Desperately Seeking Saperavi
Saperavi is one of my absolute favorite grapes. It is capable of a wide range of expressions, as well as extended aging, and Saperavi wines often present an unbeatable value compare to any wines in the same or even higher price category. Saperavi is typically associated with the Republic of Georgia, where it is an undisputable star, but it is slowly gaining its enthusiastic following in the other regions. This grape also became a connection point between myself and Rich Rocca, whose passion for the Saperavi is unquestionable, and I’m always looking forward learning from Rich as to what is going on in the world of Saperavi, especially considering his focus on the New World regions. I thought it would be perfectly appropriate to offer pages of this blog for the guest post from Rich, who shares his quest for Saperavi below.
My name is Rich Rocca and I write the wine blog wpawinepirate. I have covered a wide variety of subjects in my posts but the primary objective has always been to provide my readers information about the wineries and vineyards in my home region of Western Pennsylvania. The Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York (FLX) has also been of great interest to me. I have made numerous trips to the FLX and it was during these visits I discovered Saperavi. Anatoli and I became friends after we began exchanging our thoughts concerning the state of Saperavi in America and even Saperavi wine itself. Those years of accessing the progress of this grape eventually lead to Anatoli’s gracious invitation to write a guest post on his blog which I eagerly accepted. Saperavi has always been a “Secret Handshake” type of wine that you either knew about or you didn’t. Here’s your chance to get into the club but unlike in the past don’t keep it to yourself and spread the word about this rising star.
The vintners of the Northeastern United States have long searched for a red wine grape that could be their signature grape. Over the years several have been on the cusp of becoming the iconic red wine grape that would be identified with the region for producing world-class red wine. Vintages of Lemberger and Cabernet Franc have produced stellar wines that can hold their own with other regions but just couldn’t elbow their way through a crowded field of reds for the attention of the wine drinkers of the Eastern U.S. and beyond. The fact that you are reading this post proves that you have a curiosity about something new in a world full of wine that can be overwhelming at times. The following is a summary of information I have gathered over the years about this intriguing grape from the winemakers and vineyard managers who know it best.
Saperavi is an ancient grape that can trace its origin to the Kakheti Region of Georgia and the surrounding regions as far back as 6000 B.C. Saperavi is a teinturier-type grape, which means it has a dark skin and a pink-tinted flesh. A teinturier variety of grape will produce an intensely colored juice when crushed because both the skin and flesh contain the water-soluble pigment anthocyanin which is responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their red, blue and purple color. Saperavi is a very adaptable loose bunch, late-ripening, cool climate grape variety that can produce large yields without sacrificing much in the quality of the fruit. These vines are able to thrive in cool climate regions even at high altitudes because they have above average resistance to cold temperatures. A more cold/frost tolerant hybrid called Saperavi Severny has been developed by incorporating genes from the hardy Severny grape. Traditionally Saperavi wine has been blended with lesser wines but recently it has been gaining popularity as a varietal bottling. A common translation of Saperavi is “dye” because it makes an extremely dark colored wine. Saperavi wine is known for having good acidity and firm but not overwhelming tannins. It is these attributes that make it a wine that takes well to aging with some examples being found to have aged nicely for fifty years. Georgia recently has had political problems with its neighbors over the export of wine, notably Saperavi, but that is a blessing in disguise because it is diverting more wine to the world market.
When talking about Saperavi I can’t contain my excitement and expectations for the wine being grown and made in the United States. I have coined the term “New World Saperavi” for the wine being grown and made by three wineries in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York and one in Central Pennsylvania. In the FLX Saperavi is being grown and made at Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellar by Fredrick (Fred) Frank, the son of Willy Frank and grandson of Dr. Konstantin Frank, two legendary winemakers. Saperavi winemaking is well established at Standing Stone Vineyards thanks to Martha (Marti) Macinski (owner/winemaker). She is one of the pioneers of Saperavi in the FLX and is making her wine using grapes from her ever expanding Saperavi vineyard, arguably the largest in North America. Anyone familiar with FLX Saperavi knows John McGregor at McGregor Vineyards the maker of McGregor Black Russian Red. This wine is often referred to as “THE” cult wine of the FLX. McGregor Black Russian Red is a unique blend of Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni and is only produced at John’s Keuka Lake winery. The only other producer of Saperavi outside of the FLX is Fero Vineyards and Winery in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Chuck Zaleski is the owner/winemaker at Fero and as his award-winning Saperavi vines mature he has been experimenting with different wine making techniques and styles to capitalize on the distinct characteristics this grape exhibits.
