Wine Bloggers Conference 2014

Over the past few days I have been fortunate enough to attend the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara County. It was a very memorable event – the overall quality of the wines was ridiculously good and it was made all the more special by the energy and enthusiasm of the other delegates.

A few months prior to my trip, I had began scouring my wine books, tasting notes and the net in search of leading Riesling producers that I could visit while I was in California. I didn’t hold out too much hope as Riesling is a cool climate grape and California isn’t exactly shy when it comes to warmth and sunshine!

To my surprise, however, I found a lot of positive reviews and blogs about Californian Riesling (I detailed my findings in the blog post ‘Californian Riesling’ back in December 2013).

I should say that this trip was primarily about getting to know  Santa Barbara County as a whole – Riesling or no Riesling. But, if the opportunity came along to put the noble grape to the test, I was going to grab it with both hands.

Fess Parker Rodney's VineyardAs chance would have it, such an opportunity  came along on my first day in wine country when I checked my emails and to my surprise received a recommendation to visit the Fess Parker winery in Los Olivos. I was told that they not only produced Riesling but also a number of other varieties from different sites across the region. Seemed like a perfect place to start!

It was certainly one of the most picturesque journeys I have ever made, as I motored along the Foxen Canyon Road through the rolling hills of Los Olivos.

On entering the winery’s tasting room, the first thing to strike me was a somewhat familiar face adorning the wall – a black and white image of a rugged, handsome man wearing a coonskin cap. It was none other than Davy Crockett, the TV character that the eponymous owner of the winery, Fess Parker, played back in the 1950′s before his move in to the wine business!

Fess Parker Dodney's Dry Riesling

Fess founded the winery back in 1988 when he bought the 714 acre ranch.  The initial idea was just to run a small family winery which he could hand over to future generations. But, over the years, he and his family acquired vineyard acreage in some of the top spots of Santa Barbara County – for example, in the Bien Nacido vineyard in Santa Maria and also in the very much talked about Santa Rita Hills.

The really exciting thing for me was that the first vines that were planted in 1989 were Riesling – a 5 acre experimental vineyard. Today this vineyard – named Rodney’s Vineyard – has grown to 120 acres and is situated right next to the winery in Foxen Canyon. 

I had the opportunity to taste the 2012 Fess Parker Rodney’s Dry Riesling. Coming in at a pleasing 12% abv, it had a feint whiff of petrol on the nose, good palate weight with notes of peach, blossom and mandarin. A very pleasing effort. I also tasted the 2013 Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Riesling. Whilst also coming in at 12% abv, this Riesling was made in more of an off-dry, Kabinett style. It had a ripe, stone-fruit character but maintained its freshness and was very approachable. 

I found it very encouraging to see the winery continuing to produce Riesling some 25 years after the first vines were planted. For this reason, I was certainly happy that a group of my fellow WBC14 delegates made the journey out to Fess Parker to taste the wines on one of the evening excursions.

After this great start and eager to find more examples of the area’s Riesling, I quizzed a number of the local winemakers that I met. It turns out that during the 1970′s and 1980′s, when many of the pioneering winemakers were starting out in the region, a decent amount of Riesling had been planted. However, as Santa Barbara County rose to greater prominence in the wine world (and Riesling’s commercial appeal waned) many made the decision to replace the vines with more popular varieties.

Whilst this is sad in some respects, I defy anyone to criticise Santa Barbara County for pandering to popular taste. After a few days of travelling around Santa Barbara County, I quickly began to realise just how diverse a region it is. Yes, you will find popular varieties like Pinot and Chard, in particular in areas like the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria. But head over to Happy Canyon and you will find them focusing on white and red Bordeaux varieties. In and around the town of Santa Ynez, Rhone is the order of the day and many wineries there actually lead with varieties like Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. Heck, one guy – Graham Tatomer – is only focusing on producing Riesling! But that’s for another post and another day!

Who’d have thought so much high quality, diverse wine is being made one hour north of LA! Thanks to the Wine Bloggers Conference for introducing me to the wines and vintners of Santa Barbara County! 



Wine Bloggers ConferenceI’m in a really good mood. It’s hard not to be, I suppose, when I am just days away from jetting off to California to take part in the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014!

