Tag Archives: Riesling

Harvest 2015: Weeks 1-3, Meanwhile Back in New York…

It was a year ago today that the earth shook at 3:15 am and I turned to my husband and said “That’s it! I’m ready to go home now.” After seeing twitter light up over a 4.3 or so quake in Oakland last week I’m reminded to be grateful that I’m on much more stable ground this harvest in more ways than one.

At the first of last year’s harvest posts, I was musing that I may need to add a week 0 to the round of posts and this year I definitely would have needed that week as much of California got off to a fast start at the end of July for one of the earliest harvests on record. (Unfortunately I am unable to link last year’s week 1 post since it has been deleted some how…)  This was largely due to a very warm January and February which led to an early bud break.   This has been another drought year and the fires have been terrible this year. I hope that the rumors of it not impacting the vineyards have been true.  Having lived through selling the 2008 wines of Alexander Valley, I know it can be problematic.  I have heard rumors of 25 and 26 Brix Cabernet Sauvignon in some areas meaning that everything is coming ripe (at least sugar wise) around the same time.  I shutter to think about the amount of water which will go into the fruit this year to try to tame the rapidly climbing brix.

Meanwhile, back in New York…

 Cabernet Franc on Keuka Lake

After one of the coldest winters on record which included snow on Easter this year, we are getting back on track after a season which has spent much of the year behind.  We saw 7-8 inches of rain in June with only 8 days in the entire month without rain.  We are accustomed to rain here but that was pretty intense.  One grower stated that he didn’t get a chance to get off the tractor on the clear days when he could get into the vineyards.  The good news is that the growers out here are used to the wet stuff and I have seen very little mildew issues.  The remainder of the summer has been lovely.  We’ve flirted with 90 a few days this month but the majority have been a very nice 75-85 range for the highs and most nights are cool enough for the windows to stay open.  We are still waiting for veraison in Cabernet Franc but Lemberger (aka Blaufrankish to the rest of the world) was turning about 2 weeks ago.  Most of the vinfera fruit will be ready to harvest in October and we won’t get started with Natives and  Hybrids until the end of this month.  While California is looking at another harvest spread over 3 months, I’m enjoying the last days of summer and looking forward to smelling the first fall mornings sometime next month.

A friend’s Riesling vineyard overlooking Cayuga Lake

I’m also frantically trying to get my Visa for China and can’t wait to see what that harvest will be like.  Hopefully it will oblige with a late September harvest which will put me back in New York just in time for the vinifera varieties to be harvested.

Winemaker 2 Winemaker: Jan Matthias Klein of the Mosel

Although Jan Klein initially did not have plans for going into the family business once decided, he went after it with boundless enthusiasm.  With experience in multiple wineries all over the world, from New Zealand and Australia to France and many different places in Germany plus education in Marketing and Sales, Klein brings a well rounded knowledge to running his family’s 1,150 year old winery legacy.  He was gracious enough to sit down and answer some of my questions this past week.  I’m sure you are going to love the answers as much as I have!

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NC: As the 7th generation to be the caretaker of Staffelter Hof, did you just know you were destined for the wine industry or did you want to explore other career options before settling

JK: Well, I did know that it was my destiny when I realized that both of my brothers weren’t interested at all to go that way. Towards the end of highschool I had many interests that I was keen to pursue, especially languages and mathematics. When I finished high school I sensed that my parents were really hoping I would be the one to continue the family legacy. They never pushed me in my decisions but nonetheless I knew that it was now up to me make a important decision.

I chose to do a two year apprenticehip in viticulture & winemaking working in two different wineries, an organic one in Rheinhessen and a premium steepslope focused one in Mosel. During that time I became more and more fond of this profession, working in nature, controlling every step of the production process, hard but very fulfilling work it was. After the two years were over I studied Wine Marketing and economics to broaden my knowledge to successfully run our family business. After internships in wineries in France, New Zealand and Australia where I also managed to learn two languages fluently, I returned back home in 2005 to follow in my ancestors big footsteps.

