Skip to content

Join us at the winery for tasting, Visit Today

The Red Tail ridge Estate

The story of RTR Estate vineyard begins 440 million years ago with shallow seas that created some of the first complex life on earth. Those seas laid down thin plates of shale that form the base geology here in the Finger Lakes. The land shifted north. Then, at the beginning of the last Ice Age, glaciers formed, then retreated to and fro for almost 2 million years. Creating Seneca Lake and the gentle easterly-facing slope that our vines sit on today. Our close proximity to the lake, and the fact that we reside near the deepest portion of it, greatly influences our weather patterns. The weight of those glaciers crushed the layers of shale into fragments on our vineyard site. Their slow movement deposited other alluvial matter and rocks onto our soils while pulverizing the finer sediments into deposits of clay. These huge natural forces created uniquely perfect conditions for growing vinifera on this specific spot.

One of the great things about wine from the Finger Lakes is that they are so unique. They can't be misconstrued with wines from any other place. Every vintage is not repeatable, they are moments of time captured in a bottle and available to experience over and over again.
Nancy Irelan
Co-Owner & Winemaker

Fast forward to modern day, when Nancy Irelan & Michael Schnelle made the momentous decision to leave California to come here to the Finger Lakes in 2002. Nancy had already become a highly respected member of the US wine community. At that time she was Gallo’s VP of Viticulture and Enology R&D, and collaborating on various projects with Cornell and USDA researchers here in the Finger Lakes. Michael was in a leadership position at a heavy equipment rental company, where he was utilizing his background in construction and his MBA in Finance.

When the choice was made to move forward with a FLX project, Nancy & Michael began searching for the best location for growing vinifera grapes. This process took a few years of site research and finally lead to the identification of this site. Two years, ample soil testing and topographic assessment of the property resulted in the 2004 purchase. The journey of converting the forested land into a vineyard began with the preparation of the soils. In 2005, Pinot Noir was planted, then Riesling, and seven other cool climate varietals over the course of 14 years.

The business has grown in a slow, thoughtful pace. In the early years, Nancy made her wine at neighboring wineries until RTR’s could be constructed. The original Tasting Room that opened in 2007 was a small & intimate space. The winery itself was constructed in 2009 and was certified as a LEED Gold green facility in 2011 for it’s environmental and energy conscious design.

Of paramount importance to Nancy & Michael is the respect and preservation of this environment, whose formation has evolved over eons of time. The vineyard is managed using sustainable practices that balance safety with environmental & economic responsibility. Permanent cover crops are used to preserve and replenish our soils while also helping to manage and control water retention in the clay soils. A field of native wildflowers sits in between our Riesling Block and Earl’s Place to encourage pollinators. Geothermal is used to heat and cool our winery, and recycling is a way of life throughout the business.

Estate Vineyard

The original piece of the estate with the classic varietals of the Finger Lakes ~ Riesling, Pinot Noir & Blaufrankish planted along with Chardonnay, Lagrein, Dornfelder & Teroldego. Our special stamp on the region.

Earl's Place

Named in honor of Nancy & Mike's long time neighbor and dear friend Earl Miller. This block of vineyard was originally Earl's farm, and is now planted to Cabernet Franc, Blaufrankish, Pinot Noir & Zweigelt.

Our Geology

Being a part of the Niagra Escarpment means that we sit on 440 Million years of life on earth is shown in the fossils found in the vineyard. During the last Ice Age, this area diverged from the escarpment with the rise of the glaciers.

Our Wine Making Philosophy

Nancy’s philosophy is to create wines that are transparently pure expressions of the place they are grown. There is no “fussing” in the cellar; consequently the winemaking is slightly ephemeral. The focus is on using the best techniques each vintage to work with the gifts and challenges that mother nature has provided that season.

Balanced wines are of utmost importance. A membrane press, stainless steel tanks, open air vessels and neutral oak barrels are tools used to allow the wine to develop without intense intervention. Indigenous yeast strains are used whenever possible to ensure expression of our environment. Red wines are unfiltered and unfined.

The resulting wines therefore do not have consistency across vintages. Rather, they tell the story of that year in how they taste. This provides the consumer bespoke wines that maintain interest year after year. Red Tail Ridge wines are never boring.

Purchase Wine

From elegant and expressive Methode Champenoise sparkling wines to robust and deep Teroldego.