The Wine Bloggers Conference – or WBC as it is known – is now in its seventh year. The event is a hub for the wine blogging community to meet on an annual basis to share their passion for wine as well as take part in tutored tastings, workshops and seminars.

In the past, WBC has been held in some pretty cool wine regions – Walla Walla in Washington (2010), Charlottesville in Virginia (2011) and Portland in Oregon (2012). This year, it will be held in Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara County is probably best known for its Pinot, which suits me as I’m a huge Pinot nut. Rex Pickett, the author of Sideways (which has been made into iconic cult hit starring Paul Giamatti) sums it up when he describes Pinot as a “haunting and brilliant grape variety”.

Exploring the relationship between Pinot and California, I’ve recently been glued to Jon Bonné’s recent publication, The New California Wine. Jon’s approach has been to focus on wineries throughout the State who are championing elegance and balance in their wines, as opposed to “Big Flavor” as he calls it. He has a great chapter on Santa Rita Hills (a sub-region within Santa Barbara County) which is certainly establishing itself as a mecca for New Wave California Pinot.

But, there is much more to Santa Barbara County than Pinot. Chardonnay is perhaps unsurprisingly grown very successfully and there are also numerous wineries which pride themselves on growing Rhone varieties with great success.

And there is even Riesling being produced, as I described in my blog ‘Californian Riesling’ of a few months ago! Classy folks.

So, now I must take the time to say a huge thank-you to those kind people who made this trip possible. The Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Committee will always be in my good books for granting me the funding for this trip.

Then, of course, there are the donors themselves who put forward the funding to make this trip possible for myself and the other scholarship recipients. You can find a list of the corporate donors by clicking here. In addition, there are many individuals who have made personal donations and I look forward to thanking each and every one of them in person later this week at WBC.

So, watch this space! Plenty of in depth blogs on WBC and SBC to follow in the coming days and weeks!

Anyone who has stood on the slopes of the Ürziger Würzgarten and marvelled at the brilliance of the wines which are produced from it or made the 90km pilgrimage from Adelaide along the Main North Road to Australia’s Clare Valley and been blown away by the bone dry brilliance of its Rieslings will vouch for the magical qualities of this grape.

I believe truly that there is currently more great Riesling being produced than ever before. And yet, among the masses, Riesling continues to be snarled at for being sweet and of dubious quality.

Mistakes of yesteryear

The origins of Riesling’s image crisis are firmly rooted in Germany in the 1980’s, where through the proliferation of “cheap and sweet” wines like Liebfraumilch and Blue Nun, the reputation of German wine dropped like a lead balloon, taking Riesling down with it.Generation Riesling

Nowadays, although the Black Towers and Blue Nuns are thankfully less prevalent (although they can certainly still be found skulking in supermarkets and off-licences throughout the land), their enduring legacy has been to create an almost pathological distrust of medium sweet wines among a generation of British wine drinkers.

Against this background, you would have hoped that the German wine authorities would have bent over backwards to help their producers shake this monkey off their backs by allowing them to clearly identify the level of sweetness on their wine labels.

Sadly, this has not been the case. To this day producers are still held hostage by the infamous “1971 Wine Laws” which require them to overpopulate their wine labels with information which, although to the delight of wine anoraks like me, is to most UK consumers totally meaningless and gives no clues as to sugar levels.

The same can be said for their Alsatian cousins up the Rhine. Whilst it may be true that Rieslings from Alsace have tended to be drier in style, there are inevitably going to be exceptions. And with most Alsatian wine labels giving no indication as to the level of sweetness, it is not surprising that consumers quickly begin to mistrust these wines, fearing the stealthy presence of residual sugar.

 Riesling Down Under

But while the Rieslings of Germany (and to a lesser extent Alsace) were struggling with an image crisis, something really smart was happening in the New World. During the 1980′s, the Australians woke up to the fact that they could potentially produce world class Riesling. But they took one look at the reputation of German wines and realised that producing great wines was not enough.

What followed was a brilliant piece of marketing. The Australians distanced their Rieslings from the stereotypes associated with Old World Riesling by creating a no-nonsense, consumer- friendly style which came with the guarantee of dryness.

