Localization: Riesling from Finger Lakes, New York
Tasting notes: Circle Riesling is meant to be a quintessential example of Finger Lakes Riesling; a touch of residual sugar to bring out the rich orchard fruit flavors without overwhelming the lemon zest and citrus that make it crisp and refreshing to drink. The overall wine is easy to drink but made with as much seriousness and as many individual layers as any Riesling that Red Newt releases. The philosophy is simple; a crowd-pleasing wine should still be multifaceted.
The Domain: David and Debra Whiting met in the late 1980s when David was working as cellar master at a Finger Lakes winery and Debra was supervising microbiology labs at Cornell University. David’s oenological career blossomed as he worked at three different vineyards in Finger Lakes and Debra’s passion for food led her to start a gourmet cheesecake business and then an upscale catering company. The couple founded Red Newt Cellars in 1998 and Debra opened the Red Newt Bistro alongside the first wine releases in June of 1999. In 2011 Debra’s life was sadly cut short, prompting David to delegate some of his duties and hire a winemaker. In 2014 Kelby Russell, a Finger Lakes native joined the team as the head winemaker.
Today, the Red Newt Cellars Winery and Bistro are located in the small town of Hector in the Finger Lakes region of New York, on the southeastern corner of Seneca Lake. At 600 meters below sea level, Seneca Lake is the deepest of the Finger Lakes and one of the deepest lakes in the United States. The effects of the lake and the resulting range of surrounding altitudes and soil types create a wide array of unique terroirs in a relatively small area.
All of the vineyards Red Newt work with for their vinifera program are located on and around the Lake. To the Northwest, Nut Road is comprised of limestone and sandstone and produces an aromatic, delicate Loire Valley-style Cabernet Franc used for Kelby’s rosé. To the west sits Lahoma Vineyard, Red Newt’s largest vineyard. This land is all sandstone and is one of the highest vineyards in the area. The Knoll, a parcel within Lahoma Vineyard that is used to grow the benchmark Riesling for Red Newt, is the highest point at 1,600 ft. Nearby, lower-lying vines provide grapes for some of the other wines including the Circle Riesling and the Dry Riesling. Near the bottom of the lake is Tango Oaks, a compelling site that is a flood plain offering a mix of silt and loam on top of the bedrock. This site features Riesling planted to Alsatian clones instead of the more typical German-style Geisenheim ones, which brings an interesting tropical fruit finish to wines from this spot. The east bank of the lake is called the “Banana Belt,” a reference to its warm climate that farmers used to joke was well situated for banana growing. This microclimate is where you’ll find Red Newt’s red varieties, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.