CHAPTER 6 – MISHA WILKINSON OF MISHA’S VINEYARD

REGION: Central Otago, New Zealand
VOLUME: 746 cases of Riesling (2011 vintage)
VARIETALS: Riesling, PG, PN, Gewurz, SB
WEBSITE: www.mishasvineyard.com

Misha’s Vineyard was founded in 2003 by Misha and Andy Wilkinson and is located in a magnificent spot on the edge of Lake Dunstan in Central Otago, New Zealand.

Central Otago is known as one of the top producing regions in New Zealand for Pinot Noir, but the high altitude of many of its vineyards and cool Continental climate also makes it very well suited to growing aromatic white varieties, such as Riesling.

Despite its relative youth, Misha’s Vineyard has already received its fair share of attention on the international wine circuit. For example, after only 4 vintages, Misha’s Vineyard was named one of the Top 20 New Zealand Producers in Decanter (Sept 2011 edn) and in May 2011, its 2010 Limelight Riesling was selected as one of the Top 100 Wines at the London Wine Fair.

Key to the success of Misha’s Vineyard has undoubtedly been the hard work of head winemaker, Olly Masters, who joined Misha’s Vineyard from the Ati Rangi winery in Martinborough. Since his arrival, Olly has helped Misha’s Vineyard establish itself as one of the most exciting producers in New Zealand.

So now that you’ve got a bit of background on the estate, let’s hear what Misha has to say about her winery, winemaking in New Zealand and Riesling:

TTR: How would you describe the Riesling grape in 3 words?
MW: It’s F.A.B F for Floral (or Fruity), A for Aromatic (& Adaptable) and B for Balanced (& Beautiful).

TTR: What makes your region so well suited to growing Riesling?
MW: Central Otago is the most southerly wine producing region in the world and has New Zealand’s highest vineyards at 200-400 metres above sea level. It’s also the only region in New Zealand that has a Continental climate rather than a maritime climate. This means there is a large diurnal temperature range during the growing season with hot days (not above 30C) and cool nights which helps develop flavour complexity. The very low rainfall and low humidity means there is very low disease pressure.

Vineyards in the region are mostly planted on slopes by lakesides or deep river gorges with mostly glacial derived soils. These soils are quite unique as they contain heavy deposits of mica and metamorphic schists along with loess interspersed with gravels. The soils are free-draining with good minerality and scattered deposits of calcium carbonate but are generally low in organic matter which means low vigour in the vines. All of this makes it an ideal region to aromatic white varieties (and Pinot Noir which is the predominant variety grown).

TRR: Old World Riesling vs. New World Riesling – friends or foes?
MW: They are just different – and it’s not a case of just Old World vs. New World, it’s a case of every different vineyard site across the world expressing something unique to that site.

TRR: Which winemakers (past or present) have had the greatest influence on you?
MW: All the winemakers who are able to create a Riesling that is perfectly balanced, truthfully expresses their vineyard site and who does it consistently year after year are the winemakers that earn the most respect. Olly Masters, our winemaker, describes his style as minimalist winemaking and he’s making our fabulous Rieslings.

TRR: Which new producers are you excited by the most at the moment, and why?
MW: I’m excited about all New Zealand producers – they are all “new producers” in the scheme of things since the first Sauvignon Blanc was made in the mid 1970s. Yet New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is acknowledged as a benchmark for this variety. It is also globally acknowledged as one of the few places able to producing world-class Pinot Noir and, now with aromatic white varieties, New Zealand is being hailed as one of the greatest places to make Riesling. All 700 producers in New Zealand should feel proud of these achievements as the reputation of the country (and its producers) far outweighs the actual volume of wine produced – i.e. less than 1% of the world’s wine!

TRR: If you’re not drinking Riesling, what wine do you usually like to drink?
MW: Cool climate varieties especially from our region get my vote most of the time – whether that be a Pinot Gris, a Gewurztraminer or a Pinot Noir. Of course it’s important to have a ‘global palate’ as well and we enjoy wines from some of our favourite wine regions in the world like: Margaret River (Australia), Tuscany & Piedmont (Italy), and Rhone & Burgundy (France).