These wines, paired with innovative new techniques such as cold stabilization, have achieved great success off the back of Australia’s pivotal role in kick-starting the New World wine revolution. Faced with the choice between a bottle of “Clare Valley Riesling” and “Hochheimer Kirchenstuck Spätlese Trocken Riesling”, it is not hard to understand why nine out of ten punters went for the Aussie Riesling.

Food friendly and appealing to the global demand among younger wine drinkers for dry aromatic white varieties, Australian Riesling seemed the perfect fit to convince a sceptical UK public of Riesling’s potential.

However, any chance of success on this front was dealt a killer blow by our supermarkets here in the UK. Frustratingly, their perpetual discounting of Australian wines over the past few years has taken its toll and severely damaged the reputation of mass-market Australian wines. This, together with the strength of the Aussie Dollar, clobbered Aussie Riesling’s already fragile reputation and arrested much of the progress that was being made on the mainstream front.

 Friends or foes?

The Revolutionaries

So despite their differences in terms of style and marketing, these two great Riesling producing nations actually have a lot in common. They are both producing some of the world’s most exquisite expressions of what the Riesling grape can achieve but are both prevented from fulfilling their potential because of their reputations.

So what can be done about this? Competition between Old and New Worlds is crucial to ensure that quality remains high and prices remain in check. But there is also a great deal that the Old and New Worlds can learn from each other.

There is no better example of this than during my recent visit to the Mecca for Riesling aficionados – the Dönnhoff estate in the German village of Oberhausen. Here, I met with owner and chief winemaker, the great Helmut Dönnhoff. Asking him about the relationship between Old and New World Riesling, he regaled me with the story of a recent trip to Australia where he met with a number of leading Australian Riesling producers, including Jeffrey Grosset and Peter Barry. He recounted that he was so impressed with the quality of the Rieslings that he drank that he began to doubt the relative quality of his own wines.

It followed that the first thing he did upon touching down on German soil was to make a beeline for his cellar where he conducted a private tasting of his wines. He said that an hour later he emerged, exhausted but safe in the knowledge that whilst the Australians may be producing outstanding Riesling, he could sleep easy knowing the wines of the Nahe could hold their own against the best of them.

Helmut and Jeffrey have become great friends and he insists that they can learn a lot from each other. I believe that if Riesling is to fulfil its true potential on the world stage, it will be necessary for Old and New World producers to collaborate and communicate with each other and exert their influence on a united front to promote Riesling’s virtues.

The US Model

This idea of collaboration between Old and New World Riesling producers has, in fact, been put into practice very successfully in the US over the past few years.

A great example of this is Long Shadows Vintners in Washington State. Long Shadows was the brainchild of former Stimpson Lane CEO, Allen Shoup. It was Shoup’s dream to run a winery as a joint venture with winemakers from different regions of the world, whereby he would harness their expertise to produce wines grown from Washington State grapes. Nowadays, Long Shadows produces many varietals, but when it comes to their Rieslings, Shoup has called on Armin Diel, owner of the renowned Schlossgut Diel winery in the Nahe region of Germany. Together they produce the Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling which has been a real hit with the critics in the US.

Another example of the marriage between Old and New Worlds is Eroica. Eroica is the joint venture between famed Mosel winemaker Ernie Loosen and Bob Bertheau of Washington giant, Chateau Ste. Michelle. The idea behind Eroica was to draw on both Old and New World techniques and philosophies to create a wine which not only reflects the region from which the grapes are grown, but also its US and German heritage. Since its launch in 1999, this partnership has seen continued success and shows just what can be achieved when producers collaborate and explore unchartered territory.

 Never Say Never

There are those who say that Riesling will always be a niche wine. They say that a grape that expresses its character so vividly and displays such a range of styles will never be able to cater to mass-market tastes.

I disagree wholeheartedly.

There is no doubt in my mind that Riesling can rise to the challenge. The overall quality of Riesling being produced worldwide at all price points has never been higher. But the key to unlocking its success lies in the ability of its producers to effectively communicate the style of their wines.

