New York Riesling Diary: Day 12 – Chenin Blanc is Riesling’s only Serious Competitor as Mulderbosch, South Africa Proves

This afternoon winemaker Adam Mason (pictured above) of Mulderbosch winery close to Stellenbosch in the Western Cape province of South Africa demonstrated at the Corkbuss Wine Studio in New York that the Chenin Blanc grape is Riesling’s only serious competitor for the title of Best White Wine on Earth (the title of my current book from Stewart, Tabori & Chang). With his three single vineyard wines from the 2013 vintage – the first vintage for them and only his second at Mulderbosch! – he showed that in places far removed from the grape’s homeland  in the Loire Valley it can give world class dry white wines. Because I will be reviewing the Mulderbosch wines in detail in my column in the ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’ on Sunday, August 31st I’m not describing them in detail here. However, I will come back after that column appears and adding an English translation of my comments for those readers who don’t read any German. Please be patient!

Like Riesling, Chenin Blanc can shine in a range of styles from bone-dry to honey-sweet, something that Chardonnay can’t do. Chardonnay is invariably dry, or slightly sweet and pretending to be dry. The one thing Chenin Blanc can’t do that Riesling can is wines in the dry, medium-dry and medium-sweet styles with significantly less than 12% alcoholic content. However, the two grapes have in common  having to battle with the widespread perception that these are always more or less sweet wines, and the prejudice that if they’re dry, then they must be sour. In both cases these are at best major distortions of the truth, and at worst gross prejudices. Adam Mason is the new champion for Chenin Blanc and with his first delicious and expressive dry wines he’s already made a serious statement. We will be hearing more about him and soon! I write all this as a Riesling fan, but also as a realist who sees both the common ground and the differences between the two grapes. I can’t wait to taste the Mulderbosch 2014s!

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 8 – Dr. Riesling’s Gonzo Stocktake (Part 1)

“I couldn’t get your book, because it was sold out at Barnes & Noble,” a New York Wine City (NYWC) somm told me. Those were encouraging words just shy of two months after BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling story (aka #BWWOE) was published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang on June 17th. Writing the book felt like throwing a stone into the middle of a pond. Now the first wave of responses  have reached the shore and are way more positive than I’d dared to hope for.

Since I started writing about wine exactly 30 years ago it often looked like with Riesling I was on a losing ticket, but now it looks like going the distance with my favorite grape was a smart, if demanding, move. What was so long deemed seriously wrong now looks refreshingly right. Riesling is finally being taken seriously by a lot of people.  Those who continue to talk it down are not only looking seriously out of touch now, they’re also fast running out of their last vestiges of credibility. They seem as lost in another time as Dr. Strangelove was in Stanley Kubrick’s movie of the same name.

As a freelance journalist it’s really good to know that you’re more or less on the right trail, because you can do a lot of work and still end up in some obscure corner of the great writers’ wilderness. I’ve been there enough times and I honestly don’t recommend it. However, I’d rather be there than in the verdant gardens of “advertorial” and similarly lucrative forms of blah, blah, blah writing. As George Orwell once said, “Journalism is printing what someone doesn’t want printed. Everything else is public relations.

The entire point of my book was to write the truth about Riesling and about wine in plain language that nobody could fail to understand if they took the trouble to read, and to do so with the necessary energy and clarity that nobody could pretend I hadn’t actually said anything worth understanding. So far it didn’t look to me like any readers had difficulty differentiating between my blatantly stated expressions of opinion and my much more measured statement of facts. Whatever weaknesses and faults my book has (and there may be many) I seem to have succeeded in telling it like it is, at least as seen from my perspective. The same applies to this blog, for which just substitute “publish” for “print” in the Orwell quote.

Several weeks after the publication of #BWWOE one of my most important arguments got unexpected support in an article in the July 12th edition of ‘The New Yorker’ entitled ‘What We Really Taste When We Drink Wine. It reported on how for Columbia University neuroscientist Daniel Salzman wine is a perfect example of how, “no event or object is ever experienced in perfect, objective isolation. It is instead subject to our past experiences, our current mood, our expectations, and any number of incidental details…with something like wine, all sorts of societal and personal complications come into play as well. We worry, for example, about whether our taste is “Good”.

This almost reads like a quote from Chapter 2 of my book, ‘Riesling in the Glass’. Of course, the reason that I also make this argument is that a lot of people – often highly intelligent people – clearly want to believe that you can somehow be objective about wine, so they can treat the reviews of some critic or the opinions of a certain somm, their spouse or friend as hard truth. As if high-grade truth were a copious commodity available at every corner store in regular size and family-sized packs!