TRR: What are the biggest challenges currently facing you as a winemaker?
MW: The greatest challenges are always to do with the weather conditions you experience during the season – we are farmers after all and every season brings its unique set of conditions. We have to react quickly to conditions and most importantly ensure our vines are carrying just the right crop load in order to have balanced vines that will deliver us great wines. The old adage is true that great wines are made in the vineyard. We are very fortunate at Misha’s Vineyard that we’re located on the slopes overlooking Lake Dunstan which means we don’t have a risk of frost at the beginning and end of the season (which is one of the biggest challenges in our region) but there are always other set-backs that the season can bring especially around the times of flowering and fruit-set.

TRR: Where do you see your winery in 20 years time?
MW: Reputation comes with time and we know it will take at least 20 years more to create a global reputation. We were lucky to have been named one of the Top 20 New Zealand Producers (Decanter UK) which was a huge honour and in May 2011 we were excited to have our 2010 Limelight Riesling selected as one of the Top 100 Wines at the London Wine Fair – the only wine selected from Central Otago. So things are going well so far and we’re looking forward to the next twenty years and what may happen along the way!

TRR: How can Riesling improve its reputation on the world wine stage?
MW: Does it need to? It’s nice that it’s not too popular as a wine style as with that would bring commercialization and potentially a drop in quality! Riesling is recognized by wine lovers as one of the greatest grape varieties – isn’t that enough? Seriously, there are promotions like the Summer of Riesling which started in the US and is just about to start in New Zealand (January 2012). Those sorts of promotions are a great way of getting this variety noticed. The people with the most influence are sommeliers and restaurant owners – if they would only put good Rieslings on as a ‘by the glass’ and allow more experimentation of good Riesling instead of putting low quality Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs as their ‘by the glass’ offerings.

You can buy Misha’s Vineyard Limelight Riesling 2010 in the UK from Slurp.co.uk

CHAPTER 5 – WERNER AND FRANK SCHÖNLEBER OF WEINGUT EMRICH SCHÖNLEBER

REGION: Monzigen, Nahe, Germany
VINEYARD AREA: 17 ha
VARIETALS: 85% Riesling, 7% Pinot Gris and 4% Pinot Blanc
WEBSITE: www.emrich-schoenleber.de

Over the past few decades, Weingut Emrich-Schönleber has established itself as one of the finest wineries in Germany.

The winery is located in the village of Monzigen in the Nahe region, not far from fellow German heavyweights Dönnhoff and Schäfer-Fröhlich.

Like these two wineries, it has amassed not only a loyal domestic following but also, unlike a lot of Germany wineries, received critical success on the international stage (e.g. David Schildknecht of The Wine Advocate has awarded a number of the Emrich-Schönleber wines 95+ points).

Key to the success of Weingut Emrich-Schönleber is undoubtedly the vineyards from which it sources the grapes for its wines. There are two single vineyard sites, in particular, which are perfectly suited to growing world class Riesling – the “Frühlingsplätzchen” and “Halenberg”.

Both vineyards are situated in Monzigen (not far from the winery) and have south-facing and incredibly steep slopes (up to 70% in places) which gives the Riesling the best possible chance of ripening. In addition, the soil in these vineyards consists mainly of quartz and slate (red slate in the Frühlingsplätzchen and blue slate in the Halenberg) which allows the earth to absorb the heat of the sun which also helps the grapes to ripen and gives the wines impressive minerality.

A second factor which is integral to the winery’s achievements is the father-son team of Werner and Frank Schönleber. For many years, Werner was head winemaker and much of the success of Weingut Emrich-Schönleber should be attributed to him. But now his son, Frank, has joined him as winemaker which ensures that whilst quality will remain unchanged, there will be no shortage of youthful energy and innovation.

Testament to this is the winery’s new state of the art tasting room which was built in 2010. This spacious and modern structure, together with accompanying courtyard, provides the perfect place to learn about the surrounding vineyards and enjoy a glass of refreshing Riesling when the sun is shining.

So, now that you’ve got a bit of background on Weingut Emrich-Schönleber, let’s hear what Frank has to say about Riesling:

TRR: How would you describe the Riesling grape in 3 words?
FS: Delicate, racy and multifaceted.

