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Richard Figiel is the man here, owner, farmer, winemaker, bottler, labeler and salesman. For years he was a noted journalist in New England and traveled extensively throughout the Finger Lakes region for wine magazine features, interviewing countless winegrowers including luminaries such as Dr. Konstantin Frank, whom he knew well. He had thoroughly researched the numerous microclimates in the region, and when the winemaking bug finally struck, he knew exactly where he wanted to settle. In the early 1980s, he began planting a vineyard with classic European varieties including Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. Seneca Lake is the deepest of the Finger Lakes (632 feet) which are all extraordinarily deep. The particular site he chose is a temperate island within a cool region. The Iroquois knew this 250 years ago when they had large peach orchards at this location. As Figiel explained to me and describes so clearly in his book (Culture In a Glass), “The Finger Lakes tend to maintain a stable temperature throughout the year. This causes the lakes to act as a colossal radiator in the winter months… .often keeping vineyards 10-15 degrees warmer than locations just a half mile away. In the first hot days of April and May, the cooling influence of nearby water tends to delay the emergence of tender new vine shoots until the risk of damaging spring frosts has passed. In fall the effect reverses: summer heat stored in the surface layers of the lakes radiates up to ripening grapes, postponing first frosts until as late as November. Distinct microclimates along the hillsides rising from the lake shores make it possible to reliably ripen grapes in a region that is generally too cold for viticulture and certainly too cold for delicate European vines like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.”
It wasn’t until 1992 that Figiel felt the vines were mature enough to produce distinctive wine. He practices sustainable organic farming with no chemical fertilizers or synthetic pesticides. The concept is to be a small artisan winery focusing on a few estate cool climate varieties. The winery, designed by his architect brother, is built into the hillside to take advantage of natural temperature control and gravity flow. Winemaking is very Burgundian and truly hands-on.
The Silver Thread lineup of wines includes Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir. The wines have acquired quite a cult following in the region. Production is a mere 1,500 cases annually. The label features a turtle image duplicating an image carved into a rock beside one of New York;s woodland rivers by a Native American artist many centuries ago.
2005 Silver Thread Estate Pinot Noir
Barrel sample. A warm growing season with ideal conditions. · This wine is flush with luscious Pinot fruits and the mouth feel is warm and plush. There is great material here and this wine should turn out memorable. Shows what is possible with Pinot Noir in the Finger Lakes if the weather cooperates. Reviewed May 22, 2006
2002 Silver Thread Estate Pinot Noir
$22. · A beautifully composed Pinot Noir that sports an attractive nose of cherries and baking spices. This is beginning to take on a bouquet of leather and sandalwood. The texture is soft and comfortable with flavors that feature tasty red fruits and spice. The finish is lasting with a lively grip of acidity. Reviewed May 15, 2006