For the Record: Oregon Chardonnay ca. 2007

In 2007, Saveur Magazine asked me to write a story on the state of chardonnay in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  In the end, the text below was not published in the magazine, but is now (2017) posted here for the record.  The text has not been fact-checked or copy-edited, not has it been updated for this post.   — JWH

Imagine New World chardonnay with the bright, apple-hazelnut character of Rully; the pear, melon and yellow plum found in early editions of chardonnay grown on Spring Mountain in Napa Valley; some fresh, white peach that seems more characteristic of viognier than chardonnay; plus earthy, resinous and citric notes, excellent acidity, and a touch of Chablisian minerality. Modest alcohol, and only a suggestion of oak. No hint of residual sugar, butter, or tropical fruit. Such is the portrait — against all odds, expectations and track record – to emerge from a cross-section of several dozen chardonnays grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, across three recent vintages.   Serious, appealing, food-friendly wine that is often age-worthy, sold for astonishingly reasonable prices.

 

Chardonnay in Oregon runs a distant third to pinot noir and pinot gris, which occupy seventy percent of the state’s vineyard. Although, for decades, nearly every grower in the Willamette Valley planted it, it rarely made a vintner’s favorite wine, and often behaved more like a varietal black sheep. When Roy Andries de Groot surveyed American wine early in the 1980s, he liked chardonnays made at The Eyrie Vineyards, Ponzi Vineyards, Knudsen-Erath and Elk Cove, which he found, variously, “crisp,” “fruity,” “tart” and “subtle,” but in every case he preferred the same producer’s pinot noir. Chardonnay frustrated many Oregon vintners, producing “lackluster” results, especially in cool vintages. From 1995 to 2005 vineyard acreage devoted to chardonnay declined by almost half, and some producers abandoned it entirely. Newcomers to Oregon’s wine business invested almost entirely in pinot noir, or in just a few rows of pinot gris alongside their pinot noir, to give themselves a bit of something white for home consumption and tasting room sales. The contrast with neighboring California, where chardonnay has been the uncontested behemoth for a quarter century, is stark. So too the contrast with Greater Burgundy, from Chablis to the Maconnais, which Oregon resembles climatically and aspires to imitate, where pinot noir and chardonnay together, in roughly equal shares, account for nearly everything.

 

Context is part of the story. Neither chardonnay nor riesling was able to compete with the inexhorable success of Oregon pinot noir, internationally acclaimed since The Eyrie Vineyards’ legendary performance against a passel of outstanding red Burgundies tasted at Beaune in 1980. Pinot noir sucked oxygen from Oregon’s other varieties, becoming, as veteran wine writer Matt Kramer explained in 1996, “all anyone in Oregon wine talks about, thinks about or prays for.” Economics took care of the rest. The price of pinot soared; demand kept pace; more pinot was planted; and a shadow settled over other varieties, including chardonnay. Another bit of the picture lies with chardonnay outside Oregon, where it swept like a tsunami across the wine landscape, flooding the market with all qualities of chardonnay at all price points, and leaving little room for upstart competition. Worse, with a nod to Burgundy but more caricature than imitation, the New World’s warmer regions also imposed an international consensus style on chardonnay, creating demand and acceptance for soft, round wines redolent of tropical fruit, vanilla and butter, seasoned with a bit of residual sugar. The Willamette Valley is too cool to have made chardonnays in this mould, even if its vintners had been so inclined.

 

