On the Riesling Trail: Day 2 – Rocking Washington Riesling

It’s easy to make sense of the wines of Washington State in the glass. Mostly they taste pretty good and sometimes they taste amazing – this is possibly the most consistent and best value for money state in the Union for wine quality – but from the taste it’s impossible to deduct the twin „secrets“ of Washington State wines ranging from medium-dry Rieslings with white peach aromas to its dense, tannic and smoky Syrahs. And I promise you that those same twin “secrets” really are behind them all.

That’s why I’m glad that I got up at 4:30 am on Tuesday to make the first flight from Seattle to the Tri-Cities airport in Eastern Washington State for two days of deep immersion in winegrowing there. That experience wouldn’t have been so mind-expanding if Ed Doherty and Terry Doherty (no relations), Ryan McAdams and Mike Means of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s viticultural team hadn’t gone out of the way to help me make grasp the fundamental forces of this extraordinary winegrowing microcosmos. It’s all about the simultaneous lack and abundance of water.

Actually you can see some of one of those secrets out of the aircraft window as you cross the Cascades (also through the car window if you take Interstate 90). With a striking abruptness the dense forest covering the Cascades and their foothills peters out on the mountains eastern side and is replaced by scrub; lush green turns to dusty brown. Of course, most of California also looks brown at this time of the year, but in California it rains during the winter and spring. In Eastern Washington State it doesn’t rain much at all, and many places get no more than 6 inches of rain. Consequently it’s a treeless desert and there are very few places where any kind of winegrowing would be possible without irrigation.

That brings us to Washington State’s trump card as a wine producer, which is the huge rivers flowing through this desert, most notably the Columbia and Yakima, providing a vast supply of water for irrigation. This resource means that winegrowers and fruit growers – often they are the same people growing wine grape alongside cherries, apples and sometimes other fruits like blueberries, or even hops and spearmint – can irrigate pretty much as and when they want. In the past this lead to some excessive irrigation, which negatively influenced wine quality (e.g. very green tasting Cabernet). But they learnt from those mistakes and now use irrigation in considered and sometimes artistic manner.

Of course, the idea that almost all the water which the vines in this booming winegrowing region need comes out of pipes will strike some people as “unnatural” and purists will contend that this is incompatible with both wine quality and “terroir” (the taste of the place). However, the vines cannot know where the water which flows through them came from, and irrigation water no less than rainwater dissolves nutrients which are absorbed by the vines. Much of the best Riesling from Washington State grows on rather sandy soils little more than a foot deep over fractured basalt bedrock (see the picture of some great chunks of this unearthed during vineyard planting at the top), and it strikes me as terroir-logical that they should have the racy acidity and a mineral taste which they do.

The viticulturalists and the grape growers I spoke to – special thanks to Archie den Hoed and Derek Way for taking so much trouble to explain how they grow Riesling – have clearly spent as much time perfecting their methods as the state’s leading winemakers. The wonderful bright fruit aromas and good balance of most Washington State wines is mainly the result of the grape growers hard work. Chateau Ste Michelle’s “basic” 2011 Columbia Valley Riesling with some residual sweetness is a fine example of this (and retails for under $10!) but I could give many more.

Of course, if wine is uninteresting for you unless it is funky and/or rough at the edges (the wine equivalent of shabby chic) then you won’t like this wines. However they already give pleasure to millions of people and at STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL we believe in the pleasure wine gives and the conviviality it encourages. May the Riesling Force be with you!  But if you insist on something freaky, then Richland/Washington State has the beverages for you at the Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery…

PS I am now on the Riesling Trail until the afternoon of June 27th when I return to New York City. Please be patient when sending messages to me, since I will only be online one hour or so most days and zero hours on other days. To be honest, I enjoy those zero online days when I  feel like I’ve returned to the Stone Age, or at least to my childhood.

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Guest Column / Gastkolumne: ‘Wonnegau Story’ by / von Thorsten Jordan (Part / Teil 1/4)

Complaints that there isn’t enough German language material on this site are frequently made, and not without good reason.  When it started back is 2007 (albeit in a very different form) there was as much German language content as English language material. In comparison, almost everything I posted the last six months was only in English, for the simple reason that avoiding the delays caused by translation enabled me to be way more productive and agile. But how to redress the language imbalance without slowing myself down to print-media speed? That was the question which confronted me and continues to do so on a daily basis.

