If you like bone dry Riesling and cool climate Pinot Noir then head to Forge Cellars in New York States’ Seneca Lake. It’s so proud of those two styles of wine it makes that they are the main slogan on the company’s website. Forge Cellars is actually a Franco-American alliance between local New York winemaker, Rick Rainey and Louis Barruol of France, owner of Chateau de Saint Cosme and Chateau Rouanne. Here Rainey explains what it has been able to do in lockdown and its plans when restrictions ease.
The Buyer continues its series exploring the worlds of different producers across New York state with a tour behind the scenes of Forge Cellars with general manager, Rick Rainey.
Tell us about yourself and the winery and its key points in history?
Forge is a partnership between myself and Louis Barruol of France, owner of Chateau de Saint Cosme and Chateau Rouanne. Our first vintage was 2011 and we make bone dry Riesling and Pinot Noir. In 2019 we began making a small amount of Cabernet Franc. In our opinion these grapes gives us the best expression of our region and plus we like them.
What makes your particular region suitable for those grapes and what sort of styles of wine do they make?
We are in a cool climate which works well for both Riesling and Pinot because it affords us a long ripening period without high alcohol.
What is your approach to winemaking and has that changed at all in recent years?
The approach is always changing so that would certainly be a key element of our philosophy. We do everything so we can do as little as possible. Ultimately quality is what guides our actions. Wild ferments, sustainable agriculture, bio-intensive and organic agriculture are all things I deal in. This is a new region, with many things to discover so I do not want to subscribe to one idea as it is far too early in the evolution of this region to be dogmatic.
What would you say are the big points of difference – the USPs of New York wine that buyers should know?
We can achieve high levels of ripeness and maintain freshness and balance without excessive alcohol. We can have both texture and depth with less than 13% abv – this is magical. The flexibility at the table is wonderful.
What are the main markets for your wine, both domestic and export?
We have distribution in the main markets in the US across 30 states that make up about 80% of the wine consumption of the US. Florida, New York, California, Illinois, Texas and Virginia are all key markets for us. We also export to approximately 20 countries. The export business is handled by my partner Louis. We stage the wines at Chateau St Cosme and ship them from there.
What percentage of your wines do you export and is that growing?
We were about 20% export for our last vintage, though I expect that to decline sharply this vintage. Japan and the Nordic countries have been very good for us.
What are the types of wine in your portfolio that work best in export and why?
We export both our dry Riesling and Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is probably an easier sell.
What do you think of the UK market and why do you want to sell your wines there?
We are currently imported by Bibendum and when I visited last year we had very good reception to the wines. We have appeared twice in Decanter so I am thinking that has had some impact. I think the market could be developed more but it would require me being there which would be wonderful as I really enjoy the sophistication of the market and wine history.
Which channels of the UK market are you focused on and at what price points?
We are focused on all channels. I think the Riesling is around £17 or so?
How has the Covid-19 outbreak affected the winery and your business?
In the states we have a strong restaurant presence and so that has had a very big impact. We have had to restructure some pricing and programming in order to be better positioned in retail. Covid’s impact has been huge, but the future is unknown. Currently my partner and his assistant can’t come to the US. Typically he and I would be doing all the blends and planning bottling, but I will need to take care of those things as I can’t imagine travel will open up any time soon.
What steps have you put in place to cope?
We have been very aggressive since day one with a social campaign to donate to those most affected by the pandemic and that has been restaurant workers. We are currently donating 5% the sales of our core wine, 2018 Dry Riesling “Classique” to the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation. At the winery we have been making sure to have a nice lunch once a week with “take-out” from a local restaurant and crack some good wine and beer. The first few weeks were really tough and now that the sun is beginning to shine I think everyone is feeling a bit better.
- Forge Cellars is imported into the UK by Bibendum.