As Ravine’s Wine Cellars marks its 20th anniversary, we caught up with cofounder Lisa Hallgren who discussed the winery’s growth, its Wine Club community, and her love of dry Riesling.
interview by Daniella Zelikman
LIFL: Could you tell me a little about the history of Ravines Wine Cellars?
Lisa Hallgren: My husband, Morten, and I started Ravines in 2001 after a long journey to the Finger Lakes. Morten is European born and raised, and I am from Texas, where we met back at the end of high school. He was educated as a winemaker/oenologist in France, and my background is in culinary arts and business.
When we started Ravines, Morten was the only winemaker who had earned formal degrees and undergone training in Europe, and we saw the potential to create world-class dry vinifera wines here. Morten also pioneered the bone-dry, mineral-tinged Riesling style that has since become the flagship Finger Lakes wine. In addition to dry white wines, we also saw the potential to make terroir-driven red wines, dry rose and refined, traditional-method sparkling wines.
The winery has grown significantly over the last 20 years, and while small on an international scale, we own 130 acres of prime estate vineyards and operate two tasting rooms year-round. We also hold many wine and food pairing events for guests and wine club members, courtesy of our onsite Ravinous Kitchen.
What do you enjoy most about winemaking?
Every other major wine region in the U.S. is either a hot or warmer climate. The cooler climate of the Finger Lakes allows us to make classical wines using Old World principles and practices. While some winemakers live in a region where you just make the exact same wine every year, the Finger Lakes forces you to let the vintage express what that growing season has offered you.
We are lucky to have cherry-picked some of the best vineyard sites in the Finger Lakes 20 years ago, ones with exceptional limestone or shale stone soils that we still work with to this day and allow us to produce great wine. We take grapes from these great vineyards and make wines that are balanced, age-worthy, and perfect to pair with food.
How do your virtual tastings work?
The pandemic has allowed us to reassess our relationship with club members and customers who don’t live in our backyard – or many that were in our backyard in 2020 but wanted to enjoy wine education and tasting opportunities from their own home.
Starting a year and a half ago, we offered our club members many virtual tasting opportunities related to new release wines, “library” older vintage wines, and even some developing wines. Members received these developing wines in a kit at home and tasted wine directly from our barrels, casks, and tanks before they were completed and bottled. I love to share recipes that pair with the wines. Morten will talk about the winemaking, vintage growing seasons, and answer questions about the wines you get to taste.
Sometimes, we’ve even brought in guest speakers, such as the owner of Hedonist Chocolates, the artisanal chocolatier based in Rochester, or Morten’s family members in Provence, France who own vineyards that make amazing rosé wines. The idea is to make them fun, informative, and interactive.
What are some of the benefits of the Ravinous Wine Club?
We have created a community of wine and food lovers. The Wine Club provides benefits such as complimentary tastings and 20 percent off wines, but moreover, our members enjoy all of our club events where we pair wines with food. Sometimes, they are in our cellar in Geneva, sometimes they are under a tent by the vineyard at both locations, but all of them focus on how our signature wines compliment fresh local homemade food and vice-versa. We even put out a quarterly Ravinous Club newsletter that has recipe pairings for each of our newly released wines.
What’s the difference between the new Ravinous One Club and the regular Ravinous Club?
The Ravinous Club is four bottles of wine, selected by our winemaker at the four seasonal selection time periods each year. The Ravinous One Club we started in 2021 and is 12 bottles of wine at the four seasonal selections, but instead of the wines being pre-selected, the members choose the 12 bottles that they would like at that release. There is no cost to join either club, just a one-year commitment upon signing up. Interested wine drinkers can visit our website or stop by either of our Finger Lakes tasting rooms to learn more.
What Ravinous Wine Club events are you looking forward to the most?
That’s a tough one! We always put on “release” parties that we call Revelry parties at each of the four selection dates, allowing local members to try the wines that they will be receiving in that release package. But in March or early April, we also do our annual Spring Barrel Tasting, where Morten pulls wines from the vintage that was just harvested a few months earlier and lets members try the developing wines from our large oak casks, stainless steel tanks, and barrels. I create food pairings from our Ravinous Kitchen. The process of tasting and discussing these developing wines compared to our finished wines from the bottle is always really interesting and fun, along with comparing the expressiveness of the different vineyard sites in each flight.
What makes the Finger Lakes wine region unique?
The most famous, traditional wine regions around the world have been growing vinifera wines for hundreds of years. Over time, they’ve figured out what vineyard grows what grapes well and what practices in the vineyard and in the cellar creates the most compelling wines. When Morten and I arrived in the Finger Lakes in the late 1990s, there was very little knowledge and history around the top varietals that we offer to the world today.
What is so great is the potential is now being realized. We have had the distinct advantage of watching the region evolve, while also bringing in our experience working in other regions. The ability to make exceptional wines, and wines that are able to age for dozens of years, without the price-tag that you may find in other top regions around the world, allows our customers and members the unique opportunity to acquire and age bottles without needing a crazy budget.
What’s your favorite Ravines wine right now?
I don’t know! Morten and I both love dry rosé wines, so I’m super excited for our new vintage coming out in 2021. We make ours each year from 100 percent Pinot Noir as part of a dedicated rose program and we almost always sell out of the current vintage before the new one is ready. But if I had to pick one that we have available right now, I’d go with our 2018 Dry Riesling. It was thought of as a lesser-than vintage at the time, but the wine developed beautifully and emerged with brilliant aromatics and savory undertones. It’s really delightful. I always wonder why people prefer any other white wine over Dry Riesling as it has everything you could ask for.
Visit their locations at 14630 State Route 54 Hammondsport, and 400 Barracks Rd Geneva.