At the same time that article appeared I received a slew of messages from Australia about the book, many praising it, but it was a great relief to me that those who criticized never accused me of being eurocentric or otherwise biased. They just felt Australia deserved more space (although the end of the Australian chapter explains very clearly why it wasn’t given more space). However, those comments are every bit as important to me as the one from people I didn’t previously know in America who were excited by the stories it tells and how it tells it, because it means the book is a truly global phenomenon. That is it has connected with pre-existing Global Riesling Network, or maybe I should say reconnected, because it grew out of that network in the first place.

True globalization never was a set of highways that all lead to Rome, NYWC or some other “center”, but a network looping through these places and everywhere else. For goods (including books) there’s the problem of physical transport, which human ingenuity has made more cost and energy-efficient. For information (including e-books) this problem has been obviated by the electronic media. That ought to make truth flow more easily, but sadly nothing in our world is that simple.

Just at the moment truth strikes me as a vital subject we should be talking about more, because its old enemy fear is on the rise. The source of that fear has many names, mostly short, such as Ebola and Putin, others acronyms such as ISIS or NSA and CIA. However, as Richard Nixon pointed out, “People react to fear, not love: they don’t teach that in sunday school, but it’s true.” And that is the greatest danger for truth which has always been like gold: a scarce element that rarely occurs as pure nuggets, generally being found in low grade ore that requires an arduous processing before it is turned into ingots.

Fear enables politicians like Nixon to divert our gaze from the truth and crank up nationalistic fervor, under the cover of which they can implement their own agendas. These agendas are usually identical of those of the establishment, that is the wealthiest 0.1% and their enablers, who typically are only interested optimizing their own situation and have little or no concern for anyone else’s welfare. However, in times like these truth has a force of its own that can abruptly drives it to the surface. The truth will out and I am happy to be its medium. Never again will I compromise on that principal when anything of substance is at stake. I recommend it to you all.

Part 2 follows soon.

 

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Wine of the Month

Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz-Riesling by Dandelion Vineyards

$15.98 plus 7% NJ sales tax at Wine Works

Dear Readers,

my Wine of the Month is always a kind of letter to you, and hopefully also a gift. I find these wines the same way that I do the other stories on this blog, by following a trail. I was introduced to Charlie Beatty of Wine Works at a New York Wine City (NYWC) tasting last fall, and he struck me as being both an incredibly knowledgable about wine and a larger than life personality who’d be a living legend if Wine Works was in Brooklyn/NYWC instead of Marlton/NJ.  I met Elena Brooks, the young Bulgarian winemaker of Dandelion Vineyards in Sydney-Australia back in February 2012. Her dry Rieslings from a century old vineyard in the Eden Valley/SA were the most exciting discovery I made during that visit to OZ, and are featured in BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story (see pages 92-3).

So, when I walked into Wine Works the other day to meet Charlie and spotted a Shiraz-Riesling  (i.e. red-white grape) Blend from Elena called ‘Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale’ on the shelf I had to try it. The label’s claim that this wine, “is a long forgotten but timeless Australian blend rejuvenated,” was seriously fascinating, but as yet I’ve been unable to find out if it’s true that co-fermenting the two classic grapes of South Australia really has the kind of tradition that co-fermenting the red Syrah (the French name for Shiraz) and white Viognier grapes does in Côte Rôtie in the Rhône. Either way this is a stunning red wine for a very friendly price.

What makes it so special? Perfume is a word I rarely use for the smell of a wine, but in this case I think it is well deserved. The aromas of rose buds, high-end bitter chocolate and all manner of baking spices pour from the glass. Although it is rich and fleshy, as any good red from the rather warm climate of McLaren vale should be, the wine is anything but jammy, nor do the generous dry tannins make it overly chewy, and the freshness of flavor is delightful. I drained the bottle all too fast, but with every swirl of the glass it only got better, indicating a good aging potential if you can resist it longer than I did. In fact, it has the kind of richness, balance and complexity that I associate with wines that have much higher price tags. Dear Reader, read my lips, “it taste like it costs Between $50 and $100!” And for the nerds in the room the wine is 95% Shiraz and 5% Riesling.

PS The online shop of Wine Works says that the current vintage is 2010, but the bottle I picked off the shelf is a 2011.

Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz-Riesling from Dandelion Vineyards

is currently on sale at Wine Works of Marlton/NJ for $15.98 plus 7% NJ sales tax.

www.wineworksonline.com 

Tel: (1) 856 596 3330

 

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 0 – S’Mores and More in Hokeyville (aka South New Jersey)

How could my New York Riesling Diary suddenly have gone from Day 1 back to Day 0 since the last posting? However  bizarre it might seem the above photo provides the complete explanation. It shows what I saw around 9:30pm yesterday evening when Float 7, entitled “We’re Jammin’ “, at the Medford Lakes Canoe Carnival passed the piece of lakeshore where I was sitting. I promise you that my jaw dropped a very long way!

This joyfully in-your-face piece of Americana was the most eye-popping of the 16 floats that made up the 83rd Anniversary of this mind-blowing event that’s as old as Walt Disney’s cartoons. “We’re Jammin’ ” float clearly draws part of its inspiration from Disney, but advertising imagery was obviously another bounteous source. However, it also documents America’s special relationship with the grape, which has as much to do with grape jelly (the best thing you can do with the Concord grape, in my opinion) as it does with wine. This is not the place to dig deep into the historical roots of that, rather to celebrate the fearless (of ridicule) yes-we-can feel-good spirit of Nutt n’ Butt Paddles who conceived and executed this oh so American piece of divine madness.

From this that you can tell that just a few days after my feet hit the New York Wine City (NYWC) sidewalk after the City of Riesling event in Traverse City my thirst for discovering America and uncovering its wine mysteries had driven me back on the road again. This time it was an invitation from Jackie and Barry Nobel who live just a couple of miles from Medford Lakes that provided the excuse for adventure. Many thanks to them for persuading me not only for being so hospitable, but also for persuading me to go along to the Canoe Carnival and not minding that I lovingly refer to their part of South New Jersey as Hokeyville.

There’s no way that you can get a proper idea of the extraordinary spectacle of the Medford Lakes Canoe Carnival without seeing several more of the floats. For me the most amazing creation of the evening was Float 14, entitled “Oz – we’re not in Medford Lakes anymore” and presented by the Medford United Methodist Church (who else?). It told the entire story of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz  as she is swept up by a tornado, then follows the yellow brick road over the rainbow on a two-sided revolving stage (!) with a local girl – congrats on the excellent performance! – playing the role of Dorothy. I must point out that the revolving stage with lighting was all balanced on just two canoes, like the other spectacular floats pictured here. The technical ingenuity of all this – there was an SUV mounted on one float! – was just as impressive as the artistic creativity, and given the tiny budgets these people had compared to Hollywood’s millions all the more amazing. Just look at this riverboat, it’s three stories high!

This utterly unselfconscious outpouring of high spirits was a complete contrast to the colorful and many-sided city of Philadelphia where I spent yesterday with Jackie and Barry. We managed to cram an awful lot of history, ancient and modern into the day and my thanks for that. I found all the very fascinating, even if I only saw the Liberty Bell only in passing through the car window. Plenty of people talk Philly down when they say that it’s “nice”,  “cute”, “little”, etc. The fact is that it has a stack of civic buildings, most notably the Museum of Art with those gigantic steps out the front which Rocky ran up in the movie, that are monumental. Then there’s the wealth of historical buildings, ranging from small (some pre-revolutionary) private houses up to the Liberty Hall, where the American Constitution was drawn up  and Congress met until the capital was moved to DC in 1800. All this make some high-profile European cities like Berlin (my official place of residence) look weak on history.

Many Americans have a serious chip on their shoulders about their country’s lack of history, and they frequently project a thousand years plus of history onto everything European as a matter of course. This inferiority complex just doesn’t line up with cities like Boston-Cambridge/MA, Charleston/SC, Savannah/GR, New Orleans/LO or Philly. And, of course, before white Europeans starting settling what is today the USA there was 20,000 plus years of Native American culture. If you think that this was all  “primitive”, then remember that the Native Americans weren’t interested in buying canoes or rowing boats from the Europeans, because their own canoes were technically superior (to give just one example). Sorry, I promise you that I haven’t developed a canoe obsession!

Of course, I was also on the look out for wine and in this part of New Jersey the place to go is definitely Wine Works in Marlton/NJ. Charlie Beatty (on the right) runs one of the best wine stores – it’s actually a wine warehouse with store-type shelves – in the whole of America. The range he stocks there is so awesome (I’m not throwing that word around in the typical American fashion) that  stringent self-control was needed in order not to run up a huge tab. The reason that I limited myself to a couple of bottles is that all the recent travel to promote my book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story has lead to a couple of gigantic credit card bills. By the way, Wine Works doesn’t sell it, and won’t do so, because they made the decision that with Barnes & Noble just across the road they weren’t going to do books, which is fine by me.

