Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wine Knowledge the Easy Way

Today's post comes to us from Lucille Bell, Peter's 81-year-old mother.

"You're the expert, Lucille. "You choose the wine.'

We are sitting around a table in a French restaurant in Toronto, celebrating a birthday. Five old ladies, chums since dead husbands made them girls again, gossipy and giggly and happy to be out for an evening on the town.

Friday, February 25, 2011

No More Mr. Nice Guy

- by Tricia Renshaw, assistant winemaker

I can’t believe we’ve let Kelby leave again.  Last year, he was off to Marlborough, New Zealand.  This time, he’s gone to Tasmania, the island state of Australia.  We wish we could keep him here, but he has to follow the whisperings of Calliope:  voyage, see, learn.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It All Depends on How You Phrase Your Question

- by Peter Bell, winemaker

I love looking stuff up on Google, mostly so I can learn something new, but also once in awhile for pure entertainment. Often things occur to me in the middle of the night that merit researching the next day. Two mornings ago, my burning desire was to research, of all things, the esterification of tartaric acid and the effects of that transformation on wine taste. Please don’t give up reading this blog post, because I'm not going to talk about what I learned.

Because I’m not a good typist, I really appreciate Google’s ‘Suggest’ algorithm. It’s pretty good at anticipating one’s intentions and filling the search box with helpful shortcuts.

This morning, I asked Google to direct me to sites that would give hints on today’s winery task: topping barrels. In reality, I know all I need to know about barrel topping, after 23 years of winemaking, so I opted to have a little fun instead of divining hard facts. I decided to ask my question in two manners: Lowbrow and Highbrow.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spring Has Sprung?

The 2010-2011 winter has been a long slog here in the Finger Lakes.  Given our latitude, continental climate, and the presence of the Great Lakes (and the lake effect snow that comes with them) you might think that winters wouldn't faze us all that much and, for the most part, you would be absolutely correct.

This winter has been unique in its sustained endurance, however, and that is what has set it apart. Depending on your location in the lakes, there has been snow securely blanketing the ground since just after Thanksgiving.  And even if you were in a part of the lakes that escaped snow until mid-December, that was just a matter of being out of a snow band's reach because the temperatures were certainly cold enough.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fox Run 101

With this post we introduce Lauren Brunhofer, who is working for the next little while with our PR whiz Leslie Kroeger. As you will read, her first days here have brought a few surprises. Being asked to write a guest post for our blog was yet another.

No Rest for the Bloggers
Our lovely new intern, Lauren.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fun With Fortifieds

Peter Howe, our jack-of-all-trades of long standing, is my go-to guy when I need to know about scheduling the bottling of our wine. He does a monthly inventory of our case goods, fills two or three orders a week from our wholesalers, and ships wine down to the tasting room every Friday. So when some product or other is getting low, he’ll be the one to notice.

A couple of weeks ago he was telling me about something non-wine-related, and then he tossed off a casual addendum: “Oh, and by the way, we’re almost out of Ruby Port.” Port is one of the products we are particularly proud of around here, given that the making of it’s such a challenge and that it has such a loyal and perennial following, so the need to make more of it is always met with eager anticipation. It’s our prompt to assemble samples from the many, disparate barrels of Port we have in the winery at any given time, and commence to make a blend that conforms to our house style.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fighting an Enemy We Cannot See

So far as winemaking is concerned, our year can be broken down into two tasks.  The first task is the creation and making of the wine, the incredibly intense and concentrated burst of work surrounding harvest and usually lasting until sometime around Christmas.  The second task, which is no less important, might best be known "protecting" the wine.  There is no mistaking that a lot of work goes into the wines to make adjustments or blend after the completion of fermentation, but there is also no denying that our role during this time of the year up until the wine is safely bottled is anything other than glorified stewardship.

Just as a shepherd must always worry about protecting their flock from the omnipresent danger of wolves, in the winery our primary concern is keeping the wine safe from a pervasive and invisible threat.  This spoilage agent surrounds us, however, and in almost all other circumstances is necessary for life.  I'm referring to oxygen, of course; O2, the eighth element, a molecule that makes up 20.946% of the earth's atmosphere by volume.  You might think oxygen is something we would want to be on good terms with in the winery,* but the fact is that we spend nearly as much time restricting undesired oxygen contact with our wines as we do keeping things clean in the winery.  That is a lot of time.

