Friday Rave: Kemmeter Wines

There are no doubt many people who love their jobs, but I am not one of them. I do not mind my job, in fact I am rather happy where I work, but I do not love my job; I would quit tomorrow if they would agree to keep paying me. My wife, on the other hand, loves what she does and can’t dream of doing anything else. (I will not get into what she does, since if I did, you would instantly become depressed, would stop reading, climb into bed, and cry until Monday. And nobody wants that.)

But I think by far, most people are more like me: my job is a means to an end and I would drop it like a bad habit if a better option came along.

RaveThis post is not about those of us who endure their jobs. Nor is it about those few who really love their jobs. No, this article is about the rarest of all humans: those who have an intense passion for what they do.

I am not talking about workaholics or those obsessed with monetary goals. I am talking about people who are intensely driven by the nature of their work. As far as I can tell, I have only encountered a few such people in my lifetime. The first was my A.P. History teacher in High School, Mr. Beaman. I have had scores of instructors, but Mr. Beaman stands alone when it comes to passion, and not merely for the subject matter (thinking of his lectures about the Revolutionary War still gives me goose bumps), but also for the time he dedicated to his students outside the classroom.

Over time I have only seen that level of passion a few times. When I started teaching, I attended several coaching clinics conducted by a well-known college coach whose passion for basketball, and more importantly for his players, became the model for what I tried to achieve as a young high school coach. Then there was the minister father of a long-time girlfriend that displayed his passion for his work in a much more subdued and understated style, that was compelling (even though I am far from religious), and led to memorable theological discussions.

After those three, I am hard pressed to recall another, at least it until this past summer.

I was up in the Finger Lakes for the Wine Bloggers Conference and a fellow blogger, Elizabeth, the Traveling Wine Chick, convinced a few of us to drive over to Kemmeter Wines for a tasting with Johannes Reinhardt, the noted German-born winemaker who previously worked (and still consults) across Route 14 at Anthony Road Winery.

img_5435Within moments of pulling through the gate and continuing up the gravel drive, we were greeted by a firm handshake and an infectious smile. Johannes led us into the tiny tasting room, which was certainly spartan, but there was plenty of evidence of Johannes’s personality as we waited patiently as he cleaned each of the glasses before carefully rinsing them. With wine.

There was Bach in the background, a stunning view of Seneca Lake out the window, and personal touches everywhere. As Johannes spoke about his wines and his approach to winemaking, the commercial aspect of the room faded away, replaced by a feeling that I had not felt since I had been in Mr. Beaman’s classroom so many years ago.

This was a man who was clearly passionate about making wine.

Johannes greets every visitor to the tasting room.

Johannes greets every visitor to the tasting room.

The winery only produces around 400 cases a year, but he hopes to push that to around 2,000 eventually. He quickly stressed that he wanted to do it “the right way” guided by what he referred to as his two pillars: 1. Never compromise the vineyard. Ever. 2. Be in the tasting room yourself to meet the clients.

Kemmeter Wines currently produces five wines under three different labels. The first label, Sonero, is a wine that Johannes claims “does not necessarily have to be in the spotlight.” Well, I disagree, as this is likely the best sub-$15 Riesling that I have had.

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2014 Sonero Riesling: $14. 105 cases produced. The juice comes from the last 25-30% of the pressing of the Kemmeter label wines (the end of the pressing is also naturally less in acidity). Clean, bright nose with great fruit and still some linear acidity leading to an elegance that you rarely see in a sub-$15 wine. A surprisingly long finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

The second label, Kemmeter (his paternal grandmother’s maiden name), perhaps best represents Johannes’ passion. He currently makes three wines under the label and the first is rather straightforward: it comes from the White Pine Vineyard in Wayne County.

I could listen to Johannes all day long.

I could listen to Johannes all day long.