Fero isn’t the only winery exploring the possibilities of Saperavi, all three of its counterparts in New York continue to hone in on their particular vision of what Saperavi can be and what styles it can be made into. Their success isn’t going unnoticed as more vineyard managers are planting Saperavi but the addition of newly planted acreage is slow. There are several factors that have hindered the spread of Saperavi not the least of which is the scarcity of the vines themselves. Two eastern wineries that have young Saperavi vineyards are Knapp Winery in the FLX and White Barrel Winery (formerly Attimo) in Christianburg, Virginia. Anyone considering adding Saperavi to their property can start their search at Grafted Grapevine Nursery Clifton Springs, New York, a longtime supplier of Saperavi and other varieties to the wine industry.
“New World Saperavi” can be difficult to find because of the small number of producers and the limited yields from vineyards that are expanding but cannot meet the increasing demand. If you are interested in learning more about the Saperavi producers in the United States I have written an in-depth post about them. The post can be viewed at wpawinepirate.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/new-world-saperavi-report/
The next stop on our search for “New World Saperavi” is Australia. South Australia to be more exact, home to Dan Traucki, wine industry consultant, Director of Wine Assist Pty Ltd, freelance writer and my newest friend in the search for Saperavi wherever it may take me. Through his articles and our correspondences, Dan has given me an insider’s perspective of the current state of Saperavi and other lesser known wines being made in Australia. Australian wine production from its approximately 4000 wineries is dominated by Shiraz and Chardonnay making competition for market share acutely competitive. Fourteen ground-breaking vineyard managers have taken the speculative position of planting Saperavi in their vineyards. The majority of these plantings are in the warm climate of the Barossa Valley and McLean Vale Regions. Saperavi can also be found in the cool climate of the Alpine Valley Region of Victoria. The cool climate Saperavi produces a slender wine with an angular taste profile while the warm climate renders a wine of muscular body and vivid taste.
I am interested in how Saperavi’s innate ability to express its terroir plays out when it is being planted in such a diverse assortment of locations around the globe. Even though these vineyards are planted in vastly different regions of the world there is a high probability that over the course of time the DNA of other wine grapes has found its way into the DNA of Saperavi as it has with all other “pure” strains of wine grapes. The vines for Australian Saperavi were sourced from the Archival Saperavi of Roseworthy Agricultural College. This noteworthy collection of vines has been amassed from vineyards worldwide over the past 100 years. With this thought in mind, I am sure that Saperavi produced anywhere will display the unmistakable qualities that we associate with it but will also manifest certain location-specific characteristics that will be inevitable because of its genetic tendency to adapt the growing environment.
The history of the “Old World Saperavi” has been well chronicled over the centuries dating back to ancient times. Much of the craftsmanship used to make this wine has change little over time from the way it is fermented and stored in large egg-shaped earthenware vessels called Qvevri to the traditions of the Georgian communities that are as intertwined with this grape as are the Saperavi vines themselves. The story of “New World Saperavi” is still in its early chapters but luckily for us it is being written by skilled winemakers that are fearless visionaries when it comes to the future they see for their wineries. The possibilities surrounding this wine are fascinating and evolving with each new harvest. I am a curious person by nature and have always enjoyed learning about something new and exciting. I invite you to join me on this journey in the pursuit of an ageless red wine grape reinvented in vineyards a world away from its ancestral home by dreamers and risk-takers as full of life as Saperavi itself. I urge you to indulge your inquisitive side and try Saperavi from anywhere in the world. I think you will be surprised and glad you got to taste something a little different.
Thank you to Anatoli for the invitation to be a guest on his blog and the opportunity it provides me to reach so many new readers/friends. I am always interested in news of Saperavi growers and producers anywhere. If you know of any please contact me at email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on my blog: wpawinepirate.wordpress.com