By Wayne Schutz, Photo Credits Alice Schutz
Alice and I recently had the opportunity to interview Benny Riccardi at Barry Family Cellars in Burdett. Benny is producing fine Chardonnays, Rosé of Cabernet Franc and a Cabernet Franc varietal under his brand ‘Osmote’. “Osmote means to move naturally towards balance. It’s a play on the word osmosis, but for me, it’s the summation of being in the Finger Lakes and the role of the lakes keeping the winters a little warmer and the summers a little cooler, and also an expression of my winemaking philosophy.” says Benny.
Benny is a native of the Finger Lakes region, born in Ithaca and raised in Dryden, N.Y. Early in his life, he began making wine with his father in the basement using concord grape juice. “By no means were these fine wines, but it put the bug in my mind and made it clear that winemaking was the kind of job that I could do”.
He went to the US Air Force Academy, where he studied chemistry and hoped to become a pilot. After learning that his eyes were going to keep him from becoming a pilot, he decided to go to the Cornell Agriculture School Viticulture and Oenology program. With a strong background in chemistry, Benny really became excited when learning about growing grapes and making wine: “With my science background, I was immediately placed into graduate level programs. At Cornell, I got a really strong education which has helped me tremendously.”
Like many young winemakers, Benny has traveled a lot. Starting in the vineyard at Sheldrake Point, he then worked in Long Island, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, France and Sonoma, California. Locally, he’s also worked at Red Newt Cellars, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars
and Lakewood Vineyards.
“For me, the true path to success in winemaking is being ‘low impact’, trying not to add outside materials, caring and thinking about the vineyard all year long.” In Chile, Ben first experienced the “biodynamic” approach to winemaking at the Vinos Emiliana winery: “there they showed us how the chickens ate the bugs off the vines, and the chicken eggs could be used for fining the Bordeaux blends. They raised llamas, which helped their compost, and the llamas wool helped the workers to find other jobs outside of the vineyard in the winter. With every aspect of the farm there was a cycle and each cycle benefited the wine in some way.”. In New Zealand, that appreciation was cemented at Muddy Water and Greystone Wineries where he learned to trust native yeasts.
For four years he worked under the guidance of the head winemaker at City Winery in Manhattan: David LeComte While working under David’s direction, David told him: “You will have one fermenter, and this will be your project, so that you can grow.” Benny eventually became the associate winemaker, allowing David to focus on growing City Winery.
2014 was the first vintage of Osmote. Benny returned to the Finger Lakes because “I always have really been in love with the Finger Lakes, and the barrier to entry is low enough that I knew I could have my own winery.”. He made about 200 cases that year.
The 2017 vintage brings about 1100 case equivalents, as some of it is kegged. The current wines are:
Osmote 2015 Seneca Lake Chardonnay “Pale gold. Aromas of ripe orchard fruits and an accent of Crème brûlée. Body is generous with a dry finish”
Osmote 2017 Cayuga Lake Chardonnay “Osmote’s first vintage of a stainless steel Chardonnay. Bright and acidic with medium body and delivering lots of fruit flavor but also a savery edge like a hint of anise. Warm and rounded at the finish”
Osmote 2017 Rosé of Cabernet Franc “Salmon colored wine. Aromas of cherry and frutti di bosco with slight herbal edge. Flavors are fresh and fruit driven with medium plus acidity and generous sense of body.”
(NEW) Osmote Seneca Lake 2017 Cabernet Franc “Stem inclusion during fermentation helps bring forth not only the polish and fruit forward character of the New World, but also the inherent herbal undertones and structures of an old World classic”
Benny hopes to eventually be his own “vigneron” (a person who cultivates grapes for winemaking), where he can fully utilize his skills in holistic and biodynamic winemaking and run a ‘by appointment’ tasting room where he can give personal attention to his guests.
In addition to several local wine shops, Osmote can be purchased at The Stonecat Cafe in Hector, Dano’s Heuriger in Lodi, and of course Barry Family Cellars. Visit online at https://www.osmotewine.com.