Asheville Winemaker Wednesday, Red Tail Ridge Winery 5-16-18
Red Tail Ridge winery is owned and operated by Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan, a husband and wife team, who are dedicated to producing fine wine in the Finger Lakes. Join us as we welcome Nancy and her wonderful wines to Asheville!
Mike and Nancy moved to Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes of up-state New York around 2004 when they first purchased the 35 acre property. Mike moved east before Nancy and began the long process of clearing and preparing the land for vineyard development. The property was primarily woods and scrub trees, so he had his hands full clearing trees, picking rocks, pulling stumps… very glamorous stuff! Before embarking on this project, he was working for a national company that rents heavy equipment to consumers. Mike used to manage the financial service center that
supported most of the individual locations west of the Mississippi. He’s a numbers-guy, with a lot of hands-on and practical experience in heavy equipment and construction. Winegrowing is a second career for Mike. He picked up the basics quickly and has proven to be a great partner in trying new approaches and thinking “outside the box”. Mike is also one of the most meticulous and exacting viticulturists that Nancy has ever worked with.
Nancy arrived in the Finger Lakes a few years later, leaving her position as Vice President of Viticulture and Enology R&D at a large corporate California winery to start a new life with her husband. She is the winemaker for Red Tail Ridge. Once the winery reaches veraison (the onset of ripening), she usually walks the vineyard constantly to taste the fruit and assess ripeness. Then once harvest has started, she moves her focus away from the vineyard and concentrates on the wine production process and eventually sales. Together the two have combined their skills to produce a variety of premier wines from the beautiful vineyard that is now Red Tail Ridge Winery.
Vineyard Details and Sustainable Practices
Vineyard design includes contour drain tile to minimize excess soil moisture and ensure uniformity. We use drip irrigation when we experience prolong drought during the berry development phase. We utilize fairly dense vine spacing. Our front hill is planted on 4’ by 8’ spacing and our Riesling is 3’ by 8’.
We continually work on various projects in our vineyard such as:
RTR employs integrated pest management (IPM) practices to monitor, identify, prevent and control vineyard insect pests and diseases. We also use a mechanical weed knife to avoid herbicide applications. We are not certified organic or biodynamic; however, we utilize a sustainable and environmentally balanced approach in managing our vineyard. Read more on our sustainability practices by clicking here.
All of our vines are on vertical shoot positioning (VSP) trellis. This allows us to continually reposition canes and canopy to optimize light exposure and airflow through the fruiting zone. This improves fruit ripening and also maturation and lignification of wood in preparation for the coming winter. Intensive canopy management techniques are employed when necessary to maintain vine balance and optimal fruit quality. We perform cane/shoot thinning, leaf pulling, and cluster thinning as necessary. All of our red varieties and a significant portion of our whites are hand-harvested.
We also perform routine petiole and soil analysis to assess vine nitrogen and micronutrient requirements. We compost our pomace and winery process waste (i.e. yeast lees, grape solids, etc.) for vineyard application. Red Tail Ridge tries to deter critters in a humane way. The vineyard is surrounded by an 8 foot deer fence. We also utilize bird netting to keep our maturing clusters safe.