Hermann J. Wiemer is one of the champions of Riesling in the Finger Lakes. He hailed from Bernkastel in Germany, where his father was the head of the agricultural research station. Hermann studied at Geisenheim and then left Germany while he was still in his 20s, emigrating to the USA and planting a Riesling vineyard on the shores of Seneca Lake in 1976.
We visited with co-owner Oskar Bynke. Hermann Wiemer retired from winemaking in 2004, and retired completely in 2007. The winery was then sold to Oskar and the then winemaker Fred Merwath. Oskar studied agriculture in Sweden and also at Cornell in New York State.
Weimer has vineyards on both shores of Seneca Lake. It is the deepest of the lakes at 200 m depth so it has a better temperature-modulating effect, and as a result the vineyards around here have been the main vinifera areas in Finger Lakes.
The main challenge is whether the wines survive the winter. This is why Cabernet Franc and Riesling have been such a focus, because they are extremely cold hardy. Also, another challenge can be surviving spring frost damage, so later budding varieties like these have an advantage. The air flow from the lake effect reduces disease pressure, and the lakes help the seasons drag out which buys hang time.
Ladybirds can be a problem here, and in 2013 this was a particular issue. If they get into the ferments they can taint the wine, causing an unpleasant greenness. There’s a neighbouring farm with soybeans, and when these are harvested the ladybirds head to the vineyard. So Wiemer have purchased a vibrating sorting table to help get rid of any left on the bunches.
Grape berry moth is a problem too, and unfortunately people aren’t allowed to use pheromones for sexual confusion in New York State, which would help a lot.
The vineyards are on glacial-derived soils so there is lots of variation around the lake. Over the years Wiemer have figured out where things grow best. The northern sites have much deeper soils and are more vigorous, whereas some of the other vineyards are almost pure shale, and much less fertile.
The grapes are hand picked in many stages, to capture the nuances through the harvests. There are a lot of small fermentations going on. They also separate the pressings. The dry Riesling has 30 to 40 different lots of wine in the blend.
There is no inoculation here. So the later picks – in October – are much slower fermentations because of the temperature, which dips significantly at this time of year. Also there is longer time between the last spray and the harvest for the later pickings. The fermentations take six to eight months. It get’s very cold in the winter, and then they take off again in spring.
Wiemer don’t use sulfites on the press pad, because they are relying on wild yeasts. They work quite oxidatively and this also helps stabilize the wine. They like to work with pure juice and so they rack before fermentation.
Everything is farmed organically and there are 10 acres that have been farmed biodynamically for the last four years.
Total production is 18 000 cases, and of that 10 000 cases are Riesling. Wiemer also has a nursery, producing 700 000 vines a year for other wineries
These are very impressive wines.
Hermann J. Wiemer Cuvée Brut 2013 Seneca Lake AVA, Finger Lakes
Disgorged 2018. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Very fruity and appealing with nice open citrus and pear fruit. Nice depth and focus here. Very attractive with hints of toast and a touch of ripe apple. Nice weight. 88/100
Hermann J. Wiemer Blanc de Blancs Back to Zero Brut Nature 2014
Complex and focused with a lively, subtly herby edge to the lovely taut citrus fruit. Nicely complex with fine toast and spice. Lovely crisp, linear fruit. Very fine and expressive. 92/100 ($45)
Hermann J. Wiemer HJW Vineyard Riesing 2016
8.8 g/l g/sugar. Cooler site and shallower soils, with almost pure shale. Generous and concentrated with lovely bold melon, peach and citrus fruit. It’s rich and mouthfilling with generous, ripe fruit. Has lovely depth with a really nice concentration of flavour. Some sweetness here. 92/100 ($30 ish)
Hermann J. Wiemer Magdalena Vineyard Riesling 2016
8.9 g/l sugar. Fresh, detailed and open with lovely tangerine and apple notes. Very rich and bold but also with delicacy and tension, showing a lively, almost electric finish with good balance between the ripe fruit and the acid. 92/100 ($30 ish)
Hermann J. Wiemer Josef Vineyard Riesling 2016
Plantings from the 1970s. These are the last grapes picked. Beautifully intense with lovely melon, pear and nectarine fruit, with a lovely citrus core. Rich, textural and sweet with lovely depth and focus. So pristine with great acidity under the concentrated sweet fruit. 94/100 ($30+)
Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Reserve Dry 2016
Rich, complex and quite dry, but with lovely intensity of fruit. There’s peachy richness but also some citrussy brightness. Really lively and expressive with amazing intensity of flavour. Very fine in a rich style. 93/100 ($25)
Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Dry 2017
Very expressive with lovely apple, pear, spice and fine herb notes. Nicely textured and weighted with lovely fruit intensity. Fresh and quite dry, but with richness of fruit. 90/100 ($20)
Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Semi-Dry 2016
11.5% alcohol. Usually the first-picked Riesling. Light and expressive with lovely tension between the acid and the sweetness (around 20 g). This is so pretty with citrus and pear fruit and a hint of apple. Such a pure, delicate Kabinett-style wine. 91/100 ($20)
Hermann J. Wiemer Gewurztraminer Dry 2017
Old vines, not much skin contact. Textural and complex with lovely weight. So pretty. Grown up and complex with nice phenolic, spicy complexity and bold melon, lychee and spice. Has lovely intensity with a long, spicy finish. This is a really impressive example of Gewurztraminer. 93/100 ($25)
Hermann J. Wiemer Chardonnay 2017
Fresh and tangy with bright lemon and tangerine notes. A bright, fruity, low-oak style with lovely freshness. Juicy and delicious with nice brightness. 89/100
Hermann J. Wiemer Magdelena Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2016
A fairly ripe site. Gravelly and delicious with nice fresh structured blackberry and black cherry fruit. Supple and with nice bright fruit. Has a bit of grip with a savoury, chalky, grainy structure under the fruit. Very attractive. 91/100
Hermann J. Wiemer Single Select Riesling 2016
From the Josef vineyard, with a grey label (used for special one-offs). This has lots of botrytis character: it’s powerful and spicy with lovely sweetness, notes of marmalade and apricot, and a lot of spiciness on the finish. Viscous, intense and delicious with lovely concentration and a long finish. 94/100
Hermann J. Wiemer Noble Select Riesling Magdalena Vineyard 2015
Concentrated, powerful and limey with lovely complexity. Fresh citrus and marmalade with some melon and spice notes. Lovely intensity and depth with freshness and great balancing acidity. 93/100
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