Annual Barrel Tasting: Wine With Friends

Barrel Tasting 2016

The table is set for our Annual Barrel Tasting.

This past Saturday, April 23, we welcomed 64 guests to our Wine Club Annual Barrel Tasting event. We dipped into and explored our 2015 red and white wines. For this event, we bring the people to our wine, setting up in our production facility, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling pallets of Sheldrake Point wine and arrays of barrels.

Pay Attention to What Is Behind the Curtain

As winemakers, Dave Breeden and I frequently sample the wine to see how flavors are developing. We need to know what is happening to the wine to pick the optimal time for bottling. It is an important part of the job.

For our guests, including our wine club members, opening up a barrel and siphoning into a pitcher a sample of what was just six months ago hanging on the vine is a bit like peeking behind the curtain to see what the wizard is up to.

Annual Barrel Tasting: 2015 Vintage, Whites

Our Annual Barrel Tasting guests started out by enjoying a glass of ‘welcome wine,’  2015 Dry Riesling, before separating into two groups to sample four whites and four reds.

This year we designed the tasting of our 2015 whites around a seated food pairing.  A good pairing makes the wine, and the food, taste better. Christopher Bates, Chef, Master Sommelier, and, with wife Isabel, founder of F.L.X. Wienery, put together a fantastic small plate to bring out the best of our whites:

2015 Dry Rosé, with roasted carrots, hibiscus agridolce, wildflower honey, and turmeric honey.

2015 Chardonnay and 2015 Pinot Gris, with mushroom salad with herbs and lemon rind. This chardonnay made with SPW oak staves.

Our guests were split 50-50 in preference between the Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in this pairing. Since our 2015 Chardonnay was just bottled, the flavor is still a bit shut down, or ‘dumb’ as Dave terms it. This is common for a just-bottled wine. When we release it later this year, it will have come into its own.

2015 Semi-dry Riesling, with Smoked duck breast, foraged spring greens and red apple, and pureed butternut squash.

Winemaker Dave Breeden told a couple ‘Sheldrake-Point-behind-the-scenes’ stories about aging our Rieslings and the attributes of oak used in flavoring wines:

Dave and I have had some roller coaster experiences tasting our Rieslings over the course of several months, and we have found that patience repeatedly makes them beautiful wines at bottling.


A white oak felled in 2009 near the edge of our vineyard has been crafted into staves that flavored our 2014 and now our 2015 Chardonnay.

It is only at our special winery events that these types of winemaking and vineyard stories get told in animated detail!

Annual Barrel Tasting: 2015 Vintage, Reds

Our guests pushed away from the table to join me across the winery beside our red wine barrels where we tasted:

Opening up a barrel and siphoning into a pitcher a sample of wine is a bit like peeking behind the curtain to see what the wizard is up to.

Opening up a barrel and siphoning into a pitcher a sample of wine is a bit like peeking behind the curtain to see what the wizard is up to.

2015 Gamay Noir. Sheldrake Point is one of only two known growers of this grape in all of New York State. My strawberry jam recipe was a handy reference, whereas I macerate the fruit and sugar in the refrigerator for two days before canning. This process lets the flavors develop. Similarly, we like to let our Gamay Noir macerate on its own skin in a process called “cold soaking.”

2015 Cabernet Franc. This wine is still young, in what I call ‘an awkward sassy’ stage, like a teen!

2015 Merlot. Our Merlot is destined to be blended in both a 2015 Meritage and 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. It is the “roundest” wine and is a beauty to blend with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. This year Dave and I separated the fruit into three bins, each containing one ton of fruit, for winemaker experiments. Through experimenting during fermentation we are able to confirm our processes in the winery as being the best possible or perhaps finding better ways to achieve our end results. Winemaking cannot follow a set formula, so we have to constantly challenge and question the way we do things.

Wine with Friends

Our Annual Barrel Tasting does one more thing – it brings together friends from near and far. Two of those friends are wine club members Cathy and Craig P., who drive four+ hours from Bucks County, PA, to attend our events. They travel in their Sprinter van RV with their yellow lab Abby.

I asked Cathy and Craig to tell me about their experience at our Annual Barrel Tasting:

Cathy P. with wine club manager Whitney Elrod and me, getting read to taste red wines at our Annual Barrel Tasting.

Cathy P. with wine club manager Whitney Elrod and me, getting read to taste red wines at our Annual Barrel Tasting.

 “We’ve been coming up to the Finger Lakes for 19 years and joined the Sheldrake Point Wine Club just over a year ago. These events are great for making new friends – which is easy for me (Cathy) to do wherever we go!


 The food pairings were wonderful for bringing out the features of each white wine. We loved the sweet carrot with the sweetness of the Rosé, and I really loved the minerality of the Chardonnay with the earthy mushroom salad. The Riesling with the duck was an amazing pairing I would never have considered.


Dave led us through discussion of the white wine food pairings, then we moved over to the Red wine barrels with Julia. We’re enjoying the wine and making new friends, but also learning so much from Dave and Julia about how each grape is handled. We wouldn’t miss an Annual Barrel Tasting!”

We hold our Annual Barrel Tasting event exclusively for wine club members each year in mid-spring. Find out more about wine club membership at, and keep track of all our upcoming events at

Hailing from Philadelphia, Julia attended William Smith College in Geneva, NY and earned her degree in Women’s Studies and French & Francophone Studies.  Julia worked at Fox Run Vineyards on Seneca Lake from 2009 to 2013, after which she went down-under to work as part of the winemaking team at Yalumba Winery in the Barossa Valley of South Australia.  Happy to be home in the Finger Lakes, Julia brings exciting talent to the winery.