The Australians have led the way admirably on this front, showing that a consumer-friendly Riesling can work spectacularly well. Now it is time for the Old World to follow suit. This will not happen overnight but when it does (and it will), there will be nothing stopping Riesling from rightfully regaining its crown as the King of white grapes.

DSC00047-300x168It doesn’t happen very often but every now and again I have a wine “moment” – this is where I taste a wine that is so good, so complex, so memorable that I am thinking about it for days.

This happened to me the other day. The wine in question was a bottle of Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Spätlese Riesling 2011.

Dönnhoff is regarded by many as one of (if not the) finest producers of Riesling in the world.

The estate is set in the heart of the Nahe wine region. The Nahe is a relatively small German wine growing area and takes its name from the Nahe River that flows through the region. The region’s best vineyards are usually found on steep slopes towering down over the Nahe river.

This brings me to the Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle – the jeDSC00091DSC00091wel in Dönnhoff’s crown! The Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle vineyard is a little over 8 hectares in size and is positioned on the north side of the Nahe River.

The soil is quite complex and the upper part (where the very best grapes are grown) is made up oDönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Spätlese Riesling 2011f volcanic and slate soils. The slope has a calf-burning steepness of 30-45% and only Riesling is planted – my kind of vineyard!

The wines – like this one from Dönnhoff  - are known for having intense mineral and spicy notes with immense concentration of fruit. This is thanks to the soil structure and also the position of the steep slopes overlooking the Nahe river, which reflects the sunlight onto the vines.

I don’t mind admitting I have a real soft spot for this vineyard. Not only did I spend a magical few months working on it during my time at the Dönnhoff estate a couple of years back but also served the Niederhäuser Hermannhöhle Riesling from Jakob Scheider at my wedding! So, yeah, I’m a convert!

I won’t bore you with any more minutiae about this vineyard but if you love Riesling (dry or off-dry) then I urge you to explore the wines produced from grapes grown in this vineyard. You  will find one of the purest and most memorable expressions of the Riesling grape in the world.


Gordon EstateWhen brothers Jeff and Bill Gordon planted their first vineyards in Washington’s Columbia Valley back in 1980, there were just 19 wineries in the State and 5,000 acres of vines planted.

Today, Washington State’s wine industry is home to over 750 wineries and more than 40,000 acres of vines.

So, what was it that drove Gordon Estate and wineries like them to plant vines in Washington’s largely unchartered territory? And, why has its wine industry exploded at such as rapid rate over the last 30 years?

There is no single answer as to this question but, undoubtedly, one of the critical factors lies in Washington’s location and geography.

Washington State is located in America’s Pacific Northwest, immediately to the north of Oregon. It is positioned on the 46°N parallel (incidentally the same latitude as Bordeaux and Burgundy) which allows its vineyards benefit from up to 17 hours of sunshine every day during the growing season. This is two hours more than its sunny Californian cousin to the south!

Another factor that is fundamental to the success of Washington’s wine industry is the existence of the Cascade Mountains. The Cascades divide the State from east to west. The eastern side is characterised by a hot, dry, desert-like Continental climate due to the mountains acting as a rain barrier, blocking precipitation moving east from the Pacific Ocean. It is here that the vast majority of Washington’s vineyards are situated. To give you an idea of the dry conditions, the Columbia Valley – home to Gordon Estate winery – gets on average only 8 inches of rain per year!

But, geography aside, the vintners in Washington have also been smart in their choice of grape varieties. The arid conditions conditions suit varieties that ripen late and lend themselves to a fuller bodied style of wine. It is no surprise therefore that the State’s most planted grapes include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot.

Washington State RieslingThe one anomaly to this is Riesling! Washington is, in fact, not only the largest producer of Riesling in the US but Riesling is the most planted grape variety in the State. The key reason why Riesling seems to flourish in Washington is the substantial changes of temperature between night and day. This allows producers of Riesling to achieve optimal ripeness whilst maintaining the grape’s identifiable trademark – acidity!

For this reason, you can find Riesling produced in a range of styles – from bone dry to super sweet – with impressive balance between sweetness and acidity.

One interesting occurrence over the past few years in Washington has been a number of collaborations taking place between Old and New World Riesling producers.

