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‘We Have Really Tried To Push Ourselves,’ Says Fred Merwarth, Winemaker of the Year | Wine Enthusiast’s 2021 Wine Star Awards

Fred Merwarth / Photo courtesy
Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard

Driven, detail-oriented and always thinking about the long game, Fred Merwarth started his winemaking career in the Finger Lakes just over 20 years ago. His beginnings at Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard read like an old-school apprenticeship, working under the tutelage of a brilliant but gruff mentor.

“He’s going to show you once and you better watch,” said Merwarth remembering his early days working with Hermann Wiemer, one of the forefathers of Vitis vinifera winemaking in New York who successfully grew Riesling around Seneca Lake starting in the early 1970s.

When Merwarth started, it was just him and Wiemer maintaining the entire operation—from working the retail shop to cleaning tanks, pruning, bottling and everything else from the vineyard to the cellar. It was then his trial-by-fire education in enology and viticulture was solidified.

In August 2007, a sea change was afoot when Merwarth, his wife, Maressa Merwarth, and business partner Oskar Bynke gained ownership of the winery after Wiemer retired. The continuation of Wiemer’s pioneering spirit remained at the fore, yet the new owners had the vision to bring the winery to a whole new level.

“That led to a lot of discussion about the potential of the Finger Lakes in terms of the diversity from one site to another, one side of the lake to another, one hedgerow to another hedgerow, the soil variations, the mesoclimates,” says Merwarth. “The question became ‘how do we best express that?’ ”