Keuka Lake Vineyards is one of those small operations that epitomizes the notion of a farm winery. Mel Goldman came to being a winery owner from years of grape growing, and is committed to deciding about what he wants to do well, and doing just that. Much of what works here is Riesling, and KLV may have been the first winery in the area to produce single vineyard wines. Those from the Falling Man and Evergreen Lek vineyards, in particular have been very well received and are among our favorites. He also does a terrific job with the red hybrid Léon Millot, and if you want to see how good a dry Vignoles can be, KLV is the place to go. New to the lineup this year is a Vignoles orange wine labeled as “Dry Amber.”
On Saturday, KLV held a community harvest party, where about 25 of us picked Riesling from the Falling Man vineyard and shared lunch and dinner at the farm house. Unlike the Chardonnay we picked earlier in the harvest, this later season Riesling had developed a fair amount of botrytis – a fungus also known as “noble rot.” Most grapes are susceptible to botrytis, but Riesling actually benefits from it up to a point. It removes water, transforming the grape into more of a raisin, and it also adds flavor.
The challenge in picking is to sort out clusters or partial clusters that are clean, infected in a good way, and infected in a bad way. This is done by observing, tasting, and getting a sense of what will make good wine from just looking at the bunch. Eight hours didn’t make us professionals, but did teach us quite a bit. The right side picture below is an example of a more heavily infected but still useable bunch.
At 5:00 on a cool, showery day after finishing Falling Man, we drag ourselves up the hill to the winery, where Mel leads us through a tasting of KLV wines. A special treat was a newly released port labeled as “Hammondsport,” which happens to be the name of the nearby village. After the tasting, it is back outside to see the grapes we picked go through the crusher/destemer and into the press. The volunteer crew goes up to the farmhouse for a delicious dinner, but it will be yet another long evening for the workers on the crush pad.
Much of the fun today was working with volunteers from a local college, who were using the experience as part of their coursework. Some were business majors, one a biology major, and there were probably some others we didn’t catch. They were energetic, cheerful, and a delight to be around.
A pall over this wonderful sharing and learning activity has been the shutting down of a California winery that was fined about $100,000 when using volunteers was deemed a violation of labor laws. You can read more here. Reaction from the wine world has been uniformly you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me, but in the meaning there has been communication to wineries suggesting they stop doing this until it gets sorted out. We hope it is sorted and quickly so. Certainly, abuses in agriculture are a reason why labor laws were developed in the first play. However, that this type of activity would be deemed abusive is patently silly and makes one want to drink.