I have to admit that as adventurous as I am there was one thing in New Jersey that I didn’t try, which is a “S’More”. For those of you who – like me when I arrived in NJ – are still in the dark on this very American “delicacy” it consists of a Grahm cracker topped with marshmallows roasted in front of an open fire like Tracey’s pictured above, then topped with melted chocolate. I claim dispensation from the rigors of journalistic service on the grounds of an already over-full stomach and an aversion to sweet stuff late at night. Thanks for the offer and all the hospitality though!

 

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 1 – Faces of City of Riesling

The amazing Amanda Danielson of Trattoria Stella & The Franklin in Traverse City/MI

I got back to NYC from the City of Riesling festival a scant 24 hours ago and the hectic events of last weekend are still going through my head. What I remember most are the people who made it all possible and also gave it such an abundance of life and energy. Without the tireless work of Amanda Danielson it probably wouldn’t have happened at all and certainly wouldn’t have achieved the success which it this first time around after only a few months of planning. And most of that happened while Amanda was busy opening her second restaurant in Traverse City, The Franklin, where she is pictured above. It wasn’t only organizational genius and determination that she brought to City of Riesling, she also played a major role in shaping the content of events that were celebratory, but also asked important questions about Riesling in Michigan and in the United States of Riesling as a whole. Since the turn of the century Riesling has been on a roll in America, but these questions must be addressed if quality is to continue to climb and if consumer acceptance of the wines is to increase in step with that process. The latter is particularly challenging for 35+ year old consumers who often display a fundamental unwillingness to change the way they see wine, and quite possible much else in our world too (a sad attitude that strikes me as being highly defensive).

Sean O’Keefe of Chateau Grand Traverse, pictured above with his wife Stacey was also vital in shaping the content and in pulling together the great group of winemakers from right across the nation plus Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring in Ontario, Canada’s leading Riesling producer. Thanks Angelo for that amazing vertical tasting of your medium-dry ‘CSV’ Riesling going back to the delicious 2002. Sorry Angelo, and also my apologies to Meaghan Frank of Dr. Konstantin Frank in the Finger Lakes/NY, that I failed to get good solo pictures of both of you during the weekend. However, you are both in the group picture below, taken Monday night at Trattoria Stella. Meaghan is on the left in the front row, Angelo is second from the right in the back row.

As with any subject, when it comes to Riesling there is much accepted wisdom and not all of it is actually helps us making sense of the wines that confront us all in the glass (or the reality of the Big Wide World for that matter). Sometimes ideas are passed around that are either hopeless out of date, or offer only half the answer to a question, but look like complete answers. During a generally impressive tasting of Michigan Rieslings Chris Williams of Brooks in the Eola-Amity Hills/Oregon, pictured below, suggested to me that the question of balance in Riesling – often reduced to the acidity/sweetness balance – is a way of seeing these wines that distracts us from the more fundamental question of whether we want harmony or character. This is a subject I will be following up in the near future, (also in my column in the Sunday edition of the ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’ if you read German). Of course, not only his comments generated some controversy, Chris’ T-shirt also did that, also because of the logo of the elite German winegrowers association Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP) next to the slogan.

In my recent posting about the Smith Madrone estate winery on Napa/California I forgot to mention the new generation there, Sam Smith, pictured below. The great thing about Sam is that he is utterly grounded in the work his father Stuart Smith and his uncle Charles Smith have done up on Spring Mountain with Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, yet he brings a fresh perspective to all of that resulting from his experience working for wine producers and restaurants around the world. He also has a great sense of humor that helped us avoid sliding into the geekdom too often. The problem with that is once you go into Terminal Geek Out you no longer get any real pleasure except from you yourself think and say, your awareness of other people narrowing until it disappears completely. The problem with all of that is that wine is about sharing (also ideas).

During the City of Riesling there were many great moments of sharing and also some of complete nonsense to balance (there’s that word again!) the more serious ones. Nobody gave us more of these than Spencer Stegenga of Bower Harbor, pictured below, who is also the most under-appreciated Riesling producer in Michigan. His dry 2012 Block II had an intense aroma of blackberry (!) and a great interplay of ripeness, power and lively acidity. It was one of the best wines of the last day of City of Riesling and every bit as distinctive as Left Foot Charley’s new ‘Prose’ of Chateau Grand Traverse’s ‘Whole Cluster’, both medium-dry wines from Michigan.

