You may not know the name Zack Klug, but I have a feeling you will. After a few years working in various cellars in and around the Niagara Escarpment AVA he — along with business partner Patrick Vaughn — has created his own label, Liten Buffel, which will release it’s first wines by summer.
Liten Buffel is Klug’s spouse’s birth name in Swedish. “She’s Swedish and Native American,” he told me. “It translates to “little buffalo.”
Zack is what I like to call a country hipster winemaker. He’s all beard and plaid (though I have no idea if he wears thick-rim glasses), ambient yeast fermentation and neutral barrels — but I get the feeling he’s more at home in the country than he would be in the big city. I appreciate his approach, but also his honesty and transparency. He sees great potential in Niagara and clearly has the drive to help the region get there.
Zack and Patrick will be planting their estate vineyard this spring. That small vineyard, which sits on a long, slow sloping hill that starts at the Niagara Escarpment and ends at the ancient Lake Iroquois shoreline ridge is at the eastern end of the Niagara Escarpment AVA and features silty loam soils over limestone.
It’ll be planted with 65% pinot noir, 25% syrah and 10% riesling.
It’s true — I may be jumping the gun a bit by including him in the #NYTastemaker project, but I’m confident he’ll have earned his place by this time next year.
Location: Middleport, NY
Current Job: Half of the irreverent duo behind a start-up winery called Liten Buffel
Wine of the moment: Domaine de la Passion 2009 Moulin-a-Vent
My winemaking style in 1-5 words: Punk rock
First bottle of wine I remember drinking: Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir. Sometime in my teens around Thanksgiving with my parents. It was a wine of choice for my mother.
How did I wind up here: I’ve always been a fan of wine. I had a joyless job, found a wine program at the local school, and never looked back.
My winemaking style — in more words: Arrogant, narcissistic, pretentious, and rustic! In all seriousness, we want to focus on terroir-driven wines from good vineyards. Everything we do is designed to build complexity and texture. We allow fermentation to begin on its own. We don’t filter unless necessary. We put everything through malo. All of our barrels are neutral. And the wines stay on the lees for most of their pre-bottled life. We want to make the best pinot noir, syrah and riesling that we can in Niagara, but most importantly we want to help create the best wine region we can for the next generation.
Mentors: I’ve been pretty lucky to work with, or learn from some great folks. Kurt Guba, former winemaker at Freedom Run, and educator at NFCI. Don DeMaison, owner of Long Cliff. Jonathan Oakes, winemaker and grape grower at Leonard Oakes Estate Winery. Aside from the obvious winemaking and grape-growing knowledge they have bestowed, I learned to never undervalue yourself, the importance of staying humble and never to forget where you came from.
Music playing in the cellar right now: Your typical hipster mash of Avett brothers, Depeche Mode, Black flag, and Neurosis.
Favorite thing about Niagara wine industry: The potential for reds and big whites. Specifically Niagara Escarpment pinot noir.
Least favorite thing about Niagara wine industry: I guess it would have to be the length of time before our potential is fully realized. The journey will certainly be enjoyed though. Oh… and fruit wines.
One surprising thing that I’m really good at: Guitar, and Legos.
What I drink: Gallons of Cava, cheap northern Rhone, too many Gennys, and way too many pitchers of PBR and orange juice. Then in the morning, some left over crack at Cream & Sugar Cafe. It’s a secret menu item. You’re welcome.
My “Desert Island Meal” — wine included: Pizza. Red burgundy. Not together. Wine first.