are going in the Finger Lakes region more generally.
‘It’s all about the farm,’ he says. ‘What we can do there. I’ve always been harsh and critical of my own region, but it’s amazing how far it has come over 10 years.’
Of the Finger Lakes generally, he says, ‘for the most part we’re making really clean wines, with very few faulty or poorly made wines. For taking things to the next level it is really going to be about how we address our farming. We shouldn’t be thinking about farming fruit, but farming wine. We can do better and we need to now.’
He talks of the boom and bust of the seasonal variation of the Finger Lakes, with harsh low-yielding vintages followed by more generous ones. ‘There’s a cycle of stressing vines by cropping too heavily in good years.’ This can make it a challenge to produce really compelling wines.
The new-look Element has three labels in the range, although the names of some of the wines we tasted weren’t yet decided. Element and the reserve range are from purchased grapes, while new label Colloquial will be mainly from the estate vineyard. Chris says it has been quite tricky working out what he wants Colloquial to be: it’s mainly about style. The farm has a range of red varieties, but for white it is solely Chardonnay (3.5 acres), but he’s going to put in some Petit Manseng and Petite Arvine.
The wines are made with minimal intervention, with grapes picked on the early side. They are also made in small quantities, and quite a few back vintages are still available directly from the winery: these wines do tend to age well.
In Our Element Riesling First Pick 2020 Finger Lakes, New York State
Lovely lime, pear and citrus with beautiful weight and expression, showing good precision with a nervy edge and a hint of sweetness. Such delicacy and purity. 93/100
In Our Element Riesling Second Pick 2020 Finger Lakes, New York State
Weighty but fresh, this is a textural Riesling with a sense of delicacy. Notes of lime, spice and minerals with some juiciness to the supple fruit. 93/100
Element Chardonnay 2017 Finger Lakes, New York State
This is the first Chardonnay from the property. It’s not certain what it will be called, but it is likely to be element. Textured, with pear and white peach as well as some apple. Nice weight and texture with some nutty hints. No obvious oak. 93/100
Colloquial Chardonnay Block A 2019 Finger Lakes, New York State
Low yielding 20 year old vines. Complex, taut and mineral with stony notes, amazing fruit, and notes of lime, lemon peel and wax. Very focused and precise with electric acidity, and notes of sour cherry and apple. 94/100
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Red 2018 Finger Lakes, New York State
This was a tricky vintage that was very wet, and this is the only red made this year. It’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah. 11.9% alcohol. Lively aromatics of sour cherry, some leafy hints and some iron, as well as a touch of cranberry. The palate has richness with a sweet and sour quality, and a bit of sweetness to the acidity. 92/100
The Element 2019 Finger Lakes, New York State
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Lively with some volatility. Very spicy and vivid with black cherry and blackberry fruit, and a sweet spicy quality. So much personality here. 92/100
Element Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 Finger Lakes, New York State
From the home vineyard. Lovely sweet cherries, spice and blackcurrant with some leafy notes. There’s good concentration and some sweetness to the fruit. Has a slight floral quality. Very fine with lovely personality. 94/100
Colloquial Red 2020 Finger Lakes, New York State
55% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Sryah, 1% Grenache. This spent two years in barrel. Concentrated blackcurrant and spice, with notes of gravel, dried herbs and good structure. Ripe and fresh with density and weight. Stony and mineral, and potentially long lived, with some sappy detail. 94/100