This blog never descends into that pit of boredom which is decorated with one tasting note after another. However, a number of wines I encountered at City of Riesling deserve a special mention, not least those which are off most somms radar screens. The medium-dry 2013 ‘Stone Cellar’ Riesling from Galen Glen in Pennsylvania and the slightly drier 2013 ‘Golden Bunches’ Riesling from Ferrante in Ohio are the best wines I encountered so far from those states. The Galen Glen wine had a pronounced cassis note along with a cool freshness that reminded me of the smell of wet leaves. Although the Riesling from Ferrante was more exotic, this side of it’s personality was more subtle than in previous vintages and the wine was youthful and delicate too. Lastly, the 2013 Riesling ‘Spätlese’ from Brengman Bros on the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan had a big, bold apricot bouquet that is not at all typical for MI and a succulent interplay of almost razor-sharp acidity and high residual sweetness. Whoever said that sweet Riesling cannot be exciting (unless it’s German) is, to quote Chris Williams’ T-shirt, “a fucking idiot”.

PS A second (Traverse) City of Michigan in 2015 is in the planning!

 

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(Traverse) City of Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Maybe I’m Amazed by The Night of 100 Rieslings!

Yes, yesterday was a seriously amazing day, and it will be very difficult to communicate to those of you who didn’t make it to Traverse City what it was like. You see, I can describe the scene in the tents where the Night of 100 Rieslings took place right on the shore of Lake Michigan in Traverse – the big and colorful crowd – but it’s really hard to help you imagine what the Big Buzz was like. Certainly, there was no trace of that, “yes, great, love it, but…” hesitation about Riesling you often find amongst somms and other wine professionals in the US. However, it didn’t seem like many people had hung their critical faculties on the coatrack when they came in the tent. I heard a lot of people talking about the wines in a serious way, and none of the people who were just drinking were just trying to get inebriated ASAP. I think it’s that combination multiplied by the size of the crowd which made it such a special evening.

Even more difficult to describe, because the situation was totally unfamiliar to me, were the two screenings of my film WATCH YOUR BACK – The Riesling Movie (Part 1) at the Bijou by The Bay. Pictured left is the queue I found outside the pocket-sized movie theatre when I arrived. Anxiously, I pointed out to the two audiences that lacking a multi-million dollar budget and all the technology behind Hollywood productions with those kind of budgets I felt that I had no choice, but to make a Gonzo b-movie. However, that approach also seemed to me to fit the grass roots phenomenon that is the Global Riesling Network. Air-brushed glossiness doesn’t suit the underdog and I hate all that stuff anyway. However, even a Gonzo b-movie can be made professionally, and I am extremely grateful to Klaus Lüttmer in Berlin (my producer, editor, cutter and third cameraman) and Marcarthur Baralla  in New York City (second cameraman). They made it possible for me to shoot from the hip and only write a full script immediately before the film was cut. You’re not supposed to shoot without a complete script, but it’s also the way that some great movies like David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ were made. And that surely applies particularly to a documentary-type movie like mine, at least if it is going to reflect reality. Both audiences were interested in the result and laughed at it as I’d hoped.

There were some amazing wines in that tent, which I really have to tell you about. The one which wowed me most was the 2011 ‘Poet’s Leap’ Riesling from Long Shadows winery in Washington State. It was an elegant and sophisticated dry wine by any standards, in any context and it proves that Europe doesn’t have a patent on the salty mineral taste that a dry Riesling needs (along with ripeness, freshness, balance, intensity and delicacy) in order to qualify for greatness. Then there were some local surprises like the succulent and subtle 2012 Dry Riesling from Shady Lane on the Leelanau Peninsula. It’s the best white wine Adam Satchwell ever made; congratulations!

We also had the benefit of a local super-group in the form of Girls with Guitars in which a wealth of talent was pooled. I didn’t think that it was possible to do cover-versions of famous songs like Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’ or Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ that stood on their own rather than sounding second-rate (which is what copies usually are). But I must finish up as today’s Salon Riesling Symposium at The Franklin – where I write this – is about to begin. The first of the four sessions is called ‘United States of Riesling’ and last night proved as conclusively as the recent Riesling Invasion in Portland/OR that this slogan I spat out a some point are now anything but hollow words!

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(Traverse) City of Riesling Diary: Day 1 – This is the Day!

