An Intimate Approach at Kemmeter Wines

I had driven by the Kemmeter property many times with a vague idea as to its location, but without a real sense of what it might offer. Newly opened in the summer of 2013, Kemmeter Wines is the expression of winemaking veteran Johannes Reinhardt, who decided to create a subdued winery somewhat in contrast to the overt, well-advertised tasting rooms that line the roads along the Finger Lakes. Located almost directly across from Anthony Road on Route 14 on Seneca Lake, where Johannes spent 14 years as head winemaker, Kemmeter provides a sign facing the road, not straddling it, so that only those who are looking for the tasting room will find it. Although the vineyard is alongside the main route and could allow for a direct turnoff, the driveway is tucked away a few hundred yards up a side road. The entire property, all 20 acres, is fenced to ward off deer, and perhaps also to separate itself a bit from the fold.

It’s as if Kemmeter wants to stay just a little bit hidden, to reveal itself only to those who will appreciate its treasures.

To be sure, Kemmeter is not a typical Finger Lakes winery, nor does it look to be a typical vineyard. One notices almost immediately that the newly-planted 3 acres of vines do not face a linear north-south or east-west which is commonly seen along the lakes. Instead, Johannes has staked the rows running south-east to north-west, an orientation that Johannes hopes will enhance both morning and afternoon sun exposure. We talk about row spacing, trellis design and other factors. Johannes seems determined to experiment, implementing different techniques on different parcels of the eventual 12 acres of grapes that are planned in the next few years. The one thing he is certain about is drainage – before he did anything else with the property, Johannes installed over 13,000 feet of drain tile.

If there is a theme at Kemmeter it is understatement, and the tasting room embodies the subtle touch that Johannes strives for. The tasting room is small, very small, allowing for only a few people at a time. All tastings are conducted by either Johannes or his wife Imelda, a Ph.D. candidate in food science at Cornell. Tastings are by appointment only.

“We wanted to create a respectful and comfortable atmosphere in which to taste the wine,” Johannes explains. He emphasizes that the tasting room is what it is, that it will not get any bigger. Kemmeter is an intimate wine experience by design.

Johannes hails from a winemaking family in Germany, which had its own label for generations. After coming to the United States and spending time learning about the Finger Lakes as a winemaker at Dr. Konstantin Frank, Johannes became the head winemaker at Anthony Road, winning praise and accolades over the years for his wine, especially his Rieslings. And while he should have a lot to say about his experience and credentials, Johannes purposely has few words these days.

“The wine should have the last word – not myself,” Johannes stressed more than once during our tasting. Throughout our time together, Johannes felt more comfortable speaking to the background of each wine than talking about his accomplishments. He seemed more eager to hear my thoughts about the wine than to share his own, a deferential disposition that encouraged conversation.

At this point Kemmeter makes only Riesling, but the winery makes several very different Rieslings. The winery offers three labels: Sonero, dedicated to making approachable wine; Kemmeter, an annual commitment to consistent high-quality wine; and SanSan, a reserve label for special vintages. As I tasted through the lineup, I found that the Sonero, in many respects, has attributes that typify a good quality Finger Lakes Riesling. The Kemmeter line boasted several single-vineyard bottlings that each revealed subtle variations in acidity and minerality, but Johannes was sure to point out that he is not trying to jump on the single-vineyard bandwagon – he simply wanted to pay homage to the growers, as his own vineyard is still years away from its first harvest. The San-San, a late-harvest Riesling, was incredibly balanced, keeping its high residual sugar in check with good round fruit and sufficient acidity.

There is little doubt as one is subjected to the Kemmeter experience that Johannes is trying to make a statement, and it’s a great learning experience. Johannes will happily talk about his experimentation with spontaneous fermentation, his decision to press grapes at various levels of pressure, or his developing theory that crop thinning might be more important than shoot thinning in the Finger Lakes. As Kemmeter adds more wines in the next few years (the long-term plans call for Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Zweigelt), Johannes will have more to share, but he intends to keep the growth in check.

“We will stay small, no more than 2,000 cases,” Johannes says. “I hope to be successful but I know there is more in life.”

For Your Information
Kemmeter Wines is located on the western side of Seneca Lake off of Route 14, 10 miles south of Geneva.

Kemmeter is dedicated to a comprehensive tasting experience, and asks that patrons please make an appointment. The winery can be reached at kemmeterwine@gmail.com or 315-521-3897. The website is kemmeterwines.com.


by Jason Feulner