2021 Winter Wine Club Shipment
Dear Wine Club Member, February 26, 2021
Last year at this time, as we had recently concluded sending out the winter shipment for our winery, none of us could have imagined what was waiting for us in March. Rumors had swirled around the Internet about a new disease in Wuhan, and articles began to post with more frequency about a novel coronavirus that spread quickly and was much more deadly than other diseases in wide circulation. Our focus turned from planning weekly meals and weekend outings, to trying to scavenge a roll of toilet paper, staying inside, and being glued to our television sets. It was the start of a process that has lasted much longer than many people expected, has changed the way we communicate and do business, has altered many of the business practices we had engaged in for decades, and has legitimately transformed many of our lives.
In February of 2020, our family was reflecting upon the fact that we were nearing one decade of ownership of this business. The idea of 10 years of ownership, stewardship, and memories, now compose 25% of my life. Our first time visiting the winery was in 2009, as our whole family set out on a wine tour of Seneca Lake the day after I had married my wife, Laure. We had walked into a building that was rustic and in many ways rundown, we had tasted some good wines there, but the list was fairly small and conventional. We had gazed out the large windows in the tasting room that looked out from their elevation on a vast expanse of Seneca Lake, and we all reflected on what we could do if we changed our lives and dedicated our future to this craft in this business. We had no idea in 2009, that we would one day own the building and the business in which we were standing.
Like so many of our customers, the wine business was merely a dream, and we had law offices, and homes, and construction companies, and obligations to attend to in California. I'll never forget that phone call from my mother in April of 2011, when she asked me if I remembered the very last winery we had visited on that trip in 2009? After responding that I did remember, she had told me she had been reading The Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester’s local newspaper, and that it was for sale. She questioned whether I would be interested in eventually moving into a family wine business, and what I would think about eventually moving to the Finger Lakes. I had been a home winemaker for many years, and dreamed of the wine business. For my wife and I, visits to new places often centered around whether or not it was a wine region. I was definitely excited about the prospect, but certainly didn't expect things to move as quickly as they did.
By the end of harvest in 2011, we were celebrating our first wines, and our new ownership of Villa Bellangelo winery. That first vintage was managed from afar with help from many in the Finger Lakes wine community, but by January of 2012 my brother had packed up and moved to oversee the construction remodel that would soon take place. In March of 2012, my wife and I, we're living in Geneva NY. Remodel projects were underway and by June of 2012, we had reopened the tasting room and we're selling the wines we had bottled from the 2011 vintage, along with some of the wines made by the previous owner. As I sit reflecting on all of the changes that have occurred over the last decade, it's been an amazing run.
In that same meeting one year ago, we returned to a topic that we had discussed throughout the years; in fact, it was a topic that we had discussed from the earliest days of our ownership of the winery. When we bought Villa Bellangelo, we questioned whether we should change the name. We had our own visions of what we wanted from this business, but we were also aware that many customers may have only known the winery by that name, and we wanted to ensure we had an existing clientele of customers to service. We went with the decision to keep the name of the winery, as well as the logo, and to try to build upon the legacy that had already been established. For the last 10 years, we have built this business always cognizant of what we will leave future generations. In some ways however, it felt like the legacy we built upon didn't belong to us, and wasn't identified with our efforts, and our vision, and our family. We talked many times about a change in logo, or a change in the brand, but it just never felt like the right time.
In the wake of the last year, we came to realize that what we had built was no longer what we had bought a decade ago. Over these last 10 years, it isn't just the building and the faces that occupy that building that have changed. The vision for our business and indeed our entire region have changed. Over this last decade, we earned a spot in Wine & Spirits Magazine's top 100 wines of the world, we created one of the most innovative sparkling wine programs in the country featuring a brand new approach to sparkling wine making and using very unique varietals, we've worked hard to elevate customer service and expand wine education, we introduced the first Chenin Blanc to be made in the Finger Lakes in 40 years and have expanded those plantings... and that only lists a few of the ways where we have all grown together this last decade. We realized that despite the name and the multiple owners of the property before us, we had truly made this special spot on Seneca Lake our own, and we couldn't be more proud of that.
