Ravines Wine Cellars is an artisanal winery in the flourishing, world-class wine region of the Finger Lakes, located in upstate New York. It is the passion of Morten & Lisa Hallgren, a European Winemaker/Oenologist and his Chef wife. Together, they have created a small, distinctive winery, crafting elegant and expressive wines using Old World winemaking practices.
When Morten and Lisa started Ravines in 2001, they were the only winery in the Finger Lakes with a Winemaker holding a formal degree and training from Europe and a winery pursuing a traditional winemaking approach – making exclusively dry, vinifera wines. Ravines quickly became regarded as a top wine destination in the Eastern USA and has consistently gained national awards, noteworthy press, high scores and international accolades.
Morten also pioneered the bone-dry, mineral-tinged Riesling style that has since become the flagship Finger Lakes wine to critical acclaim. In addition to Ravines success with dry white wines, they are also heralded for top terroir-driven red and refined, methode champenoise sparkling wines. The winery has grown significantly through the last 18 years, and while small on an international scale, Ravines owns 130 acres of prime estate vineyards, operates two tasting rooms year-round and holds many wine & food pairing events for their guests and wine club members, courtesy of the onsite Ravinous Kitchen.
Thankfully, the Hallgrens arrived in the Finger Lakes at the right time, and soon had “cherry-picked” the best vineyard sites for making Ravines wines. These same vineyard sites still make up 100% of their wines made today, a provenance of grapes that they have gained familiarity and experience with over the last 9 – 18 years.
Morten, Danish by birth, grew up on his family’s estate winery in the Côtes de Provence region of France, a region that’s world famous for its food and wine “religion”. His parents owned and operated Domaine de Castel Roubine, a 170 acre vineyard and estate winery where Morten spent years honing his viticulture skills, and in the cellar, learning the traditional methods of fine, European winemaking. Castel Roubine was a culinary paradise, surrounded by vineyards, gardens, orchards, and wild herbs and Lisa spent most of her time training in the culinary arts after previously meeting Morten in their formative years.
After secondary school, Morten received an advanced degree in both Enology and Viticulture at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier, one of the world’s top winemaking schools, and then went to work for Chateau Cos d’Estournel, a world-renown “2nd Growth” winery in the Medóc region of Bordeaux. In the following years, he made wine at Cordier Estates in West Texas and then the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. In 1998 he went to work as Chief Winemaker for Dr. Konstantin Frank Cellars, one of the pioneers of vinifera grape growing in the Finger Lakes, located on Keuka Lake.
As chief winemaker, Morten’s job allowed him to work with grapes from many vineyards around the region and he marveled at the terroir of some of the sites, most of which were not owned by a specific winery. Additionally, as he tasted other Finger Lakes wines and made wines for Dr. Konstantin Frank, he was able to assess and gauge that the grapes would be best expressed in a very dry, focused, mineral-driven style, rather than the off-dry, fruity style that was principally being produced.
The Hallgrens realized the serious potential for fine, cool-climate winemaking in the Finger Lakes and agreed that this was their place to set roots as a life-long home. As timing would have it, they had the perfect opportunity to invest in a 17-acre parcel of land on the steep, eastern slopes of Keuka Lake, between two deep ravines. These were typical of the hundreds of ravines, gullies and gorges around each of the Finger Lakes and an important geological feature because they drain cold air and water from the vineyards. These particular ravines purchased by the Hallgrens became the namesake of the winery and later the place of Ravines first tasting room.
After purchasing the Keuka parcel on the two ravines in 2001, with the plan to make wine in the next vintage, Morten knew the top two sites where he already had experience working with the grapes and set out to purchase from those two sites for Ravines upcoming first vintage. Those are the Argetsinger and 16 Falls Vineyard on the eastern edge of Seneca Lake that have been a part of every vintage of Ravines wine through to this day. The Hallgrens rented a barn down the street from where they lived, and with the purchased grapes, Morten produced the first vintage, making wines from the classic varietals of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and a Meritage red “Bordeaux-blend”.
The Dry Riesling immediately won 2003 Best Dry Riesling in the World Riesling Cup. Around the same time, they opened the Keuka tasting room in the house that they shared with their three young children and began selling wine. It provided a charming tasting room with scenic upstairs views of the lake.
Since the Finger Lakes wine consumer had never quite experienced a Riesling style like Ravines it wasn’t very popular when initially released in the tasting room, even after winning the best Dry Riesling award. Lisa was determined to change that, and soon after she drove their wines to New York City to find people who appreciated this new style of Dry Riesling. She was met with immediate excitement from sommeliers, restaurateurs and retailers in the city, who appreciated this elegant style of Dry Riesling, along with the beautifully savory Ravines Pinot Noir. Wine journalists also took notice and Ravines began to receive high scores and accolades from the wine press.
Morten left his job at Dr. Franks in 2006 and only made wines for Ravines thereafter. In 2010 Morten moved production operations to White Springs Winery in Geneva, near the northwestern end of Seneca Lake. By that time, the acreage being purchased from the Argetsinger and Sixteen Falls vineyards was up to 59 acres. Morten also became the winemaker for White Springs Winery, then owned by the philanthropist and gentleman farmer, Carl Fribolin.
In 2012, Carl wanted the Hallgrens to take over his vineyards and so they purchased the White Springs winery and property, including 50 acres of vineyards and a turn-of-the-century slate barn that was soon remodeled. The renovation included adding a large tank room, creating a large barrel room, expanding the lab and adding more warehouse facilities. With a second tasting room open year-round, Lisa took the time to expand their dedicated group of attentive and knowledgeable Ravinista’s (tasting room staff), that makes it a joy to visit and taste at Ravines to this day.
After replanting vines at their original Keuka vineyards, adding 10 acres of plantings to the White Springs Vineyards and purchasing the entire 46 acres of the 16-Falls Vineyards, Ravines now possess 130 acres of estate vineyards, plus another 28 acres of continuity with the Argetsinger Vineyard and adjoining Two Gorges (formerly the Glen Eldridge) Vineyard. Morten feels very lucky to have such a close relationship with the Argetsinger family who have done a masterful job with their special site throughout the 18 years in partnership and as close friendship of the Hallgrens.
Morten and Lisa are also very devoted to their “Ravinous Wine Club”, which has developed into a tight, engaged community of wine lovers. Members enjoy the club because it provides free tastings and a 20% discount on all wines, as well as the close relationships that develop quickly with other members, the Hallgrens and their staff at the various Ravinous Club Wine and Food events.
Morten will tell you without exaggeration that the Finger Lakes is a truly unique wine region with extraordinary opportunities and challenges. Because of its cool-climate nature, vinifera grape growing is confined to a narrow band around each lake, which means it will always remain small in terms of wine production. Since Morten and Lisa were in the extremely fortunate position of having come to the region and selected the top vineyard sites 20 years ago, they’ve been able to learn from, experiment with and perfect their wine growing / making practices with each passing year.
The Ravines approach has been and will remain to pursue what Morten calls “Transparent Winemaking”: striving to grow the highest quality grapes while remaining good stewards of the land. To Ravines, this also means employing sustainable farming practices that limit erosion and maintain excellent vine-balance, with an eye towards organic practices.
Impressively, the Finger Lakes is the American wine region that, naturally and without fail, provides a firm acidic backbone for Ravines wines each year, along with bright, pure and intense aromatics that produce wines with intensity, distinctiveness and a sense of place. We believe that this combination of characteristics, for the value, is unsurpassed anywhere else you may look. Thank you for learning about our history and we look forward to sharing a glass with you soon!