Hermann J Weimer is one of the oldest producers of wine in New York's Finger Lakes region, and today is still one of the very best. We were blown away on a recent trip to their estate on Seneca Lake. If quality wine from New York is news to you, you really need to do yourself a favor and make the drive up there. They are making amazing Rieslings to rival those of Germany, as well as vibrant Pinot Noir, savory Cabernet Franc, and spicy Blaufrankisch. Weimer has been at the vanguard of producers researching the unique terroir of the area and have produced some incredible soil maps of there vineyards.
What makes this area so special is the geography and geology of the area. When the glaciers started receding millions of years ago they carved long, deep lakes. Seneca Lake is so deep, in fact, that it almost never freezes, no matter how bitter the winter. Because of this, vines planted close to the lake are protected from freezing to death during the winter, while in the summer the cold lake waters keep a natural breeze circulating through the vineyards to protect the grapes from frost and mold. The soils are incredibly complicated, with one vineyards having more soil diversity than the entire county of Lodi, California.
As a native of Bernkastel, Germany who emigrated to the Finger Lakes in the 1960s, Hermann J. Wiemer was uniquely qualified to help establish and create a wine region now known for its Riesling identity. His mother’s family had been making wine in Germany’s Mosel Valley for more than 300 years. His father, a skilled nurseryman, had been in charge of the Agricultural Experiment Station in Bernkastel and was responsible for restoring vines in the Mosel region after WWII. As a result, he recognized the importance of grafting vinifera on American rootstock. Ultimately, this conviction led Hermann’s father to convince Dr. Thanisch – who maintained the most famous Riesling vineyard in the world – to graft Mosel Rieslings onto American rootstock.
Hermann spent the summers of his youth learning to graft by hand and later complemented the skill and knowledge passed from father to son by attending Germany’s premier winemaking and viticultural institutions. However, it wasn’t until his experience in the Pfalz at the Viticultural Research institute in Neustadt (Forschungsinstitut fur Reblausbekampfung und Wiederaufbau der LLFA Neustadt) that Hermann was finally able to put his life experiences and education to practice. This practical training and research institute, headed by the influential Dr. Helmut Becker, only accepted three admissions per year, and Hermann was one of them.
All he needed was the right place to apply his skill and passion from wine-making at the highest levels. In the little town of Dundee, on the western shore of Seneca Lake, he found it. Hermann discovered that the cool climate and gravelly soils of the Finger Lakes were similar to his family’s vineyards in the Mosel Valley. At a time when very few thought it was possible to grow vinifera varietals on Seneca Lake, Hermann believed that the unique soil types and moderating weather effects of the Finger Lakes would make it possible to produce great wines here. German folk wisdom held that Riesling grapevines would flourish where black cherry trees thrived. Subsequently, Hermann purchased 80 acres of land on which we now have the winery and the “HJW Vineyard”. Countless hours, an uncanny skill at grafting, and willingness to experiment to find the best clones of each varietal for the region helped Hermann establish the vineyard. An obsessive dedication to making the most authentic and elegant wine has slowly and increasingly caught the attention of the world’s most discerning wine critics.
Hermann’s first Riesling and Chardonnay vintages won Gold in New York competitions. Over the last thirty years, Hermann’s consistency and quality have earned the winery a reputation for being one the nation’s best white wine producers. In the 90s Saveur Magazine declared that “Hermann J. Wiemer produces the finest American grown Riesling”.
In 2003, Hermann’s long-term apprentice Fred Merwarth took charge of winemaking and vineyard management. Fred’s talent and ambition brought fresh energy and vision to the winery, placing it on a new trajectory. In 2007, Hermann officially retired, handing over the winery to Fred, who partnered with his university friend, Swedish agronomist Oskar Bynke, to carry on Hermann’s legacy.
Fred, supported by his wife Maressa Merwarth, has perfected Hermann’s detail-oriented approach to viticulture and winemaking, extensively working on understanding the relationship between the vines and soils of the Finger Lakes. Oskar, with his background in wine education and trade, focuses on winery operations and in ensuring that Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard wines and the Finger Lakes are understood for their distinctiveness.
The team has continued with Hermann’s goal of bringing the winery to the world stage. The result is that the highest quality hand-crafted wines are now made for lovers of Rieslings across the US, and in other select markets worldwide. The winery has been recognized for the last 9 years as one of the world’s Top 100 Estates by Wine & Spirits Magazine; Wine Spectator listed the winery on the top 100 Wines in the world in 2010; and critics and connoisseurs such as Robert Parker, Eric Asimov, Stuart Piggott, consistently mention Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard as the top Riesling producer in the US.
The 2019 Semi-Dry Riesling is made in a Kabinett style marked by a refined interplay of sweetness and freshness. Harvested in the heart of the season, this fruit-forward wine exhibits a rich mouthfeel and a satisfying finish.
TLDR: Drink this now.