As Oregon vintners tell the story, however, their core problem with chardonnay was not contextual but botanical. Although all the world’s chardonnay has been propagated from a single Mother vine that grew, probably somewhere in Greater Burgundy, in late medieval times, spontaneous mutation (and human intervention designed to eliminate disease) has generated multiple instances of chardonnay over time, and each instance is a bit different from every other. The first chardonnay vines planted in Oregon, the vintners explain, were cuttings taken from California instances of the variety, already several plant generations removed from French antecedents. Planted in Oregon, these selections ripened late and developed little flavor until the tail end of the ripening process. In warm years, producers were able to coax “pretty good” wine from these selections – Dick Shea remembers “lovely” chardonnays made from California selections planted in his vineyard in years when autumn rains held off until the end of October – but more than a few were sappy, ponderous, tasted mainly of red apple, and lacked “zing.” Mindful that Burgundian colleagues reported chardonnay that ripened simultaneously with pinot noir, and that good white Burgundy was anything but ponderous and sappy, several Oregon vintners, including Adelsheim Vineyard’s founder David Adelsheim, concluded that that their devil must lie with the California selections. These, they hypothesized, had adapted a bit too well in California, and now refused to perform “true to variety” at a more northerly latitude. So the vintners turned their sights to Burgundy, where government-sponsored programs had been following vineyards for twenty years, taking cuttings from the healthiest and earliest-ripening vines, propagating small parcels exclusively from those cuttings, making batch after batch of experimental wines, vintage after vintage — effectively bettering the breed. The Oregonians persuaded the French to part with a few cuttings from their programs, forged a relationship with Oregon State University to manage importation, and organized their own trials. Finally planted commercially in 1989, 1990 and 1992 at Adelsheim, Argyle and Ponzi, the new selections behaved like chardonnay in Burgundy. They ripened just as the doctor had ordered: two weeks earlier than the “old” California selections and right in sync with pinot noir. However, although they hinted at the flavors and structures the vintners sought, the first finished wines were still underwhelming. Adelsheim noticed that an appealing “subtle white peach fruitiness” developed early in the ripening continuum, but also tended to disappear early, as soon as acid levels headed down. After three years of less-than-inspiring results, Rollin Soles, Argyle Winery’s partially Europe-trained winemaker, learned the trick: he picked the French selections “before they got too ripe.” Gradually, quite a few producers replanted entirely to French selections. Argyle made its first chardonnay exclusively from French selections in 1995; Ponzi in 1996.

 

Perhaps as important as the fact of the new selections, which have now grown to account for about half of the chardonnay in Oregon vineyards, is the new attention lavished on chardonnay by vintners sensing a “better future” for the hitherto underperforming variety. At Chehalem, winemaker Harry Peterson-Nedry devised a “bracketed picking” scheme to address the singular ripening profile of the French selections. He picks some vines when the grapes reach barely 12 percent potential alcohol, then others at around 13 and 14, and builds the final blend from a combination of lots, to achieve verve and body in the same wine. Eyrie’s new winemaker, David Lett’s son Jason, has adapted barrel fermentation followed by long élevage in neutral wood, plus other “tricks I learned in Burgundy,” to produce an especially well-built edition of chardonnay for his personal Black Cap label — from heritage vines in the family’s estate vineyard. Patty Green, Patricia Green Cellars’ eponymous winemaker, reports an evolution for the chardonnay she makes from the Four Winds Vineyard (in the Coast Range foothills west of McMinnville) from “inspiration by village-level Meursault” to “inspiration by Chablis,” based on zero use of new barrels, and harvest early enough to capture a mix of still green and ripe berries. Green calls the 2005 vintage “a lean, mean, fighting machine.” Westrey Wine Company has resuscitated 28-year old vines propagated from the California selection used in Eyrie’s estate vineyard to anchor the reserve tier of its chardonnay program, using six months of lees contact and batonnage to showcase pear and Golden Delicious apple flavors in a straw-colored package.   An impressive list of producers, apparently led by Chehalem’s Peterson-Nedry, but now including Adelsheim, Sineann, Halloran, Bethel Heights, and Boedecker Cellars among others, has converted all or part of its chardonnay program to an oak-free protocol where the wines are fermented and raised entirely in stainless steel. Production of Chehalem’s unoaked chardonnay (“Inox”) has soared 500 percent since its debut in 2002. Argyle’s Soles thinks the “new American palate” has now learned to like minerality and acidity, and cites the popularity of pinot grigio as proof. “It was tough up here in the old days of fat, ripe chardonnays,” he recalls. “We were trying to please the palate of the time, but we just couldn’t do it.” David Adelsheim thinks a consensus Oregon style is emerging from experimentation: light-handed use of new oak, fresh acidity, modest alcohol and low tannins. The wines’ body is built naturally from low yields, and bright flavors can persist through complete malolactic fermentations because the unfermented juice starts out with high effective acidity.

