Finger Lakes Wine of the Week: Terrassen Cabernet Franc 2018

The six barrels that consist of this wine’s entire annual production are not a lot. But the amount of care and attention that go into producing it is probably more than expected.
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Wine bottle photo provided by Terrassen

By Richy Petrina of Ithaca Wine Ventures

The six barrels that consist of this wine’s entire annual production are not a lot. But the amount of care and attention that go into producing it is probably more than expected.

Terrassen—literally meaning terraces in Deutsch—generally refers to Austrian or German wines sourced from multiple sites across a region to give a sense of that area. And that’s what this bottle strives to do for our Finger Lakes and, specifically, the Cabernet Franc grown here. 

For years our region has had producer-specific wines … and increasingly, we now celebrate single vineyard expressions. Somewhere in the last decade or so, we were fortunate to welcome négociant producers, or individuals with endless passion and a keen sense for extracting the potential of available fruit grown by others.

To stand in their shoes is to view the region as an artist’s palette, vineyards becoming varying colors from which these artists select their blend. As a wine lover, it’s endlessly fun to experience one person’s unique perspective resulting from this process.

In this case, our artists-in-residence are partners-in-life Thomas Pastuszak and Jessica Brown, two individuals with love for—and deep roots in—our region. The Terrassen wines are their labor of love, something they seem to successfully balance alongside their kids, industry careers, and the two hundred plus miles between their home and this region. 

The humble Cabernet Franc grape is not as famous as Cabernet Sauvignon, but it is in fact its parent, and that of Merlot, too. Generally known as one of the pillars in Bordeaux, in cooler climates such as the Loire and the Finger Lakes, it can take on wonderfully fun styles.

This wine has a gentle peppery spice and an explosive bite of tart sour cherries like those I grew up reaching for as a kid. I get strawberries, bell peppers, even bittersweet chocolate from a sip of this wine. It started out focused and high-fidelity at a fresher temperature, but robust when paired with beef bourguignon, and elegantly-structured as it continued to evolve in my glass well after the meal was done. Like a couture black leather jacket, it inspires confidence and seems comfortable being paired with most anything.

This wine is sourced from organically-maintained old-vine Seneca Lake vineyards planted in the 80s, resulting in low yields and a higher concentration. The vines are Loire clones thriving on gravelly shale, and that minerality and high acid give it an electric vibrancy. 50 percent of the juice is whole-cluster fermented—a la the Loire and Beaujolais—and only native yeast is used during the open-top fermentation. It is then aged in old Pinot barrels for eight months and bottled “unfixed and unfiltered” according to Thomas to “preserve its texture and Finger Lakes freshness.”

This distinct approach provides a wonderful lens through which to discover this classic varietal that has found such a welcoming home here in the Finger Lakes.

Photo provided by Richy Petrina

Richy Petrina founded Ithaca Wine Ventures in June of 2019 to elevate and amplify the region and its exceptional producers. The startup’s latest project, WINEcsa.org, is a wine club from the Finger Lakes featuring a different winery each month, with local drop-offs and nationwide shipping.

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