There's a little bit of France in New York's Finger Lakes now. The area's wine industry has historically been built by local talent. Only a few outsiders have come in to set up shop—Germany's Johannes Rheinhardt, formerly of Anthony Road and Paul Hobbs from California, for example. Lately, France has been creeping in, first with Morten Hallgren at Ravines and then Louis Barruol at Forge Cellars. The latest newcomers are Céline and Sébastien LeSeurre, with their namesake winery on the eastern side of Keuka Lake.
Céline, 32, comes from Toulouse and had worked in numerous positions in the wine business, including as a brand ambassador for M. Chapoutier here in the U.S. Sébastien, 30, hails from Champagne, the sixth generation of his family to produce wine there. The seventh generation, their 4-month-old daughter, sleeps upstairs as I taste with the couple, a portable baby monitor on Céline's belt.
The couple actually met in New Zealand while working at Henri Bourgeois' Clos Henri project. Eventually they made their way to the Finger Lakes so Sébastien could work a harvest at Dr. Konstantin Frank.
"It was supposed to be our last trip, after traveling so much for so many years," says Céline. "We were going to go back to France to start something there. But we fell in love with the Finger Lakes and couldn't leave."
"The potential here is so great," says Sébastien.
They chose Keuka Lake to get away from the more crowded Seneca Lake to the east. And they picked a spot at the neck of Keuka's 'Y' shape, the widest part of the lake, giving their hillside the biggest benefit of the lake's moderating influence. Starting in October 2013, the couple have been clearing the 8-acre parcel themselves and will eventually start planting up to 6 acres at a more Old World–styled density, significantly denser that what is typically done in the Finger Lakes. (Finger Lakes vineyards are often planted wider to accommodate mechanization in the vineyards, as well as to encourage air flow to offset humidity-driven disease pressures. When vines are planted closer together, the vines must compete more with each other. They produce less but generally more-concentrated fruit, while the vineyard's overall yields remain economically viable.)
"We're thinking of high-altitude vineyards in Europe, and their cold winters and hot summers," says Sébastien. "And what varieties do well there, such as Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Franc."
The couple currently purchases fruit from several vineyards, preferring older vines (another Old World love) for their 2,000-case annual production. They prefer the fermentation to go slower than usual, sometimes not finishing until the following spring. There's also some fermentation and aging in oak on the whites, relatively unusual for the region.
"The micro-oxygenation develops more flavors and aromas, and we love the mouthfeel it gives to the wines," he says.
Three lots of 2015 Riesling are still sitting in barrel (none new) here. A lot sourced from vines planted in 1976 shows fuller-bodied lime curd and yellow apple fruit, but keeps the grape's zippy profile on the finish. For the Chardonnay, there's some new oak used, resulting in a notably creamy feel and lightly toasted accents around pretty pear and fig fruit flavors.
Simply applying Old World techniques to a New World wine region usually doesn't work. Instead, the LeSeurres seem to be embracing the style of fruit the Finger Lakes provides, while enhancing it with their own personal influences learned along the way. It's a gentle melding of styles rather than a blanket approach. And this is a winery to watch.