NC: With such a great history to your winery, how do you balance the need to respect tradition with the need to constantly improve and innovate to remain relevant?

JK: We of course use the history in our communication a lot. There’s not so many 1,150 year old wineries around! In contrast to that our labeling is rather modern but with a twist that gets us to talk about the history of the winery again. In the vineyard, we work 100% organic and are starting trials for going biodynamic using over 100 year old methods for treating plants & soils. Also in the cellar it’s pretty basic (which is in a way modern now again) with no big fancy machines or additives to the wine (no enzymes, finings etc.), that way we could even label our wines as vegan, which is very trendy at the moment. Innovation is mainly important when comes to finding new ways to market your wines such as using Social Media, doing private tasting parties, or wine markets in different countries.

NC: The Mosel is one of the most iconic and dramatic wine growing regions in the world. What is the most challenging aspect of growing high quality wine there, particularly Riesling?

JK: To be honest the most challenging part is to make enough money to feed your family. With production cost over four times higher than in flat vineyards. And when you’re aiming for higher quality your looking generally at lower yields which makes this effect even stronger. For someone who only works in steep slopes it’s almost impossible to get by when he’s not famous and gets high enough prices for his wines. The model that works quite well is a mix of flatter vineyards, where you can use machines for the entry level and steep slopes for the premium wines, which is also how our winery is set up. Producing high quality is not a real challenge in the Mosel area, the biggest challenge is whether you can sell it at a high enough price that makes the effort you put in worthwhile.

NC: Can you describe your philosophy on winemaking in haiku ?

JK: With wine from grapes

in harmony with nature

life is fulfilling

NC: Many German winemakers are moving back to extremely traditional winemaking for Riesling including skin contact, native yeasts and large oak casks for fermentation. Do you feel this is important for your wines and if so why? Do you also use modern techniques and if so what are the most important for your process?

JK: I think the reason for this is that it often works better and gives you more exciting results. Mosel unlike many other wine regions lives from its diversity, and it shows best when you’re leaving the industrial path of winemaking. For me the art of making great wine means to keep it as pure as possible, and when you work hard in the vineyard and harvest good fruit it’s actually quite easy to make wine with nothing but grapes and little bit of SO2 to keep it stable in the bottle and enjoyable for many, many years. I use selected yeast strains for my entry level wines in order to have product consistency from vintage to vintage because wild yeast ferments which I use for all premium wines vary a bit more with the flavors and style you get eventually. I also mainly use stainless steel tanks to keep the wine most pure and not affected by oak. Oak only comes into play for special traditional style wines I make. Last but not least I invested in a computerized fermentation control which automatically helps me avoid that ferments either go to fast or warm or both, without it being necessary for me to check each tank twice a day. It is a great luxury to have to save 2 hours of work per day during harvest when you’re having very long days already and have very important decisions to make.

NC: How do you achieve the delicate balance between sweetness and acid in your wines? Do you wait for the yeast to stop the fermentation on their own or do you stop the fermentation through some other means to retain a balanced level of sugar?

JK: Several methods come into play. For dryer styles, I often work with maceration on skins to extract flavor and minerals that will buffer the acidity in a natural way and make for a better balanced wine. For the sweeter styles we usually stop fermentations by cooling down and adding SO2 at the sugar levels that we think harmonize best with the individual acidity of the vintage. In low acidity years we usually pick grapes for sweet wines earlier, when the acidity is still higher and also whole bunch press to get a leaner more acidic style

NC: If you could make wine anywhere else in the world besides the Mosel, where would you go?

JK: Portugal, I’ve actually just planted some white Portuguese indigenous grapes in a steep slope here in Mosel.

NC: Early in your career was there a single person who you felt was an important inspiration for your style or did you pull from multiple sources?

JK: I had several older friends whose wine styles and approach to viticulture I liked, most inspiring for me have been my friendships with swiss winemaker Daniel Vollenweider who started a Mosel winery from scratch in 2000 and Thorsten Melsheimer, one of the best and most authentic organic/biodynamic producers in Mosel.

