Thursday, May 14, 2009

TasteCamp – Bedell Cellars and Lenz Winery

We last left our story at the end of the visit to Shinn Estates, where I had a great time meeting and listening to winemakers that were so in tune with the earth that they might have been able to tell me the exact moment the next pandemic would be (too soon?).

Off we went to Bedell Cellars, where we were met be Kip Bedell. Kip was at one time the owner of Bedell Cellars, but sold the winery to Michael Lynne, former Co-Chairman and Co-CEO of New Line Cinema (think Lord of the Rings). After the deal, Lynne asked Kip if he would stay on as part of the winemaking team for Bedell, in order to keep the wines as consistent as they had always been.

The cheese spread that greeted us was wonderful, with delicious bree, tasty blue cheese, and briny olives. As if we needed more to eat. The food plays a part a little later in the story…

The artwork for the wine labels caught my eye immediately. I collect labels (or at least I would if I would get around to peeling them off the bottles that are lying around my apartment) and these labels would be well worth putting into my collection. Unfortunately, most of the wines did not jive on my palate the same way the labels did with my visual spectrum. The best, in my opinion, was the Gewurztraminer 2007 from Corey Creek (a separate label under Bedell). It was classic lychee with rose pedals and a rich peach taste.

One note I want to make that I am rather sorry about is the Cabernet Franc 2007 from Bedell. I was told that it was very tasty, however I had chosen that exact moment to try the blue cheese. Worse decision ever, and one that I am sorry to say absolutely ruined the wine. Oh well, I’ll have to go back and taste it again.

Moving on from Bedell we went to what was another one of my favorite visits during the weekend. Lenz Winery was just a skip down the road from Bedell, and if the whole group of us that attended this trip were to skip down the road, it would be quite a sight to see.

Meeting Eric Fry, the winemaker at Lenz, was a singular experience. His mastery of his domain was unquestioned. Most important to him was that we taste without predisposition, taking away all marketing manipulation and influence and just focused on the wines. We saw no labels while we were there and we had no idea what we were tasting until we had given him our feedback. And all of the wines were delicious, even the dozen we tasted out of barrel. For me, this was one of the two wineries that had consistently good wines.

We started in the tasting room with the Cuvée Sparkling wine from 2002. It was all peaches and pears, with a little bit of honey. It was one of the few finished wines we tasted. We then moved outside to the equipment shed, where the steel tanks were set up. We first tasted a Gewurztraminer 2008, which was extremely refreshing, although not ready for bottling yet. Eric then brought out the 2005 version to show us where the wine was going and what he had planned for it. The 05 was peppery, with classic lychee and apricot.

The next wine that came out was white, with bright acidity and some beautiful floral notes. I could have sworn it was a Chardonnay or a bit of a fat Sauvignon Blanc. It turned out to be Pinot Noir and I felt like a moron. I could tell that Eric was pleased that he had tricked us. No manipulation indeed!

We then went through white after white, sipping, spitting into a drain (or in my case threatening to spit at Dale Cruse, one of the many photographers on the trip). Then we moved into the first barrel storage house where we tasted reds and had to be slightly more accurate with our spitting technique as our spittoon was a large bucket put into the middle of the group. We then moved to the second storage warehouse, where Eric kept his wines until they were ready for release. He said that since Americans had no concept of what it was to age a wine and that a bottle was lucky to be in a person’s possession long enough to make it from the store to their dinner table, it was his job as the winemaker to appropriately age the wines before releasing them. I can only agree with his assessment. Every aged wine that he brought out for us was delicious, and I applaud not only Eric but also the owner of the winery who has the money and the patience to keep wines back without pushing them onto the market simply to keep costs down and turn a faster profit.

Eric’s market sense and image for his wines absolutely propels his wines to the top of the Long Island wine industry. I personally picked up a bottle of his Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 and I am looking forward to drinking it. Although perhaps I will let it age a little longer…

And the story continues ...

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