Saturday morning, we rose bright and early for the first TasteCamp East 2010 event of the day, a vineyard walk at Damiani Wine Cellars on Seneca Lake. Saturday was devoted to the wineries of Seneca Lake. Half of our group that morning went to Damiani while the other half went for a vineyard walk at Argetsinger Vineyard. I had wanted to visit Damiani as I had previously tasted one of their Pinot Noirs and really liked it. I was not disappointed in my choice.
Prior to our tour, we were provided some breakfast, which included homemade quiches, some fruit, and a locally made cinnamon cake. Amy Cheatle, the Tasting Room Manager, made the quiches, which were very good, albeit a couple containing far too many veggies for my own preferences.
After breakfast, Phil Davis, the Damiani viticulturist, led us into one of their vineyards, explaining about their agricultural practices. They own about 23 acres of vineyards, though they still buy some additional grapes. But even when they buy grapes, Phil remains very much involved in the viticulture practices and decision making at those other vineyards. That ensures the grapes meet his strict standards.
Phil spent about 25 years as a logger, though also always had a vineyard. He now works full-time in the vineyard. We saw some of their vines for Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Phil planted the Sauvignon Blanc for his wife, as that is her favorite wine. The vineyard was fairly steep, and I don't think the photos really do justice to just how steep they were. Phil mentioned that it is difficult to generalize about Finger Lakes vineyards as they often differ in so many ways.
Phil was a font of information, very down to earth and obviously passionate about his work. Above you can see some of the TasteCamp attendees, enthralled by Phil's words. You can also partially see some of the steepness of the vineyard.
After visiting the vineyard, we returned to the tasting room to taste a few Pinot Noirs. We began with the 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir, which is not made every year. It is a low production wine, and the grapes have been fermented in separate vats, with minor cold soaking. Burgundian yeasts were applied and only French oak was used, both neutral and new. The 2007 spent 14 months in oak, and Lou Damiani, the wine maker, noted that he dislikes overly oaked wines. The wine was also unfined and unfiltered. The wine was very Burgundian in style, with light red color and a nose of black cherry and earth. On the palate, the earthiness was more prominent, with flavors of black cherry, raspberry, plum and mild spicy notes. Complex, a lengthy finish, and restrained tannins. This is the type of Pinot Noir that I really enjoy, and it was an impressive wine.
The 2008 Pinot Noir was a lesser version of the 2007, similar in style but not equal in quality. It was still a very good wine, and something I enjoyed, but it just was not as good as the 2007. It still deserves my recommendation. We also got to taste a barrel sample of the 2009 Pinot Noir, which presented lots of fruit up front. It seemed rather simple, though I expect it will get more complex as it ages and develops.
Many people probably don't consider Pinot Noir to be a grape that will grow well in the Finger Lakes, but they are very wrong. Small boutique wineries like Damiani and Heart & Hands show that high quality Pinot Noir can be produced in this region. Their Pinot Noirs are more Old World than New World, and the future looks bright.