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Interview: Scott Osborn, Fox Run Vineyards, Finger Lakes

Scott Osborn, founder and owner of Fox Run Vineyards in Finger Lakes, and president and founding member of the New York Wine Industry Association, tells Decanter why Fingers Lakes is the most exciting new Riesling region in America.

How would you describe your taste in wine?
I like wines with elegance, subtlety, and finesse. I want a wine to stimulate my salivary glands and to excite my palate. I drink my wines with dinner and expect them to work with the food.
What is the most exciting grape variety you work with, and why?
Riesling. I like its versatility, by which I mean you can make so many styles. I like the fact it expresses terroir better than any other variety, so it can really express New York’s uniqueness. It is also the best food wine, white or red, on the planet.

What is the most difficult part of running a winery?

It is all difficult. It depends on the day, what is going to be the most difficult thing. Equipment breaks down when you need it most. Employees get sick when you need them most. Customers act inhuman when you are having a nice calm day. You leave for vacation and everything breaks while you are 2,000 miles away. I love it and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

What makes your wines special?

This is a cool climate region. Our wines are not overpowering but are great examples of subtlety and finesse. Our wines are the kind you can sit down to dinner and finish a whole bottle with your partner because they are delicious and enjoyable to drink.

Do old vines make better wine?

I am sure we could debate this. The first question is what is old? Ten, 20, 50, 100 years? Also, can a vine be too old? Is 50 years too old? At what point do the vines become economically unviable? Here in the Finger Lakes we lose one to two percent of our vines each year, so the vines tend to never get really old. A vineyard here can be 50 years old but the vines will have been replaced many times.

What wines would you choose to drink if you were celebrating?
Sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Lemberger.

What is the single most memorable wine you have ever drunk?

Around 1988 I drank a 1954 Clos de Reas from Remoissenet. It sent chills throughout my body and brought tears of joy to my eyes.

Are there any wines you’ve never tasted that you really want to try?

Yes, and they are too numerous to name. They all come from European countries. I guess the most intriguing appellations would be wine from the mountainous northern regions of Italy or Austria because of Blaufränkish, and Germany to try those low-alcohol Rieslings. What intrigues me is these are regions I assume have very cool climate conditions and I would like to spend time tasting through the similar varieties that we have here in the Finger Lakes to see the similarities and the differences.

Is wine too expensive?
I love this question. Basically, no, it is not too expensive. All wine is too expensive to some people and not too expensive to someone else. For those of us who own small wineries in the US it costs a certain amount of money to make a bottle of wine. We have to pay our employees a living wage, we have to buy tanks, glass and other materials. We have to pay our electrician and plumber to work on our equipment and buildings. We all have to make a living. The price we charge is not gouging, it is just the way it is. People should be proud to buy their local wines and realize they are keeping their neighbors in work. They should be ashamed when they complain how our wines are too expensive, since they have no idea what goes into making it. Buying local wine keeps more money in the local economy. Buying imported wine removes that money from the local economy. I like the idea of keeping money spent on wine in the local economy.

Do you make wine for consumers, critics or yourself?
We make wine for ourselves and our consumers. Some wines we make we don’t drink but we give them the same attention and time we would the wines we make for ourselves. Our goal is to make wines in different categories, so that the person drinking it will say ‘that’s really good’.

What is the most exciting wine region of the world at the moment?

The Finger Lakes. I see it a newer wine region where we have found that Riesling grows well and we can make great wines. What is exciting is that the owners and winemakers are trying all different styles and techniques to see what works the best here. In doing so they are pushing the envelope on styles and winemaking. We are doing a lot of geological work discovering what the glaciers and the ensuing lakes have done to our soils. Discovering the widely different soils and conditions just within a farm, or the difference from farm to farm, is exciting. Also, the winemakers and owners are collaborating and trying to find out together what is going to make the best style of wine for our unique region.

What is the one myth about wine that you would like to see buried?

That New York can’t make good red wines. I guess in Europe folks won’t understand so much, but here everyone learned to drink California wines which are big, tannic and alcoholic. So we hear all the time that our reds are to light or they are not good because we are always compared to the California style. I found in presenting our wines at tastings in England and in Brussels that the consumers there are more familiar with our style and accept it more readily.

What would you be doing if you weren’t making wine?

I’d be a wine critic. Who wouldn’t like to be able to drink and eat and then review what they just tasted or eaten? How cool is it to travel the world’s wine regions visiting wineries and vineyards and have all these very interesting people tell you their stories. I am sure it is hard and deadlines would make me nuts, but it seems to me to be a great life. I admire the critics who have studied the winemaking process and know what they are talking about and who have studied the world’s wines and know there are differences and that all regions are different.

How is your winemaking different now from when you started?

I came from California, which is by and large a warm and dry region. Here, I had to learn to expect incredible disease pressure during the growing season, rain during harvest, and to reduce acids rather than raising the acids in the wines.

Why should people drink New York wine?

For the same reason I came here from California. In 1984, I came back to visit family here in the Finger Lakes. I visited Wagner Vineyards and tasted their 1982 Chardonnay. It was barrel fermented and aged in oak barrels. This is when I discovered what cool climate Chardonnay was all about. The elegant flavors with the snappy acidity were what Chardonnay should taste like. So I moved here to make Chardonnay. When I got here I discovered how fabulous Riesling was. Before I left California I was told I would never make a red wine again. When I got here I discovered how beautiful Cabernet Franc and Lemberger were. These wines are all so enjoyable they should be tried often.

How has having your wine poured at the US Presidential Inauguration in 2013 affected your winery?

It raised the awareness of the three wineries that made the wine. It also gave people a different impression of New York wines. If our wine and Bedell Cellar Winery’s 2009 Merlot (also served at the Presidential Inauguration) are good enough for the President, then maybe consumers should give them a try.

What is the worst mistake you’ve ever made?
I didn’t count the vines when I bought the property. When I took over, there were supposedly 25 acres (10.1ha) of vines. Every spring we replant any vines that may have died the year before. You usually figure about 1% of the vines have died. When I went to do replants the next spring I discovered over 6,000 vines were needed, or about 7 acres (2.8ha). The original owners had not done any replanting during the time they owned it. So instead of buying 25 acres I ended up with 18. It took another 4 years to get back to the original production.
Fox Run Vineyard wines are imported to the UK by Wine Equal Friends.

Written by Kyle Schlachter

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