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.
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
Ever since 2004, when Sideways shone a spotlight on pinot noir, new labels of this variety have appeared like mushrooms after rain, especially in California and Oregon. Last year, I was serendipitously introduced to one of the newest among these: Nicholas Maloney’s Father John brand. Father John debuted commercially in 2012 with just 200 cases of pinot from the Oehlman Vineyard, a 1989 planting of UCD 13 on Vine Hill Road west of Santa Rosa, and has since expanded to include pinots from Greenwood Ridge Vineyards on the west side of Anderson Valley and from a Redwood Valley site that will be identified on-label simply as Mendocino. Unusually, a small amount of pinot noir and chardonnay from Burgundy is also produced under the Father John label, see below. A recent tasting of the 2014 edition of Oehlman and barrel samples of all the American pinots from the 2015 vintage provided ample evidence that Father John is a project of much more than routine interest.
The 2014 Oehlman (this site has now been rechristened Vine Hill Vineyard on Father John labels) is a beautiful, very transparent, brilliant rosy-raspberry-red colored wine showing some red berry fruit on the palate, but the wine is also savory and finely chisled, with just a hint of tannin-derived texture on the finish. Like really good Burgundies, it is intense but almost weightless, “all silk and lace,” as a Burgundian maker once described his ideal wine to me. Maloney likes whole clusters, and generally leaves more than half of each press lot intact, and he does not add acid. The latter is scarcely necessary since he picks early, when the fruit still has plenty of natural acid. Early picking in cool climates also means that the finished alcohol almost always stays under 13°, and is often closer to 12°, which is a welcome relief from the mainstream of American pinots that finish between 14° and 15°. The spontaneous fermentations are cool, and involve no yeast nutrients or enzymes. There is some cold soak on the front end, pumpovers rather than punchdowns for the duration of the primary fermentations, and no post-fermentation maceration. The press fraction is normally reincorporated into the final cuvée, but kept separate until its character has been assessed. The 2015s, from barrel, are extremely promising, and each is distinctly different from the others. The Oehlman is true to form: light-footed and elegant. The Greenwood Ridge, now resting in an assortment of barrels, is noticeably different: somewhat deeper color, though still comfortably transparent; it is also a bit fruitier, though not in any way “fruit-driven” and signed with notes of savory herbs and conifers. The barrel regime is a work in progress. For the first time in the short history of Father John, two new barrels are being used, both very slightly toasted barriques from François Frères, while two others are Damy barrels previously used for a few vintages of chardonnay. Most of the barrel stock remains as it has been from the outset, however: barrels between two and five years old. The Greenwood Ridge is an exceedingly pure and sleek wine, but its shape, structure and flavor profile may appeal to consumers (and critics!) who need a bit more fruit and color to satisfy their image of California pinot, while the Oehlman/Vine Hill find greater favor in the ranks of traditional “Burgundophiles.” The 2015s will be released early in 2017.
Maloney is a Sonoma County native who first cut his winemaking teeth at Clos du Bois in 2007, but it was time in France, and especially at Domaine Rollin Père et Fils in Pernand-Vergelesses between 2013 and 2015 that focused his passions around pinot noir. Although he does not follow mainstream Burgundian winemaking protocols (the vast majority of Burgundians destem their fruit, ferment in open tanks, punch down fermentations manually, and use new barrels generously) he does aspire to the lacy, ageworthy, highly aromatic, iron-fist-only-when-it-is-covered-with-a-velvet-glove profile for finished wines that many of us associate with very good red Burgundies from the first three quarters of the 20th century. He is also a champion of dry-farmed vines, and wines whose organoleptic space is not given predominantly to ripe fruit. For the record, the Burgundian wines in the Father John portfolio are a white from Les Larrets Blancs near Echevronne, north of Pernand-Vergelesses, and a red from En Lutenière, on the east side of the D974 road not far from Clos des Réas. The 2014 Les Larrets Blancs, raised in a 50-50 combination of stainless steel and well-used barriques, is an appealing, bright, treble clef chardonnay. I have not tasted En Lutenière. Stay tuned as the 2015 wines from both sides of the Atlantic come to market.