In  November 2012 I finally met a very talented young man, Thorsten Jordan  of Heilsbronn close to Nürnberg, who I’d been corresponding by email and through www.weinhier.de with for some time. He’d told that through www.weinhier.de, a German language social networking site, he’d got the chance to work for a young winegrower in the Wonnegau area of Rheinhessen, Andreas Geil of the Helmut Geil estate. That short immersion in the sharp end of wine production had clearly been a decisive experience for him, and since he could clearly write coherently I decided to offer him a guest column to write about it. The result was a four part series about the Wonnegau of which the below is part 1/4. Thorsten isn’t quite 19 years old and is still at high school! I think this series is a remarkable achievement for that age and far beyond anything I could have done when I was his age. Here he describes those hands-on experiences of wine production at the Helmut Geil estate (whose dry Riesling and Grauburgunder wines are highly recommended!) The photographs show Thorsten Jordan entering a stainless steel tank in order to clean it, then reemerging from the tank after cleaning it. That’s literally getting into wine, but not the kind of work most people would be willing to undertake, since it’s dirty. This alone qualifies Thorsten Jordan as a Gonzo Wine Journalist!

PS My humble apologies to those who cannot read German.

Mein Name ist Thorsten Jordan. Ich bin 18 Jahre alt, naja, 18,5 um genau zu sein! Ich besuche die Oberstufe des bayerischen Gymnasiums und bin auch sonst ziemlich normal. Ich unternehme gerne etwas mit Freunden und auch dem Computer schenke ich genug Aufmerksamkeit. Außerdem mache ich gerne lange Wanderungen mit Gepäck! ABER: Seit einem Minijob bei einer Buchhandlung (dessen Inhaber auch Wein verkauft hat) komme ich nicht mehr los von dem Kulturgetränk! Nein, ich bin kein Alkoholiker! Um Gottes Willen! Aber ich beschäftige mich seither sehr intensiv und gerne mit dem Thema Wein. Irgendwann kam mir auch in den Sinn, dass ein Praktikum auf einem Weingut doch eine gute Möglichkeit wäre, etwas tiefer in die Materie einzusteigen. Von meinem zweiten Praktikum (mein erstes fand in Franken statt) möchte ich gerne erzählen, da es auch rund um den Wein viel zu bieten hatte!

Ich kann mich noch genau an den Tag meiner Anreise erinnern (ist ja auch noch nicht allzu lange her!). Es war Sonntag, der 5. August 2012, gegen 15 Uhr. Es war ein heißer Tag und ich saß also im Zug von Ansbach nach Stuttgart. Ich hatte ein lauschiges Plätzchen auf meiner großen Sporttasche im Zwischenabteil, direkt neben den Türen. Na gut, das kann man schon aushalten. In Stuttgart angekommen erfuhr ich dann aber, dass mein Zug ausgefallen war, doch dank der kompetenten Dame am Info-Schalter saß ich innerhalb von 10 Minuten im nächsten Zug.

Damit war der schlimmste Teil vorbei. Um etwa 19 Uhr traf ich dann in Worms ein, wo mich Andreas Geil vom Weingut Helmut Geil in Monzernheim, meinem Bestimmungsort, abholte. Statt mit sachlicher Zurückhaltung wurde ich sofort mit familiärer Freundlichkeit empfangen. Eine Woche war mein Geburtstag her und man zögerte nicht, mit einer Flasche Pinot Cuvée Sekt anzustoßen! Meine erste Begegnung mit der Gastfreundschaft im Wonnegau, es sollte aber nicht die letzte sein!

Das Weingut Helmut Geil in Monzernheim (direkt neben Westhofen) ist mit etwa 9 ha Weinberge relativ klein für rheinhessische Maßstäbe. Außerdem hat es auch nur ein Drittel der Rebfläche meines ersten Praktikumsweingutes. Einen Einblick in einen etwas größeren Betrieb hatte ich also schon. Und als mich Andreas Geil auf „www.weinhier.de“ angeschrieben hat und fragte, ob ich nicht Interesse an einem Praktikum bei ihm hätte, überlegte ich natürlich nicht lange! Ein Zweifel blieb jedoch: Hat ein so kleines Weingut genügend Ressourcen um guten oder hervorragenden Wein zu machen? Das war meine Einstellung. Aber nun zu dem, was ich erlebt habe…

Am ersten Morgen musste ich um 6.30 Uhr aufstehen, um halb 8 fing der Arbeitstag an, das sollte sich die nächsten zwei Wochen (bis auf eine Ausnahme) nicht ändern! Die ersten paar Tage stand die Reinigung des Kellers auf dem Programm. Die Gärtanks mussten sowohl mit Natronlauge als auch mit Zitronensäure gesäubert werden. Weil da man dabei auch nass werden konnte bestand meine Arbeitskleidung aus Gummistiefeln, einer Schürze, Handschuhen und wegen der Lauge und Säure auch einer Schutzbrille. Deshalb wurde ich beim Arbeiten in den Tanks erst ein bisschen entspannter, wenn ich sie einmal komplett mit Wasser ausgespült hatte und die Lauge heraus war. Trotz dessen kam es öfters mal vor, dass man etwas Lauge auf die Haut bekam. Dann musste man eben schnell sein und die Lauge unterm Wasserhahn abwaschen. Ansonsten konnte die Haut schon einmal ganz schön jucken und auch schmerzen. Schlimmer ist es aber, wenn man schon etwas im Weinberg gearbeitet hat. Das macht die Hände unheimlich rau. Dann reißt die Haut an den Fingernägeln oder unter Spannung gerne einmal.  Oder man schneidet sich an Versandkartons (kommt dummerweise auch vor!). Und genau diese Voraussetzungen erfüllten meine Hände, als wir Mitte der Woche von  Natronlauge auf Zitronensäure umstiegen. Deshalb immer schön eincremen. Das hat mir Andreas auch öfters gesagt, aber aus meinem jugendlichen Leichtsinn heraus habe ich das natürlich ignoriert! Das Fazit: Beim Arbeiten gehen die kleinen Wunden und Risse wieder auf. Weil man in den Handschuhen schwitzt zieht man sie aus. Wenn dann noch Zitronensäure hinein kommt schreit man schon einmal auf. Außerdem braucht man ewig zum Auswaschen! Aber halt, ich war ja erst bei Montag!

