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Little-known Lemburger is a big winner for a Finger Lakes wine producer

Lemberger, growing in popularity, garners top honor for Ventosa Vineyards in New York State’s 2015 competition.

By Alan J. Wax

Winner of the 2015 New York Governor's Cup

Winner of the 2015 New York Governor’s Cup

When was the last time you sipped a Lemberger? Likely, not lately.

But that could change as this little-known grape variety, originally from Germany and also grown in other parts of central Europe, finds new popularity.

Lemberger, a hardy, dark-skinned red wine grape that produces full-bodied, fruit-forward, peppery wines, has found a home in parts of Washington State and in New York’s Finger Lakes. Lemberger also is known as Blaufränkisch and several other names as well.

And it was a 2011 Lemberger from Ventosa Vineyards, on the northeast shore of Seneca Lake in Geneva, New York, that recently was crowned the top wine in the annual New York Governor’s Cup competition. This year, the competition’s 30th, attracted 858 entries from throughout the state, including Long Island, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Niagara Escarpment and Lake Erie

You won’t find many Lembergers in your local wine shop. Astor Wines, among the largest wine merchants in New York City, sells but one, from Fox Run Vineyards, also on Seneca Lake. Wine.com lists 14 offerings, mostly from Washington, but all are as sold out. (Channing Daughter’s Winery in Bridgehampton, Long Island, produces a Blaufränkisch.)

In Germany, the Lemberger grape has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years, according to the Wines of Germany web site, which noted that plantings have grown from about 400-500 hectacres in the 1980s to more than 1,750 hectacres.

Many Finger Lakes wineries produce Lemberger wines, in large measure due to the grape’s winter heartiness. A 1996 study by a group of Northeast researchers, including the well-respected Dr. Joseph A. Fiola of the University of Maryland, reported that vines can be hardy at 0°F to -10°F and that vines have survived temperatures as low as -13° F. Finger Lakes winters can be harsh. This past winter, the mercury dropped to as low as -10°F, which can kill half the buds on a grapevine.

The Ventosa Lambeger 2011 is estate grown — as are all the winery’s wines. But production is small, just 256, 12-bottle cases. The wine, aged in new Hungarian oak barrels, retails for $23.95 at the winery.

Wines at this 10-year-old producer, owned by Lenny and Meg Cecere, are made by Jenna LaVita, who honed her craft working under Peter Bell at Fox Run Vineyards; Eric Shatt, formerly head wine maker and vineyard manager at Ventosa, and Rob Thomas of Shalestone Vineyards.

Grapes for this year’s winning wine were planted in June 2004, after more than half of the vineyard’s red grape vines were destroyed by frost. The vineyard is just 23 acres and produces about 4,200 cases of wine annually, all made without the aid of herbicide sparys. Ventosa also produces Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese.  Ventosa is also one of only two New York to grow and produce Tocai Friulano, a white Italian varietal (Millbrook Winery in the Hudson Valley is the other).

Ventosa’s online tasting notes describe its award winner as having “a powerful spicy oak nose, botanical notes of juniper and eucalyptus on the immediate palate. Sharp tannins, under-ripe blackberries, fiery pepper lingering on the finish.”

I can’t say I picked up the pepper, but it is a terrific wine, nonetheless. My notes: Almost inky. Spicy oak nose. Intense brambly character with juicy black fruits and oak notes. I found the tannins to be moderate. Lengthy finish. Enough here to convince me to try other Limburgers.

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North Fork couple launch Kickstarter campaign to plant ‘weird’ grapes

Southold-mainThe owners of a new vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their first plantings — an acre of what owner Regan Meador calls “weird grapes.”

The grape variety being considered by Southold Farm & Cellar is Teroldego, a red Italian variety grown primarily in the northeastern region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Süditrol, Italy.

They’ve called their Kickstarter campaign, “Bring Weird Grapes to the North Fork.”

Just three days after launching their campaign Meador and, his wife Carey (nee O’Connor) have pledges for  a third of the $15,000 they are trying to raise. The crowd-funding campaign seeks contributions of as little as $1.

Meador estimated the cost of planting one acre of grapes at $15,000, excluding land costs, with another $5,000 a year per acre, to keep the vines growing.

The couple turned to Kickstarter, because they have a friend who had success “funding everything.”

Regan and Carey Meador

Regan and Carey Meadow

The Meadors, both 33, combined their savings with money from relatives last year for their $800,000 purchase of a 23.7-acre one-time vineyard from Leucadia National Corp. Since then, they’ve been busy restoring a house on the property they’ve dubbed Southold Farm & Cellar.  They’ve also prepared the vineyard for planting. Prior to the farm’s sale to Leucadia in 2006 the property was known as Charles John Family Vineyard.  Leucadia pulled out all the vines on the site on County Road 48 and Horton’s Lane.

Meador, who has no formal wine making training, has taken courses from the University of California-Davis and has been apprenticing as an assistant wine marker with Adam Suprenant at Osprey’s Dominion in Southold.  The couple moved to the North Fork from New York City in June 2011.  Before turning to wine, Meador was a planner at the New York City advertising agency, Euro RSCG, where he worked on campaigns for Heineken and Dos Equis beers.

He said the couple considered other places to start a vineyard, including Texas’ Hill Country, where he grew up. But moving to the North Fork, where Carey Meador grew up and where her parents still live “made the most sense,” he said.

Meador admits that planting a grape that few have experience with is “a shot in the dark,” but he said he hopes that this will distinguish Southold Farm & Cellar from the dozens of other wine producers in the region. “It’s an intriguing grape,” he said, noting that he’s tasted wines from the Finger Lakes made with Teroldego. For the future, he’s considering plantings of Syrah, Lagrein, Goldmuskateller, Albariño and Marsanne.

Meador’s interest in “weird” grapes isn’t so far fetched.  He said growers on Long Island’s East End, particularly Channings Daughters in Bridgehampton, have experimented successfully with a range of grape varieties beyond the region’s workhorses, merlot and chardonnay. He hopes to get young vines from a California nursery into the ground this spring.

In addition to Channing’s plantings of such less popular varieties as Lagrein, Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Ottonel, Malvasia, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Bianco, Blaufrankish Dornfelder, Teroldego and Refosco. Palmer Vineyards in Riverhead has a patch of Albariño grapes, Paumanok VIneyards in Aquebogue has plantings of Chenin Blanc Pugliese Vineyards in Cutchogue grows Sangiovese.

The Meadors plan to take it slowly.  Their initial goal is to plant just seven of their 23 acres of grapes and, possibly, later add an orchard with heirloom apples trees to eventually make cider.

Meador said he hopes to brand his business by making wines that offer different tastes and textures from what is typically available on the North Fork. He said he also intends to take some cues from Brooklyn’s Red Hook Winery, which has produced an eclectic variety of wines using Long Island grapes.

Ultimately, Meador said, he wants to build his own winery, but the foreseeable future, he said, he’ll contract produce elsewhere. He said he might purchase Cabernet Cranc for a Chinon-style wine and, perhaps, Sauvignon Blanc, next harvest “to get the ball rolling.”

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