The Bloomer Creek tasting room demands an experience. The sloped flagstone path to the barn-like structure, the red plank door, the lofty post-and-beam timber frame, the mismatched floor boards, the various decorated seating areas – all of these elements conspire to draw you into a world created by Kim Engle and Debra Bermingham that exists to highlight their wine. The interior is reminiscent of a century-old country cottage.
Visitors to Bloomer Creek will not be able to sit back absentmindedly and sip on typical Finger Lakes wine. Kim, a 30-year grape grower, and his wife Debra, a career artist, founded Bloomer Creek to reflect their tastes, and the wines are not organized in a ho-hum fashion. The regular KE (Kim Engle) bottles they call the Loire Valley line (Cabernet Franc, which makes sense, and then a bunch of exceptions) and the Riesling-Gewürztraminer-Grüner Veltliner wines are designated as the German line, otherwise known as Tanzen Dame (dancing lady).
Got that? The point is not to confuse, but to simply ask the consumer to pay attention. Bloomer Creek is only open on the weekend or by appointment, and often either Kim or Debra occupies the tasting bar so they can help tell their story. They want to invite curious wine lovers to come sample their vision and take a chance. Bloomer Creek is not about being everything to everyone.
“When more local tasters come here, they might be thrown off,” explains Kim, who serves as the winemaker. “We often attract a travelling audience whose knowledge and expectations are shaped by a range of experiences from outside regions, and to them this is something they can accept.”
Bloomer Creek bills itself as a natural winery, a term that raises some controversy in the world of wine, although adherents to natural winemaking continue to grow. Natural winemaking is defined by wine made with minimal chemical or technological intervention at any step in the process. There’s no strict definition per se, and there are many wineries that prefer natural practices yet avoid the terminology.
Most natural wineries like Bloomer Creek practice sustainable grape farming, which in many years borders on organic standards. Bloomer Creek is an adherent to hand-picking grapes, mechanical weed control versus using herbicides, and leaf-thinning by hand. In the cellar, Kim Engle tries to stay away from filtration or excessive sulfur additions, exposure to new oak, and definitely abhors chaptalization (adding sugar to wine, if only slightly, after fermenting to dry).
“We have a following as a natural winery,” says Debra, who in partnership with Kim helps shape the vision of the winery. “Our customers love it and we embrace the identity completely.”
Trained in grape growing long before he entered the winemaking field, it is no surprise that Kim Engle is a proponent of specific vineyard practices and site variation, reflected in the single-vineyard designation of many of Bloomer Creek’s wines. With his assistant Katy Koken – one of the first graduates of Cornell’s relatively new undergraduate viticulture and enology program – Kim has nurtured two vineyards near Cayuga Lake that produce Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Gewürztraminer. With Katy’s help, Kim has also recently planted 4 new acres of Riesling on the hill perched over the tasting room on Seneca Lake.
“We grow grapes the way we want them to be,” says Katy, while giving a tour of the new vineyard site, which will soon be ready for its first harvest. “You can come and see how our vineyard practices might vary from our neighbors.”
Beyond its current lineup of still wines, Bloomer Creek plans to release a brandy, a sparkling Riesling, and some vin de liqueors in the coming year. They also plan to release a pinot rosé. Wine enthusiasts will have a lot to find at Bloomer Creek, especially those who are seeking wine products not typically available in the Finger Lakes region.
“Here, let’s try this one,” says Kim Engle on a tour of his cellar, drawing from a nearly-ready barrel of 2014 Riesling that is labeled with its vineyard origin, the date of picking, and the conditions under which the grapes were pressed. The cold room, the temperature low to slow fermentation to a crawl, is filled with many such barrels, each individually labeled. Kim, ever the artist, explains that he is excited to blend these very different materials together to create just the perfect wine.
Bloomer Creek wines might seem a little confusing at first glance, but they are very much worth trying. The Tanzen Dame lineup is excellent, with the Riesling variations — designated by single vineyard sites — a nice treat that should please just about anyone. Those curious about Grüner Veltliner, a popular Austrian variety, should definitely make a point of stopping by for a taste.
The reds at Bloomer Creek are bottle-aged for 3 years or more and are very light in oak. The 2010 White Horse Red blend, consisting of 70 percent Cabernet Franc and 30 percent Merlot, is complex wine with strong herbal notes and a nose that resembles dried leaves. After a few minutes, cherry appears.
Bloomer Creek is located on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. It is open on weekends and by appointment only.
5301 Rt. 414 Hector, NY 14841 • bloomercreek.com
story and photos by Jason Feulner