It was one of those perfect moments when the Riesling Spirit seemed to embrace us all. We – a group of local winemakers plus Meaghan Frank from Dr. Frank in the Finger Lakes/NY, Sam Smith from Smith Madrone in Napa/CA and Chris Williams from Brooks/OR  – climbed onto Spencer Stegenga’s boat out at Bowers Harbor (after which Spencer’s winery is named) on Grand Traverse Bay just as the sun was sinking behind the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Then we headed far out from the shore, the waves grew and the sky darkened. Pictured, about an hour into our journey are Sean and Stacey O’Keefe of Chateau Grand Traverse. Unfortunately, the Riesling Spirit is always invisible. Could there have been a more perfect beginning to the City of Riesling festival?

Well just a short while before we headed out onto the bay it looked like boating would be completely out of the question, because of a hefty downpour which abruptly hit the welcome BBQ at Chateau Grand Traverse. Ice buckets full of Riesling, a large table loaded with food and much else had to suddenly pulled in under cover. Don’t worry though it didn’t dampen our spirits and about half an hour later the sun dramatically returned.

OK, I was too slow to capture the double rainbow, but this picture shows very well why this part of Northern Michigan has been attracting ever more tourists from right across America. This is in terms of climate perhaps the most extreme wine landscape on the eastern side of the US, and is also perhaps the most extremely beautiful wine landscapes on the eastern side of the US.

This region and its beauty also makes a guest appearance in my film WATCH YOUR  BACK – The Riesling Movie (Part 1) which has its “world premier” at the Bijou by The Bay movie theatre in Traverse City tonight. Some while say that it was the only moment of beauty in my rough and tumble, no holds barred, Gonzo B movie, and I won’t contradict them. Who knows way lies in store? I’m prepared for just about anything. Unlike my  producer, editor, cutter and additional cameraman Klaus Lüttmer who is back in Berlin, I will have to literally face all the responses… At least the premier is followed by the Night of 100 Rieslings, which is certain to be exciting and blessed by the Riesling Spirit.

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 4 – Announcing the World Premiere of ‘WATCH YOUR BACK – The Riesling Movie (Part 1)’ Sunday Evening at the Bijou by The Bay during CITY OF RIESLING in Traverse City/MI

In the interests of International Security I can neither confirm nor deny that the image above is a still from my recently completed film WATCH YOUR BACK – The Riesling Movie (Part 1) which has it world premiere at Michael Moore’s Bijou By the Bay movie theatre in Traverse City on the evening of Sunday, July 27th as part of the City of Riesling festival (scroll down to previous posting for more details). However, that is definitely me in the picture and as you can see I’m watching my back. Why? You’ll have to see the movie to get the full answer to that question. However, it has to do with the fact that there are although there are “only” about 12,500 acres of Riesling planted in the US (now the second largest area in the world after Germany) compared with more than 8 times as much Chardonnay, a group of industrially sized Chardonnay produces clearly feel threatened by Riesling’s coolness and the increasingly wide acclaim for it as a “democratic” (i.e. fairly-priced) wine and it’s food friendliness. There is a backlash, and yes, I have felt it. For that reason I recommend any of you who have literally been vocal about Riesling, or actively talking about it in the social media, to watch your backs too.

I only got to see the finished film myself for the first time last night in New York Wine City (NYWC), because my producer, cutter, editor and additional cameraman Klaus Lüttmer had a horrible accident while working in one of his vineyards in the Unstrut Valley a couple of hours drive south of Berlin. This threw him back a couple of days when there were only a few days left, and robbed me of the chance for a final round of corrections. Sure, there are a couple of things that I will tighten up or change, but we are talking about details. Just as I hoped, there are many steep climbs and falls, a few jolts and abrupt changes of direction, some ugly moments and much strange beauty during the movie’s coast-to-coast journey across the US of Riesling. That and the erratic quality of picture and sound, much of it shot and recorded by me with low-budget equipment surely qualify it as a “Gonzo B-movie”, the category I placed the project in before I began shooting here in NYWC back in July 2012. You may well hate it, and possibly with good reason, but I promise you that it isn’t going to leave you cold whatever your taste in movies is.

I look forward to seeing you in Traverse City and don’t forget, WATCH YOUR BACK!

