A Conversation About: NY Drinks NY 2019

The Cork Report Team at NY Drinks NY: Yours truly, Carrie Dykes and Carlo DeVito (Mikhail Lipyanskiy behind the camera)

A couple weeks ago, several members of The Cork Report team attended NY Drinks NY, a press/trade tasting including more than three dozen New York wineries. Over the course of the four-hour event, we tasted, some of us (not Carlo) spit, we talked and then we grabbed dinner together.

Our conversation, shared over spicy Thai noodles and curries, went in a lot of directions, but a lot of it centered on the event, the wineries that were there and the wines we tasted – but how to capture that conversation after the fact?

That’s obviously impossible, but we do use Slack to discuss various things related to the site and podcast, so I created a new channel and started the conversation anew with Carlo and Mikhail (Carrie didn’t have time to take part.) I’ve cleaned up all of Carlo’s typos and misspellings and present you a new “A Conversation About” post.

Maybe this will be a one-off story format. Maybe it won’t. I just hope you enjoy reading it.

Lenn Thompson: Okay, gentlemen (obviously using that term loosely in this case) let’s talk about NY Drinks NY. Gun to your head, what producer — two max — stood out for you most? Why?

Mikhail Lipyanskiy: I can name two – one because the lineup is consistently excellent and one that was new to me. While I can point to three or four New York producers who match the criteria, as far as this particular tasting goes I think Macari Vineyards had the most consistent and excellent lineup. From the sparkling cabernet franc to the big 2010 Bordeaux blend. My favorite was the 2015 Cabernet Franc Reserve but I would drink any of the wines gladly.

The second was a “new” for me – though surely not for you guys. I have not had August Deimel’s wines at Keuka Spring Vineyards before and I found his two different gewurztraminer bottlings to be very very good – enough for me to make sure and visit him next time I go to the Finger Lakes.

Lenn: This is why I love having you writing for us now – you’re not a pushover, but you are very open minded. Especially for someone with such an Old World palate. Kelly really has the entire Macari portfolio dialed in. That ’15 Cabernet Franc is benchmark-type stuff for Long Island. I think I said the same thing about the ’13 vintage of that wine now that I’m thinking about it.

And absolutely, August loves working with gewurztraminer and it really shows. Those two gewurztraminers — and his vignoles — were some of the standouts for me on the day.

Keuka Spring VIneyards winemaker August Deimel

Carlo DeVito: Keuka Spring was definitely a winner. August’s wines were clean and elegant. From whites, to reds, to rose. I was truly impressed with this last tasting. And his Gewuztraminer is one of the best in the United States. I too loved Macari. Kelly’s wines are always spot on. Really impressed with the Cab Franc.

The Dr. Konstantin Frank wines were also impressive across the board. All lovely.

Lenn: Along with Keuka Spring, I was really impressed with the Fjord Vineyards wines — particularly the albarino and the two cabernet francs Matt (Spacarelli, the winemaker) was pouring. All three had strong varietal character and were just really well done.

Unfortunately, I felt like it was really hard to get around to as many tables as I would have liked. Four hours seems like a long time, but I did the hybrids seminar (which went long) and four hours became two and a half quickly. Plus, I’m basically a hermit and rarely get to these events in recent years – so just catching up with people I haven’t seen in a while ate up a lot of time. I need to hustle more next year to get to more tables.

Mikhail: Or maybe just form a plan – as in people you can or will see at other times perhaps need less time and instead focus on those you haven’t tried or need to reconnect with. That was partially my plan. I got a few new names to go visit in the next few months. But if it were possible to hold seminars before the tasting, I think that would work best.

Lenn: I actually did that this year. I tasted only at tables I haven’t tasted wine from in a while — which is why I didn’t spend much time at the Macari table. I had just been there a few days prior. Still, I didn’t get to nearly enough tables. I need to do better next year.

Lenn and Carlo displaying rarely seen focus.

Carlo: I too tried to get to as many tables as possible. It was difficult. Especially, like both of you, I know many of the people, so it takes longer to make the rounds. I agree with Lenn, Fjord and Benmarl were both very impressive. Matt has really grown into an impressive winemaker. I think one of the ones to watch over the next decade.

Lenn: You guys have both been to previous iterations of NY Drinks NY. What did you think of the Rainbow Room as the venue?

Carlo: Thought the room was beautiful. Shades of Joe Baum still linger. What’s more important is who is in the room. Seemed like they had a nice group of writers and trade showed up for the early session.

Mikhail: I like the room. I like the light and the feel of it. I found the middle too constrained and in need of reorganization. But overall I liked it significantly more than the previous location. The turnout was fantastic. More than 400 people for the trade/media portion! That’s very impressive.

Lenn: Yeah. It was a nice crowd with some notable people there for sure.

Unfortunately, there were some other — probably more prestigious — tastings in the city on the same day. Still, it was good to see such a big crowd. The New York Wine and Grape Foundation (NYWGF) should be applauded for putting on such a well-attended event.

But, after seeing so many of my friends posting pictures from the Polaner tasting, even I wanted to be there.

Paul Brady, who used to write for the site but who now works for the NYWGF asked me for feedback on the seminar I attended about hybrid grapes in New York. Before I get into what I told him, I just wanted to mention how great I think it was that they even did a seminar like that. I don’t think that happens at an event like this before — well, maybe this year.

There are a lot of shitty hybrid wines being made in New York. But there are also a lot of shitty vinifera wines being made in New York. And all over the world. Highlighting some of the better hybrids — things like baco noir and vignoles — is great to see, especially with how important sustainability is to more and more people. Mike Colizzi from Cornell’s grape breeding program spoke on the panel and they are doing some super interesting stuff.