NC: Do you have a winemaking mistake in your past that you remember to this day?

JK: Not really, but you can avoid screw-ups by not rushing yourself, not working too long hours (>15hrs), not doing three things at the same time and of course by pulling the mixer back before pulling it out of the tank.

NC: If you could share only one or two things with younger winemakers, what would be the most valuable pieces of knowledge or experience that you pass on?

JK: Be authentic, don’t listen to the press, don’t care about ratings too much, do your own thing!

NC: Are you working on any exciting projects now that you would like to share?

JK: Theres two very different projects I’m a part of right now:

First is the BERGRETTUNG initiative, where we rescue old steep slope vineyards from getting abandoned, because the former owner are giving up on them because of hard work/too low income. – check www.klitzekleinerring.de/en

And then I have created a Riesling based summer drink called MARI. It’s a blend of sparkling Riesling with Yerba Maté tea and elderflower sirup. It’s very refreshing and has some natural caffeine from the tea as well. – check http://www.jointhelama.com/en/start/

Jan’s wines are available at Acker Merrall Stores in NYC, through Crystalline Selection, and in Florida at GOS Wine & Spirits

 

Cruising the Finger Lakes, NY

Continuing on the Finger Lakes theme from last week’s post, this week I wanted report on a recent trip to the area.  I spent a total of 3 days in the region driving around and getting to know the area again.

One thing that I can say for sure is that it is an incredibly relaxing place to spend time.  Even in the “cold” by California standards, it was nice to bundle up and sit on an Adirondack chair overlooking Canandaigua Lake at my hotel.

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The first day in the area I was shocked to see zero snow on the ground particularly after the well documented epic snows in Buffalo recently.  However, one thing has not changed about the weather in upstate NY and that is if you don’t like the weather wait 5 minutes and it will change.  The next day brought 12 inches of snow while I was otherwise occupied inside.

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One of the most exciting places that I visited was the relatively new New York Wine and Culinary Center which did not exist when I lived in the area almost 9 years ago.  The place is fantastic and very homey with an excellent restaurant upstairs called “The Bistro”.  I had the pulled pork sandwich which was so good it would make any Southerner stop to check that they were indeed outside of the South.  It came with house made chips (the American kind) and a carrot based slaw.

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I paired it with the Ravines 2011 Pinot Noir which confirmed all of my suspicions that Pinot Noir has a place in the future of the Finger Lakes.   The Center itself is split into two stories, the top being taken up by the Bistro and the bottom housing an information center, gift shop and wine shop.  I visited the later and stocked up with a Chateau Frank Sparkling Wine, Hermann J Wiemer Dry Riesling, Zugibe Gewurztraminer, and a bottle of the above Pinot Noir that I was so enamored with.  In the gift shop, I found a book, recommended by my server in the Bistro, by Evan Dawson called Summer in a Glass highlighting the movers and shakers of the Finger Lakes.  It is a lovely read and I devoured most of it on the flight back.  I was excited to see some of my former class mates and colleagues mentioned as well as some of my previous winemaking mentors and some that were new to me entirely.  I highly recommend getting it if you are looking for more information about the region and it was clear that Dawson has the upmost respect and sincere personal relationships with each and everyone of his subjects.

I finished off with a visit to my old winery home, Thirsty Owl Wine Company, for the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail Christmas party.  It is refreshing to find that even after all my time in California, I still think that my former boss and now friend, winemaker and vineyard manager, Shawn Kime, is a genius with Riesling.  The Thirsty Owl Dry Riesling is delicious and I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peek at the 2014 Rieslings as well as the Gewurztraminer and Traminette (which actually smells and tastes a lot like Torrontes).

It was a fantastic trip which made me want to make sure to have time on my calendar soon to go visit some of the winemakers in Dawson’s book as well as some of my other friends in the area.