Friday, February 11, 2011

2010 Tierce Assemblage: the First Run-Through

By Peter Bell, Winemaker 

Yesterday we (Anthony Road winemakers, Red Newt winemakers, and Fox Run winemakers, plus my guest Ben Peacock of Tousey Winery) met at Red Newt Bistro to taste through 20 tank samples of 2010 Riesling, with the aim of getting started on the latest manifestation of Tierce, our three-winery collaborative Riesling blend. This is something we’ve been doing since 2004, and it’s always a highlight of the year for me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What Was In The Bottle: 2009 Rosé

The series that Kelby proposed as an occasional blog topic is titled ‘What’s in the Bottle’. In my case, the opportunity to declare this particular wine as still resident in its glass container came and went so quickly that I’m forced to speak in the past tense.

Ah, Rosé, that underappreciated little gem of a wine style that flies under the radar for so many of us.

It’s very counterintuitive: Rosé by its very nature is a straightforward, uncomplicated wine that declares itself on first sight as something that doesn’t need or expect to be taken seriously. You take a bite of food, then follow it with a great gulp of this beautiful, fresh liquid. Why ponder something that is so full of immediacy?

And why would winemakers, of all people, so predictably and consistently put dry Rosé on their lists of favorite wines? Don’t we, more than anyone else, reward complexity and seriousness in our wines? Well in this case, no. 

Perhaps there’s a Proustian aspect to this. The sight of a cool glass of Rosé seems more powerful than other wines at evoking a flood of memories, memories that almost invariably contain some of the very elements we find central to a happy existence: summer evenings, fresh seasonal foods, people we’re fond of at their most engaging. The complete absence of any pressure to sound erudite about any topic at all, and the attendant freedom to just sit there and soak up the many sensory stimuli that are there for the taking: birds singing, people laughing, cutlery clinking on plates.

Yes, in parts of the world (I’m really thinking France here, especially the south of France), this drink really does have a seasonality. While North Americans slot pumpkin pie and turkey into autumnal rituals, the French consume millions of liters of Rosé seemingly every time they sit down to lunch during the summer. In any café or bistro in July or August, and you will see chilled carafes of Rosé being served up to most of the patrons. Along come some chewy bread and a salade niçoise, and there’s your meal. There’s your quintessential aestival experience. 

Chambourcy, France, July 2009: Wish You Could Have Been There

So why am I writing about this wine in the bleak midwinter?

As my colleague Tricia has already pointed out, I am not particularly good at rituals. She's right: I do indeed go to bed at my usual time every December 31st, way before midnight. I become acutely uncomfortable if people deign to make a big deal of my birthday. I can’t reliably tell you when Valentine’s Day is, nor can I pull something off on that day that doesn’t make me feel like an obsequious idiot.

So it is with my Rosé consumption patterns. Yes, summertime and the light refreshing foods we eat at that time of year are absolutely perfect for Rosé, but if I feel like some Rosé in February, damn it, I’m gonna open a bottle.

And that’s what I did over the weekend. This was from a small bottling of 2009 wine we offered to our Wine Club members – note the minimalist label that would never fly in the retail world. We actually made a great deal more of this wine than we bottled; the excess went into our Ruby Vixen blush wine (lucky Ruby Vixen).

What may not strike the casual drinker of Rosé is how excruciatingly difficult a wine it is to make well. There’s even an institute in France whose sole purpose is Rosé research and experimentation. At Fox Run we have been making small, home-winemaker quantities of Rosé,  using many and various techniques, for some years now, just to learn what it would take to be able to ramp up the volume to a commercial scale.

All that experimentation allowed us to conclude some interesting things about what NOT to do, even though they are accepted Rosé techniques elsewhere. 

  • No Pinot noir or Cabernet franc grapes
  • No bleeding of juice off the skins
  • No bleeding of fermenting wine off the skins
  • No barrel fermentation or maturation
  • No malolactic fermentation
  • No obvious residual sugar

Quite a list of prohibitions! But nothing like the ones you see at park entrances in Paris: 

The graffto translates as "What CAN we do, then?"

The wine in this bottle was made from Merlot and Lemberger grapes. We crushed them in the conventional way for red wines, but instead of adding a yeast culture right away we let the juice macerate with the skins and seeds for the time it took to go home, take a shower and get some sleep, and then we pressed them out. The resulting vibrant pink juice was thence made as a white wine: the juice was racked and fermented in a stainless steel tank at a coolish temperature.

How to describe this wine? The older I get, the more trouble I have spilling out colorful descriptors, so I will retreat to the language I use to talk about all wines that are good to drink: it was delicious, and it was refreshing.

By:  Peter Bell, Winemaker

Music of the Day:
  • John Conlee - Classics; "Rose Colored Glasses":

Support Artists, buy the music you like!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Finger Lakes Wine and the Super Bowl?

