This past Saturday, I attended a very fun and interesting special tasting at Keuka Spring Winery , focused on tasting different styles of Gewürztraminer and the differences between the 2012 and 2013 growing seasons. Keuka Spring’s head wine maker August Deimel and assistant winemaker Meg Tipton led the tasting, which was intimate and outside, away from the tasting room in a tent overlooking Keuka Lake. This winemaking team is also holds the coveted Govenor’s Cup Award for the BEST WINE in New York State with their 2012 Riesling! Not too shabby.
I met August and his lovely wife Sara through the Finger Lakes wine industry a few years ago, and am proud to say his talent has not gone unnoticed in our area and beyond! August called our Going Gewurz session “…everything you wanted to know about Gewurz but we’re afraid to ask”–and our group of tasters were very inquisitive about growing, the winemaking process, and we were given a first hand look at the creation of one of the Finger Lakes most underrated, and unique wines.
Everyone knows about Riesling, and in the Finger Lakes area we make fantastic Riesling wines. The Gewürztraminer grape is also a cold hearty variety, and does very well in our area. It is also extremely reflective of the location in which it is grown, weather, and conditions of the season. Gewurz is still “the Wild West” according to August, and with winemakers not held to certain industry standards, wines are very different from winery to winery. The process of making Gewürztraminer differs from most white production in that the grape must is held in a cold soak of fifty degrees for around eighteen hours. The winemakers at Keuka Spring actually use dry ice to drop the grapes to temperature and maintain the temperature integrity throughout. That essentially means that the grapes need to be picked at exactly the right time, because the skins hold most of the phenols that will be leeched out and give the wine it’s character. what the hell is a phenol? According to Wiki, and this is cool–
“The phenolic content in wine refers to the phenolic compounds—natural phenol and polyphenols—in wine, which include a large group of several hundred chemical compounds that affect the taste, color and mouthfeel of wine. These compounds include phenolic acids, stilbenoids, flavonols, dihydroflavonols, anthocyanins, flavanol monomers (catechins) and flavanol polymers (proanthocyanidins). This large group of natural phenols can be broadly separated into two categories, flavonoids and non-flavonoids. Flavonoids include the anthocyanins and tannins which contribute to the color and mouthfeel of the wine. The non-flavonoids include the stilbenoids such as resveratrol and phenolic acids such as benzoic, caffeic and cinnamic acids.” ….essentially, tannins and flavors that are held in the skin of the grape.
So, pick too soon, and you get underripe grapes that will release phenols that might be bitter or tannic. Too late, and you end up with rot, yeasts, and unclean grapes. Hours can make the difference between the two, and wine makers are often found in the fields babysitting their Gewurz until it’s agreed that they are ready for harvest. Once they’re harvested, it’s up to the wine makers to handle the winemaking process, from timing, to yeasts added, and all steps in between. Some vintners prefer a rustic, almost rugged style of wine; others enjoy a more refined presentation of the grape. Both are perfectly good wines, just different and whichever you prefer, you will find one you like.
We tasted the Gewürztraminer 2012 and 2013 side by side, very different growing seasons, as we’re the flavors. 2012 was a great season for growers, and the Keuka Spring 2012 Gewürztraminer won BEST Gewurz in New York State at the Food and Wine Classic. It was the vineyards earliest Gewürztraminer harvest in its history, with the grapes coming in on September 11, almost a month earlier than usual. The 2012 has a smooth, balanced acidity, apricot and lychee, a soft finish. Now, 2013 was very different for growers. It was difficult weather, colder and less ripening, and the wine is quite a bit different. There is more of a citrus, a spiciness (I even got a little bit of anise), less of the mellow flavors that we’re present in the 2012, and it even tasted a little sweeter- which was due to a higher alcohol content.
We also compared the 2012 and 2013 Pre-Emption Vineyard Gewürztraminer, which came solely from one vineyard and one harvest with no blending. There were only 150 cases each of these wines made, and the vineyard was chosen for their location, with cross breezes helping to keep the ripening grapes clean of unwanted yeasts as an added bonus. The 2012 was ripe with passion fruit, lychee, and a slight acidity that would make it delicious with a spicy Asian meal, like Thai food. Always hard to pair with takeout, but try it and you will thank me. Promise! 2013 was a bit less sweet, but more crisp with citrus notes and a slight sparkle. It was quite the tasting, because each of us had a preference, and no one was wrong!
Our last sample was labeled with ??? And here is the announcement: Keuka Springs is releasing small lots of a SERIES of EXPERIMENTAL wines, under the heading KSV RND– Keuka Springs Vineyard Research And Development. Our preview tasting was of the first oak barrel aged Gewurtztraminer in the Finger Lakes! It was very young at six months in the barrel (August equated it to a ‘screaming infant’ as to its age) and still needed to be filtered and ‘cleaned up’. As for the preview taste? Spicy, smooth, a hint of the oak, but still held fruity character, unlike many Chardonnay. So cool! Quantities of these wines will be limited to fifteen cases (15!!!), so if you’re not a local, check out the Keuka Spring Vineyard KSV Wine Club for access to special releases as well as lots of other goodies delivered right to your door!
Our tasting also featured a lovely tasting plate (menu posted with local farms) with local cheeses, asparagus, radishes, pork tenderloin, and even a mango chutney! The idea is that wine exists with food, and therefore trying different styles of Gewürztraminer with different foods helped really taste the wines. Food always adds a different dynamic to wines, especially depending on the flavors. Great opportunity to pair Gewurz with pork, sweet chutney, and asparagus which is often a difficult flavor to match wines to. Overall really a fun experience, even if I did eat almost all my cheese curds before the second wine was poured–it was an early lunch time, after all 🙂
A huge thank you goes out to August and Meg, along with the entire Keuka Spring Vineyard crew! It was a fantastic morning for Going Gewurz, and your winery is a beautiful location, along with an exciting spot to develop new wines. Don’t miss KSV if you’re in the Finger Lakes, these folks really focus on their product–and love what they do!