Montagabend kam dann auch eine Gruppe, die eine Führung durch Weinberg und Weingut, als auch eine Weinprobe gebucht hatte. An diesem Nachmittag (der erst abends endete) lernte ich eine erste wichtige Lektion: Das Leben eines Winzers ist anstrengend. Es kann aber noch anstrengender werden, mit einer Gruppe Rentner vollkommen unterschiedlicher Charaktere und unterschiedlich hohem Interesse an den Hintergründen von Wein. Diese unterschiedlichen Persönlichkeiten alle an einem Abend rundherum zufrieden zu stellen ist eine Meisterleistung! Chapeau!

Die nächste Lektion, die ich gelernt habe war, dass im Leben eines Winzers vieles auch Routine ist. Wie beispielsweise im Weinberg. Beim Reduzieren der Laubwand kommt es auf das richtige Maß an. Die Trauben brauchen Sonne um zu reifen, aber zu viel schadet ihnen, auch sie bekommen dann Sonnenbrand. Am Anfang tat ich mir sehr schwer, das richtige Maß zu finden. Aber nach einiger Zeit ging es sehr gut und auch mein Tempo nahm zu. Ein anderes Beispiel wäre die Reinigung des Kellers. Am Anfang war es noch sehr ungewohnt und ich musste immer wieder fragen, bis ich die einzelnen Arbeitsschritte konnte! Aber nach einiger Zeit wird eben alles zur Routine. Es ist eben noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen.

Ich hörte in diesen zwei Wochen noch viel über Wein und durfte mich durch das ganze Sortiment probieren (das übrigens erstaunlich vielseitig und empfehlenswert ist!). Eines der Highlights dieser vielen Proben war die Süßwein-Probe. Das Weingut Helmut Geil hat in dem Segment Weine der Sorten Albalonga, Huxelrebe und Riesling zu bieten, von der Spätlese bis hin zur Beerenauslese. Alle zusammen sind sie gut, aber besonders gefällt mir die 2011er Optimus Huxelrebe Auslese. Trotz der Tatsache, dass es eine Beerenauslese ist präsentierte sie sich doch äußerst würzig und vielschichtig. Für mich persönlich einer der tollsten Weine des Guts! Getoppt wird dieses Kunstwerk nur vom 2010er Optimus Grauer Burgunder trocken(die höchste der drei eigenen Qualitätsstufen des Weinguts; den Anfang macht Bonus, dann folgt Melior und die Spitze bildet Optimus). Im Barrique ausgebaut bringt es dieser Wein auf 13% Vol und bietet tolle Aromen von Holz und eine obergeile Vanillenote! Im Mund präsentiert er sich dann typisch für einen Burgunder, nur auf eine deutsche Art und Weise, authentisch eben! Und das alles von solch einem kleinen Weingut…Tja, ein Château entscheidet keinesfalls darüber, ob es ein guter oder ein schlechter Winzer ist, ob er gute oder schlechte Weine macht. Der Mensch ist entscheidend und seine Einstellung gegenüber dem Wein. Plötzlich kam mir meine Einstellung, die ich anfangs hegte, total irreal vor!

Das letzte Erlebnis, von dem ich berichten möchte ist eine Hymne an die Gastfreundschaft des Wonnegau. Ein Bekannter in Monzernheim feierte Polterabend und es wurde kurzfristig entschlossen, dass ich doch einfach mitgehen sollte! Damit war ich total überrannt worden, aber ich ging natürlich trotzdem mit. Das Ergebnis: Die Leute kamen auf mich zu, fragten was ich hier mache und es wurde massenweise Wein getrunken. Wie sollte es auch anders sein! Alle behandelten mich, als wäre ich in ihren Kreisen zu Hause. Ich wurde auch sofort auf alle möglichen Feste der nächsten drei Wochen eingeladen, obwohl ich ja nur noch drei Tage bleiben sollte. Es kam, wie es kommen musste: Es wurde spät bis in den nächsten Morgen gefeiert. Am nächsten Tag durfte also zwei Stunden länger geschlafen werden.

