Since the late 1990s, Peter Bell of Fox Run Vineyards has hosted a winetasting for his fellow Finger Lakes winemakers.
“I’ve always been interested and motivated to taste with other winemakers, my colleagues.”
On this particular morning, the group is tasting tank samples of 2015 semi-dry Riesling, what Bell describes as works in progress.
“The best time to make some changes, of course, is before the wine goes into bottles. And that’s what’s going on right now.”
While it might seem surprising that a winemaker would open themselves to criticism from their peers, especially for a wine that’s not yet finished, Bell says that’s kind of the point.
“Participants are encouraged to check their egos at the door because we often bring faulty wines on purpose just for feedback. Everybody makes a not so great wine once in a while.”
At this particular tasting, nearly a dozen winemakers were in the room representing eight different wineries. Some, like Bell, have been making Finger Lakes wines for decades. Some, are relatively new to their craft. Meagz Goodwin is the Assistant Winemaker at Red Newt Cellars, a position she’s held since 2013.
“The first year that I started going to that, I was just basically a sponge. I listened to what was said. I didn’t understand half of what they were talking about, but would write down what I didn’t understand and then either look it up or cover it with Kelby after we were done with the tasting group to kind of enhance my own knowledge. And then, as time progressed, I was able to start identifying maybe faults or flaws, but also positives in wines that were not based on my preference, but as the wine being true to its varietal character. That’s really pole vaulted me forward from what was kind of a Finger Lakes centric palate to something that’s more of a global perspective on wines, which is, I think, really important when making wine to make sure that it’s not just what you like, but what is appropriate for that varietal expression.”
And, ultimately that global perspective is one of the goals Peter Bell has for the tastings.
“The other thing we do is taste commercial wines every other session, just to open our eyes about what’s going on in the rest of the world. Next month we’re going to be tasting red wines from [...] northeast Spain. There’s no kind of analogue here to those wines, but we still don’t want to have too much myopia, which would be the case if we were just tasting our own wines all the time.”
In the end, Bell’s motivation is to get people together as a community to make better wines.