Winemaker Paul Hobbs is swapping comfort in California for a dormitory-style bed in his native New York state as he prepares the ground for a Finger Lakes Riesling he believes will rival Germany's best.
Hobbs has been leaving his eponymous Sonoma winery to visit the 26-hectare estate that he has acquired on the east side of Seneca Lake, alongside Johannes Selbach, owner of Selbach-Oster in the Mosel, Germany.
Teams from both wineries are putting up with rustic accommodation in the Finger Lakes, in order to ascertain the best plots of land for planting. Vines won’t go into the ground until next year.
‘I’ve been on a quest for the last couple of years,’ Hobbs told decanter.com. ‘I’m a lover of Riesling and the place that can possibly compete with Germany is the Finger Lakes.’
In particular, he said the shale and slate found beneath the soil on the southern part of the Finger Lakes area have ‘large similarities’ with the steepest slopes of the Mosel.
Hobbs’ two-year search for a property ended after he and his brother found suitable land on an estate owned by an elderly couple who were looking to sell up.
Mosel-based Selbach was easy to recruit, Hobbs said. ‘Johannes nearly jumped through the phone.’
Hobbs said he has invested ‘pretty hefty’ personal funds in the project, which has been an ‘all cash outlay’, but he declined to give a figure.
Given his critical acclaim, the move is a sign of the Finger Lakes’ emergence as a winemaking region in the US.
‘There’s going to be heightened interest [there], and we didn’t want to make the same mistake we did in Argentina,’ Hobbs said, explaining that he regrets not going into the South American country earlier.
‘But, I hope it will stay quiet for a while,’ he added. He needs to rebuild cash reserves before buying any more land.
Written by Chris Mercer