A great example of this is Long Shadows Vintners in Washington State. Long Shadows was the brainchild of former Stimpson Lane CEO, Allen Shoup. It was Shoup’s dream to run a winery as a joint venture with winemakers from different regions of the world, whereby he would harness their expertise to produce wines grown from Washington State grapes.

Nowadays, Long Shadows produces many varietals, but when it comes to their Rieslings, Shoup has called on Armin Diel, owner of the renowned Schlossgut Diel winery in the Nahe region of Germany. Together they produce the Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling which has been a real hit with the critics in the US.

Another example of the marriage between Old and New Worlds is Eroica. Eroica is the joint venture between famed Mosel winemaker Ernie Loosen and Bob Bertheau of Washington giant, Chateau Ste. Michelle. The idea behind Eroica was to draw on both Old and New World techniques and philosophies to create a wine which not only reflects the region from which the grapes are grown, but also its US and German heritage. Since its launch in 1999, this partnership has seen continued success and shows just what can be achieved when producers collaborate and explore unchartered territory.

For me, Washington State provides the UK wine trade with the perfect opportunity to show the public that there is more to American wine than California. And, more to that point, that Riesling is actually a grape variety that can thrive in the UK.

Oregon is starting to get a foothold in the UK and I do not think it will be long before Washington follows suit. I accept that these wines may remain niche for a while to come but for independents and restaurants that are looking to inject imagination into their wine lists, Washington State will certainly become a viable option.

I’m very excited to announce that on Friday 21st March I will be launching my own pop-up restaurant for one night. I have teamed up with old school friend turned chef, Freddie Southwell, to put on a show-stopping night for lovers of food and wine.

As well as running his own catering company, Wild Seasoning, Freddie has spent time in Nepal passing on his passion and knowledge of Nepalese food to foodies via cookery classes, market visits and traditional village tours. At our pop-up, he will be offering a selection of Nepalese style dishes cooked in a modern contemporary way – his vision is to redesign famous Nepali dishes whilst sticking to the core principles of the Himalayan food culture.

I’ll be putting the drinks offering together and looking after front of house. Of course, with the heat, spice and aromatics of the Nepalese cuisine, there is no better match than Riesling. My Noble Revolution Rieslings will be more than up to the task and I believe this is a moment for The Reactionary to take centre stage. (If you haven’t tried them yet, send me an email by clicking here and I’ll send you a bottle!).

The Reactionary Riesling Riesling 1










There will also be a selection of craft beers, cocktails, red wines and digestives which I will prepare to suit Freddie’s menu. There will also be a fantastic selection of soft drinks available from Fever-tree.

So here’s what will be coming out of the kitchen.

Eating Nepal Eating Nepal











Spiced new potato sandheko with a mint yoghurt

  • Daal pate with pickled vegetables on crispy chapatti
  • Mutton momos with yellow tomato achaar
  • Peanut sandheko spoons
  • Chicken sekuwa wings with coriander achaar


Nepali spiced steamed fish-cakes, carrot, mooli & coriander salad served with a lemon & red onion achaar


Nepalese Chilli pork three ways – Chilli pan-roasted pork loin, chilli braised pork cheek & Chilli oil confit pork belly served with Apple & fennel achaar & squash tarkari puree

Chilli pan-fried paneer cheese with a tomato & onion takhari (veggie option)

Steamed Basmati rice infused with Jimbu topped with crispy onion, garlic & daal


Yoghurt ice cream with caramelised pineapple, salted almond chilli praline, mango puree, lime jelly

There are just a few tickets left – you can purchase them here. If you can’t make it this time round, email me on and I’ll put you on the waiting list for the next evening we do.

Thanks, as ever, for your support.

Ewald Gruber Gruner Veltliner When friends ask me to recommend a wine from a region that they might not have tried before – something a little bit different – I usually always send them in the direction of Austria.

Through my Noble Revolution Wines venture I have introduced many people to the charms of German Riesling. But, most everyday wine consumers are still not aware that Austria produces excellent wine from both red and white grape varieties. But, for those in the trade, it is old news that Austria’s top wines are capable of standing up to anything else in the world in quality terms.