Mein Fazit: Ich habe bei diesem Praktikum nicht nur irre viel in Theorie und Praxis zum Thema Wein gelernt und Hände bekommen, als hätte ich schon mein ganzes Leben lang in einem Weingut gearbeitet. Nein, ich habe auch noch eine Art zweite Familie gefunden, die mich in der Zeit meines Praktikums mehr als nur gut versorgt hat (regelrecht gemästet wurde ich!). Heute wird öfters mal telefoniert, permanenter Kontakt über das Internet ist selbstverständlich. Und dieses Jahr werde ich auf jeden Fall wieder in den Wonnegau zurückkehren, schon allein um die Vorräte aufzufüllen!

PS: Danke für alles, liebe Familie Geil!

Part 2/4 will be posted in exactly one week on Sunday, June 9th.

Teil 2/4 wird in genau eine Woche am Sonntag, 9. Juni gepostet.

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 11 – Gonzo (High Definition Video) Wine Journalism

My notebook and pen used to be the most important tools of my unusual trade, closely followed by the device upon which I typed my stories. However, recently an important change took place and I began to regard the video camera as another vital tool. This had everything to do with the three years I spent shooting the TV series ‘Weinwunder Deutschland’, Wine Wonder Germany, for state-owned Bavarian Broadcasting (BR). Director Alexander Saran, cameramen Sorin Dragoi and Florian Schilling, sound man Peter Wuchterl and camera assistant Florian Bschorr (the regular team) taught me a great deal about filmmaking. Inspired by these experiences last year I shot a 14 minute trial movie (click on I am Riesling above to find the YouTube link to it) in New York, on the Rhine and in Berlin. It at least proved to me that it was possible and I learnt from my mistakes, most of which landed in the electronic garbage can.

On Saturday, June 8th the first screening of the third series of ‘Weinwunder Deutschland’ begins on BR3 (also on the BR website) – more details just beforehand – and early Monday I set off for Washington State to shoot a bunch more video material. This is partly for the International Riesling Foundation (IRF), and partly for my work-in-progress WATCH YOUR BACK (a Riesling movie). I will shoot much of the latter between June 19th thru June 27th when I cross the US by road as part of the Riesling Road Trip, a promotion for German Riesling in America. For the first half of this road movie I’ll be accompanied by Christopher Miller, the sommelier of Spago Restaurant in Los Angeles and for the second half Paul Grieco of the Terroir wine bars and Restaurant Hearth in NYWC will be my companion in this madcap (ad)venture. All of this just by way of introduction to my Thought for the Day.

In preparation for the Riesling Road trip I read and reread some books relating to strange journeys in America. Yesterday in the New York subway it was Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (1971), or more particularly the jacket copy, which gave me a jolt. Thompson first explains his ideal of Gonzo reporting as “a film director/producer who writes his own scripts, does his own camera work and somehow manages to film himself in action, as the protagonist or at least the main character.” I’d never read those words before, but they describe exactly what I am involved in, exactly what I am determined to do with my video camera. Like Thompson I will bend the dividing line between fiction and fact in the cause of making the resulting composition more true. In ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ both the narrator figure Raoul Duke and his attorney often tell “innocent” bystanders some very tall tails, but this only helps reveal what those bystanders are really thinking, how they tick. In my movie I’m doing exactly the same thing, however, I cannot reveal exactly what that means in filmmaking terms, since it could compromise my chances of creating a work that in Thompson’s words about ‘Fear and Loathing in Las vegas’, is “complex in its failure”.

Although my subject is definitely Riesling I reserve the right to “deviate” from this subject as and when material of sufficient interest drifts into my field of vision, on the basis that it was my search for the truth in Riesling has brought me to that Close Encounter with “Other Stuff”. Of course, in an interconnected world like ours it’s debatable what could really qualify as “Other Stuff”…but back to the Riesling.

A friend just poured me the Canadian wine pictured above and I was seriously impressed by its vividness (the very opposite of the cliché of staid Canada), the subtle pink grapefruit aroma and the mineral freshness at the medium-dry finish. I think it really only has the 10.5% alcoholic content declared on the label, because I downed almost half the bottle very quickly and feel only the slightest (and most delightful) hint of intoxication. Here in New York it’s just $16.99 at garnet Wines, see: http://www.garnetwine.com/sku111198.html I shan’t make it to Ontario’s Riesling vineyards on the Niagara Peninsula until September, but in July I’ll be in Okanagan/British Columbia for a few days shooting some material for the IRF. My notebook, video camera and I are looking forward to that very much!


