Sunday, July 27, 2008

Report from ... The Riesling Experience – Brock University – July 17, 2008

For years people have been touting the come back of Riesling, but as far as I’m concerned, Riesling never went away … I guess with all the big name reunion tours happening these days, the grape industry has decided it had to join in on the fun and find one of its own to tout as making a “comeback”. Brock University, in St. Catharines, hosted the first (and according to organizes, hopefully bi-annual) Riesling Experience. Inviting Riesling wine “experts” to talk about the grape’s popularity, growth and other Riesling-centric topics. These speakers included: Olivier Humbrecht, from Zind Humbrecht in Alsace, France; Ulrich Fischer, from the department of viticulture and enology at German University; David Peterson, winemaker for Swedish Hill, Goose Watch and Penguin Bay in the Finger Lakes region of New York state; and Jim Willwerth, representing Brock University.

Olivier got the ball rolling and the crowd pumped with a four wine tasting of Zind Humbrecht wines and a talk focused on his winery’s move to bio-dynamic winemaking and practices throughout the years leading up to now: meticulous viticulture practices, green harvesting, single vineyard allotments; terroir based wines and other things Riesling and Alsatian. Ulrich took over and spoke about the marketing of Riesling, not only in Germany, but also around the world, and how the face of Riesling is changing with, and for, the times. David Peterson stood up, shocked the crowd, and made Olivier wring his hands and pull out what’s left of his hair, by discussing the Wild West approach to winemaking in New York: adding acid, sugar, using spoiled grapes, “whatever it take” to put wine in the bottle … “it’s gonna sell anyway.” He was very candid and honest, maybe too much so. His most memorable quote came right at the beginning of his talk when he said that not all practices work in all regions and that those assembled should not rush home and instill these practice in their vineyard, “keep doing what works for you,” picking piecemeal from what you learn today could ruin what you’ve already got going. Then Jim Willwerth got up and delivered a fairly dry and analytical lecture about his experience and experiments with Niagara Rieslings and water status. The lecture and findings were well thought out and presented, but it could have been shorten and simplified for the folks in attendance; plus many were itching to question Olivier during the Q & A portion of the program.

When all the dust had settled from the speeches Olivier was the one who fielded most of the questions, because all were directed his way. He was engaging, articulate and knowledgeable, and with each answer he gave another question seemed to develop. He truly was fascinating – or was it more his philosophies and vineyard practices we all found intriguing? Afterall, this is one of Alsace’s top Riesling and winemaking houses.

Lunch was served after the lectures and every course (4) was paired with a Niagara Riesling specially selected by the Riesling Experience committee members (plus a reception sparkler, making 5 wines in total). Darryl Brooker, winemaker for Hillebrand, hosted the proceedings, inviting each of the 5 winery’s winemakers to come up and speak about their wine. Chef Jason Parsons (of Peller Estates) also came up to discuss the reason for pairing this food with that wine.

Most Impressive Wine: Cave Spring Cellars 2003 CSV Riesling … divine.
Most Impressive Food: Peller Estates Blue Ice – a full wheel of Benedictine Blue is infused with 2 bottles of Riesling Icewine … incredible.
Most Impressive Pairing: 2003 CSV Riesling with Icewine Suckling Pig … inspired.

Afterward we all walked around and took part in the Riesling Showcase, where 44 Rieslings were poured from and array of Niagara wineries – from the very new (Foreign Affairs) to the well established.

Top 3 Rieslings at the Showcase … (reviews to follow)
Cave Spring Cellars 2004 CSV Riesling
Foreign Affairs 2007 Appasimento Riesling
Jackson-Triggs 2006 Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Riesling

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