TRR: What makes your region so well suited to growing Riesling?
FS: Cool climate, stoney/slatey soil.

TRR: Old World Riesling vs. New World Riesling – friends or foes?
FS: Friends because of different stylistics.

TRR: Which winemakers (past or present) have had the greatest influence on you?
FS: My father and any winemaker who produces individual Riesling that drinks easily and with great pleasure, no matter how concentrated they are.

TRR: Which new producers are you excited by the most at the moment, and why?
FS: A.J. Adam from the Mosel – he has built up a (small but extremely good) winery from scratch, cares for every little detail in the vineyards and the cellar and has been producing great, individual wines from the very beginning.

TRR: If you’re not drinking Riesling, what wine do you usually like to drink?
FS: The Pinots: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

TRR: What are the biggest challenges currently facing you as a winemaker?
FS: New diseases in the vineyards, which kill many vines every year – we can only try to control them but are never really able to really stop them.

TRR: Where do you see your winery in 20 years time?
FS: Hopefully amongst the best and most respected estates in the world.

TRR: How can Riesling improve its reputation on the world wine stage?
FS: This is very hard because the perfect conditions for growing great Riesling can so rarely been found. This means that quantities of great Riesling will always be tiny compared to the likes of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Pinot Noir faces the same problem, I think. So, the only chance is for good estates to acquire more and more great sites from small and unprofessional vintners which can’t handle these by themselves. Fortunately, German viticulture is heading in that direction!

CHAPTER 4 – HERMANN SEIFRIED OF SEIFRIED ESTATE

REGION: Nelson, New Zealand
TOTAL VINEYARD AREA: 200 ha
VARIETALS: 55% SB, 15% Chard, 15% PN, 6% PG, 3% Riesling 3%, 3% Other
WEBSITE: www.seifried.co.nz/

It all started for Seifried Estate back in 1973 when Hermann Seifried, an Austrian native, and his New Zealander wife, Agnes, planted their first vineyard on the heavy clays of New Zealand’s Moutere Valley (which is between Nelson and Motueka).

Hermann and Agnes experienced their first harvest in 1976 and since then Hermann has earned a reputation as being a true pioneer in the South Island New Zealand wine industry. A good example of this is shown by the fact that Seifried Estate is Nelson’s first winery to achieve the Sustainable Winegrowing accreditation.

What is also great to see is that Seifried Estate seems to pride itself on being a family business and the passion that Hermann and Agnes have for their wines has clearly been passed on to their three children – son, Chris, and eldest daughter Heidi, head up the winemaking team and younger daughter Anna takes care of the sales and marketing side of the business.

Seifried Estate produces a number of Rieslings – the Nelson Riesling and Old Coach Road Rieslings are usually dry or just off dry and the Late Harvest Riesling and Sweet Agnes Riesling are predictably very sweet. Although Riesling actually only makes up 3% of the plantings at Seifried, the Sweet Agnes in particular is viewed by many as the jewel in Seifried’s crown.

The Sweet Agnes is an intensely sweet Riesling (200 g/l residual sugar) but is beautifully balanced thanks to the acidity generated by Nelson’s cool climate. Its undeniable quality has also been recognised here in the UK where it has won the title of best sweet wine producer in New Zealand at the Decanter World Wine Awards for the last five years!

Seifried Estate is one of my favourite Kiwi producers so I am really grateful to Hermann for agreeing to be the Producer of the Month for December – so let’s get his views on Riesling and how it figures at his winery:

TRR: How would you describe the Riesling grape in 3 words?
HS: Classical. Pure. Undervalued.

TRR: What makes your region so well suited to growing Riesling?
HS: Our high sunshine hours, diurnal temperature range, maritime climate, and soils all contribute to our special characters. We are able to develop and retain fine Riesling fruit characters and natural acidity, which produce textural wines with concentration and length.

TRR: Old World Riesling vs. New World Riesling – friends or foes?
HS: Friends! Definitely friends – Riesling can be handled in so many ways and certainly Old World and New World Riesling complement each other. To a wine lover, the fact that this grape is grown in so many different regions and handled in different ways is part of the appeal, mystery and intrigue of Riesling.

