Hallgren pictured in a Finger Lakes vineyard for the New York Times in 2011.
French-trained oenologist Morten Hallgren has long been convinced of the wine potential in New York’s Finger Lakes. He and his wife, Lisa, a chef, settled among the shale-stoned soil of the region in 2000, founding Ravines Wine, and never looked back. Today, he produces dry Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Meritage on 17 acres near Keuka Lake. The New York Times described his 2009 dry Riesling as “elegant, with complex aromas of citrus, pear and lillies, distinctive minerality, and vibrant acidity.” Prior to Hallgren pouring his Riesling at our Winter Riesling Tasting, we talked winemaking, dinner parties and beer.
What sets New York State Riesling apart from other Riesling-producing areas, such as Washington state, Germany and Austria?
"Austrian Riesling would probably be the closest to dry Finger Lakes Riesling—the combination of a firm acidic backbone, a moderate but more substantial alcohol level, and the deliberate absence of botrytis. I think our Rieslings have more structure than most German Rieslings, which make them easier to pair with food. We have a firmer acidity than most Washington Rieslings, resulting in more focused, intense aromas."
What sets your wine apart from other New York Riesling producers?
"We have a commitment to all hand picking and whole clustering pressing. Aging on the lees allows us to ferment dry and still preserve textural elements."
What was it like building a winery from the ground up?
"It allowed Lisa and I to focus exclusively on dry wines and food pairings without commercial compromises. It was also a lot of work!"
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
"The most rewarding aspect is being part of a group of winemakers with a chance to mold and shape wines from a little known region with immense potential."
Where do you see the New York State wine industry in five years?
"I think, and hope, we will see a greater emphasis on dry wines with even higher quality standards. I think there is already a shift toward drier Riesling, even if we struggle with defining what 'dry' is."
What is your favorite food pairing with one of your wines?
"I love local, fresh goat cheese with my dry Riesling."
What is your go-to bottle for a dinner party?
"Currently, I take my 2005 Meritage or my 2008 dry Riesling. Finger Lakes wines have inherent balance."
What is your most treasured bottle, personally?
"I'm saving some 1990 Champagnes, Taittinger, Pol Roger. 1990 is my anniversary year."
If you’re not drinking wine, you’re drinking...?
"Beer! As a kid in Copenhagen, I lived close to the Carlsberg Brewery."
Any particular style or brand?
"I drink everything."