 

Some Oregon makers have begun to talk about chardonnay with the same awe and respect they previously reserved for pinot noir. There are references to “the inherent greatness of the variety” and its “exciting tension between floral and fruit aromas.” Eric Hamacher, who has made both pinot noir and chardonnay in Oregon since 1995, now declares that chardonnay is “the other half of the Holy Grail.” Others argue that, as a matter of good business, chardonnay is the only white option for Oregon growers. Since, in the neighborhood of the 45th parallel, all viable varieties compete to be grown on the same prime, south-facing hillsides and to be cropped at not much more than two tons per acre, growers and vintners must cast their lot with a variety than can, with time and excellence, produce wine that justifies prices in the same range as those commanded by pinot noir. Of all white varieties, vinified as dry table wine, only chardonnay has a track record for such results. If the Oregonians are wagering correctly, fine Oregon chardonnay will not sell in its current $18-$35 price range forever. Carpe diem.

 

 

 

Dry Riesling in Los Angeles – March 2017

The Wine Education Council presented Riesling Rediscovered: A Seminar and Tasting with John Winthrop Haeger, on Tuesday 21 March 2017, at Spago Restaurant in Beverly Hills. This event was part of WEC’s programs to support professionalism in wine service, and participants were largely working sommeliers from across Southern California.  Further information about WEC is found at  http://www.wineeducationcouncil.org/about-us/.  .

The tasting featured dry Rieslings from Germany, Alsace, Austria, Italy, Australia, Oregon and California, and a single beyond-dry wine from Domaine Marcel Deiss at Bergheim (Haut-Rhin).   The Tasting Book is found here – wec.tastingbook.final.

Fogarty Redux in the Santa Cruz Mountains

23 February 2017.  Located on the lee side of the Santa Cruz Mountains just below their crest, the wine estate that Thomas Fogarty established in 1979 has persisted, and is in some ways little changed, across nearly four decades. It remains family owned and run, with Fogarty’s son Thomas Jr. now in charge. Fewer than ten percent of the land surface is built or planted to vines; the balance has been left deliberately undeveloped, and the entire property is protected in a land trust. Its views east and south, which extend across the Stanford University campus and Palo Alto to the east and south shores of San Francisco Bay, remain uncompromised. Only one of its vineyards – a two-acre knoll adjacent to the winery buildings, planted in 1980 and called Windy Hall — has been replanted. The rest of the original vines – mostly chardonnay and pinot noir with a small stand of nebbiolo — soldier on. Michael Martella, the legendary winemaker Fogarty-père engaged in 1980 to help him develop the estate, made every vintage here until 2012 and remains somehow omnipresent, even though he now devotes the lion’s share of time to a brand of his own. (Separately, Fogarty has developed a second winegrowing location on the west side of Skyline Boulevard, facing southwest, where Bordeaux varieties are grown for a second label, Lexington.)

The continuity masks real and consequential evolution, however. A January 2017 tasting of Fogarty’s 2013 pinots, contrasted substantially – even dramatically – with a similar tasting of the 2004 vintage done in 2008 to inform Pacific Pinot Noir: A Comprehensive Winery Guide for Consumers and Connoisseurs (University of California Press, 2008). The 2004 pinots were uniformly dark, large-framed and fruit-driven, and exceeded 14°. My notes speak of “black fruit,” “strong structure,” “muscle” and “omnipresent tannin,” and suggest that several years of bottle age might help to tame their brawn. The 2013s represent a polar contrast with this picture. The 2013s are pretty, bright, elegant treble-clef wines. They are also tightly-knit, texturally engaging, sometimes savory, sometimes spicy and often red-fruited. They are a great showcase for the estate’s kaleidoscopically different terroirs. And their alcoholic strength stands almost two degrees lower on average than in 2004. The 2013s are, in a word, beautiful. I asked Nathan Kandler, the Michigan-raised and Fresno-trained winemaker who succeeded Martella as winemaker in 2013 after nine years’ experience as his associate what had happened.

