If you really want to learn about a specific winery, one of the best things you can do is join their case club. As part of the case club, you get access to wines from their library, first dibs at new releases, and special events where you can chat with the winemakers and owners.
This year, we were invited to attend Atwater Vineyard’s Annual Case Club Party, a unique and fun experience where we got to try some fantastic wine with Cajun Zydeco music in the background. We arrived at the winery on a gorgeous Saturday night, and were greeted with custom glasses and a tasting itinerary.
But first, a little about Atwater…
About Atwater Vineyards
Atwater Vineyards is located on the southeastern side of Seneca Lake. It was first planted as a vineyard in the early 1900s for native grapes, and expanded to classic European and French-American hybrids like Chardonnay and Seyval in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the vineyard was sold to Ed & Joanne Grow, who established Rolling Vineyards Farm Winery. They expanded the vineyard to include Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Vidal Blanc. Their wines were given high praise, including winning a Governor’s Cup. Despite the accolades, they closed the winery down in 1991. The vineyards were still growing and the grapes were sold to other wineries in the region.
In 1999, Ted Marks purchased the vineyard and established Atwater, opening officially in 2000. With a little help, Marks was able to quickly establish Atwater as brand in the region. In 2003, Vinny Aliperti became the winemaker (yes, the same Vinny Aliperti who owns Billsboro Winery). Now, Atwater Vineyards is producing a wide range of wine from European, hybrid and native grapes, including Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Lemberger, Niagara and more.
Now, let’s get back to the wine!
Tasting the New Releases
When we arrived at the party, the first thing we did was try the new releases.
We started with the 2015 Navone Dry Riesling, which is named after the specific vineyard that it gets its grapes from. Unlike Atwater’s other Rieslings that greet you with fruit notes, this one begins with a certain earthiness and floral nose that deepens into lime and peach notes that continue onto the palate. It has a nice bright, but not overwhelming acidity.
Next was the 2014 Barrel Fermented Gewurztraminer, which has a perfume nose of peach and rose petals. On the palate, it is buttery and spicy, a fun surprise given that you cannot really find the oak on the nose. It is balanced by a mid acidity.
Our last new release to try was the 2015 Whole Cluster Merlot, our personal favorite of the night. Whole cluster means that it was picked, pressed and fermented in the cluster, rather than having the stems and seeds taken out earlier in the process. This creates a wine that is full of complex notes of tobacco, red cherry and black berries, pepper, and hints of mocha. On the palate, it has loads of espresso and cherry that is complemented by a firm but not super chewy tannin.
Once we had finished our tasting, we headed down to the tent to see what else there was to try and check out the party.
Case Club Party & Riesling Vertical
The party took place primarily within a large tent set just outside the vineyard. It provided us with an amazing view of the sunset over Seneca Lake, a perfect vista for wine tasting. In addition to having an array of wine available, they had Cajun inspired food for guests including everything from fried chicken and gumbo to fried green tomato and alligator- yup- alligator. Throughout the entire party, Rose and the Bros played Zydeco music that filled the tent with fun, and guests had the option to take a tractor tour of the vineyards.
There were also two special tastings led by winemaker Vinny Aliperti and assistant winemaker George Nosis. Sadly, we didn’t long enough to try the second tasting, but we did enjoy making our way through the Semi-Dry Riesling vintages.
The vertical started with 2006 Semi-Dry Riesling, which has a nutty nose of almond and hazelnut, honey, and apricot. It had lost some of the notes on the palate, but was still interesting to try.
2007 Semi-Dry Riesling maintained a lot more fruit characteristics, and has a nose of honey, lime curd, and citrus rind, with a low acidity and some notes of petrol.
Conversely, the 2010 Semi-Dry Riesling was a fan favorite, with a floral and stonefruit nose that has a minerality throughout the palate, mid acidity and a hint of fruity sweetness that lingered.
We ended with my personal favorite, the 2011 Semi-Dry Riesling. It has a nose of citrus peel, tangerine, slate, and mineral, with a nice nectarine and medium acidity on the palate that had just a hint of balanced sweetness.
It was really fun to get to catch up with Vinny and George about what was happening at Atwater Vineyards, and taste through some of the older wines. We had a fantastic time chatting with other guests about their favorite wines and what they enjoyed about Atwater. Case club parties are a great way to meet the die-hard wines of a winery and nerd out about why you enjoy their wines. Also, the food was incredible and while it didn’t pair quite well with the wine, it did go perfectly with the pink lemonade they provided.