TRR: Which winemakers (past or present) have had the greatest influence on you?
HS: Coming from a European background and training, I guess our classic Rieslings from my home in Austria have guided me alongside many of those from Germany. Specifically our Sweet Agnes Riesling is a New World take on the famous German and Austrian Eisweins.

TRR: Which new producers are you excited by the most at the moment, and why?
HS: Many! It is great to see people getting so much pleasure out of handling this grape in their own specific site and style.

TRR: If you’re not drinking Riesling, what wine do you usually like to drink?
HS: Hmmm, a hard question. We tend to enjoy a range of wines from all corners of the globe – from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs, to Grüner Veltliners and Zweigelt.

TRR: What are the biggest challenges currently facing you as a winemaker?
HS: In terms of Riesling, we are all still waiting for the big return of interest and enthusiasm from the market in this variety. There are so many fabulous Riesling producers, but as a variety it is still so undervalued.

TRR: Where do you see your winery in 20 years time?
HS: We are very much a family business. Agnes and I established our vineyards and winery in the early 1970s when there was no modern wine industry in the South Island of New Zealand and people believed grapes would fail here. The wine industry in this country has just come so far in the very short time since we planted our first vines.

Now we enjoy having all three of our ‘children’ working in the family business. We have expanded our Estate plantings significantly over the decades we have been growing and making wine. We believe there is a strong future for aromatic wines from New Zealand – slowly but surely the world is beginning to realise what fabulous Rieslings come from our part of the world.

TRR: How can Riesling improve its reputation on the world wine stage?
HS: Riesling producers must continue to make classy, pure and textured wines with a sense of place. If this is diluted down and commercialised the wines become more generic and loose their charm.

CHAPTER 3- COLETTE FALLER OF DOMAINE WEINBACH

REGION: Alsace, France
YIELD: 35 Hl/Ha
VARIETALS: Riesling 44%, Gewürz 25%, Pinot Gris 13%, Others 18%
WEBSITE: www.domaineweinbach.com

Colette Faller is a remarkable woman producing remarkable wines.

Following the untimely death of her husband, Theo, in 1980 Colette Faller assumed responsibility for the running of Domaine Weinbach, an estate situated just outside the village of Kaysersberg in Alsace.

Through Madam Faller’s unwavering determination to uphold her husband’s high standards and with the help of her two daughters, Laurence and Catherine, she was able to defy the sceptics and ensure that Domaine Weinbach continues to this day to hold its reputation for being what Robert Parker refers to as “the pinnacle of Alsace’s qualitative pyramid”. And with Laurence now firmly established in her role as winemaker and Catherine continuing to look after the business side of the estate, it looks certain that Les Dames Faller will make certain that Domaine Weinbach continues to be one of France’s finest estates well into the 21st century.

Riesling is the predominant grape produced at Domaine Weinbach (taking up 44% of total production) and all of its Rieslings (except for Riesling Réserve and Cuvée Théo) are grown on the magnificent Schlossberg vineyard. The Schlossberg is one of the largest Grand Crus in Alsace (at 80 hectares) and is perfectly suited to growing Riesling due to its steep south facing slopes and mineral-rich alluvial clay and sand topsoil over a bedrock of granite.

So let’s hear what the Grande Dame of Riesling has to say about Alsace’s most beloved grape:

TRR: How would you describe the Riesling grape in 3 words?
CF: Firstly, a diamond: a rough one, to be shaped, cut and polished by the terroirs and the winemakers. Secondly, versatile: from very dry and mineral (e.g. our Riesling Schlossberg) to very rich, generous and opulent (e.g. our late harvest Rieslings). Finally, appetizing: both because it always calls for more, and it is a wonderful grape for pairing with many dishes and cuisines.

TRR: What makes your region so well suited to growing Riesling?
CF: Alsace benefits from a semi-continental climate with mild conditions, and important thermal amplitude, both between day/night and summer/winter. This is crucial for the Rieslings to develop a great structure, with good acidity. Furthermore, the region is one of the driest in France thanks to the rain shield offered by the Vosges Mountain, thus allowing Rieslings to ripen well and achieve perfect maturity. Finally, Alsace offers a variety of soils that magnify the potential of the Riesling, especially on the Grand Cru Schlossberg, a granitic south-facing hill where we grow most of ours.

