Perpetual Precision

A glimpse into the cellars of Red Tail Ridge is a glimpse into winemaker Nancy Irelan’s brain

By Amelia Sauter

A glimpse into the cellars of Red Tail Ridge is a glimpse into winemaker Nancy Irelan’s brain: wine-centric, efficiently organized and bursting at the seams. A self-proclaimed nerd and twice nominated for a James Beard award, her attention to detail is reflected in every wine. As the winery sharpens its focus on bubbles and lesser-known reds, I asked Nancy about one of their signature sparkling wines, NV Perpetual Change Brut Nature.

Edible Finger Lakes: Tell me about the Perpetual Change.

Nancy Irelan: It’s a perpetual reserve, which is like the solera method. Basically, it’s a single-base wine, and every year we draw off the bottom and make our tirage for secondary fermentation in the bottle, and that year’s vintage we add to the top. So it’s a constantly evolving base wine that’s representative of the evolution of vintages of the winery. Every edition is the best that Mother Nature gave us for that year.

EFL: What grapes do you use for it?

NI: In this bottle there is Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay. The next vintage, which I’ve already put down in tirage, will have an enormous component of Zweigelt, which is Austrian. We just planted it so it’s young vineyards; they go through puberty for a few years.

EFL: Puberty?

NI: The wines that come from those vines are a bit disjointed; they’re still trying to get their balance. Usually you get full-flavor ripeness but you still have high acidity and low pH, which is perfect for base wines for sparkling and for rosé.

EFL: Why so many sparkling wines?

NI: It takes a lot of focus and a lot of precision to make really good sparkling year after year, and I think that’s one reason I have slowly gravitated to it. But also, this region started with sparkling. In the 1860s, two-thirds of all the sparkling that was being made in the United States was being made in the Finger Lakes. With the climate we have, and the soils we have, sparkling wine is the path of least resistance every single year.

EFL: What’s your favorite sparkling wine that you’ve made?

NI: Are you asking me to choose between my children?

EFL: I love the dinosaur label.

NI: Perpetual Change is Darwin’s theory of evolution. You see there’s a velociraptor with a red tail hawk—our icon—on its tail. Evolutionarily they are related, but they’ve transitioned like the base wine.

EFL: Should I age the Perpetual Change?

NI: One thing that really drives me crazy is how Americans hold onto sparkling for a special occasion. It’s like, “Why are you torturing yourself? Drink the damn champagne!” I’m not saying down an entire bottle, just one glass. It will change your whole attitude for the rest of the day. Red Tail Ridge Winery is open daily from 10am to 5pm at 846 State Route 14, Penn Yan, NY. Book a tasting at

Amelia Sauter is a psychotherapist and former co-owner of Felicia’s Atomic Lounge. Follow her on Instagram: @inviteanxietytodinner.

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