But, to appreciate how Austria rose to such heights in the wine world, we need to understand its history – it is a story of how an inglorious past has made way for a glorious present.

At the end of 1985, the Austrian wine industry lay in ruins, broken and disgraced. Earlier that year, the story broke that certain wineries had been adding a substance used in anti-freeze – diethylene-glycol – to bulk out and sweeten their wines. Austrian wine exports practically collapsed overnight and its reputation as a winemaking nation was torn to shreds.

The Austrian authorities quickly realised that a quality control system needed to be imposed on the country’s wineries. Lax regulation was replaced with strict new laws, including maximum yields, which were brought in to demonstrate Austria’s commitment to improving the overall quality of its wines.

In turn, this kick-started a trend among many of Austria’s wineries to downsize. Statistics show that year-on-year since the late 1980’s, vineyard plantings have decreased, as have the number of wineries and volume of wine produced. As the wine industry consolidated, a clear message was sent to the outside world – bulk was being replaced by boutique.

As part of the rebranding of Austria’s wine industry, a number of Austria’s indigenous grape varieties were put forward to play leading roles. The grape that has above all been fundamental in Austria’s positive wine trajectory is Grüner Veltliner.

Many people see Grüner as producing a younger style of wine with a trademark green apple and white pepper character and refreshing acidity. But, there is no doubt that it can produce fuller-bodied, complex wines capable of ageing.

But, Riesling is also playing an increasingly important role. In fact, unlike the other most popular white grape varieties in Austria, where the number of plantings is decreasing, Riesling plantings are on the rise. Statistics from the Austrian Wine Marketing Board show that between 1999 and 2009 the total number of hectares of Riesling vines increased by 13.4%. Compare this to Grüner which decreased by 22.7% and Muller-Thurgau which also decreased by a staggering 36.1%.

It seems to me that Grüner and Riesling make the perfect tag-team for Austria. Grüner is the native grape that has led the resurgence in Austria’s wine industry. Unlike Riesling, it can also offer fuller-bodied wines, capable of oak aging.

But, Riesling has the benefit of being widely regarded as one of the most noble, versatile grape varieties in the world. It is a grape that thrives in cooler conditions and Austria has shown that it can produce exquisite examples of it in both dry and sweet styles. Both Grüner and Riesling are known for their trademark high acidity and have become known as two of the most food friendly and versatile grape varieties.

Some of the genuinely most exciting wines I have tried over the past few years have come from winemakers who are willing to experiment and innovate. Austria seems to be jam-packed with such characters and if it can continue to focus on championing these two wonderful grape varieties, I have no doubt that its future will be very bright indeed.


I have had the pleasure of drinking a lot of great Riesling over the years from all around the world. Germany, Alsace and Australia remain for me Riesling “centres of excellence” where this magnificent grape is able to reach its fullest expression.

De Long Metro Wine Map of CaliforniaBut, beyond the borders of these three heavyweights, other regions are certainly showing that they are contenders on the world stage. The amount of top quality, hand-crafted Riesling coming out of Austria seems to increase year on year. New Zealand is showing it is capable of producing some fantastic Rieslings in a range of styles. And the Americas are also playing an ever important role – in particular along the cooler, coastal regions of Chile and Oregon in the US.

But, a region that is unquestionably  one of the dominant players on the world wine stage, yet from afar seems to produce virtually no Riesling is California.

Why is this? The reason I ask the question is that, Riesling aside, I am a huge Pinot Noir fan and going through a major Californian Pinot phase at the moment. It got me thinking about the region as a whole and the notable absence of Riesling production.

Well, the obvious answer is that Riesling is a grape variety that thrives in cooler climates – it is therefore not exactly a natural fit with a State that is known for its endless sunshine and warmth.

But, in fact, a closer look reveals that, joy of joys, a small amount of Riesling is being grown in California. According to the statistical data released by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, 4,452 sacred acres of land in the State are planted with Riesling vines. Not only that but the figures show that between 2000 and 2012, the tonnage of Riesling grapes crushed increased from 9,351 to 36,925, making it the fifth most harvested grape in California.

You see, whilst California may be famous for its warmth and sunshine, its coastal areas can actually be quite cool due to the moderating influence of the winds and mists rolling off the Pacific Ocean.

