Thursday, September 29, 2011

Report from ... The Riesling Experience 2011 - June 9, 2011

Are you experienced?  Jimi Hendrix is famous for asking that simple question on a record album – but he was talking about music, here we’re talking wine – Riesling to be exact.  With all the events this year surrounding one grape or another, be it Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, it seems that Riesling's gotten lost in the shuffle.  Is it because Ontario wineries are trying to foist other grapes into the limelight?  Or is Riesling safe in its position in Ontario?  It would seem that it's the wineries that don't make Riesling are the ones that want to showcase other varieties, but consider this:  Riesling is a variety that is 500 years old and the #1 variety in Niagara.  Commercial planting started in Niagara around 1974.  Riesling makes up 18.8% of all grapes planted in Ontario and 17.3% of all vinifera … and that leads the charge of grapes planted.  And for those interested, the mostly widely planted Riesling clone: 21B, at 70%.

Today Niagara welcomed winemakers and owners from Michigan, Ohio and New York along with Pierre Trimbach from Alsace to speak to the assembled clan of Riesling lovers, and there were a lot.

Pierre Trimbach …
As keynote speaker Pierre had much to say on the topic and we all had much to learn.  Pierre was described as the “Eric Clapton” of Riesling, which brings me back to my musical reference at the beginning of this report, I guess they couldn’t tie everything up in a neat package and call him the Jimi Hendrix of Riesling cause Jimi’s dead (and Pierre is very much alive); but it would have been more apropos at a “Riesling Experience”.  Pierre talked about the make up of his vineyard (11 different grapes / 13 different soil types); he informed us that Alsace (the most northerly region in France) produces 10% of the world’s Riesling and at Trimbach (established in 1626) the grape makes up 48% of their annual production.

Notable Quotes – Pierre Trimbach:
“Petrol is a the noble evolution in a Riesling after 10+ years; in a young wine it’s something else.”  Pierre went on to say a young Riesling with petrol notes is a faulty wine with high reduction.

When describing the ideal conditions needed to make good Riesling Pierre told us: “First condition: balance.  Second condition: balance.  Third condition: balance … and the rest is just blah blah blah.”
The Trimbach wines being poured

Michigan …
Representative: Lee Lutes – Black Star Farms
- Michigan is the 2nd most diversified state for agriculture behind California
- If you stand in the middle of any vineyard in the state you’re only 5-10 miles from the lake.
- First Riesling planted was in the 70’s by Chateau Grand Traverse
- Primary red grapes are Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc

Ohio …
Representative: Nick Ferrantes – Ferrante Wine Farm
- Arnie Esterer planted the first Riesling vines in the Eastern Lake Erie region at Markko Vineyards in 1969
- There are 150 acres grown in Ohio, mostly near Lake Erie (Grand River Valley)
- Quote: “Once you have a Riesling in your mouth you know it, and it stays with you.”

Nick also plugged a Riesling lovers website:

New York …
Representative: Peter Bell – Fox Run Vineyards
- In New York there are two wine industries: fine wine and the other
- Riesling is a consistently good grape for the region, in 21 years they’ve had only two bad vintages of Riesling: 1992 and 2007
- Quote: “Ontario took the secondary grapes [native/lubrusca varieties] out, blindfolded them and shot them; we didn’t do that.”  He made it sound like they should have.

The talks ended with a presentation from the International Riesling Foundation ( – so this is what Nick was talking about.

Lunch was a Riesling lovers paradise created by Chef Erik Peacock of Wellington Court Restaurant in St. Catharines: trout, chicken sausage, beef carpaccio all paired to go with the Rieslings of your choice from any of the 4 lake regions represented: Niagara, Ohio, Michigan, New York; plus a special table with a limited selection of Trimbach wines.

The Wines …
Of the 32 wines available for tasting, 14 were from somewhere other than Ontario.  Ontario reviews can be seen on my website ( as for the wines from out of province, here were my top choices:

Black Star Farms 2010 Arcturos Riesling (Michigan, ~$15.50) - ****+
Bowers Harbor Vineyards 2009 Riesling, BHV Estate (Michigan, ~$15.00) - *** ½
Chateau Grand Traverse 2009 Lot 49 Riesling (Michigan, ~$21.00) - *** ½+
Black Star Farms 2009 Arcturos Riesling (Michigan, ~$15.50) - ****
Klingshirn Winery 2010 White Riesling (Ohio, ~$10.40) - *** ½
Old Firehouse Winery 2010 Lake Erie Riesling (Ohio, ~$11.99) - *** ½
Sheldrake Point Winery 2009 Dry Riesling (New York, ~15.00) - ***+

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