Tastemaker: Morten Hallgren, Ravines Wine Cellars

Every time that I taste the vintage of  Ravines Wine Cellars dry riesling, my mind jumps right back to Morten Hallgren’s Ravines Wine Cellars 2006 Dry Riesling — one of the wines that convinced me that I needed to start learning and writing about Finger Lakes wines. The Finger Lakes weren’t as well-covered or well-regarded back then and there was a real chance that I was going to move off of Long Island to upstate New York — so adding Finger Lakes (and then Hudson Valley) wine to my blogging beat made a lot of sense.

That didn’t happen. We’re still on Long Island and will be at least until our kids are done with school — but my affection for Finger Lakes wines has never been stronger.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend some real time with Morten over the years — not just in the tasting room, but in some of his vineyards and at restaurants. He’s a fascinating, talented, driven man. If you haven’t read my friend Evan Dawson’s wonderful book, Summer in a Glass, you should. Morten is a main character.

Morten’s focus on dry wines — even his rieslings — is unique in the region. It takes a deft hand to made such transparent, austere wines taste so beautifully unique and distinctive, but he pulls it off every vintage. It’s easy to focus on the Ravines rieslings, but to do so would ignore the fact that he’s making some of the best Bordeaux blends, sparkling wines, cabernet franc, pinot noir and chardonnay in the Finger Lakes too. Top to bottom, I’d put the Ravines portfolio up against any other in the region.

Morten Hallgren is a true tastemaker. Learn just a bit more about him…


Location: Geneva, New York

Current Job: Owner and winemaker, Ravines Wine Cellars

Wine/cider/beer of the moment: Vin Jaune from Henri Maire 1985

My winemaking style in 1-5 words: Authentic, terroir-driven, cool-climate

First bottle of wine I remember drinking: That would be a Rose wine from my family’s estate in Cotes de Provence: Domaine de Castel Roubine, circa 1980

How I got here: From Castel Roubine to winemaking school in Montpellier (ENSAM), to cos d’Estournel in St. Estephe to Cordier Estates in Ft. Stockton, Texas to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina to Dr. Konstantin Frank in 1999. Lisa and I started Ravines with 2002 vintage.

My winemaking style — in more words: Taking, often labor intensive, traditional techniques and applying these to a particularly exciting cool climate region. The aim is for transparent
winemaking, where the wines reflect the vineyard origins and the vintages. No dogma such as unfiltered/unfined/ non innoculated wines, though this happens regularly.

Mentors:  I was greatly impressed by the way Bruno Prats ran Cos d’Estournel back in the 1990s.

Music playing in the cellar right now: Whatever the cellar crew chooses to play.

Favorite thing about the local wine industry: The feeling of being a part of a group of winemakers establishing a regional style for the Finger Lakes.

Least favorite thing about the local wine industry: The lack of focus in our region with wines from vinifera, hybrid, native grapes making it more difficult to establish a regional identity.

One surprising thing that I’m really good at: Listening to other people.

What I drink: Almost exclusively European wines, older vintages when possible: Burgundy, Bordeaux, Provence, Rhone, Loire, Piemonte, Rioja. Basically, traditional classic wines. Also, current Finger Lakes wines.

My “Desert Island Meal” — wine/cider/beer included: East Coast oysters and Chablis Les Clos.

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