The answer, according to Kandler, begins in the vineyard. True that the Fogarty pinot program still depends on the same vines used in and before 2004, save for Windy Hill, which was taken out of production for replanting from 2011 to 2014. But viticulture across the estate has changed in small and incremental but ultimately revolutionary ways in the interim. “An estate [like Fogarty] that is spread out over a large surface makes it easy to get stuck in the cellar,” he explains. “Now we deliberately spend a lot more time outside and “pay more attention now to what we are doing there.” He points especially to soil health, and to the improvement of “diversity of life” in the soil. A legume-rich cover crop is seeded after harvest and tilled into the soil the following spring, mitigating erosion during the rainy season and increasing available nitrogen thereafter, helping to improve the “diversity of life in the soil.” Chemical herbicides have been abandoned — along with most insecticides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers. Farming in most vintages now meets most requirements for organic farming, though the vineyard is not certified. Good vine balance (technically a relationship between fruit weight and brush weight) is now a lodestone here, with shorter pruning now preferred. “In the mid-2000s,” Kandler observes, “some of our vines looked their age; now they are visibly healthier.” Healthier and better-balanced vines have also given fruit that is flavor-ripe with less sugar. To help demonstrate what has happened Kandler shared data on pinot grapes from one of the estate’s vineyards, called Rapley Trail. From 2004 to 2007, the average Brix at picking in this vineyard was 26.4 (=16.1° of potential alcohol), giving an average finished alcohol in these years of 14.3°; from 2013 to 2016 the analogous numbers were just 22.9 Brix (=13.6°) and 12.9°!

From 2004 to 2013 there were also important changes in the cellar. A period of experimentation with stem inclusion has led to the routine use of between ten and thirty percent of whole clusters for most wines in most vintages. Fermentations, which were routinely inoculated in and before 2004, now typically rely on naturally occurring yeasts. Cooperage has also changed from a wide mix of coopers, including some with notoriously flavor-forward styles like François Frères, to exclusive use of Sirugue, usually coopered from Châtillon oak, which has an enviable reputation for subtlety. At least as consequential was the choice, made incrementally over the aforementioned period, to support multiple block-designated wines. Before 2004, Fogarty made Reserve pinots, and a Santa Cruz Mountains blend that relied in part on purchased fruit, but no block designates. The latter practice began with Rapley Trail and Rapley Trail Block B bottlings in 2004. Razorback, a 1986 planting of Swan and Dijon selections and the estate’s lowest elevation vineyard at ca. 1300 feet, followed in 2011; Will’s Cabin Vineyard, a north-facing site at 2400’, planted to Mount Eden, Swan and Mariafeld selections, was first made in 2012. Windy Hill, back in production after replanting, debuted as a block-designate in 2014. My notes (from January 2017) show that Rapley Trail remains the most hedonistic of the block designates, relatively rich, dark, intense, and spicy, but in 2013 these signature properties had been wrapped into a stylish and elegant package. Will’s Ranch, reflecting the cool breed of a high-elevation site, was tightly-knit with gentle grip on the finish, but pretty and bright a mid-palate. Razorback, a lower elevation site where marine sediments and old volcanic materials predominate, was my personal favorite: very high-toned, red-fruited, tightly-knit and savory with resinous herbs, and irresistibly delicious.

It has probably been helpful that the winemaking team also makes three vineyard-designated pinots from purchased grapes, and that the Santa Cruz Mountains blend now relies preponderantly on non-estate fruit. The blend, the only one of the Fogarty pinots that is bottled before the following vintage, is all about red berries and dusty earth, with a nice accent of juniper berry; an absolutely perfect wine for weekday evenings and by-the-glass pours. La Vida Bella Vineyard, which sits above the fog line on the Aptos side of the appellation in sandy loam soils, showed as a bright, spicy wine with a silky texture and red berry flavors. Mindego Ridge Vineyard – Ehren Jordan is the winemaker for Mindego Ridge’s own label — is a 2009 planting in shale-dominated soils that gives a fleshy, saturated wine driven by fairly dark fruit.

