Arguably one of the most identifiable wines with Madroña is Riesling. Every restaurant serving Riesling in the area has our Riesling. When we pour at tastings in San Francisco, consumers (and other wineries) know of our Riesling.
However with Riesling considered to be a cool-climate variety, it often surprises tasters in the tasting room that this grape should thrive in our vineyards. First of all, our vineyards are cooler than most people believe (especially noted when we point out that we are at such a high-elevation—3,000 feet). But I think it goes even deeper than that (say 15 feet deeper).
It is no secret that our soils are an Aiken-Clay loam, deep and well-drained. That’s one reason the Madrone trees love the area. However, most people are amazed to find that the soils are also very acidic, somewhere with a pH level between 5.7-6.2.
What does this all mean for our Riesling? Well, Riesling is one of the most terroir-driven varieties out there. The soil/climate conditions are unique for each vineyard, and those differences are expressed in each Riesling you taste. Thus although you can tastes the lineage of Riesling throughout all Rieslings, our Riesling is one-of-a-kind!
I believe truly that we have a slightly shorter growing season than many other Riesling producing regions. We bud later than other appellations (due to our elevation), but our summer days are filled with sunshine from dawn to dusk (no fog or low-light exposure conditions). Our temperatures are moderate (in the mid-80’s), so we can get full phenolic ripeness while balancing out the natural acidity in the grapes.
Ripeness comes with a variation of characters. On the earlier picks for our Dry Riesling, the fruit has more of the tart Granny Smith apple intensity with hints of citrus (lemon and lime) all packaged around a mid-palate of honey. The later picks for our Hillside Collection Riesling (off-dry) have much more of the peach, fig and pear characters with more honeysuckle than pure honey.
Yet the acidic soils provide a minerality or flintiness to all our Rieslings. This is accentuated by the low pH level in the wine (2.9-3.1) coupled with a relatively low acidity level (0.65%-0.75%). My thoughts are that this is what makes our Riesling stand out. Bare with me! In most climes, a Riesling with a pH level of 3.0 or less would inherently show an acid level of 0.85% to 1.0%. This could be a fairly aggressive palate while it was young.
For our Riesling, this ration (pH 2.95/TA0.70%) gives us the bright, tart fruity finish while showcasing a more luscious mid-palate. Although we don’t adjust our acidity levels on Riesling, I do back-blend some of the Dry Riesling component into the off-dry Riesling and vice versa. This allows me to balance the finishes on the wines and give each a hint more complexity in the fruit (as each lot expresses a different set of Riesling ripeness characters).
Are these secrets of our Rieslings? I don’t really think so. The fact is that no appellation in Alsace, the Rhine, nor Michigan (to name a few) can produce an El Dorado Riesling like ours! (Nor can I make a Riesling like theirs!)
And that’s the truly exciting news. If you were to choose to drink only Riesling the rest of your life, you’d never get tired of the wine. It’s amazingly versatile in style and expression. Just remember to stock up on Madroña Riesling, because of course, it’s one-of-a-kind!