The Road to Eminence (via the Catskills!)

1/23/11 -

I like to think of Eminence Road Winery as part of the new wave of natural negociants (Dashe Cellars, Broc Cellars, Edmunds St. John in California, and The Scholium Project in both New York and California are good examples), all are producers who buy grapes and make low-interventionist wines.

Eminence is run by Andrew Scott and Jennifer Clark, who work with three growers in the Finger Lakes region; two are situated on the east side of Seneca Lake and one on the west side of Cayuga. The wines are vinified in an old cow barn at their property in the Catskills. The nineteen-acre property served as a dairy farm in the past. These days the land sprouts phenomenally large pumpkins, not far off in size from the comically futuristic vegetables depicted in Woody Allen’s 1973 movie “Sleeper.” The land also provides roaming ground for Lester, the Sharpee-Husky-Bulldog mutt, adopted from a neighbor.

Andrew Scott began dabbling in winemaking when his brother, owner of a home brewing business in Florida, suggested the best route to understanding wine was to start making it himself, and so he joined the ranks of New York-based, Italian-Americans, whose garages serve as cellars – except Scott eventually leaned towards making cleaner, honest wines. “I did it for about 10 years and I got fairly good at it. I was eventually able to make wine without additives,” he tells us. 

Influence came from many of the wine producers that are beloved here at Chambers Street Wines, Clos Roche Blanche and Catherine and Pierre Breton in the Loire for instance. Scott had also been buying Loire Valley wines from David Lillie for years, reaching back to David’s years at Garnet, before the birth of Chambers Street Wines.
It’s rare to find natural-leaning wines in New York State yet Andrew insists it’s fairly simple. “It’s not difficult to make natural wines here. We have beautiful pH, tons of acidity and it all works in our favor.” Vinification is simple, the grapes are foot-stomped, the reds ferment in whole clusters, punch down is performed once daily, fermentation and elevage continues in tank and partly used French oak. The whites are fermented and raised in tank, and they don’t block malolactic fermentation. A little sulfur is added to the wines in December and then, if needed, a little at bottling.

Eminence recently planted a few hundred un-grafted vines of Landot Noir (a French American hybrid developed in France in the 1950s) and some Pinot Noir, to make a pied de cuve to start the fermentation for his 2011 wines, a method that is helpful to wine producers who want to avoid the use of commercial yeasts during problematic fermentations. Andrew isn’t staunchly dogmatic about making natural wine, or even in labeling his wines as such. He says, “If things go wrong we’ll add a neutral yeast but I haven’t had to do that in the last few years. It’s still in my freezer. He adds, “It’s probably bad by now.” P.G.

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