The pandemic and the changes that it brought to our little corner of the world, certainly brought with it it's fair share of struggles. Ultimately, it made us realize that any existential questions of ownership, of place, of legacy, we're behind us. The wines, the experience, the reputation - these were ours. Once we were finally able to reopen our tasting room to the public, I made a video outlining how our new tasting procedures would be experienced in a post COVID-19 world. I called that video “A New Era,” and it certainly marked the beginning of something new for our winery. In our small family gatherings this last winter, on the other side of so many changes and contemplating the same things that we had the year before, we realized that the next stage of our evolution was to ponder the same question we had in our first stage of ownership of the business. That question revolved around the name and the identity of our winery, of our efforts, of my life's work, and the decision to rename and to rebrand Bellangelo. After so much thought and reflection, we have decided to move forward with the change of the winery to Missick Cellars.
Going back to the ancient understanding of the word economy, the ancient Greeks saw that an economy began in a home. It encompassed the idea of what a family did for their craft, how they earned a living , and how they made a life. This understanding was born out in the tradition of many old wineries in Europe carrying the family name that was producing wines for their community. It carries with it a mark of honor, that we will only ever put a good and delicious product in a bottle that bears our name, and a mark of authenticity that you have a direct connection to the people in the family that made that product. There were, in our list of names that we thought we would want to use for our winery, a lot of creative and catchy brand ideas. In our hearts however, we love the idea of what it means to be a small business, to be makers, to be purveyors of the real and the authentic, and to produce something from our family which can enrich your family and its experiences. At the end of the day, it was less about transforming our brand into something that looked catchy on social media, than it was about representing the truest expressions of ourselves, of our land, and of our region. Too much of our lives gets shrouded behind the fake, by simple marketing, or by trying to catch the latest trends in corporate communication. I happen to believe that we are all thirsty for those things that we know are real and are authentic, it has been one of the two guiding principles of my winemaking, and we hope that with this change we are able to fulfill that promise on yet another level.
Bellangelo is indeed a part of our family history now and our winery story, and you will still see it around in some form or another. We have spent a great many years building our wine library, with the goal of reintroducing many of these wines in the future. Many of these will still bear the name Bellangelo and we are happy to share that story with our customers. Increasingly however, you will see new signs and the new label appear on wines as they are introduced, as they reflect the reoriented direction of our winery. Nearly all the things you love about the winery will remain, and we hope that with each new change, you'll only find more to love.
With the changes in our tastings last year, we also converted what had been our event space into our primary tasting area. It was a great open space that permitted access to our patio and brought a lot of additional joy to our customers last summer. What had been our primary tasting room has laid dormant this last year. Furthermore, we have seen customers vastly preferring our seated tasting model to the model of standing at a crowded tasting bar. We plan on continuing with this approach. In the midst of all the other changes that have happened, we will also be bringing some changes and the lessons we have learned to the upstairs portion of our tasting room that has been closed.
I am a believer that the good and the beautiful things in life often compliment each other. Good food and good wine are obvious pairings. They are intertwined with other beautiful things such as art, literature, and music. Each one of these arts and crafts are like threads that serve as a sort of rope, a lifeline of an elevated aesthetic that when we hold onto them, help to pull us from what can be the mundane nature of daily life to a better, more enriching plane. Consequently, we will be working these next few months to incorporate a beautiful and regionally representative art gallery into our tasting experience in our former upstairs tasting room. Art will be paired with wine, and original works as well as prints will be available for sale. We intend on working with some of the artists featured in the gallery to provide art talks and classes from time to time, for those interested in developing their own artistic insights and abilities. For us, we want to continue to grow your experience at the winery in as many ways as possible, and this particular project has long been a dream of mine.
Along with a new name and the integration of our Gallery, we have a number of exciting new plans this year. One of our new offerings is included in this shipment. The federal Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”), is the federal regulatory agency that dictates the sizes of bottles and containers we can use to sell our wine. The TTB has never permitted any bottle to be sold that is smaller than 187 milliliters, which is the equivalent of a quarter of a bottle of wine. In response to consumer and producer demand, the TTB announced a few months ago that it would now allow an entire list of new sizes that wineries could use and provide to their customers. Consequently, we are now able to provide sample bottles of wines that can be shipped to consumers. Using 50 milliliter bottles, which is about the size of two tastings, we can now give you the opportunity to taste the wine before you open the entire bottle.