TRR: Old World Riesling vs. New World Riesling – friends or foes?
CF: As long as the focus is quality, anything that helps promote Riesling is positive, and between the more varietal wines of the New World, and the more mineral, terroir-shaped Rieslings of the Old World, I think we have a very wide scope to please the consumers and offer a range of Rieslings that can accommodate many dishes.

TRR:Which winemakers (past or present) have had the greatest influence on you?
CF: Our father for his commitment to delivering excellence.

TRR: Which new producers are you excited by the most at the moment, and why?
CF: All the producers who have the passion for making great wines.

TRR:If you’re not drinking Riesling, what wine do you usually like to drink?
CF: Other Alsatian wines of course, such as Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Pinot Blanc. We also like Sylvaner a lot, which is definitely an underrated variety and can prove to be very interesting when given the appropriate care and attention. Lately we had some good moments with some white wines from Spain, such as Albariño and Godello, Grüner Veltliner from Austria. As for red wine, we like to try everything, mostly wines which are a true expression of where they come from – Burgundy, Rhone, Bordeaux, California, Italy, Portugal – and we always find nice surprises coming from all regions. In general though, as far as red wine goes, we tend to prefer finesse over body, and like the ones with a bit of acidity.

TRR: What are the biggest challenges currently facing you as a winemaker?
CF: Our work goes hand-in-hand with nature, and climate change is obviously a growing preoccupation as we see increasing volatility in weather conditions, temperatures, etc. This makes our job more difficult, as we have to be more reactive, always review and question our practices and adapt them to changing conditions. This is also one of the reasons why we chose to go organic/biodynamic, as a pro-active response to make the vineyards stronger.

TRR: Where do you see your winery in 20 years time?
CF: Our ambition is to get always closer to perfection when it comes to the quality of our wines, and consolidate our position as one of the ambassadors of Riesling and Alsace in general around the world.

TRR: How can Riesling improve its reputation on the world wine stage?
CF: I think the overall world production of Riesling could still improve a bit in quality, but more importantly, I think we still lack the communication that other grapes/regions have in order to make Riesling more visible. In the emerging market, it is also a matter of time before the every day consumers go from red wine label-shopping to exploring white wines and options like Riesling. There is a learning curve there that can only be accelerated with the help of retailers and sommeliers, as they are the ones who can question the consumers’ drinking habits, broaden their horizons and make them discover gems like Rieslings!

The wines produced by Colette Faller’s Domaine Weinbach can be found here in the UK at The Wine Society and The Sampler

CHAPTER 2 – CHARLES SMITH WINES

REGION: Washington State, USA
VINEYARD AREA: N/A for Rieslings – sourced from Milbrandt Vineyards Evergreen vineyard
YIELD (all varietals): c. 100,000 cases p.a.
VARIETALS: 45% Riesling; 15% Merlot, 15% Syrah, 12% Chardonnay, 10% Cabernet, 3% Pinot Grigio
WEBSITE: www.charlessmithwines.com/

With his wild hair and Harley Davidson, ex-rock band manager turned self-trained vintner Charles Smith is not your typical winemaker.

Charles launched his first winemaking venture in 1999 with K Vintners in Washington State in the US. There, both Charles and his winery quickly achieved cult status for producing tiny amounts of highly sought after Syrah from top single vineyards sites in the Walla Walla Valley.

Then in 2007, Charles launched Charles Smith Wines “The Modernist Project”. The idea behind “The Modernist Project” was to embrace his “It’s just booze – drink it!” attitude and create wines which appealed to many modern day wine drinkers who like to drink their wines younger.

It was here that Charles had the opportunity to feed his passion for Riesling. Whilst Charles produces a number of varietals under his funky Charles Smith Wines label, among these is his “Kung Fu Girl” Riesling, which has achieved great success both at home in the US, as well as in the export market.

And fans of the “Kung Fu Girl” will be delighted to hear that Charles has confirmed on his website that for the 2010 vintage “This girl is kickass as ever!”

Let’s see what Charles has to say about Riesling:

TRR: How would you describe the Riesling grape in 3 words?
CS: My favourite grape.

TRR: What makes your region so well suited to growing Riesling?
CS: A cool climate, a long growing season, and terroirs that express very dinstinctive wines.