The Santa Cruz Mountains have matured as a winegrowing region over the last decade. The region now boasts considerable professional winemaking talent. New vineyards have been planted in all corner of the AVA, some challenging Mother Nature for sites that as qualitatively promising as they are hard and risky to farm. Legendary Silicon Valley fortunes have been indispensible to some of these. Bottom Line however is that there is now an impressive list of benchmark pinot noirs from this area. Among the near pioneers that have persisted, Fogarty stands out as a twice-made success: the “new” pinots from this now “old” site are as exciting as those from any of the newly-planted vineyards and newly-minted brands.

Is a Riesling Renaissance beginning in California? – Chapter 1 (Ryan Stirm)

Ryan Stirm’s “winery” inhabits the slab floor and metal siding walls of a repurposed warehouse on Santa Cruz’s west side, most recently used as a welding shop. Barrel racks now fill about half the floor, with room left for a tiny grove of stainless steel tanks, a crush pad during harvest, and a small lab year-round. “The space has advantages,” Stirm points out, not least that the rent is reasonable, and that “it is less tainted than apple sheds in Correlitos,” never having been used for anything organic. Metal and concrete harbor few pests or fungi and clean up easily – an advantage if the new use of the space is for wine.

 

The winery is home to Stirm’s eponymous Stirm Wine Company (www.stirmwine.com), which made and marketed its first wines in 2013, when it was domiciled in Santa Barbara County, and to wines made for several custom crush projects, in some of which Stirm also has an ownership interest. The barrel racks are filled with mostly red wines – Zinfandel, zin co-fermented with a small amount of orange Muscat,Mourvèdre, Cabernet Pfeffer, and (in a tilt toward the mainstream) Pinot Noir. A single rosé is made from more or less everything (think Mission and Carignane in addition to the aforementioned varieties) that grows in the Enz vineyard, approximately 50 miles southeast of Santa Cruz in the Lime Kiln AVA. Whites, entirely tank raised, include a surprisingly appealing co-ferment of orange Muscat and palomino (!) from Enz, Grüener Veltliner from Rancho Arroyo Perdito in Santa Barbara, and several Rieslings: from old vines in the Wirz Vineyard in the La Cienega Valley AVA, a stone’s throw from Enz; from the Kick-On Ranch in Los Alamos, and from Luis Zabala’s rock-and-gravel strewn vineyard in Arroyo Seco. At least for 2016, the Zabala will go entirely into 375 or 500 ml cans for a project Stirm does with partners, but the other Rieslings are the core of Stirm’s brand. “We love Riesling,” Stirm explains, “it’s loaded with terpenes, transparent, dynamic and exciting.” Stirm is one of perhaps eight or ten young vintners, almost all newly minted, who are now rediscovering and reinventing California Riesling, searching out old vines when they can, buying fruit from growers who have planted Riesling when the cannot, and grafting or planting vines anew when all else fails.  With only a few exceptions, this cohort is focused on dry wines.  Watch this space for additional chapters of the Riesling renaissance in California.

 

