Homegrown and world tested rising star

John Christensen The Chronicle-Express
Dundee winemaker Nathan Kendall is earning high regard for his 2012 Pinot Noir and 2012 Dry Riesling wines.

Finger-Lakes grown but world-trained winemaker Nathan Kendall of Dundee has taken the chances he was given and the chances he has made to create something stellar — his own wine label — and at just 32, that label seems destined to become one to remember. 

Impatient to be the master of his own fate, Kendall founded N. Kendall Wines in 2011 as his own venture to prove himself as a winemaker with his own name, making whatever reputation he earned inescapable. That reputation began four years ago, but is just now being recognized and remarked as one of promise.

Anna Lee C. Iijima, Contributing Editor of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, has ranked two of Kendall’s 2012 wines (just one year into his business) as two of the best in the Finger Lakes.

• 2012 Pinot Noir (Finger Lakes)

91 Points

“This light-footed stunner was a standout in a strong lineup of Finger Lakes Pinot Noir. Gorgeously aromatic, its blossomy perfume seeps into the palate, accenting decadent ripe blackberry and cherry flavors. Complexities of wet soil, cedar, mushroom and spice linger through a long, elegantly tannic finish. Drink now through 2026.”

• 2012 Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes)

90 Points

“2012 marks only the second vintage for winemaker Nathan Kendall, but this dry, exceptionally stony Riesling suggests a promising start already. Fermented spontaneously with indigenous yeast, it’s exquisitely spry but concentrated in lime, blossom and white grapefruit notes.”

Kendall was also recently named one of the “Rock Stars of Wine America” by renowned wine writer Stuart Pigott, who calls Kendall’s Rieslings “very striking.”

In the course of his education and on-the-job-training, quite literally around the world, Kendall has worked in every department in the business, and has a firm grasp of how each fits in the work of a successful winery; from the beginnings of a vineyard through the process of winemaking, all the way to sales and bookkeeping. 

2003-2007: Hickory Hollow (Finger Lakes) - sales

2007: Cline Cellars (Sonoma) - vintage cellar hand and vineyard

2008: Cooper’s Creek (New Zealand)- vintage cellar hand

2008: Adelsheim (Orgeon) - vintage cellar hand

2009: Bird in Hand (Australia) - vintage cellar hand

2009: Waipara Springs (N.Z.) - vintage cellar hand

2009: Adelsheim - vintage cellar hand

2010: Shaw (Finger Lakes) - vintage cellar hand

2010: S.A. Prüm - (Mosel, Germany) - vintage cellar hand

2011: Planted vineyards in the steep slopes of the Mosel in the spring

2011–2014: Ravines (Finger Lakes) - assistant winemaker

2014–2016:Bellangelo (Finger Lakes) - head winemaker

Having a bachelors degree in business wasn’t a bad start, but it was the peripatetic pursuit of the winemakers’ skills that has raised his star so high so quickly. “But my plan was always to return to the shores of Seneca Lake,” where he grew up and worked at his family’s winery, Hickory Hollow in Dundee. 

Kendall founded N. Kendall Wines with the help of fellow passionate winemakers like Steve Shaw of Shaw Vineyards in Himrod. 

Kendall’s travels have focused on cool climate regions and varietals, and thus, he has focused on Riesling, Dry Riesling, and Pinot Noir, with remarkable results. To achieve those results, Kendall insists all grapes harvested are carefully sorted in the field. Only the very best of the fruit is crushed to then undergo long, spontaneous fermentations. “Post fermentation, the wine ages for months on the gross lees to enhance the texture,” writes Kendall. The wines are then carefully racked, never fined for sedimentation, but gently filtered before bottling and 2 to 3 years of aging. “My passion is to create wines in an old-world style using quality grapes and minimal intervention to evolve and achieve the best possible expression of the Finger Lakes.”

Like a chef preparing a fine meal, Kendall believes that a great wine deserves a great presentation. Art enthusiasts will recognize the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs in the wine labels, and the top of each Pinot Noir is hand-dipped in a rich red wax, covering the neck of the bottle at a rakish angle.

As good as his 2012 Pinot Noir is, Kendall freely expresses his doubts that the climate of the Finger Lakes will ever allow the region to be regularly recognized for the big-bodied, lush, mouthy reds, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, that sunnier climates with longer growing seasons can produce routinely.

While riding the still rising wave of fame for Finger Lakes’ Riesling, when asked where he sees the next great opportunity for the region, Kendall says his money is on Chardonnay. Look for that same skill he has already proved to be applied to that varietal in his upcoming vintages.

N. Kendall wines are available via his website, www.nkendallwines.com, and at local restaurants: Stonecat Café in Hector, Graft in Watkins Glenn, Kashong Creek Wine and Cider Bar in Geneva, and The Red Dove Tavern in Geneva.