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 2 – (Traverse) City of Riesling Welcomes You to Planet Riesling, July 26th thru 28th NOW WITH A COMMENT BY SEAN O’KEEFE

Obviously, I’m not shy, but normally I’m cautious about putting images of myself up here, because sometimes I blow my own trumpet too much in the texts that appear here anyway. However, this image based on a photo by Bettina Keller is so amazing I felt I had to show to to you. Thank you Andy McFarlane for creating this amazing image of me with Planet Riesling (the US of Riesling is clearly visible if you look carefully) behind me. It is part of the promotional material for the City of Riesling event in Traverse City/MI on Saturday, July 26th, Sunday, July 27th and Monday, July 28th. Here is rough outline of the proceedings for what must be the most ambitious US Riesling event this year:

On Saturday, July 26th all the action takes place at a string of wineries on the Leelanau & Old Mission Peninsulas, that is the places where I researched the Michigan section of my book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story. Then you can taste for yourself why I devoted pages 53 – 60 to the Rieslings of this beautiful region which many Americans are not even aware produces wine at all!

On the afternoon of Sunday, July 27th Chef Michael Peterson of Siren Hall represents the Riesling Oyster Riot at Traverse City’s popular food truck mecca, The Little Fleet. As many of you already know dry Riesling loves Oysters and this promises to be simply delicious! For those of you who never tried this combination it will be like taking your first steps on another planet of taste.

Sunday evening features the “world premiere” screening of my Gonzo B movie WATCH YOUR BACK – The Riesling Movie (Part 1) at Michael Moore’s Bijou By the Bay followed by the Night of 100 Rieslings (with wines from all over Planet Riesling) served at a pop-up bar staffed by winemakers and somms plus live music and a farm to table dinner. Please note that I come in peace for all mankind and my movie is a non-profitmaking venture, which means I am not receiving any payment for this or subsequent screenings. And no, I won’t be wearing that red coat pictured above (thanks to Neodandi in Seattle for creating it for me), because it is far too warm for the warm summer weather in Traverse City. You should be able to spot me easily enough though.

On Monday, July 28th the action will move to The Franklin in Downtown Traverse City for ‘Salon Riesling’ a series of four seminar tastings. They begin at 11am and continue to around 5pm, the subjects being (in running order), ‘US of Riesling’, ‘The Eagle has Landed’ with wines from my cellar in Berlin (from Hungary, Italy, the Mosel and Nahe, vintages range from 2009 to 1990), ‘Almost Famous’ featuring the Rieslings of Northern Michigan and finally ‘Riesling Time Machine’ with vertical tastings of Rieslings from Smith Madrone in Napa/CA and Cave Spring in Niagara/Canada.

For more information go to: http://cityofriesling.com

This weekend promises to be something else and unforgettable. The only problem facing it – also facing the wine industry of Northern Michigan on a day-to-day level – is that almost nobody in American knows where Traverse City is, much less has an idea of the quality of Riesling  (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, sometimes also Cabernet Franc, Lemberger and more rarely Pinot Noir) produced on the Leelanau Peninsula (LEEP) and Old Mission Peninsula (OMP)I’ve been following developments there since 2000 from a distance and first visited in October 2005. Since then not only has the area planted with Riesling increased by fully 180% – the fastest growth rate anywhere in the US of Riesling! – but the quality of the wines has leapt into a much higher orbit. There is now a very solid group of producers who don’t need to fear comparisons between their wines and those produced anywhere else on Planet Riesling. They are now approaching Earth orbit escape velocity and are about to set course for the Outer Planets and beyond, just like Voyager 1 and 2 did back in the 1970s.

Sean O’Keefe of Chateau Grand Traverse – “we don’t have a chateau and it’s not very grand, but we love Riesling” – was the Mission Developer for the ‘City of Riesling’ event amongst the region’s winemakers, but without the software and hardware of Mission Controller Amanda Danielson of Trattoria Stella and The Franklin it might never have achieved lift-off. Of course, there are also the astronaut winemakers and many ground staff, not least Michael Albaugh of Nu Art Signs who designed the logo which tells you where Traverse City is. My movie would never have got this far if it wasn’t for Klaus Lüttmer, my producer, editor, cutter and extra cameraman in Berlin. Thanks to everyone who believed in this Mission and God’s Speed to us all this coming weekend!

COMMENT BY SEAN O’KEEFE:

The following comment was received from Sean O’Keefe of Chateau Grand Traverse, regarding the “chateau”. That quote of his above is indeed old, dating back almost a decade. I feel Sean’s comment below deserves a reply:

Of course it’s grand! ( I am not that self deprecating to not recognize that).  No chateau yet though, just give us a century or two to quarry the rocks!