Stirm, who grew up conventionally in an East Bay suburb, in a family with no special sensitivity to food or wine, developed an early interest in the out-of-doors, gardens, compost, farms and cooking. Initially tempted to choose his college based on the ranking of its wrestling team – he wrestled competitively in high school — he turned instead, in 2006, to viticulture, enology and soil science at California State Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo. A senior-year internship at Saucelito Canyon Winery exposed him to dry farming. Some time in Australia’s Margaret River, a harvest with Martin Mittelbach at Weingut Tegernseerhof in the Wachau, and several years with Justin Willett at Tyler Winery in Lompoc cemented his interest in Riesling. Stirm thinks first and foremost about vines, farming and terroir, and currently manages 44.5 acres of vineyard across the northern Central Coast, including Enz.   He is a self-avowed “huge fan of dry farming [because] it saves money” and [because] it makes much better wines;” in 2017 33 of the 44.5 acres are both organic and dry-farmed.  He also likes old vines for their smaller berries and the greater grip they give to wines. Where Stirm controls the ways farming is done, he strives for relatively open canopies to discourage botrytis and develop skin tannins, which also darkens the skin color of berries, fostering deep flavors. In most of the vineyards from which he sources fruit, he tries to pick early. At Wirz in 2015 he picked Riesling at 21.1 Brix, almost a full degree less than the previous year, and 7-10 days earlier than other winemakers aiming to make dry wines, saying that he noticed “no loss of weight or fat or ripeness,” and that the result was “more in the [stylistic] direction I want to go in.” In the cellar, his approach is relatively straightforward, albeit with a few wrinkles. About 24 hours of skin contact is permitted before fermentation. Once pressed, the juice is moved to a closed stainless tank, wherein Stirm leaves a goodly amount of headspace. “Stainless steel does not breathe,” he observes, “but headspace ensures some contact with air.” Fermentations are spontaneous, and sulfur is avoided until later, while the tank’s temperature is controlled to between 17 and 23° C. Malolactic conversion is not interdicted and generally runs its course before the primary fermentation has ended. Sulfur (see above) is finally added after the later of malolactic conversion or primary fermentation is complete. The new wines remain on their full fermentation lees until May following the vintage, left entirely alone, without stirring. Because Stirm likes “the texture of wines bottled unfiltered,” he relies on the combination of full malolactic conversion and essentially complete dryness (less than 1 g/L of residual sugar) to make filtration unnecessary. (Worldwide, nearly all Riesling is filtered before bottling. Even makers who tolerate malolactic conversion say they would be unable to sleep nights if they did not sterile filter before bottling. Stirm is one exception.  So is Peter-Jakob Kühn in the Rheingau.  And Michael Malat in the Kremstal, but Malat also interdicts malolactic conversions.)

 

Ryan Stirm is an unusually curious winemaker. For the present at least, nearly every wine and vintage is an occasion for experimentation with some parameter of time, temperature or technique, while custom crush operations, grown just slightly, have the potential to finance grander experiments. He aspires to plant some Riesling in the Santa Cruz Mountains, perhaps in a vineyard he farms now for pinot noir near Glenwood, around 1000 feet above sea level. Longer term, he has his eyes on the Sierra Foothills. He says he might “take a gamble on higher elevation sites in Mariposa and Tuolumne counties,” to capitalize on “long, sunny, late season days” and “soils composed on granite and slate, trading warm southern exposures for altitude.” Or even farther north, where “pockets of granite and limestone” are found in the Trinity Alps.

 

Meanwhile, his 2015 Riesling from Wirz is delicious and impressive: Very pale straw.  Intense attack featuring lemon peel, pith and juice on an underlay of macerated herbs and stone fruit pits. Mint, tarragon and citrus throughout.  Smooth at mid-palate and resolutely dry and slightly grippy on the long, mineral-y finish. 

 

Stirm is also optimistic about the future of Riesling in California. Pointing to its history here, its late-to-ripen propensity, and the mini-wave of new producers featuring Riesling, he sees newfound enthusiasm for Riesling on the horizon.

 

 

 

 

Dry Riesling in Southern California – January 2017

Dry Riesling was the focus of attention at two of Southern California’s benchmark wine retailers on 25 and 26 January 2017.  On Wednesday 25 January the action was around the tasting bar at Woodland Hills Wine Company (22622 Ventura Boulevard, Woodland Hills, 800-678-9463).  On 26 January, the scene moved south to the tasting bar at Hi-Time Wine Cellars (250 Ogle Street, Costa Mesa, 800-331-3005).  At Woodland Hills Wine CompanyJohn Haeger made a brief presentation on the current state of dry Riesling and walked participants through eight wines, including wines from the Selenium Vineyard in Washington’s Yakima Valley, from Rudi Pichler and Schloss Gobelsburg in Austria, von Winning in the Pfalz, and Kuenhof in Italy’s Alto Adige.  Click scan0006 to see the tasting list.  At Hi-Time Wine Cellars ten wines were tasted, including a Sekt from Falkenstein in the Saar; again Kuenhof from the Alto Adige; Cuvée Frédéric Emile from Trimbach and an excellent Winzenberg Grand Cru made by Hubert Meyer; plus wines from Knoll (Wachau) and Schloss Gobelsburg (Kremstal).  One Australian bottling and one wine from New Zealand were also offered.  John Haeger worked the tasting bar here too, answering questions from guests. Click scan0005 to see the complete list for this tasting.