TRR: Old World Riesling vs. New World Riesling – friends or foes?
CS: Absolutely friends – I love Riesling from Germany and France and Austria – without those great wines what would we use for inspiration?

TRR: Which winemakers (past or present) have had the greatest influence on you?
CS: Yorge Lanius (at Weingut Lanius-Knab in the Mittelrhein in Germany), Randall Graham, Josko Gravner (at Gravner in Italy’s Fruili Venezia Giulia region).

TRR: Which new producers are you excited by the most at the moment, and why?
CS: The newest producers that I am excited about are the ones that really put their neck out and trust their own instincts and are drawn by their own inspiration. Not followers of fashion or trends.

TRR: If you’re not drinking Riesling, what wine do you usually like to drink?
CS: I love the white wines of northern Italy. I’m drawn to aromatic varietals and I think that the wines produced there are of value and simply delicious. I love the wines Terlano.

TRR: What are the biggest challenges currently facing you as a winemaker?
CS: Sobriety.

TRR: Where do you see your winery in 20 years time?
CS: I totally live in the present and I am sure that the intensity with which I approach my daily work will propel me into the future. In 20 years time, who knows? Perhaps I’ll be a wine astronaut and I’ll make the first Riesling on the moon?!

TRR: How can Riesling improve its reputation on the world wine stage?
CS: I think that a lot of producers want to try to dumb it down, confusing the wine drinkers with insipid off-dry wines that do not show respect for the grape or the public. The best thing that can be done is to treat the consumer with respect and start making smarter wines that are balanced, honest and pure. Otherwise, what is there to improve, Riesling is king!

Charles’s Kung Fu Girl Riesling can be found here in the UK at Bibendum and Slurp.co.uk

Many thanks Charles for taking the time to help drive forward the Revolution!

 

CHAPTER 1 – WEINGUT DÖNNHOFF

REGION: Middle Nahe, Germany
VINEYARD AREA: 20 ha
YIELD: 50 hl/ha
VARIETALS: 80% Riesling; 20% Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc
WEBSITE: www.doennhoff.com

We could not be happier here at The Riesling Revolutionary than to be kicking off our first Producer of the Month feature with owner and chief winemaker at Dönnhoff, the legendary Helmut Dönnhoff.

Whilst the Dönnhoff family first arrived in the Middle Nahe region of Germany over 200 years ago, it was in 1971 that Helmut took hold of the reins. Since then, the man hailed as “the superstar from the tiny Nahe appellation” by Robert Parker no less, has led his winery to worldwide fame and earned a reputation for producing some of the world’s most sought after wines.

To help give us a better idea of his philosophy and motivation towards his wines and an insight as to why he is so passionate about Riesling, Helmut has kindly responded to the questions which we put to him:

TRR: How would you describe the Riesling grape in 3 words?
HD: Pure, mineral, fruit.

TRR: What makes your region so well suited to growing Riesling?
HD: Perfect steep vineyards with slate and volcanic soil, long vegetation period with a big contrast between day and night temperatures.

TRR: Old World Riesling vs. New World Riesling – friends or foes?
HD: Two different faces from the same family!

TRR: Which winemakers (past or present) have had the greatest influence on you?
HD: My father and my son – we shared and share a love for great wines.

TRR: Which new producers are you excited by the most at the moment, and why?
HD: All of my colleagues who share the opinion that you need great vineyards to make great wines!

TRR: If you’re not drinking Riesling, what wine do you usually like to drink?
HD: Old Burgundy wines.

TRR: What are the biggest challenges currently facing you as a winemaker?
HD: To interpret a vineyard each year with the conditions given by that particular vintage.

TRR: Where do you see your winery in 20 years’ time?
HD: I am convinced that my children, Cornelius and Christina, will be making wines with the same pleasure as I do today.

TRR: How can Riesling improve its reputation on the world wine stage?
HD: Riesling is like classical music. We need to help people better understand the complexity and to show them how much class and variety it has to offer.

Big thanks must go to Helmut for lending his support to the Revolution! If you want to sample the delights of Dönnhoff they can be found here in the UK at Bibendum, Berry Brothers & Rudd and Majestic.