A minimalist approach to winemaking proves successful for one vineyard

May 19, 2013

As Finger Lakes wine grows in popularity around New York state and the country, one long-time vintner has separated himself from the pack by doing things the old fashioned way and keeping things simple.

“I just loved it, you could say I fell in love with it and that’s all I wanted,” said Kim Engle.

Engle is owner of Bloomer Creek vineyard in Hector, N.Y. His winery has been using a minimalist approach to wine making since it started. The most important part of that philosophy is what Engle does - or doesn’t do - before and during fermentation.

“I don’t chaptalize, or add sugar, before fermentation, so I often end up with lower alcohol wines,” he said.

Lees are naturally occurring sediment, which settles out of wine during fermentation. Some wine makers stir the lees and use a process called racking and fining to separate out the lees from the wine. Engle does as little of that as possible.

“We don’t do a lot of lee stirring or racking. I have heard it described as benign neglect. To me that’s a little bit like saying you put cheddar cheese in a cave to age for five years and that’s benign neglect. It’s not neglect because it doesn’t need any attention,” he said.

Sustainable agriculture also plays a large role in Bloomer Creek’s vineyards. Cover crops are one technique which Engle believes can increase fertility, quality and help control unwanted weeds, like thistle and some grasses. Engle plants cover crops, such as buckwheat and rye, in between rows of grape vines to help protect and improve the soil.

Bloomer Creek Winery on the east side of Seneca Lake.
Credit Jacob Davis / WRVO

“All of our weed control is by cultivation and cover crops. But we mainly use Buckwheat for, it makes the soil more friable and is very competitive with weeds, Canada thistle and quack grass are disappearing, it seems like,” said Engle.

Various pruning techniques can help prevent various certain diseases such as powdery mildew and grey rot.

Katy Koken, who works with Engle, says the way they grow their grape vines provides natural protection.

“We use the Scott Henry method with is making a double curtain but you train one up and one down,” Koken said. “So it opens it up and you get more air movement through. It decreases the amount of pesticides we have to use.”

Bloomer Creek’s natural processes have started to get noticed beyond upstate New York. Alongside many other wineries they have seen success outside of the Finger Lakes region with wines being sold in New York City with international interest as well.

“We just placed wine at a wine shop called Crush. It’s in midtown Manhattan. Our 2008 Bordeaux blend, which we call White Horse Red, is the first Finger Lakes wine they’ve put in their shop. So that sort of thing is exciting for us and for our industry. Let’s hope they put more. Let’s hope we break the ice,” said Engle.