I was personally so excited by this proposition that I set out to work in our lab to find out just how long these samples could be good for. What we have to keep in mind is that oxygen will always work to degrade the fresh quality of a wine. In the winery, oxidation (particularly of white wines) is combated with inert gases such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide, and sulfur. Too much sulfur can make a wine undrinkable, and so it is always a chemically precise balancing act between using just enough to offer the wine some sound preservation, or using too much and permanently altering what goes into the bottle. As a simple test, we used bottles of wine that had been bottled on our bottling line, sparged the small 50 milliliter bottles with some inert gas to displace the oxygen, and poured and quickly capped the wine in those bottles. We then spent one month periodically tasting and testing the levels of free sulfur dioxide that remained in the wine in order to determine subjectively and objectively how the wine was holding up. What we found was that across the board, the wines in the small bottles lasted for three weeks without any real impact on the sensory experience of the wine. In the case of red wines, the wine actually matured a little faster and tasted better than it's standard bottled and just opened counterpart. Some of these sample bottles lasted more than five weeks in our tasting, and were still tasting great. Ultimately, what it proved to me was that we had a sound way to offer at home tasting flights to our customers who are curious about the taste and flavor profiles of a wine but maybe not interested in buying a wine that they were unfamiliar with.
Furthermore, I realized that this will be a great way to engage with customers who don't live near the winery, even better. Although we are still working out all of the costs involved in our at home tasting experience, we wanted to extend this as a gift to our Wine Club with this shipment, so that you could taste the wine in an online presentation with me, without actually having to open the wines that are included in this shipment. Each of the sample bottles is indicated with which wine it is, and we have scheduled an online tasting where we can taste and discuss the wine together. We will be following up with an e-mail to the address we have on file, informing you of the date, but we anticipate it being within two weeks of your shipment.
Outside of this specific Wine Club shipment, our tasting flights and specific wines will be available on our website in the future so you'll have a chance to either taste the wines in the comfort of your own home, share them with a friend somewhere else in the country, or try a wine that you're thinking about buying. I was personally really excited about this change with federal government regulations, and look forward to creative and exciting ways to incorporate this in the future.
Finally, I will be launching a passion project this spring called Viti+Culture that will encapsulate many of the efforts we put into the winery, while also shining a light on other producers, makers, thinkers, and doers. We have converted a small unused room in our Geneva location, into a fully equipped studio where we can record high quality audio and video podcasts. We will also be able to use this room to record additional tasting videos, and informational videos on topics related to wine. The Viti+Culture podcast will feature longform discussions and conversations with leaders from a variety of industries, but ultimately find ways that touch upon the subject of wine. I invite you to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes , on Spotify, or most other major podcast services, and subscribe to our YouTube channel as well, where you'll find a video version of the podcast. You will also have the availability to subscribe to our Substack, which is where all of the written materials related to the podcast will be distributed. You can find this project, and all of the pertinent links, at viticulturepodcast.com. Although the subjects of this podcast will be broad in scope, we will use it as a way to share some of the very special things and people at our winery. In time, you will find interviews with our employees who help make everything possible, and give you a chance to learn more about them as well.
If you have any questions about any of the changes or comments about our future, please know that you can always reach out to me. I usually provide my cell phone at the end of these letters, but I'll drop it here as well along with my email address. I'm always interested to hear from you. Cell – 714-317-8842 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
And now, it's time to talk about some of the wines included in this shipment.