As I get ready to watch the Super Bowl this evening at one of the millions of small gatherings that will pop up across the country today, it certainly seems like this has become one of the biggest and best holidays in the American canon. For my money it is certainly a better holiday than New Year's: more satisfying foods and freedom to make/bring what works, small gatherings of friends as opposed to expensive parties at hotels and restaurants where you know few people, it occurs during the day, and it centers on an actual event as opposed to the arbitrary turn of a clock.

Like any successful holiday, however, the Super Bowl is a success because it provides yet another opportunity for us to get together and share food - especially food that should not be consumed regularly the rest of the year.  Regardless of team affiliation or a person's feelings about football, the other uniting force is undeniably the joy we take in watching the ridiculous advertisements that surround the game, then discussing and comparing them more than the post-game analysts do the quarterbacks.  Most of the advertisements are ultimately forgettable for the very reason that they tried too hard to be different and got lost in the fray.  Some make a splash by being controversial and promptly disappear.  The best stay with us or manage to launch an ad campaign that lasts longer than a three hour game.

This is what got me to thinking about Finger Lakes wine in the context of the Super Bowl.  Wine pairing with the party food-spreads would be a joke; the food, trappings of the games, the cities involved, even the length of the festivities all beg for beer as a beverage and I wouldn't want to see it any other way.  Rather, the advertisements are what pique my interest when it comes to the wine region I love so much.  Namely, if the Finger Lakes Wine Region was to purchase an ad slot for the Super Bowl - how would we best capitalize on that exposure?  Nevermind that the cost is prohibitive ($3 million for 30 seconds?), or that the demographics might not be ideal, given such a large and general audience how could the Finger Lakes raise their profile in 30 seconds?

I would love to see your thoughts below, because I think our best bet would be to simply introduce our region to the non-wine magazine following world.  Some may desire an advertisement that tries to sell the high quality of our wines and the increasingly impressive scores and accolades we are receiving, but as admirable as that is I doubt it would be the best play to a broad audience.  For better or worse, the scores speak for themselves and will do the job of selling the wine in stores whether or not we drop $3 million to help publicize them and give free advertising to their issuers.  What I want is an ad that, when people are thinking about going to a wine store or enter a wine store, makes them seek out Finger Lakes wines:

Advertisement Idea 1:
  • [Screen opens to a short montage of video showing vines absurdly trying to grow in the chaos and cacophony of New York City; out of skyscraper windows, taxis, sewer manholes, Lincoln Center, etc.]
  • [Sharp cut to video of a vineyard looking up and across one of our brilliant blue and cool lakes on a bright sunny day; all green and filled with the sounds of a calm breeze, birdsong, and lazily humming insects.]
  • [After 10 seconds of that calm video, text and/or a voiceover overlay the vineyard video.]
"That's why there is more to New York Wines than New York City."
  • [Text fades to new text.]
"Finger Lakes Wine.  Good For You.  Great With Food."
  • [Text fades out, leaving behind just the vineyard video and it's calming sounds for final few seconds]

Advertisement Idea 2:
  • [Nearly identical to Idea 1.  Difference in that the opening montage shows a single vine desperately trying to grow out of a sidewalk crack in New York City and getting stepped on, splashed with street water, and the like over the requisite sad and lonely music.]
  • [Unseen figure rescues the poor vine and gets it to the Finger Lakes vineyard mentioned in Idea 1, the rest of the ad continues as before.]

So there are two ideas I've had.  Hopefully, you all will have some more to share and thoughts on whether the idea is a worthwhile exercise or not.  We would love to hear them, our region needs it!

By: Kelby Russell, Winemaking Team

Music of the Day:
Support Artists, buy the music you like!

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Mental Vacation From Winter

We live in such a visually beautiful much to be exploited by photos! I've been planning for the arrival of Spring and Summer of 2011 here at the winery, which made me go back and organize some photos from a shoot earlier this year.  This first photo is an absolute magazine cover taken by Glen Sanders, a photographer who has done lots of work for Wine Spectator

Winter in the Finger Lakes!

If only! How nice to remember the vineyards from only a few short (warm) months ago.