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 9 – Wine of the Month June

2012 Briedeler Riesling trocken & feinherb from Weingut Walter for Euro 7

It may not yet be June as I write these lines in New York Wine City (NYWC), but I’m doing so with my computer balanced precariously on the windowsill in order to get at least a breath of fresh air on this hot summer’s day. A breath of fresh air is exactly what these dry and medium-dry Rieslings from Weingut Walter in Briedel are. But wait a moment, “Briedel, where the hell’s that?” I can sense a bunch of you thinking. Well, it’s just down the road from Pünderich on the Mosel where the famous Clemens Busch estate is based, although Busch’s fame is also a rather new. Only a few years back Pünderich was also off the radar screen for most somms and journalists on Planet Wine. “And who the hell is Weingut Walter?” many of you are no doubt also wondering. Well, I met Gerrit Walter in November 2008 when I was a guest student at the Geisenheim wine school on the Rhine. I immediately sensed that he not only had a dangerously sharp sense of humor, but was also a really good winegrower in the making. Gerrit, who’s now in his mid-twenties made his first wines in 2009, and 2012 is his breakthrough vintage; this time every wine is excellent. And the prices are still really friendly!

Why did I pick these wines, which are not available in the US and even in Germany are best obtained direct from the producer? One of the purposes of this website is to counter the influence of rigid structures in the wine market which make it difficult and sometimes nearly impossible for talented young winegrowers like Gerrit Walter to get a toehold there, which denies you the consumer the choice you ought to have. This is the fundamental reason for my opposition to those rigid structures, apart from my general and long-standing opposition to rigid structures of almost all kinds (constitutional rights are a rare exception).

These wines would delight so many of you this June. The 2012 Briedeler Riesling Spätlese trocken has a crisp acidity, but also masses of fresh herbal aromas (think mint!) and a lot of power in spite of the moderate 12.5% alcoholic content. For anyone who finds this wine not fruity enough in character, and for those of you who prefer their Riesling with a hint of natural sweetness Gerrit Walter’s 2012 Briedeler Riesling Spätlese feinherb is almost sure to please. It’s brimming with peach and blackcurrant aromas, is really juicy without being frankly sweet which means it would be ideal with spicy (also spicy and sweet-sour) Asian dishes. What about a green Thai curry and this wine to make you break a sweat and cool off? That question is also addressed to wine importers. Let me be blunt: why aren’t these wines available even in NYWC?

2012 Briedeler Riesling Spätlese trocken / feinberb is Euro 7 from

Weingut Walter

Hauptstraße 188

D 56867 Briedel

Tel.: (49) / (0)  6542 98690

Email: info@weingut-walter.de

Internet: www.weingut-walter.de


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New York Riesling Diary: Day 7 – The Wine David vs the Wine Goliath: Democratic Riesling and Holy Burgundy

„Yes, but that doesn’t stop people buying them. That’s another of the things about the wine world which is completely illogical, but doesn’t change for that reason!” said Reinhard Löwenstein of Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein in Winningen/Terrassenmosel (pictured above in his new cellar extension). I’d just told him how again and again during the last couple of years I’ve been terribly disappointed by red and dry white wines from Burgundy/France in the three figure Dollar/Pound/Euro per bottle price league with the magic words “Grand Cru” on the label. That’s the highest legal designation for burgundian wines; the Holy Wines of Burgundy! For me a poor quality wine is a bad thing at any price, regardless of where it came from, the grape variety or who made it, but with a three figure price tag I’d say it qualifies as a Liquid Disaster Area in a Bottle. But, as Löwenstein observed, illogically, even that doesn’t seem to prevent those wines from selling, which shows that factors other than the taste often pay a significant role.

I didn’t bother to rattle off a list of the names of the producers who disappointed me to him, but here are the most important names on my roll call of shame: Domaine Armand Rousseau in Gevrey-Chambertin, Domaine Perrot-Minot in Morey-St.-Denis, Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Vosne-Romanée and Domaine Bonneau du Martray in Aloxe-Corton. On the plus side I’ve tasted some wonderful red and dry white wines from Burgundy for much more modest prices, most notably from Domaine Charles Audoin in Marsannay and Chateau de Fuissé in Pouilly-Fuissé. If they dominated the picture I’d certainly feel much more positively about Burgundy.

“OK, those poor but expensive burgundy wines still sell,” I answered, “but that doesn’t mean they fail to disappoint many of the consumers who encounter them. It just means there are always enough new consumers with enough money to pay the prices and who believe in the hype. Wines in this price league are often consumed for status reasons. Nouveau riche always liked to flaunt their wealth and there’s more of them in today’s world than a generation ago.” Löwenstein admitted this was the case , but still seemed reluctant to criticize any of the winegrowers of Burgundy for their pricing policy. I think I can understand why.

