In the summer of 2013, I attended the Riesling Rendezvous in Seattle, Washington. The Riesling Rendezvous is an international event co-hosted every three years by Chateau St. Michelle and Dr. Loosen (of Germany) that brings together producers, wine and food experts, and Riesling aficionados, for tastings and seminars. (You can find my gonzo reporting of the event here.)
Tasting Rieslings from bone dry to sweet, from months to decades old, from Australia to Zealand (New, of course), paired with the widest imaginable range of foods, I learned a lot about the potential of Riesling. One of the revelations was about how fresh, bright and texturally rich a dry, or very nearly dry, Riesling could be. Many of these Rieslings were also relatively low alcohol, having been picked at a much lower brix level than what I assumed was necessary to achieve fruit character of mature ripeness, yet did not sacrifice complexity of fruit or spice. This was my inspiration for attempting an early-pick Riesling.
The goal was to achieve the balance and intensity of fruit character we expect from our Dry Riesling, while perhaps accentuating the minerally aspects of the texture by having slightly lower alcohol than our traditional Dry Riesling. This was not really a risky proposition; we do frequent sampling of the vineyards in the run-up to harvest, so that we can hit exactly the ripeness, brix and characters that Paul wants for each variety. If the profile of the samples didn’t meet our standards at the early-pick brix level, we could always just let it continue to ripen to the normal levels. But, we decided that the characters in the sample at 20 brix was worth picking and doing the experiment…you be the judge of the result.