Red Newt Cellars Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2010
David and Debra Whiting met in the late 1980s when David was working as cellar master at a Finger Lakes winery and Debra was supervising microbiology labs at Cornell University. David’s oenological career blossomed as he worked at three different vineyards in Finger Lakes and Debra’s passion for food led her to start a gourmet cheesecake business and then an upscale catering company. The couple founded Red Newt Cellars in 1998 and Debra opened the Red Newt Bistro alongside the first wine releases in June of 1999. In 2011 Debra’s life was sadly cut short, prompting David to delegate some of his duties and hire a winemaker. In 2014 Kelby Russell, a Finger Lakes native, joined the team as the head winemaker.
Today, the Red Newt Cellars winery and Bistro are located in the small town of Hector in the Finger Lakes region of New York, on the southeastern corner of Seneca Lake. At 600 meters below sea level, Seneca Lake is the deepest of the Finger Lakes and one of the deepest lakes in the United States. The effects of the lake and the resulting range of surrounding altitudes and soil types create a wide array of unique terroirs in a relatively small area.
All of the vineyards Red Newt work with for their vinifera program are located on and around the Lake. To the Northwest, Nut Road is comprised of limestone and sandstone and produces an aromatic, delicate Loire Valley-style Cabernet Franc used for Kelby’s rosé. To the west sits Lahoma Vineyard, Red Newt’s largest vineyard. This land is all sandstone and is one of the highest vineyards in the area. The Knoll, a parcel within Lahoma Vineyard that is used to grow the benchmark Riesling for Red Newt, is the highest point at 1,600 ft. Nearby, lower-lying vines provide grapes for some of the other wines including the Circle Riesling and the Dry Riesling. Near the bottom of the lake is Tango Oaks, a compelling site that is a flood plain offering a mix of silt and loam on top of the bedrock. This site features Riesling planted to Alsatian clones, as opposed to the more typical German style Geisenheim ones, which brings an interesting tropical fruit finish to wines from this spot. The east bank of the lake is called the “Banana Belt,” a reference to its warm climate that farmers used to joke was well situated for banana growing. This microclimate is where you’ll find Red Newt’s red varieties, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
Increasingly garnering widespread and well-deserved attention, New York ranks third in wine production in the United States (after California and Washington). Divided into six AVAs—the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie, Hudson River, Long Island, Champlain Valley of New York and the Niagara Escarpment, which crosses over into Michigan as well as Ontario, Canada—the state experiences varied climates, but in general summers are warm and humid while winters are very cold and can carry the risk of frost well into the growing season.
The Finger Lakes region has long been responsible for some of the country’s finest Riesling, and is gaining traction with elegant, light-bodied Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. Experimentation with cold-hardy European varieties is common, and recent years have seen the successful planting of grapes like Grüner Veltliner and Saperavi (from the Eastern European country of Georgia). Long Island, on the other hand, has a more maritime climate influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, and shares some viticultural characteristics with Bordeaux. Accordingly, the best wines here are made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The Niagara Escarpment is responsible for excellent ice wines, usually made from the hybrid variety, Vidal.
Riesling possesses a remarkable ability to reflect the character of wherever it is grown while still maintaining its identity. A regal variety of incredible purity and precision, this versatile grape can be just as enjoyable dry or sweet, young or old, still or sparkling and can age longer than nearly any other white variety. Somm Secret—Given how difficult it is to discern the level of sweetness in a Riesling from the label, here are some clues to find the dry ones. First, look for the world “trocken.” (“Halbtrocken” or “feinherb” mean off-dry.) Also a higher abv usually indicates a drier Riesling.