Seen from the point of view of a leading German producer of Riesling wines with what the French call “terroir” character (the taste of the place, of the vineyard) like Löwenstein Burgundy is the place to look up to. With their “terroir” wines, or more accurately with the help of their best wines, the “terroir” story about them and a lot of networking, the leading winegrowers of Burgundy have steadily cranked the prices for their “Premier Cru” (the second highest designation for wines from ther region) and “Grand Cru” wines higher and higher. Four figures seem to be the new goal for some of them! Production costs certainly did not rise as fast as wine prices, so (if you do the simple math) profit margins became larger and larger. Compared to burgundian wines of similar quality with a similar individuality of character the dry Heymann-Löwenstein Rieslings taste like great value for money. No wonder Löwenstein, along with many of his colleagues in Germany and beyond, would like to make something closer to the kind of profits leading burgundian winegrowers make, instead of the much smaller kind leading Riesling producers currently do!

However, his argument about the remarkable imperviousness of the global wine market to the reality in the glass also explains why he will almost certainly never make burgundian-style profits. The global wine market generally remains set on the path it’s already on, because most consumers think about wine in hierarchies of perceived value which are intimately linked to the hierarchy of wine prices. (In contrast, there’s no relationship between the hierarchy of production costs and wine prices, since the former are almost completely invisible to consumers). Even the cleverest and most dedicated wine producer can usually only influence the global perceived value of his wine to a small degree, and that requires a long period of time. Regardless of grape variety or home region his or her best chance is in markets where a large number of consumers trust their own taste and risk making their own quality judgments. For example, Piemont/Italy wouldn’t be where it is today if producers like Angelo Gaja or Elio Altare hadn’t dramatically improved the quality of their wines, and enough consumers in markets like America and Germany had acknowledged that by paying higher prices. This was a rare case of rapid change in the wine market, though it still took several decades.

During the same period Riesling, particularly dry style Riesling, often seemed stuck in the Bargain Basement of Planet Wine; a fact that used to deeply frustrate me. In some markets with a high proportion of self-confident consumers (I think particularly of Scandinavia,  Australasia and the German speaking countries) this has changed markedly, but globally the change has thus far been fairly modest. This, and the sheer number of dynamic new and young Riesling producers in Germany and around the world who cannot (yet) charge high prices, means that most Riesling wines remain modest in price and great bargains can still be found. That strikes me as something good. Riesling is, and will long remain, a democratic wine rather than a status product for the 1% of wine drinkers. And I have to say, that I feel at home amongst the 99% of wine drinkers!

Nonetheless Löwenstein has a good reason to yearn for higher profits on the psychological level. High prices give wine producers not only healthier bank balances (and much larger tax bills!), but also more self-confidence. On my recent trip to Alsace/France Jean Michel Deiss of Domaine Marcel Deiss in Bergheim said something to me about his region, which could be extended to all the others where high quality Riesling is grown,  “the winegrowers in Burgundy have too much self-confidence, and we have far too little.” I can’t explain how this functions, but I’m sure that a winegrower’s self-confidence or lack of it rubs off on her/his wines. A significant injection of self-confidence do for the producers of Riesling would surely lead to another jump in wine quality, and if that came without a major hike in prices that would be nearly perfect. In the interests of Riesling drinkers everywhere on Planet Wine I’ve also made this part of my job here. The reality in the wine glass makes my task so much easier!

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 4 – How Hunter S. Thompson was NOT only a Sports Writer, I’m NOT only the Riesling Guy, and what that means for you now

I feared that the thoughts I posted after discovering that I’d been made a finalist for Best Single Subject Blog at the Wine Blog Awards might strike many readers as self-indulgent and incoherent ramblings, but the responses have all been interesting and suggest that I said something worth saying. I also worried that these thoughts could seem arrogant, since I played down the importance of any and all such prizes, and insisted that the prize I might win was inappropriate. However, I just got a comment from Sean O’Keefe of Chateau Grand Traverse in North Michigan, one of the leading new generation of Riesling winemakers in America, which makes clear that some people immediately got what I wrote yesterday about this not being a Single Subject Blog. As he wrote, “Hunter S. Thompson wasn’t only a sports writer.”  So I decided to risk accusations of even greater arrogance by posting the above photograph of myself (thank you again Bettina Keller in Berlin!) which to my mind makes it crystal clear that I am not only the Riesling Guy.

The red coat I’m wearing in the photograph was recently made for me by Neodandi of Seattle (soon in New York) about whom I will be writing and posting something during the coming week. The look on my face has a lot to do with the fact that as a teenager I wanted to train as an actor, a profession which I finally drifted into in 2010 when filming of my German-language TV-series, ‘Weinwunder Deutschland’, wine wonder Germany, began. Screening of the third season of which will begin on BR3 (click the above tab for a German-langauge text about the new series) on BR3 in Bavaria on Saturday, June 8th. During the three years of shooting a learnt a great deal about movie-making and this encouraged me to start work on shooting my own feature-length film. This is an expensive and time-consuming business and because it’s all my own time and money work will extend into next year, with the first screenings set for September 2014.

