In the spring of 2015, The New York Times quoted a certain rock star somm calling Kris Matthewson, the winemaker at Bellwether, a “rock star of the Finger Lakes.”
Suffice it to say the wines have made an impression.
In a relatively short amount of time, Kris has proven himself to be one of the Finger Lake’s (FLX) most talented and thoughtful winemakers. It’s my sense he’s considering his wines, thinking about his wines, in a different way than just about anyone else in this place. He talks about texture more than residual sugar (or the lack thereof); he talks about depth and definition more than alcohol; he talks about acidity and mineral more than fruit.
If you know my palate at all, you understand why I’m so excited. The wines are that good.
Yet while there is a signature at Bellwether (see above), there is absolutely no dogma. If Bellwether has gotten a lot of attention for the pet-nats, the Pinot Noir a la Jura and the low-sulfur wine practices, the more “traditional” dry Rieslings are easily among the most pristine and riveting coming out of this region as well.
If you want a simple story, you’ll have to look somewhere else.
As befitting a very young winemaker in a very young region, Kris is exploring the possibilities. That said, a few things are non-negotiable. All the fruit is hand-picked, fermentations are slow, bottling is late and releases are even later. Thus we have the “new releases” that are normally about a year behind everyone else.
At Bellwether, the wines have a complicated relationship with oxygen. Fermentations can be quite reductive, or involve a good amount of oxygen. The process can occur in stainless steel, flex tanks or older barrels (François Frères and Raymond are the norm, though there is an old DRC barrel thrown in the mix for good karma) and very often the wines spend some time in all of the above. Outside of the Pinot Noir, I’m not sure there is one wine that undergoes fermentation and elevage in the same vessel. Reduction, then exposure to oxygen, even battonage, is common.
Fermentations are carried out with wild yeasts and with cultivated, neutral yeasts, though there is a clear movement towards natural-yeast fermentations for EVERYTHING. Sulfur is used sparingly and most often only right before bottling, though that’s hardly written in stone. Filtering can be normal, very light or not present at all.
Mastering the mixology of it all would require more patience, attention to detail, experience and sensitivity than I have. Luckily Kris has all of the aforementioned and when he rattles off the history of this wine or that wine, there is never any hesitation. He knows exactly what he is doing and why.
The wines are a testament to this and at the very vanguard of the FLX.