Winemakers are fascinated by its diversity, winegrowers love its transparency, restaurant sommeliers appreciate its friendliness for food, and wine enthusiasts cherish it for its approachable smoothness and range in levels of sweetness. Oregon Riesling is on the rise, and everyone from vintners to consumers are taking note.
Riesling thrives in Oregon’s cool climate and is a varietal known for its transparency and ability to take on the characteristics of where it has taken root – absorbing the unique terroir of Oregon’s marine sediment and volcanic soils while adapting effortlessly to the state’s checkered micro-climates. Back in the early ’60s, however, planting Riesling in Oregon was thought to be improbable by the growing majority of graduates from the University of California, Davis enology and viticulture program. But UC-Davis graduate Richard Sommer, Oregon’s originating wine pioneer, rejected the skepticism of his classmates and headed north to Oregon’s Umpqua Valley; he was on a mission to plant the well-known cool climate Riesling varietal from Alsace, among other varietals including Burgundy (Pinot Noir). After Sommer’s successfully established Hillcrest Vineyards in 1961, other pioneers followed – planting Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in the Willamette Valley. At one time, Riesling was nearly a quarter of the total wine production here in Oregon, but now it accounts for just 5 percent – other varietals like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris gained popularity and became the center of attention within Oregon’s growing wine industry.
Now that some of Oregon’s older bottlings of Riesling are being opened, vintners are discovering their divinity for ageability, and an interest and enthusiasm in growing and producing Riesling is on the rise. Riesling awareness activist, Harry Peterson-Nedry, who is also the founder, winemaker and managing partner of Chehalem Wines, explains this recent surge in interest, “Riesling grape growing mirrors the conservative precision used on Pinot Noir; relatively high-tech winemaking that is protective of fruit finesse while being transparent to terroir.” Peterson-Nedry continues to explain the appreciation for the early bottlings longevity in quality and that, “new dense plantings with a full array of clones are the future.”
- Why do you make Riesling? For all the reasons you can make great Pinot Noir in Oregon, we believe you can make Riesling. Unique in Oregon, Riesling, primarily dry in style, is our primary focus for a white wine and has been since we began in 1998. Our own vineyard is one of the oldest Riesling plantings in Oregon, and we source grapes from other historic sites in the region, as well as from new vineyards that show promise of becoming legendary Riesling resources over time. Riesling is what inspires us.
- What makes Oregon a great place to grow Riesling? The cooler climate overall allows for acid retention, while the longer days of sunlight during the ripening phase enhance phenolic development.
- Why do you make Riesling? It is among the most age-worthy wines in the world. Endless techniques and styles to experiment with.
- What makes Oregon a great place to grow Riesling? Long, cool growing seasons which promote beautiful aromatics and flavor at low fruit sugars, while retaining ample natural acidity.
- Why do you make Riesling? The founders, Pat & Joe Campbell have always enjoyed the varietal as one of the ‘true’ great vinifera grape varietals thus it has always held a place of honor in the portfolio of Elk Cove.
- What makes Oregon a great place to grow Riesling? Our belief is that it is tied primarily to 2 things: the soils here, good for both Pinot Noir and Riesling, giving the acid profile needed for such elegant wines and also the climate for a long dry growing season with cool nights.
- Why do you make Riesling? Riesling is my favorite white variety, if I’m forced to choose between “children.” It has, for a white wine, the same characteristics that Pinot Noir possesses–focused, pure, bright fruit, with acid given to it by a bona fide Region 1 cool climate – and a transparency that allows the terroir of site to be reflected accurately.
- What makes Oregon a great place to grow Riesling? Oregon in general and the Willamette Valley in specific have a perfect borderline climate that preserves acidity, gets the fruit ripe and self-selects lower crop loads that concentrate the wine.
- Why do you make Riesling? It’s the best white wine in the world and we have to keep trying to get our distributors to agree. It would be our desert island white if we had to choose just one.
- What makes Oregon a great place to grow Riesling? The climate and variety of soils.
Original: Snooth – Articles