Sure, even ignoring the question of its architectural merit, Chateau Grand Traverse is “grand”, because it’s the largest Riesling producer east of the Rockies. I thought that would be one of the big Finger Lakes wineries, but no. Personally, I’m not a fan of fancy winery architecture always tasting according to the motto, “what do I want to drink, a great wine or a beautiful chateau?” In this case I found the beautiful scenery way more distracting than the winery architecture.

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Oregon Riesling Diary: Day 4 – Faces of the Riesling Invasion

“I used to be a normal person, then I found Riesling!” Barnaby Tuttle of the Tuetonic Wine Co., one of the most high profile winemakers in the Riesling Invasion Force of Oregon. As you can see from his eyes, this Mosel-inspired West Coast winemaker is not someone who does anything by halves, and along with the quality of his medium-sweet Riesling this has put his wines on the lists of some very cool New York Wine City (NYWC) restaurants. This was just one of the Close Encounters of the Third Kind that about 300 paying guests and I had yesterday afternoon at the second and decisive Riesling Invasion staged in this state. Although what I tasted didn’t want me to turn the text about Oregon in my book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story (#BWWOE) upside down, several producers who I had praise there have been able to push the quality of their Rieslings up another couple of notches since the last time I encountered their wines, most notably Trisaetum and Anam Cara; congratulations to the teams of both wineries on their excellent 2013s!

More importantly I found some very interesting new producers who look ripe for inclusion in a future edition of #BWWOE. Maybe the Rieslings of Oregon look like a crapshoot to some of my colleagues and Riesling-sceptics in the state’s wine industry, but to me the situation is much better described as creative chaos. Stuart Pigott’s Law of Winemaking Creative Chaos says that create chaos times time divided by self-criticism equals exciting new wines. The Rieslings that Kelly Kidneight (see above) has made at Mad Violets are a perfect example of this phenomenon. As good as her 2011 Riesling is she felt it was lacking excitement, “so in 2012 I went native!” she told me, meaning that she did a eco-called “native fermentation” with ambient yeasts instead of adding powdered yeast from the packet. This might have been a dangerous path if she was making dry wines, because native fermentations can stop by themselves long before all the grape sugars have been converted into alcohol (and various fermentation bi-products). However, for her medium-sweet style that was not a problem and the 2012 has an interplay of racy acidity with aromatic sweetness with Hitchcock-like suspense.

She’s not the only winemaker in this part of the United States of Riesling to have decided that the medium-sweet, but bright and crystal-clear style of wines is better-suited to the acid-rich fruit that the climate here leads to. Brian McCormick (above) is based a short distance over the border in Lyle/Washington State and his 2013 “Idiot’s Grace” from the Columbia Gorge is at once succulent and vibrant, packed with the aromas of flowers and leaves dripping after summer rain (I kid not!) That’s a remarkable achievement considering that his first Riesling vintage was only 2009. I wish I could drive straight out to see his high-altitude vineyards where the Mediterranean red Grenache grape and Riesling are picked within a week of each other. That’s seriously crazy and against all the textbook rules; there’s no Grenache in the European Riesling regions, because it simply wouldn’t ripen properly there. However, I have to head back to NYWC on Monday, so this is sadly impossible.

Maybe it could sound as if John House of Ovum (above) is pushing an all too fashionable envelope with his 2013 Riesling that was fermented in concrete eggs and neutral oak (dear winemakers of the world, I humbly suggest that no vessel is truly neutral). However, this richly textural wine with a hint of floral honey and pronounced salty-mineral finale is far removed from contemporary winemaking cliches. For me the inspiration of Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace (see the Alsace chapter of my book for more details) is clearly apparent here, and why not. Inspiration is what the Oregon wine industry needs, not another boatload of glibly-fruity, sweet-tasting Pinot Noir reds and Pinot Gris/Grigio whites. There’s already too much of that kind of stuff being pumped into the market place alongside the many well-made, more or less elegant, dry wines that the state is rightly renowned for. The Oregon wine industry really needs to watch out, because that glibly-fruity, sweet-tasting stuff made from grapes best turned into dry wines could ruin their very good name.

Yesterday at the Riesling Invasion, a group of Willamette Valley winemaker-musicians provided it in the form of some seriously original reinterpretations of jazz classics that sounded as good as I believe Oregon’s wine future will taste when the Riesling Invaders have grabbed a larger share of the vineyard territory and kicked their creative chaos process a lot further down the road. This is a story I intend to follow closely during the months and years to come, so WATCH THIS SPACE for further reports of the Invasion Force that is creeping into the Willamette Valley.

 

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