The area with greatest amount of Riesling vines in California is Monterey County with 2,237 acres. This is followed in second and third place by Mendocino County (a couple of hours north of San Francisco) and Santa Barbara County (an hour north of Los Angeles). The reason why Riesling seems to flourish in these areas is that they are in close proximity to the cooling influence of the Pacific, giving this most noble of grapes a fighting chance of reaching its finest and fullest expression.

Santa Barbara Riesling Although I have tried many a memorable US Riesling from Oregon and Washington State, I must confess to never having slurped on any Californian Rieslings. Clearly, this is unacceptable so I plan to remedy this in July of next year when I will be making the pilgrimage out to California for the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014. By pure coincidence, it takes place in Santa Barbara County, so I will be sure to seek out its finest Riesling! But, if the Pinot produced there is anything to go by, I am in safe hands!

In the meantime, I will leave you with this list of wineries which have been recommended to me by my trusted winelover friends from across the pond. I cannot vouch for them personally, but they have certainly now been added to my hit list of wineries to visit in July: Navarro Vineyards (Mendocino), McFadden Vineyards (Mendocino), Tatomer (Santa Barbara), Greenwood Ridge (Mendocino), Mandolin Wines (Monterey). Any other recommendations are very welcome.

Stay tuned…..

Elk Cove RieslingThere has never been so much great wine being produced. Time and time again, I am surprised and excited, not only by wines from regions that I have never explored before, but also by those that I thought I knew inside-out!

For this reason, I always try to keep an open mind when it comes to tasting wine – I take an all-embracing stance. That said, I have learned from experience that when it comes down to brass tacks, I am unapologetically a Riesling and Pinot Noir guy. It’s just the way I’m programmed.

 And when it comes to wines produced from these two grape varieties, Oregon is the place I want to be.

 Oregon lies on the north-west coast of America between the States of California and Washington. Over the years, it has earned a reputation for producing elegant, high quality, hand-crafted wines and its cooler, maritime climate lends itself perfectly to the production of Riesling and Pinot Noir.

 Yet, while there is no doubt that Oregon is producing some sublime expressions from both of these grape varieties, they have both led very different lives over the past couple of decades.

Take Pinot Noir for example. Pinot is unquestionably Oregon’s number one success story, its poster child. The past couple of decades have seen Oregon become synonymous with producing distinctive, high end Pinot Noirs. Over 50% of the vines planted in Oregon are dedicated to this grape and this figure continues to increase year on year as its popularity goes from strength to strength.

Nowadays, Oregon is even home to the infamous ‘International Pinot Noir Celebration’, an annual three-day bash where thousands of thirsty delegates descend on Oregon Wine Country to celebrate what Rex Pickett (of Sideways fame) refers to as “this haunting and brilliant grape variety”.

I have had the pleasure of drinking Pinot Noir from a number of Oregon wineries over the years. The likes of Elk Cove, Bergström, J. Christopher, immediately spring to mind, bringing back happy memories of beautiful soft, silky Pinots with generous amounts of red fruit.

Riesling, on the other hand, has had more of a bumpy ride in Oregon over the past few decades. Some thirty years ago, Riesling was the white grape du jour, with its vines constituting around a quarter of the planted acreage in the State. Nowadays, however, this number has been whittled down to around the 5% mark, as many Riesling vines have been ripped up to make way for the more fashionable Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lately, however, there have been indications that there are brighter times ahead for Riesling. Figures show that there has been a rapid growth in Riesling sales in Oregon over the past five years. One of the main drivers for the renewed interest in Riesling has been the city of Portland. Only a few miles to the east of the Willamette Valley – Oregon’s premier growing area – Portland’s thriving restaurant scene has embraced this versatile and noble grape variety, triggering an increase in the number of plantings.

But, there is actually another aromatic grape variety alongside Riesling which has also been able to flourish in Oregon’s cool, maritime climate – Pinot Gris. In fact, Pinot Gris has done more than flourish as its annual tonnage is now 3 times larger than Chardonnay in the State!

