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Paul Hobbs and Johannes Selbach Announce Winery Project in New York's Finger Lakes

Star California and German winemakers will plant vineyards and produce Riesling

James Molesworth
Posted: January 22, 2014

The Finger Lakes wine region of New York, which has steadily improved in recent years with Riesling as its lead variety, is drawing increasing attention from outside vintners. Paul Hobbs, whose eponymous California winery produces outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Germany's Johannes Selbach of the Mosel Valley's Selbach-Oster have announced a new joint venture in the area.

The new project is located on the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake, where many of the area's most prominent wineries and high-quality vineyards are located. “I'm really excited by the site, which took me two years to find,” Hobbs told Wine Spectator. He bought the property in June 2013. Located in the town of Burdett, the 67-acre site runs along both sides of Route 414, though the lower portion won't be planted because it is too steep. The upper portion ranges in elevation from 600 to 900 feet and there are about 45 plantable acres, according to Hobbs. “It will take us three years to plant, as we have to order up the vine material. We plan to go with at least 90 percent Riesling, with maybe a little Gewürztraminer or Pinot Blanc.

The new project is a homecoming of sorts for Hobbs, who was born in upstate New York and planted vineyards with his father in Niagara County as a young man. “My dad knew Konstantin Frank [founder of the pioneering Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellar] and he would go over to the Finger Lakes and get advice from him. We were growing hybrids only at the time, so it's sort of ancient history. But obviously it had an impact as I really cut my teeth on those vineyards before moving on to California,” said Hobbs.

Hobbs first met Selbach in 1998 while touring wineries in the Mosel. The two became friends and this marks their first winemaking venture together. Selbach, whose Mosel estate is one of the region's top wineries, took some convincing to get on board with the project though, according to Hobbs. “When he first saw the site, it was pretty rough—lots of trees,” said Hobbs. “It needed work and I don't think he was too crazy about it at first. But then we dug the soil pits and he saw the shale and now I know he's in love with it.”

The as-yet-unnamed project will likely produce its first wines in 2015 using purchased fruit while waiting for the new plantings to come online, says Hobbs.

The Finger Lakes region, located five hours by car from New York City, has a long history of quantity-first, rather than quality-first, wine production based on hybrid and native American grapes. Over the past 15 years though, a steady shift to higher-quality, lower-yielding vinifera grapes has taken hold. Riesling has been the best performer so far, along with other aromatic whites. Reds made from Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Blaufränkisch (sometimes called Lemberger) have also shown promise.

Hobbs and Selbach are not the first outsiders to stake a claim in the Finger Lakes, but this combination of California and German vintners is the most high-profile to date. Louis Barruol of the Rhône Valley's Chateau de St.-Cosme has started his Forge Cellars label with local Finger Lakes investors, while winemakers Morten Hallgren of Ravines and Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road moved to the Finger Lakes after previous winemaking stints in Europe.

Mr Michael Warren Thomas
Rochester, NY, USA —  January 22, 2014 11:57pm ET
When Paul chose this property overlooking Watkins Glen and Seneca Lake, he didn't know that Johannes's mother had visited Watkins Glen 61 years ago, while an exchange student in Geneva, Ohio (Geneva, NY is at the north end of Seneca Lake). Another cool connection: Just 30 minutes east of the property, Paul's daughter is a student at Cornell University in Ithaca, where her grandparents (Paul's parents) graduated many decades ago.

The partnership with a top Mosel producer is brilliant. Johannes Selbach brings a whole new scale of potential Riesling production to this Finger Lakes project and to the United States, not in quantity (Selbach-Oster only produces 12,500 cases per year), and not in quality (FLX Rieslings are regularly scoring 90+ points) - but in variety. At most, Finger Lakes wineries produce 6 or 7 Rieslings each year. Selbach-Oster produces over 60 each year, many under 10% alcohol and some as low as 7%. There is great excitement in the Finger Lakes, with 2014 off to a roaring start!

Just one more note from a proud resident of the region. Finger Lakes wineries have won Best White Wine at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (largest in North America) three of the past five years (twice for Gewürztraminer and once for Riesling).
Bob Madill
Ovid, NY, US —  January 24, 2014 12:12am ET
I first met Johannes Selbach at Prowein a few years ago. It's a pleasure to welcome an adventure seeking Mosel Riesling family to the Finger Lakes most especially in the company of the Hobbs family with their roots in upstate. The conversation about Finger Lakes Riesling is getting more interesting and we have just scratched the surface.

Bob Madill,
Chair, Finger Lakes Wine Alliance
David A Zajac
Akron, Ohio —  January 24, 2014 6:45am ET
From someone that comes up and visits twice per year and have followed what's been happening in the FLX for about the last 5-6 years, this is great news. The influx of outside talent and investors only confirms what the locals have known for some time, that this has the ability to be a great location for top notch wines. With the likes of Heart & Hands, Red Newt, Ravines, Wiemer among others, and now people like Barroul, Hobbs and Selbach joining the mix, its an exciting time to be following your region.
Simon Beer
United States, Pembroke Pines, FL —  October 11, 2014 7:03am ET
I have known the Selbach family since 1989. I have visited them just about every year since. I know that Johannes always wants the best. Robert Parker in his book the "Great Wine Estates Of the World" listed the Selbach estate as one of the best in Germany. I know that Johannes will only want the best.

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