Another important comment was a question about the final line of my last posting. Someone asked whether I meant to write, “the truth will win out,” or what I actually wrote, “the truth will out.” In fact, this time the world champion in typos (myself – who else could it be?) typed what he intended to. The question, which came from an American, is important for the truth will out is an old English expression, which means that the truth will always push to the surface on its own, though its own inherent force. Of course, that could be taken as meaning that people like myself who work with truth are unnecessary and irrelevant. However, I certainly don’t see it that way, for ignored and surprised truths need champions to aid and quicken this process. The crust of lies which covers so many truths is continually forming, spreading and thickening if nothing is done to disrupt its accretion. Better still to rip it open so the truth can rapidly and decisively come into the daylight, even if this is a painful process.

The 20th century history of my own nation, Great Britain, as it continues to be told in schools, newspapers, popular magazines, books and the electronic media is a horrendous example of  how a crust of lies can long obscure important truths. The apparent, but disingenuous, commitment of my nation’s establishment to the ideals of humanity, honesty and fairness only make a series of policies which at the least verged in a genocidal direction worse. Compared to that situation – for example, the British colonial regime in Kenya during the 1950s will soon be judged to have committed war crimes which were denied by successive governments for more than half a century –  the illusions which I regularly try to debunk here are small and unimportant. However, there’s no difference in kind when it comes to truth and lies. Either you’re in favor of the former or you’re in the service of the latter. The worst situation is to be a servant of lies, but unaware of your position, and sadly that’s not a rare situation for people to be in our world. In fact I’d say that to some degree we’re all suffering from illusions, all in need of help in breaking their pernicious influence. That’s my goal.

PS May 26th is my 53rd birthday, so please excuse my absence.

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 3 – Sorry, but this is NOT a Single Subject Blog

Sorry, but this is not a Single Subject Blog, even if it has been listed as a finalist in that category of this year’s Wine Blog Awards. The whole point of STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL is using Riesling as as key to unlock many doors leading in all kinds of directions. That is particularly easy here in New York Wine City (NYWC), where everything is crashing into everything else, and as a result it’s hard to keep things of any kind separate from things of any other kind. That’s why I chose this great photo of NYWC by Birgitta Böckeler who I used to share the Hotel of Hope – the place I’m currently staying in Manhattan’s East Village – with.

Let me give one simple example of the interconnectedness which is so vital to this Blog’s functioning. Because he was one of the great Riesling experts during the period 1935 – 75, and wrote some books which document this period of Riesling History brilliantly I got interested in the American wine author, importer and consultant Frank Schoonmaker. In his ‘Wine Encyclopedia’ of 1964 I discovered a table listing the vineyard areas for each of the major grape varieties in California half a century ago. Comparing those statistics with the current ones showed that grape varieties which are now of such major importance that they’re taken for granted, like Chardonnay and  Merlot, were virtually unknown back then. Back then there was more Riesling planted than those two fashion-grapes put together! This proved how California’s wine industry was every bit as dynamic as its IT industry during the same period, even if that was (until a recent turnaround) to Riesling’s detriment. It’s an observation I’ve not found in any other wine publication, although it is vital to understanding what makes California radically different to a European winegrowing nation like France. Again and again wine journalists and authors compare France and California in a thoughtlessly simplistic manner as if climatic and other conditions (compare the latitudes!) were directly comparable and their wine industries functioned in the same way (compare the cultural differences!) Usually these comparisons are made in order to find one wanting, so that the other can be glorified.

As much as I love Riesling that’s not my goal. If Riesling is a wonderful thing, then all I need to do is find and present the wines and connected facts for that to become obvious (it is already apparent to many people). And if you decide that there’s no glory in Riesling, then so be it. As we say in England where I come from, the truth will out!

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New York Riesling Diary: Day 2 – I don’t need a Medal, a Prize or even a Wine Blog Award!

I’ve just been nominated for a blogging award – more details of that below – which has made me to do some serious thinking about what I’m up to here at STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL. First of all, right from the beginning I’ve been well aware that this is what the world calls a blog, but I always saw myself as a journalist, and this as another (special, as much because editor-less and very rapid as because electronic) medium for publishing my work. Regardless of the medium, journalism is a two stage process, the first part of which is research like the tasting of Finger Lakes Rieslings at the Hotel of Hope in New York Wine City’s (NYWC) East Village earlier this year pictured above. However, as regular readers are well aware, much of my research is conducted on the road with winegrowers in their home regions, some of which I feel familiar with, while others are completely new to me.

Even when it all seems familiar to me, for example when I visited the Dönnhoff estate in Oberhausen/Nahe about a year ago (see the photo below), there are always surprises for which I must try to be open. In this case it was the first vintage of dry Riesling from the Höllenpfad vineyard site of Roxheim, a wine which tasted very different from anything else I’d ever tasted there since my first visit back in May 1986. Back then Helmut Dönnhoff was a virtually unknown, but obviously talented and (quietly) ambitious winemaker. He was what Germans now call a Jungwinzer, or a talented young winegrower. Whether the winegrowers and wines I encounter are famous or completely unknown is part of their identity, but that doesn’t alter the fundamental challenge of telling their story at all.

