By Randy Agness
Three times on Wine Spectator’s top 100 listing, Ravines have a proven mastery of dry Rieslings. But how do you consistently create high quality Riesling?
The Finger Lakes area is New York State’s largest wine region. The focus here is Riesling and with such superb results as autumn harvests are being converted into some of the best Rieslings in the World. “… and New York Rieslings don’t come any better than those from Ravines,” noted Eric Asimov New York Times Wine Critic.
Morten & Lisa Hallgren, photo by Sarah Michaels
“These wonderful comments and recognition we’ve received show the importance of personal involvement with the daily operations of producing fine wines coupled to direct familiarity with the owners regularly discussing the status of the grapes their vineyard,” explained Morten Hallgren, owner and winemaker at Ravines Wine Cellars.
Hallgren worked in the French wine industry and earned advanced degrees in enology and viticulture before answering a job advertisement to work at The Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and subsequently being recruited by Willy Frank (Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Winery), bringing him to New York’s Finger Lakes.
It was Hallgren’s responsibility to gather the best Riesling grapes from the Finger Lakes vineyards for Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, and realizing the potential for the Argetsinger Vineyard produce Vinifera wines utilizing old world techniques, he quickly developed a friendship with Sam Argetsinger.
Located in Hector, NY on the Southeastern side of Seneca Lake, the Argetsinger Vineyard soil is comprised of gravel over limestone bedrock. Hallgren credits the distinct mineralilty in the Dry Riesling specifically to this site.
“Every vintage or every wine produced is how your reputation is judged,” commented Hallgren, “by Sommeliers, and wine shop owner, their consumers and during wine competitions.”
Morten had identified Sam’s vineyard along with a few others including 16 Falls and Serenity Vineyards as one’s that had their own expressiveness, and initiated the first grape contracts centered about limiting the tons per acreage yields and including vineyard owners in the decision making process. This paid off big when Hallgren set a new direction by producing the first real Dry Rieslings from the Finger Lakes.
The recent trend by wineries determined to produce single vineyard Rieslings as a means to distinguish their brand have not always been successful. However, “There’s always the temptation to produce single vineyard wines, but the vineyard has to be distinctive enough to uniquely special to standout,” mentioned Hallgren, “and the grapes from Serenity Vineyard have that capability. The key is that the chosen vineyard must be able to stand alone and without blending grapes picked throughout the harvest season can fall short.”
“The traditional methods and lessons learned working in France have been blended into the wine style produced at Ravines,” explained Hallgren, “Another great find was the Sixteen Falls Vineyard which has been vital in blending characteristics required in developing exceptional tastes of our Rieslings.”
In 2000, the Hallgrens bought an amazing 17-acre property located near the village of Hammondsport near the widest part of the beautiful Keuka Lake, the most scenic body of water in the Finger Lakes winery region. Ravines Cellars was named for the land on which it sits, situated between two deep ravines carved by glaciers that slope sharply into the lake.
This particular setting allows the grapevines to flourish due to the combination of the weather, the rich soil and the unique drainage and airflow provided by those ravines. And just months after Ravines Wine Cellars officially opened for business, the Hallgren’s won an international Best Dry Riesling award, not surprisingly incorporating the Argetsinger Vineyard Riesling grapes.
Now sixteen years later, Ravine Cellars ranks among the most widely distributed among the wineries in the Finger Lakes spanning 30 states across the country.
Instead of building a new facility on Keuka Lake, Hallgren purchased White Springs Farm in 2012 when it became available. Morten’s personal relationship with the legendary vineyard owner Sam Argetsinger also grew and Ravines began to source the prized Riesling grape which were incorporated craft the 2012 Artsinger Vineyard Dry Riesling still considered the single premier vintage Riesling produced in the Finger Lakes.
What set Ravines apart is that Morten’s annual challenge to bring his winemaking skill to even higher levels with the fierce competition and pride from the other Finger Lakes winemakers. “Once the grapes reach the crush pad, it becomes decision-making time. With every harvest being completely different, it how requires a plan that starts with walking the vineyards from veriason until harvest and by technically evaluating what will be necessary to capture the essence of the grapes; yeast, nutrition and timing of decision are absolutely critical,” noted Hallgren, “and utilizing state of art stainless tanks and precision temperature control definitely helps.”
“Finger Lakes have become a very popular wine destination with many extremely high quality producers,” reminded Lisa Hallgren, though many winemakers continue to produce sweeter Rieslings noting that it is what the people want. By Ravines producing dry style Rieslings, Hallgren has shown the way and is considered the leader in the movement, and has shown that it can be very successful in the market.
If a single individual can build a reputation of excellence for a region and style, Hallgren has mastered the bottling of cool-climate Terrior driven Riesling establishing it as the signature wine for the Finger Lakes.
Howard G. Goldberg, who began writing about wine for The New York Times in 1985 noted “Capturing the unique expression of Terrior paired with ageability are hard to achieve, the Ravines Cellar library is one to invest time exploring.” No visit to the scenic and renowned wine-growing Finger Lakes area in upstate New York would be complete without a stop at the Ravines Wine Cellars.
“I’ve always felt that the wines I make should pair well with food. Too many wines today are out of balance … To get the proper balance, I rely on Old World winemaking tradition with New World innovation,” Hallgren revealed in an interview with Wine & Vines Magazine. “My wines are built on balance which can shift year to year based on the climate in the Finger Lake,” commented Hallgren, “with the 2012 vintage the grapes reached ripeness and there was no reason to push it further which had happen prior and since.” This season in the Finger Lakes appears to following a similar weather pattern.
In a region renowned for its collaboration among wineries, Hallgren regularly sets aside time to taste and evaluate the wines from other Finger Lakes producers and provide his recommendations, suggestion, and encouragement. “We want to be part of a group of winemakers who are establishing the Finger Lakes as the premier cool-climate winemaking area in North America,” explained Hallgren. It’s important for Ravines to be recognized, and many Finger Lakes wineries have proven the ability to produce excellent wines shown in the across the board competition result documented as by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.