We have provided shipments from the 2018 vintage of Riesling in the past, but they have been the single vineyard expressions from Kashong Glen and Gibson vineyard. I love these wines, and I think they show that even in an extraordinarily difficult vintage like 2018, we were still able to make compelling and delicious wines. If you'll recall, 2018 was difficult because it combined an extraordinary amount of moisture with a very high level of temperatures. The large amount of rain we received meant that the soils were holding a large amount of water as well. This meant that the dew point was elevated so that dew and moisture could form at much higher temperatures than is usual. When that happens we face a tremendous amount of pressure in the vineyards with regard to disease, specifically diseases like mildew and sour rot. It took an incredible amount of effort from our winegrowing partners and our own cellar crew to make sure that only the cleanest fruit was harvested and only the best wines were made. In 2018 we were blessed with an abundance of juice, and managed to keep some of our reasoning juice stable without it fermenting. We were then able to take some of that juice and use an old German method referencing the “sweet reserve,” where we are able to increase the sweetness and decrease the alcohol of a specific wine by adding some of that varietal's juice directly to the final blend. In addition to a variety of fermentation techniques in the cellar, this addition of the sweet reserve to our 2018 Riesling provides an amazing amount of deliciousness, mouthfeel, and balance to a style of Riesling that feels like it comes right from the old world. Based in part on our efforts in the cellar and the nature of the vintage, our 2018 Riesling is a wine which I expect to live an extremely long life based on its slightly elevated levels of residual sugar, its bright acid profile, and it's slightly lower alcohol. It is a little sweeter than many of the vintages of Riesling that I have made in the past, but it doesn't come off as cloying and I think makes a perfect compliment to any spicy dishes that you'll make. Especially on cold days, I love the juxtaposition of a spicy meal with a refreshing white wine to remind me that spring and ultimately summer are not that far away.
2019 Seyval Blanc
Although so much has changed over the years at the winery, Seyval Blanc remains a wine that we have kept remarkably consistent vintage after vintage. This Seyval was grown just up the road at the Gibson vineyard, and delivers an amazing balance a fresh acidity with a very gentle level of residual sugar. I have always described this particular wine as a crowd pleaser, it is the bottle you can open with nearly everybody and know that they will like it. Although most of us aren't around any crowds anymore, and don't have exciting dinner parties these days, this wine still works amazingly well as a gift and what I like to call a Netflix and popcorn wine. Although it works very well for pairing with a number of different dishes, I find I can appreciate it best sitting on my couch with my wife after the kids have gone to bed, and finally having a chance to relax. It is a hybrid varietal, with a great lineage that stems from hybrid breeding experiments generations ago. Many people like to compare Seyval Blanc to Sauvignon Blanc, in fact I have done that in the past (maybe even in some of these wine club newsletters). But having had the chance to work with Chenin Blanc for five years, I have come to the conclusion that this hybrid varietal tastes much more like Chenin then it does Sauvignon Blanc. It has changed the way I think about this varietal, and as we move forward, I anticipate evermore cellar experiments with small lots in oak, and producing single varietal sparkling wines with this grape.
Our 2016 Merlot is a relatively recent release for the winery. The 2016 vintage was one of the warmest and driest on record for the Finger Lakes. It was a vintage where the grass turned brown and vineyards looked less like the verdant region we know, and more like the Central Valley of California (but with the beautiful lakes and scenery). Many wine writers like to ascribe hot years as being the best years, but it's a lot more complicated than that. Because adequate rainfall is not something that we generally have an issue within the Finger Lakes, most of us don't have any adequate means of irrigating the vines when it is really dry. And though warm weather can mean greater potential for increased levels of ripeness, the absence of enough water can actually inhibit the ability of a vine to fully ripen fruit. Interestingly, we saw a little bit of that with the 2016 vintage.
I particularly like the balance of our 2016 Merlot, but it is not an overripe, big, or high alcoholic wine. In some ways, it tastes similar to our cooler vintages. It has a bright acid finish reminiscent of just unripe strawberries, and hints of raspberry, and its alcohol remains at a very balanced level. It is a wine that we have delayed in releasing in part because it has so much life ahead of it. Although when first opened the wine can taste a tad bright, within a day or two many of those bright young flavors fully integrate into the wine and we are left with a delicious reflection on how some old-world Merlot used to taste. This is a wine that I highly recommend decanting prior to opening or even opening the day before. I think it also speaks to just how long this wine will ultimately live. The ‘16 vintage was now nearly five years ago, and this wine is only beginning to show its true potential.
In general, I want to thank you once again for your membership and continued support for our family winery. We have several other major changes slated for 2021, so please stay tuned! If you have any questions, feel free to call or send me a text at 714-317-8842, or e-mail me at email@example.com. You can also reach my brother Matt at 714-856-1515.