It was quite a chore leading the photographer around for 4 or 5 hours, but in the end we think it was worth every penny for these photos - especially in helping us escape the winter for a moment!  Take a look for yourself: 

Peter Bell and Tricia Renshaw
I had to make sure and “style” my subjects, although this one is pretty natural!
Winemaker and Assistant Winemaker
The last time we did this Peter and Tricia wore BRIGHT blue and
BRIGHT red t-shirts.  This works much better in our natural surroundings

Scott Osborn, President
Scott also makes a great subject (we styled him too).
What is this about?
Here, Scott is explaining how turkeys cling to the trellis and flap their wings
so that the grapes fall.  Before you know it two or three rows are stripped. 
Here Comes the Sun
What more could he ask for...
Ruth Osborn, Comptroller
...other than his beautiful wife, Ruth!

 John Kaiser, Vineyard Manager Extraordinaire
Our vineyard manager, however, was not entirely helpful…
he just does not want his picture taken.

 Peter Howe, Winery/Vineyard Wunderkind
Pete Howe is always moving so you have to get him on the fly.

Winemaker, or wine glass holder?
Peter, frankly, would be the first to admit he can be a difficult subject.
 Taking a sample in the Winery
Glen, however, did an amazing job capturing what
I think are some totally natural expressions from Peter.

 10,000 Watt Smile
And then there is always lovely Tricia...
 Tasting in the Winery
...never a bad photo of our Assistant Winemaker!

Finger Lakes or French Countryside?
All in all…a good day.

Of course there are the traditional vineyard photos – but what’s not to love? This property is stunning and certainly makes for a great subject.

By: Leslie Kroeger, Marketing Manager

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Occupational Hazards, Winemaker Style

When I started working at Fox Run more than a decade and a half ago, I took up with a dentist whose office was closer to my new home. After getting my records sent up from my old dentist’s office, I went in for my first exam and cleaning.

Laura, the extremely chatty hygienist, hadn’t been poking around in my mouth for more than a minute or two when she suddenly went quiet and furrowed her brow. “What do you do?” she finally asked, in a way that made it clear she wasn’t just making small talk. “Eye-ay-er,” I answered, which was the best I could manage with a gloved hand and sharp pick in my mouth. She didn’t know what I was saying.

“I look at a lot of teeth,” she said, “but I’ve never seen ones like yours.”

“Uh ake ine.”

“What? Wait a minute while I finish.”

As she continued on her hygienic way, she elaborated. “I can look in peoples’ mouths and tell a lot about their lifestyle. I can tell if they’re heavy coffee drinkers. I can tell if they’re heavy tea drinkers. Pipe smokers have distinctive teeth. So do cigar smokers, pot smokers, tobacco chewers, tooth grinders, bulimics…”


“The backs of their teeth are always badly eroded from contact with stomach acid. Anyway, you are none of the above. So what is it you do?”

“I put small quantities of wine in my mouth all day, hold them there, and then spit them out.”

There was a long pause.

“…..Excuse me?”

Laura told me that in addition to being badly stained, my teeth showed a distinct pattern of enamel erosion, especially at the gum line, which meant that major and costly repair work was in my near future.

“I don’t believe it…that’s what my horoscope said too!” I said, mouth agape.

She glanced down at my chart. “You Capricorns. Always with your superstitions!”

Laura asked me if there were any way I could use a machine to analyze the wines I was making, so as to give my pearly whites (actually they were spongy grays) a rest. I explained that while we do perform a number of lab analyses on our wines – pH, titratable acidity, residual sugar, alcohol content and the like – no apparatus existed that could tell if a wine smelled and tasted good. Hence the need to constantly put wine samples in our mouth, ponder them awhile, and then expectorate. (I didn’t tell Laura that my lab sink and drain bore the worst brunt of all, and needed the attention of a plumber every few years.)

Some time later I took a one-month sabbatical to teach at the University of Adelaide in Australia. One morning my horoscope told me that something momentous was going to happen that day, and sure enough, I happened upon an article in a trade journal titled “Winemakers, Look After Those Teeth!” The author was a dentist based in Canberra who had evidently had enough of whiny winemakers complaining that their choppers weren’t performing up to speed. He recommended using a recently developed product called Recaldent Tooth Mousse, which has the capacity to remineralize teeth and make them more resistant to acid attack.

The stuff is expensive and has to be shipped from Australia, but it really does work. I’ve told all my bulimic friends, who number in the thousands, about this product, as well as any winemaker who happens to complain of problems with tooth erosion.

And this morning I went in for my semiannual dental exam. Laura, the forensic dentistry expert, is long gone, but the staff there know that I am what’s called a Special Needs patient, and they indulge me accordingly. “Good for you!” they coo. “The staining is not that bad today! Good for you!”

By: Peter Bell, Winemaker

Music of the Day:
  • Dan Rooke; "Avenues of Forgiveness:"