Riesling Fast or Slow – Chicago – 12 September

A seminar dedicated to the (real?) differences between vineyard sites that are said to give wines that are open, flavor-forward and expressive more or less from the time they are released, and sites whose wines are initially closed, tightly-wound and flavor- or aroma-challenged until several years later. Aka: “Precocious Sites vs. “Indrawn Sites.” The seminar was held  12 Sepember 2016 at Smyth + The Loyalist in Chicago, sponsored by Candid Wines and Vintage (a Winebow Company.)  Ten wines were tasted in five pairs of two, where one member of the pair hailed from a “precocious” site , while the other came from an “indrawn” site. Wines from the Kremstal, Kamptal, Wachau, Rheinhessen, and Finger Lakes. Panelists were Andrew Algren, wine director for Chicago’s Cherry Circle Room and Morten Hallgren, founder, principal and winemaker at Ravines Wine CellarsJohn Winthrop Haeger moderated.

Malat – Ravines Wine Dinner in Chicago — 12 September

Andrew Algren, Wine Director, organized an unusual wine dinner in the acclaimed Cherry Circle Room of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel on 12 September 2016. A four course meal was composed to feature eight Rieslings spanning eight vintages, sourced from Ravines Wine Cellars at Geneva, in upstate New York, and Weingut Malat, a producer of award-winning wines at Palt, in Austria’s Kremstal. Algren’s guests were Morten Hallgren, founder, winemaker and principal at Ravines, and John Winthrop Haeger, whose new book (Riesling Rediscovered: Bold, Bright,
and Dry) profiles both Ravines and Malat interalia.  Although both wineries are famous for producing numerous varietals, both red and white, this dinner featured Riesling exclusively.  For the menu and wine list, click 9-12-16_reislingdinner.

“Riesling Myths and Mysteries” in Healdsburg (Wednesday 10 August)

Is Riesling really a German variety?  Or might it have been imported to the Rhine Valley from Austria?  Where and when did the the first Riesling vine grow?  Is it true that an entire vineyard was planted to Riesling at Johannisberg in 1721?  Where, when and why did the low-alcohol-but-substantially-sweet style widely associated with German Riesling originate?  Is it true that most German Riesling is now made in a dry style?  Are Alsatian Rieslings drier than German Rieslings?  John Haeger talked about these and other questions, addressed in his recent book Riesling Rediscovered on Wednesday 10 August at Cartograph Wines in Healdsburg, his talk sponsored by the Friends of the Sonoma Country Wine Library.  An informal tasting of dry Rieslings followed the talk.

Riesling Rendezvous — Seattle, 17-19 July 2016

The fifth edition of Riesling Rendezvous, originally conceived by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and  Dr. Loosen, took place in Seattle 17-19 July 2016.  Riesling Rendezvous is held only every third year, since it operates in repertory with the triennial Internationales Riesling Symposium in the Rheingau and a similarly triennial event in Australia.  Winemakers from eight countries attended, and several hundred Rieslings from around the world were poured for consumers, and discussed during two days of trade seminars. On 18 July John Haeger moderated “Essential Elements of Dry Riesling” with fellow panelists Andreas Wickhoff MW, Rhys Pender MW, Dennis Kelly MS, and Stephan Reinhardt of the Wine Advocate.

Austrian Riesling Seminars in San Francisco and Los Angeles (July 2016)

Circo Vino produced seminars and tastings featuring wines from the east end of the Wachau and the west end of the Kremstal, immediately north and south of the Danube,  on 13 July in Los Angeles and  14 July in San Francisco.  Emmerich Knoll presented Knoll wines from the Pfaffenberg  vineyard; John Haeger presented Steinbuehl vineyards on behalf of Michael Malat.  Andreas Wickhoff MW presented Tegernseerhof wines from the Steinertal vineyard.  John Haeger moderated.  Additional wines from other producers were offered at a walk-around tasting that followed.  For convenience, the event was dubbed Four Corners: Wines from the Danube Valley where the Wachau and Kremstal Meet.  The tasting book is found here: FourCornersSeminarJuly