This side of my work is all about selecting and arranging the impressions I gathered and the ideas which I (and others) had about them in a form and sequence which enables them to function as well as possible in the particular medium. This is what most people consider “creative” work, but I’m guessing that my last sentence strikes many of you as making that process sound banal and very “uncreative”. However, I promise you that, as New York-based novelist Tom Wolfe said in a bunch of recent interviews, writing is mostly hard work and the pleasure is nearly all in completing a story that seems to work well. By “work well” I mean a text which strikes me as conveying my impressions and ideas in a way that’s comprehensible and compelling for readers unfamiliar with the particular material. Of course, it always takes some time for me to find out if my gut feeling was right and it’s actually comprehensible and/or compelling. If it’s not and my gut feeling was wrong, then I have to do some rethinking before the next try.

And that brings me to the most important thing I’ve got to say today, which is that writing this stuff is not about winning a prize like the Wine Blog Award for the Best Single Subject Blog, for which I am a finalist this year. Of course, it would be flattering to win this award and it might also be very good publicity for STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL, however, the whole point of my work is communicating something of the exciting winegrowers and wines to readers, that is connecting with them. The sole measure of my success is your interest and excitement. So if I win this prize I’ll continue, listening to and read your comments as avidly as I do now. Let’s be frank, I don’t want or need a medal, a prize or even a Wine Blog Award!

Experience has taught me is that it’s strong and surprising things which touch you most. Often it’s funny things which get the best response, but only if they also have something important to say. You, the readers, certainly want to be entertained, but you want to discover stuff (and I’m talking that old-fashioned thing called truth) you can’t get elsewhere and that’s exactly what I’m trying to give you. Thank you for your interest and for your excitement!



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New York Riesling Diary: Day 1 – My First Step on the longest Riesling Journey

Yesterday evening I returned to my Room with a View at the Hotel of Hope in the East 7th Street of New York Wine City’s (NYWC) East Village and immediately hit the Riesling trail. By a minor miracle I walked into Pearl & Ash  at 220 Bowery and got a seat straight away, in spite of that rave review in the New York Times just a couple of weeks ago. (See www.pearlandash.com) I tried a bunch of sensationally flavorful and subtle dishes from creamy chicken butter with toast to wonderfully fresh marinated salmon, and from squid pan-roasted with seaweed to well-done and melt skirt steak in a richly savory sauce. Every one would have been flattered by one or other of the slew of Rieslings on the list that ranged from sweet Spätlese from Zilliken’s Rausch vineyard on the Saar to the Leitz of the Rheingau’s dry wines from the top sites of the Rüdesheimer Berg. However, even if you ignore those Rieslings which are just perfect given the current sub-tropical weather it’s a great wine list that’s neither trying  to show off how clever the sommelier, nor to pander to the popular thirst for well established names. It was a great start to my long visit to the US during which I will be based here in NYWC, but seeing a large chunk of this mind-boggling country. I will, of course, be regularly reporting from the Riesling Trail here. WATCH THIS SPACE!

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Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 2 – Let it Grow!

When I arrived at the two parcels of vines which my team and I planted at Weingut Klosterhof Töplitz in Töplitz/Brandenburg yesterday this is what I found. Just 16 days after planting almost 100% of the nearly 1,000 Pinotin vines we planted were already growing, some of them as vigorously as the vine pictured above. For almost 52° 30′ North that’s really not a bad result! This was due not only to the team’s dedicated work, but also to a near ideal weather pattern with alternating rainy and sunny days, no cold, but no extreme heat either.  The large lakes on three sides of the “Island” of Töplitz certainly played a role in moderating temperatures and helping the vines get a really good start. More evidence that this 2.6 hectare / 6.5 acre south-facing slope is a “Grand Cru” site in the reemerging wine growing region of Brandenburg. Reemerging? Yes, the earliest record of wine growing here was in 1360 and it was Cistercian monks who were responsible. During the Middle Ages they also played an important role in establishing winegrowing regions as diverse as Burgundy and the Rheingau.

Tomorrow I leave for New York Wine CIty (NYWC) and my New York Riesling Diary will resume. It’s exactly two months since I left and I’ll no doubt find NYWC in a very different mood to when I left. This time I will be in the USA for almost three months and will do a lot of traveling, including the Riesling Road Trip organized by the German Wine Insitute which during the second half of June will take me by the land route from LA to NYWC via a southerly route through Las Vegas, Texas, New Orleans, Alabama and the Carolinas. These are all places which are new to me. In early July I’ll be in Vancouver/British Columia, then nearby Okanagan Valley, the most northerly wine growing region on the American continent, which will be exciting because this is serious Riesling territory that’s unfamiliar to me. However, even there wine growing doesn’t extend to 52° 30′ North!