Big honor for Finger Lakes winery
Sometimes it helps to be reminded that good things can come out of hard times.
Case in point: Finger Lakes winery Forge Cellars is ranked on Wine Spectator's Top 100 List of 2020. The prestigious list, announced Dec. 14, features the most exciting wines from regions around the world. It is not meant to be a shopping list, but rather a guide to wineries to watch in the future.
Forge's 2018 Classique Dry Riesling was ranked 31st, which is interesting for several reasons. First, it is the winery's workhorse wine, made from grapes from several vineyards and priced at under $20 a bottle. Second, the 2015 Classique achieved the same rank in 2017.
Finally, by many accounts, 2018 was not a good vintage for the Finger Lakes. "Eighteen was horrific," said Rick Rainey, who co-owns Forge Cellars in Benton, along with French winemaker-grower Louis Barruol. "Local guys will get tears in their eyes talking about how brutal 2018 was."
In mid-August, a slow-moving storm dumped a whopping 6 to 9 inches of rain in parts of Schuyler County, where Forge Cellars is located. Some local farmers said it was the worst flood in the area since 1972.
Shortly after 5 a.m. on Aug. 14, Rainey drove through the storm, heading to the winery. ”It was like the end of the world,” he said. He drove at a crawl as he passed "colossal washout after colossal washout after colossal washout." Flash flooding washed out bridges, submerged vehicles and clogged roads with debris. The flood took out a bridge on Forge's property, and it also was hard on the grapevines.
"The vines were just kind of beat up," Rainey said. The damage and wet conditions made them prone to disease. Some developed botrytis, a fungus that's also called "Noble Rot." It can be desirable for sweet dessert wines, but not necessarily dry ones.
Rainey and Barruol, who also owns Château de Saint Cosme in Gigondas, France, made the risky decision to hold off picking to achieve more ripeness. They also decided to use the botrytized grapes in the dry riesling. It made for a wine that was a deeper gold color than most rieslings, and added aromas like quince and apricot. "In eighteen, it's what Mother Nature gave us, and we worked with it," Rainey said.
He credits John Wagner, owner of Wagner Vineyards, for growing the grapes used in the wine. "It's such a joy to work with people like that," he said. "You can do crazy things and they stick with you. That's the whole idea of community."
He believes the Wine Spectator ranking will help New York's Finger Lakes wine region continue to bolster its global reputation for rieslings. "As a region we're here," he said. "We're doing something very special and people should be paying attention. And they are."
Rainey has become philosophical about vintages — the wine world's term for the year in which grapes are harvested. They shouldn't be described as just "good" or "bad," he said.
"We should discuss vintages by what they are, what they give, what they say, what they tell — not simply whether they're good or bad," he said.
"You keep moving forward and find the greatness in them, or you can curl up in a ball and call your therapist."