Where should I start with August Deimel, winemaker at Keuka Spring Vineyards? He’s a fellow Pittsburgh native and we’ve had more than a few exchanges about our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers over the years — but we should keep this to wine today, probably.
I spent some time with August last week during my recent trip to the Finger Lakes and I learned at least one new thing about him — he really doesn’t like red wine very much. There are apparently only a couple bottles of red wine in his entire personal cellar, and he was quick to add “And they were gifts or trades. I don’t spend money on red wine.”
He’s embraced gewurztraminer in a way that borders on the maniacal — but I have to say, the results are distinctive and delicious. He’s experimental in the cellar, but not just for the sake of being experimental. He’s as thoughtful as he is a little “out there.” And as you’ll read below, he’s buying barrels for his white wines, but getting rid of them for all of his reds.
It’s fair to say that August is one of a kind.
Location: Geneva, NY
Current Job: Head Winemaker, Keuka Spring Vineyards
Wine of the moment: Drinking a lot of bubbly and rose at the moment — and even some bubbly rose!! Last night it was the dregs of a few bottles from last night’s Discover Dry Rose event.
My winemaking style in 1-5 words: Ethereal, thoughtful, joyous.
First bottle of wine I remember drinking: Before I was born my parents bought Bordeaux futures every now and again. The last year they did that was 1982, my birth year, and (of course) one of the seminal vintages of the 20th century. They pulled out one of the last bottles of that stuff when I was a teenager on the anniversary of my mother’s and my baptism. I remember enjoying my glass of that wine, though it was probably just the experience of it all.
How I got here: I did my master’s degree at Cornell’s research station in Geneva. I fell in love with the area and as soon as I left I realized that all I wanted to do was return to the Finger Lakes. It took a while for the right opportunity to come along, but in early 2012 Len Wiltberger, owner of KSV, posted a job notice online and I applied a few minutes later.
My winemaking style — in more words: I’m all about incremental improvement. I have no preconceived notions of what I want my wines to be. Instead, I try a variety of techniques and as I see what works I incorporate or discard my tools as appropriate. These days I’m obsessed with how one can manipulate texture in whites (particularly Gewurztraminer) and looking to find ways to bring out primary fruit in reds. I’m the only winemaker I know who is acquiring oak barrels for whites as fast as possible while selling off all of his red barrels.
Mentors: I’m fortunate to say that, like many in this region, Peter Bell has been an extraordinary mentor and jungle guide through the winemaking wilderness. His generosity with his time and experience is truly unparalleled and without him — as well as my other winemaking colleagues — my first few vintages here would have been much less successful and, well, much more lonely.
Music playing in the cellar right now: So when Rachel Hadley, my Assistant Winemaker, either lets me or isn’t around I’m playing a bunch of 80’s and 90’s twee pop (read Pitchfork magazine’s article “Twee As Fuck” to understand why this stuff is awesome and is an amazing critique of the music industry – a critique which could just as well be aimed at the wine industry). When the cellar staff has to compromise, we usually land on a Spotify playlist called The Happy Hipster. Seriously.
Favorite thing about Finger Lakes wine industry: I’ve said this before, and will say it many times again I’m sure: this region, more than climate or soil, is about the people. When we look back on this era, we will marvel at the collection of talent here. We will marvel at their generosity of spirit and their genuine humility. We will marvel at the cross-pollination of ideas that jump from winery to winery and we will marvel at the extraordinary wines that have been wrung from a land fraught with challenges. I try to remember how lucky I am to be in this place at this time.
Least favorite thing about Finger Lakes wine industry: Two things we don’t take seriously enough: diversity and safety. We’re astonishingly white and male as an industry. That’s changing slowly, but only so much. As for safety, vineyards and cellars are dangerous places to work and without a lot of oversight from regulators (and there is not a lot of oversight from regulators) it’s easy to get complacent in practices that could come back to haunt you. It’s never considered cool to call people out on doing things that are dangerous, but it needs to be okay to tell your co-workers, bosses, and colleagues that certain practices are just not safe and need to change.
One surprising thing that I’m really good at: Cooking breakfast. I’m a morning person, what can I say?
What I drink: Have I given my Savennières speech too many times? Probably. But what the hell? I adore Savennières. It’s fascinating. And weird. And hyper-cool. Loire Chenin, in general, is hyper-cool. I drink my share of bubbly, Sauternes when I can, riesling from wherever and California zinfandel if I must drink red wine. After work, though, it’s always beer. Preferably Troegs, Southern Tier or Heavy Seas.
My “Desert Island Meal” — wine included: On the subject of breakfast, it would absolutely be a desert island breakfast. It would start with bubbly, probably Roederer or Charles Heidseick. There would be popovers, hash browns, eggs benedict (with extra hollandaise to, you know, smother everything else with), multiple types of sausages, thick-cut bacon, yeast-raised waffles, fresh fruit, corned beef hash, cheese grits, smoked bluefish pate, and the infamous bread pudding from Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book. There would be a selection of rieslings to go along with all that including Prum, Zind-Humbrecht, Boxler and Clemens Busch. Ah, let’s throw in a few sweeter Chenins as well, some Vouvray and Quartes de Chaumes. Finish it up with a Foie Gramlet (cook the Foie in butter, then cook an omelet in that butter and fill with Foie, recipe courtesy Abe Schoener) which we’ll pair with old Sauternes.