The typical style tends be fresher and lighter-bodied than the Alsace Pinot Gris we often find in the UK, exhibiting stone fruit characteristics, such as white peach, as well as pineapple and lychee. Like Riesling and Pinot Noir, its elegant style and clean, fresh acidity (thanks to the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean) makes it very versatile and food-friendly.

Oregon cannot be said to be an emerging or “up-and-coming” wine region as it has been producing quality wine for decades. But, in UK terms, I think it would be fair to label it in this way. We are seeing more Oregon wine hit our shores than ever before but it still remains for many a boutique wine category.

Price will be an issue for some, but does first class German Riesling or Pinot Noir from Burgundy come cheap? Certainly not – the quality justifies the price tag. The same principle should be applied to the wines coming out of Oregon. The estates tend to be small, the quality high and the wines have character and a sense of place.

At the end of the day, if there is one region in the world that encapsulates the style of wine that I like to drink, it is Oregon. The question is, will you join me?

This article was originally published in The Drinks Business under the title ‘Think Oregon, Drink Pinot’ on 21st November, 2013.


As regular readers of this blog know, Riesling is my passion. Riesling’s thrilling balance of acidity, complex citrusy flavours and ability to respond to vineyard character makes it one of the world’s greatest grapes.

German Riesling, in particular, holds a special place for me, as it was in Germany – in the village of Rüdesheim in the Rheingau to be exact – where I first stumbled upon this magical grape variety.

Yet, to my dismay, German Riesling has historically had a tough time in the UK due to its association with “cheap and sweet” low quality bulk wine and an overcomplicated labeling system.

In fact, one of the reasons that I launched The Riesling Revolutionary was to help improve its image in the UK and show people that the Germans are actually producing some world class, DRY white wines.

However, as time went on, I felt that my efforts were being undercut somewhat by the fact that many German producers were continuing to produce wines with gothic looking labels and confusing terminology.

The quality of the wine was never an issue for me. It was the way it was being presented to the consumer.

But rather than standing idly by, I thought I would get hasty and take matters into my own hands.

So, Noble Revolution Wines was born.


My mission was to create a range of wines that not only possessed everything I loved about great German Riesling – crisp acidity, textbook minerality and a sense of place. But, they also had to be attractive and approachable for UK wine drinkers.

If uncertainty surrounding sweetness was an issue, I would make sure that my wine labels clearly stated that the wines are DRY.

If people were often put off by gothic looking script and technical jargon, I would make my labels ultra MODERN looking, exclusively in English and jargon free.

If people associated the tall, slim traditional German wine bottle with the Hock and Liebfraumilch of yesteryear, I would bottle my Rieslings in a BURGUNDY shaped bottle.

One of my first decisions after launching Noble Revolution Wines was to team up with my now business partner and former Senior Vice President at The Coca Cola Company, Herbert Hoffmann. With over 20 years working for the world’s most iconic drinks brand, I knew that Herbert’s wealth of experience and expertise would be invaluable when taking our wines to market.

Together, we set out in search of a winemaker who could help us make our dream a reality. We found that person in Jürgen Meng. Jürgen’s winery is based in the village of Mülheim in the heart of Germany’s Pfalz wine region, the largest growing region in the world for Riesling. The Pfalz’s reputation for producing juicy, powerful Rieslings and Jürgen’s passion and energy made him the perfect partner for Noble Revolution Wines.

So, we set him the challenge of producing for us a range of dry Rieslings that not only tasted great but also reflected the character of the region and the vineyards where the grapes were grown. In the meantime, we went away to find a designer who could create the artwork for our labels.

We could not have been happier with the results. Jürgen kept his end of the bargain in a big way by producing two superb tasting, dry Rieslings from the 2012 vintage. Also, the design team from Identity, led by head designer Mark Whittington, created labels that were distinctive, trendy and had a sense of intrigue. 

Further posts will follow in the coming weeks about the wines – named ‘The Trendsetter’ and ‘The Reactionary’ – and more information will also be available at which will be live shortly.

But if, in the meantime, you have any questions or would like to know where you can find the wines, just drop me an email to 

Finally, a big shout out to all those people who have helped me with this venture over the past few months. You know who you are and I am immensely grateful for your input and support. 


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