Happy Birthday, Riesling. March 13th was the official birthday of Riesling, the date the grape variety was first mentioned in a written document back in 1435. And in 2017, it was a Riesling that launched my interest in natural and low-intervention wines when I had the Pearl Morissette Sputnik. Up until then I had categorized Riesling as too sweet, a common misconception. But dry Riesling can be rich, textured, bright, mineral-y, and energetic. It’s been called the wine world's greatest underdog, and when harvested at low yields without winemaking interventions, Riesling excels at showcasing a distinctive sense of place, aka terroir. Riesling grows well in many regions with this issue focusing on Germany, Alsace, and Ontario (but there are many other regions to explore including Austria and British Columbia (👀 Matthias Hager in Kamptal and Scout Vinearyd in the Similkameen Valley).
Germany is considered the home of Riesling as 45% of all Riesling grapes worldwide grow there. Almost a quarter of Germany’s vineyard area — which is divided into 13 wine regions — account for Riesling grapes, with the Pfalz, Rheingau, and Mosel regions being some of the most well-known regions; the Vancouver Sun's Anthony Gismondi has said Mosel Riesling can be “life changing.” Some of the notable producers include Jakob Tennstedt (imported in Ontario by Don’t Worry Wines) who tends the vines by hand, following biodynamic principles and bottling his wine with no additions; Eva Fricke (imported by That’s Life) founded her winery in 2006 and only grows Riesling using biodynamic principles; Günther Steinmetz (imported by Context Wines) doesn’t use fertilizers, insecticides or herbicides, commercial yeasts, acidic additives, or animal proteins; and Clemens Busch (imported by The Living Vine) makes wine with his wife Rita and son Johannes using natural practices.
Alsace is a winemaking region in France located across Germany’s southwest border, where Riesling is the top white wine variety representing 21.9% of production. It is made particularly well by some of the low-intervention winemakers such as Christian Binner (imported in Ontario by Context Wines), whose vineyards have been chemical free for nearly 35 years; Pierre Frick (imported by La Caviste) who has been working organically since 1970, and certified Biodynamic since 1981; Durrmann (imported by Grape Witch Imports) a family owned organic winery that received organic certification in 1998 and now farm biodynamically; and Domaine Barmès Buecher (imported by The Living Vine), created in 1985 by Geneviève Barmès and her husband Francois and converted to biodynamic farming in 1995.
Ontario. Riesling was one of the first vinifera varieties planted in Ontario where it grows particularly well in its cool climate. It is the top grape variety used in all VQA wines, representing 13% of production (by volume), according to the Ontario Wine Appellation Authority’s 2022 Annual Report. It is made by many producers including Pearl Morissette, Trail Estate, and Hidden Bench, to name a few. Meanwhile, Wine In Niagara's Rick VanSickle recently wrote about a few soon-to-be released Rieslings by Vineland Estates in A Niagara Riesling that is literally out of this world. VanSickle spoke with winemaker Brian Schmidt on his new “space” wines made with zero gravity yeast, which was grown “as an experiment to determine how yeast will behave when grown in the absence of the sun’s radiation” (sounds very Star Trek: Deep Space Wine to me!).
Excellent piece. As someone who is just discovering and exploring natural wine, I would be very interested in learning if there any producers worth looking into from Portugal? Keep up the great work.