2014 Kemmeter Wines White Pine Riesling: $24. Shortly after pouring, Johannes asks: “By the way guys how do you like my Sauvignon Blanc?” Once he said it I saw it immediately. A bit grassy on the nose with a sharp acidity. Johannes said that the wine starts out like a Sauvignon Blanc but changes over to Riesling after a couple of years in the bottle. On the palate the Riesling characteristics come through but so does some Sauvignon Blanc. A fascinating wine. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.

The tasting got considerably geekier (and that is a very good thing) with the next two wines. Both came from the Sheldrake Point Vineyard and were vinified precisely the same. The only distinguishing factor between the two was the amount of residual sugar that was left at the end of the spontaneous fermentation. In fact, the only way to tell the difference between the two bottles is the International Riesling Foundation sugar meter on the back label. (Confused? I certainly was. Apparently, so was Johannes–I meant to purchase three  bottles of the second wine, but went home with two of the first and only one of the second.)

The back labels of the Sheldrake Point wines.

The back labels of the Sheldrake Point wines.

2014 Kemmeter Wines Sheldrake Point 19: $24. In order to do a single vineyard wine, he wants at least 8-10 years experience to see how the vineyard does in difficult years. Another clean, beautiful nose. Lemon curd and a bit of smoke. A tiny hint of petrol at the back to which Johannes added: “I like petrol as long as it’s a team member and not a team leader.”  Initially a bit shy and then it strolls in with a jolt of fruit and then the acidity. Whoa. The finish lasts for minutes. Maybe longer. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.

2014 Kemmeter Wines Sheldrake Point 31: $24. This is the sweeter of the two. Both wines come from the same plot but separated into two fermenters. The first spontaneously fermented to drier. Brighter fruit it seems and a tad heavier, the fruit expression here is off the charts. This is not one of the best American Rieslings I have had, this is one of the best Rieslings I have had. Period. Double whoa. Outstanding Plus. 93-95 Points.

The last label is a dessert wine, and assumes his wife’s maiden name, Sansan.

2013 Sansan (named after his wife): $40. 375ml. 100% botrytis. Johannes said it is the equivalent of an auslese with single berry selection. Honeyed lemon zest and pineapple. Clean and wonderful. Rich but not opulent, sweet but far from cloying. Finish? I hope this stays with me for days and it just might. Outstanding Plus. 94-96 Points.

It has been several years since I have seen Mr. Beaman; I am not even sure if he is still alive. But after spending an afternoon with Johannes I realized that it is good to be around people who are passionate about what they do. Who knows? Perhaps it could inspire me to approach my own job with renewed enthusiasm, or more likely, it will inspire me to make the four-hour drive north to pick up some more Riesling.

Smile Frank Morgan....

Smile Frank Morgan….

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About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Philadelphia with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Finger Lakes, Rave, Riesling, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Friday Rave: Kemmeter Wines

  1. Tom Riley says:

    Great read. Thanks for this. As a former student AND teacher I understand what you say about the rarity of passion. And thanks, too, for the laugh at the end. I’m at a car wash right now and I almost spit coffee on the window I’m standing in front of.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. When did you get a job? Good for you! xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beth says:

    This is beautiful, Jeff! I’m so glad I asked you to go and that you trusted my judgment!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was such an outstanding tasting! I am kicking myself for not buying more of that first riesling- it was crazy good. For $14? Insane. Giving #3 some more time and the right meal…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Jill Barth says:

    There is absolutely something about hanging out with a person that LOVES what they are doing (work, parenting, art, sports…whatever). It is so satisfying. This is a great post; I think it hits hard on why so many people make wine, sell wine, write about wine…wine-this or wine-that…because we LOVE it
    Wondering about the cliff-hanger that is your wife’s job…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Beth says:

    I believe 19 and 31 were the number of fermentation days for the Sheldrake Point Rieslings? There is still Sonero and 31 on the website if you want me to order any for your trip to CA to save you an eight-hour roundtrip! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. WOW! Love this post and the reviews!!!! I’ve heard very good things about the Finger Lakes Wine Region. I have a friend up there that goes to the wineries around there all the time.

    Liked by 2 people

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