Two wine and book events in Napa Valley during the first week in May. First, at 750 Wines in St. Helena, on Thursday 5 May John Haeger was joined by Smith-Madrone Winery and Stony Hill Vineyard, Spring Mountain neighbors, both of which make excellent dry Riesling in addition to benchmark editions of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon; and by Eric Sussmann of Radio-Coteau in Sebastopol, whose exceptional dry Riesling from Lew and Joan Platt’s vineyard in the true Sonoma Coast was featured along with the estate wines from Smith-Madrone and Stony Hill in Riesling Rediscovered. In addtition to those wines, dry Rieslings from Dreissigacker in Rheinhessen, Markus Huber in Traisental (Austria) and Weingut Malat (Kremstal, Austria) were also poured. Chick here for the tasting list from this event. The following day, Friday 6 May, John and Master Sommelier Peter Granoff poured a flight of mostly dry Rieslings, mostly from the Mosel, at Oxbow Cheese and Wine Merchant in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market. A few signed copies of Riesling Rediscovered were still available for sale at Oxbow afterwards.
Crush Wine & Spirits hosted John Haeger on Wednesday 27 April from 5.30-7.30 pm for an informal stand-up, walk-around tasting of dry Rieslings from Austria, Germany and elsewhere. This well-attended event was a perfect occasion to discover one of New York City’s most acclaimed wine stores and some of the world’s finest dry Rieslings: Trimbach’s Cuvée Frédéric Emile (2007), F. X. Pichler’s Steinertal (2013), Prager’s Achleiten (2014), Schloss Gobelsburg’s Gaisberg (2013), a 2012 Saumagen Kabinett Trocken from Koehler-Ruprecht in the Pfalz, a 2014 Halenberg GG from Emrich-Schoenleber in the Nahe, a 2102 Fahrlay Terrassen GG from Clemens Busch in the Mosel, plus dry Rieslings from Ravines in the Finger Lakes and Tatomer in Santa Barbara. Some copies of Riesling Rediscovered were still available after the tasting at Crush, which is located at 153 East 57th Street, between Lexington and Third avenues.
Oenosite.com and Wine & Co. presented an unprecedented international tasting of award-winning single-vineyard dry Rieslings from limestone-based soils on Wednesday 27 April in New York City. Wines from BattenfeldSpanier, Wittmann and Dreissigacker in Rheinhessen; A. Christmann and Von Winning in the Pfalz; Pfister and Mittnacht-Frères in Alsace, Markus Huber in the Traisental, and Ravines in the Finger Lakes were tasted in four flights, while John Haeger guided a discussion of soil types and finished wine properties in the case of dry Riesling. Morten Hallgren, principal and winemaker for Ravines Wine Company in Geneva, New York also presented two vintages of his Argetsinger Vineyard Riesling personally. Click here to see the riesling.limestone.tastingbook. Or click here to see a post about this event by Cathrine Todd, aka DameWine, who was present on 27 April and subsequently posted her notes, reactions and thoughts!
John Haeger moderated a by-invitation-only seminar held on connection the Circo Vino Portfolio Tasting in New York City on Monday 25 April 2016. Two Varieties and Multiple Shared Terroir featured Austrian winemakers Ingrid Groiss and Peter Veyder-Malberg, and New York sommelier Dustin Wilson MS, discussing the circumstances where Grüner Veltliner and Riesling grow side by side in Lower Austria.
The 16th annual World of Pinot Noir, originally the brainchild of Pinot makers domiciled along California’s Central Coast, is now an independent not-for-profit trade organization, and has relocated from its first home at Shell Beach to Bacara Resort, eleven miles from Santa Barbara. Seminars, tutored tastings, giant walk-around tastings, lunches and dinners unfolded there on the first weekend in March 2016. John Haeger moderated two programs on Friday morning, 4 March: A Sparkling Evolution, which examined changes in the world of sparkling wines, and The Diversity of Maison Joseph Drouhin’s Burgundy. The latter featured a presentation of wines from six Burgundian climats by Frédéric Drouhin, MJD’s president. Further information is found at www.wopn.com. Chaucer’s Bookstore sold all three of Haeger’s bopoks at the event, and may still have copies in stock. Check with Chaucer’s, 3321 State Street, Santa Barbara, 805-682-6787 for updated information.
The 11th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival, produced by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, took place Saturday 20 February 2016 at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville. The morning Educational Session featured limited-production dry Rieslings from Washington, Oregon and California, presented by Nicolas Quillé (Pacific Rim), Chris Williams (Brooks Winery), Alex Crangle (Balo Vineyards), and Graham Tatomer (Tatomer Wines). This part of the program was introduced and moderated by John Haeger. A Grand Tasting of Rieslings and other “Alsace” varieties followed in the afternoon. For information about the 12 edition of this event, in 2017 visit www.avwines.com.