They hybrid wines poured and discussed during one of two seminars on the day.

Carlo: I prefer not to use the “H Word.” We have brought back a number of older and discarded grapes that were developed a century or more ago, and are having tremendous results. As far as I can see, either winemakers are attempting to make good wine, or they are not. Most at the tasting are serious about making quality wine. I was impressed by a sparkling cayuga, a lovely baco noir, a very good seyval blanc, and a couple of impressive traminettes!

Lenn: There is no such thing as “very good Seyval Blanc” but I did really enjoy the Thirsty Owl Traminette — and you know I don’t care for that grape much.

Mikhail: Vignoles, baco noir and traminette show potential, as do Carlo’s chelois and leon millot. All of them show good wine can be made. The key is where and why.

Why is a bigger question. Why make wine from baco and not pinot noir for example. If the answer is climate – I am all in. Agreed! But if the answer is “why not” I find it often insufficient. Variety for the sake of variety is often a recipe for mediocrity.

That isn’t to say that great wine cannot be made from it – perhaps it can! But that would require someone to plant these grapes on prime plots, in prime climates.

A good Old World example is barbera in Piedmont. Now that it has some recognition it is being planted in better quality vineyards and being cared for in a different way – and giving the results to match.

Lenn: That’s a really interesting thought and one of the reasons that I think the Hudson Valley wine region is so fascinating.

On one hand, hybrids are their history and legacy. Wineries like Carlo’s, Benmarl, Clinton Vineyards and others are making some really really delicious wines from what some consider to be heirloom varieties (at least those who shun the ‘hybrid’ moniker). Most of the wineries, if they are making vinifera it’s being grown elsewhere — in the Finger Lakes or on Long Island (or the west coast, which is a whole other bit of bullshit).

On the other hand, wineries like White Cliff, Fjord, Tousey and Nostrano are focusing on estate-grown vinifera with varying degrees of success.

I don’t think it’s as simple as “If you can grow pinot, why would you grow Leon Millot instead?” I think there is something to be said for preserving the heritage of a region or growing something that requires a lot less spraying or other inputs in the vineyard. I think the biggest problem with most hybrid varieties is that the winemakers making the wines haven’t always been as capable as many are now. That’s why we are seeing better wines from these grapes.

Mikhail: “Preserving” is problematic as a term to me since the hybrids themselves are only from the 1920s and 1930s and are French in origin… so these aren’t “native” in any real sense. I would agree with the spraying etc. as part of what I meant above. Climatic reasons.

Lenn: You’re such an Old World-er! The 1920s and 1930s were a long time ago in American wine.

Carlo: The rubric for growing is this: if you can grow peaches you can grow vinifera. That’s not entirely true, but it’s about true. However, for those really cold snaps, you want vines that can survive. And in three seasons in the last 12 we’ve had three late frosts. One on May 19th. Only time we got on local TV, they came down to film me crying while our vines withered after a hard 27 degree drop. The good news was, the baco, chelois, seyval, etc. all had secondary and tertiary buds. We were able to haul in at least a half crop.

If it was all pinot or cab franc or chard, it would have been over for the season. We couldn’t afford that. No winery really can.

The Dr. Frank 2016 Saperavi was one of my favorite red wines of the tasting.

We have two vineyard blocks to go on the estate. One will be vinifera. One will be different hardier varieties. Looking at saperavi and lots of leon millot. Probably vignoles and/or frontenac gris. The other will be pinot noir, cab franc, and chardonnay.

Mikhail: Saperavi is an awesome grape. And versatile as well as hardy. Leon millot wines I tried have been interesting but I don’t know enough to judge, to be honest.

Lenn: You’re veering again, gentlemen. Let’s bring it back to the event, which is what this story is supposed to be about.

What would you change or improve upon? I think we’ve already touched on a few things, but I’m curious what other suggestions you might have.

Mikhail: I think the seminar – at least one of them – should be beforehand. Maybe another one during the break between the trade tasting and the public tasting.

Carlo: I’d love to see a panel….maybe fly in McIntyre and Asimov….a few other people and let them talk about a dozen wines. It’s hard when you’re doing these events. We talk about them in a bubble, but the problem is the competition. New York is a tough town. Half the wine writers I know went to Polaner and never made it over to NY Drinks NY. It’s tough because Polaner is one of the tent poles of the tasting season. It might also be a good time to take the show on the road…Boston, DC, Philadelphia, etc.

Lenn: So Boston Drinks NY or Philadelphia Drinks NY and so on. I like it.

I don’t think you can do 12 wines though….we had 6 in the hybrid session and it was at least one too many. Although if you did the panels separate from the tasting, you could make it longer

Carlo: Okay. I still think it’s time to take the show on the road. I think they need to use the event more effectively to open up new markets. The closest and most inviting are Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington DC. Maybe Portland, ME. After all, the point of the event is to open up eyes about the industry. Time to cast a wider net and break into new regions.

Mikhail: Does Albany have an event?

Carlo: There have been many events in the past, but not a NY Drinks NY-type thing. They’ve all been professionally based …for liquor store owners. One was an event held at the Governor’s mansion. Not sure if there’s ever been an event for the public. The event at the Desmond Hotel was hot for a while, but then died.

The NYWGF has some new blood and I am excited to see what they will be doing. They are bright and enthusiastic. I’m not sure everything will work, but I do think we’re at a time when it’s good to try a few new things. I think that we need to re-envision what the foundation should be doing….personally the others cities sits well with me, and looking at the Washington state model for promoting wine in restaurants.

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