On a Purposeful Whim

Overlooking the widest portion of Seneca Lake from its perch on the western shore, the Anthony Road Wine Company commands a spectacular view of a vast vineyard that appears to flow downhill toward shimmering blue water. The spacious tasting room features a wide selection of wines, ranging from table wines made from hybrid and native grapes to bottles of the finest vinifera or European-style dry wines. Next door, in an unassuming gray building, winemaker Johannes Reinhardt walks among the steel tanks while classical music blares from the speakers overhead. Tall and lanky, Reinhardt weaves through the maze of fermenting grape juice, humming along as he inspects his facility.

A native of the tiny village of Neuses am Berg in the Bavarian region of southern Germany, Reinhardt grew up in a family wine business that started in 1438. For centuries, the Reinhardt family possessed trading rights for wine produced in the area, but the family did not produce its own label until the 1950s. Under the tutelage of his father, Reinhardt grew up learning how to make wine and manage a cellar. After attending the Bavarian wine research institute at Veitshoechheim and graduating with a master’s degree in viticulture and oenology in 1991, Reinhardt worked for a short time at a winery in Stuttgart to complete his master’s thesis. He returned to his family’s winery in 1992 with the expectation that he would continue to make wine under the Reinhardt label for the duration of his career.

Venturing out
By 1995, however, Reinhardt felt a calling to leave the family business and expand his winemaking horizons. From 1996 to 1999 he worked at an organic winery, learning new vineyard and winemaking techniques. At that point, Reinhardt realized that he would have to leave Germany to push his education further, and on a whim he responded to an advertisement in a German wine journal for a position at Dr. Frank’s winery in New York’s Finger Lakes region. Reinhardt had never heard of the Finger Lakes and spoke very little English, yet he let Providence guide him to a new winemaking adventure on the shores of Keuka Lake.

Coincidentally, Reinhardt arrived at Dr. Frank’s at the same time as Morten Hallgren, who would later found Ravines Wine Cellars. Reinhardt and Hallgren worked together throughout 1999 producing wines for Dr. Frank’s, but Reinhardt viewed his U.S. winemaking experience as transitional in nature and decided to return to Germany. In January of 2000, Reinhardt took a job managing a large commercial winery in Baaden which seemed like the high-profile position he had always wanted.

A craftsman at heart, Reinhardt quickly felt alienated by the pressures of a large operation. He had no intention of returning to the United States and was surprised to receive a call from John Martini, owner of Anthony Road, in the summer of 2000. Martini offered Reinhardt a winemaking position that would combine the benefits of working in a larger commercial operation with the freedom of a boutique winery. Reinhardt accepted the job and made his way back to a region in which he saw a great deal of potential. The only problem Reinhardt faced in the Finger Lakes was the language. “I still did not know much English,” Reinhardt recollects. “Ordering equipment and supplies was very difficult.”

A balanced approach
Despite his desire to learn and practice all kinds of winemaking methods, Reinhardt possesses a pragmatic nature that allows him to remain flexible yet centered. He believes in a meticulously clean cellar, a trait he inherited from his father, and is convinced that it results in better wines. Reinhardt sees the value in many styles of winemaking and views each vintage differently, varying his techniques to respond to the changing conditions of the grapes from year to year. When asked whether he utilizes a mechanical crusher/destemmer or prefers whole-cluster press, Reinhardt responds, “I let the skins tell me.”

The organic winemaking methods to which Reinhardt was exposed early in his career are also subject to his balanced judgment. “I think it’s best to use natural principles mixed with a traditional approach. Some organic methods require too much work to remain profitable. At the organic winery we used to stand all day in a soaking rain just trying to keep the canopy of the vineyards open and free of pests and rot.” Working closely with vineyard manager Peter Martini, Reinhardt strives to use natural but reasonable methods to get the most out of Anthony Road’s extensive plantings. He points to low crop yields and proper vineyard management as the cornerstone of good winemaking in the Finger Lakes.

Wines to bet on
Aware that winemaking is a business as well as an art, Reinhardt is adamant that wines produced from his vineyards must be of a high quality in as many vintages as possible. He believes that many Finger Lakes whites, such as Riesling and Chardonnay, demonstrate world-class quality nearly every year. As for the reds, Reinhardt applies a standard that he has developed after a decade of observation. “In three out of 10 years, Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals can make for a great wine. In six out of 10, Pinot Noir can make a good wine, and I think that’s worth betting on. Some varietals, such as Cabernet Franc and Lemberger, can really stand out in eight out of 10 years, and I think these two wines are a great investment.” True to his word, Reinhardt does not produce a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Meritage, but he does produce a Cabernet Franc/Lemberger blend that is dry and refined but also ripe and flavorful.

Like many other Finger Lakes winemakers, Reinhardt thinks the greatest potential of the region is in the production of sparkling wine using the methode champenoise. “That’s a 10 out of 10,” he explains. “This climate is perfect for it.” Reinhardt laments that the production of sparkling wine is an expensive and time-consuming process without a sure market in the Finger Lakes, but he feels that more wineries will begin to make the investment as awareness and demand grow.

A fun collaboration
Under Reinhardt’s winemaking leadership, Anthony Road has excelled in many areas, but its Riesling offerings stand out. In partnership with Red Newt and Fox Run Vineyards, Anthony Road has helped produce Tierce, a Riesling blended anew each vintage from grapes sourced from the vineyards of all three wineries. Among Finger Lakes Riesling drinkers, Tierce remains a fun and satisfying experiment in collaboration. In addition, Reinhardt’s solo efforts continue to garner critical praise. When Wine Spectator reviewed nearly 30 Finger Lakes Rieslings of the 2006 vintage, Anthony Road’s Semi-Dry Riesling led the way with the highest score of 89 out of 100. Its 2006 Dry Riesling was awarded the second-highest score in the group with an 88.

Johannes Reinhardt never intended to come to the Finger Lakes at the onset of his career, but he has embraced the region fully and is excited about the years to come. “My happiness comes from good food, good wine and good people. The people at Anthony Road are very good to me.” Always smiling as he explains his craft and his future plans, Reinhardt is optimistic that the Finger Lakes will continue to offer him both challenges and opportunities as he contributes to the emerging story of a young wine region.

by Jason Feulner
Jason Feulner writes for lenndevours.com, a New York wine website. He lives in Syracuse.

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