Riesling-only winery comes to Washington
The new energy-efficient Pacific Rim winery will concentrate on white grapes only.
Nicolas Quillé is general manager at Pacific Rim Wine Company, which developed a list of about 100 Riesling Rules as a fun way to promote its wines. The rules can be found at the Web site www.rieslingrules.com.
A new West Richland, Washington, winery devoted almost exclusively to Riesling will help secure Washington vineyards in the center of the Riesling revival that is moving across America. Construction is under way in preparation for crushing grapes this fall. The facility has room to eventually produce 300,000 cases of Riesling annually.
That's good news for Washington's wine grape industry, which prides itself on growing some of the best Riesling in the nation due to cool nights that help to maintain fruit acidity levels. In recent years, growers have responded to the strong demand for the white variety, significantly increasing acreage.
Since 2002, more Riesling has been planted than any other variety. Acreage doubled to 4,400 acres between 2002 and 2006, according the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Planting of Riesling has continued since the survey was taken, with some industry analysts believing that Riesling could overtake Chardonnay acreage by next year.
The new Riesling winery, called Pacific Rim Wine Company, is a collaboration between Randall Grahm of California's Bonny Doon Vineyard and Washington's den Hoed brothers, Bill and Andy. The den Hoeds have vineyards in the Yakima Valley and near Finley, overlooking the Columbia River. Although there is room for expansion on the 14-acre winery site, there are no plans to include a tasting room.
Pacific Rim General Manager Nicolas Quillé explained that most of the fruit for Pacific Rim wines, previously made in California, came from Washington growers. It only made economic sense to reduce trucking costs and move the winery to the source of the grapes.
Pacific Rim Riesling was launched in 1992, with production of about 1,000 cases, said Quillé. Last year, volume was around 75,000 cases. "The brand grew fast, but then, I know Washington well and have several contacts here."
Before joining Grahm's Bonny Doon in 2003, Quillé spent five years at Hogue Cellars in Prosser, Washington, and a year at J. Lohr Winery in Paso Robles, California. The 35-year-old French native has been in the United States the last ten years. In addition to receiving his master's of business administration from the University of Washington, he earned master's degrees in winemaking and sparkling wine from the University of Dijon, France.
Quillé was part of Bonny Doon's recent downsizing and restructuring. The company's two biggest labels, Big House and Cardinal Zin, were sold last year to help refocus the family business. Bonny Doon winemaking operations will remain in Santa Cruz, California, as a limited-production, biodynamic winery dedicated to Rhone- and Italian-style wines.
Biodynamic agriculture, developed by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s, is similar to organic farming in that it focuses on building the soil and enhancing biodiversity. And like organic, biodynamic farms are also certified. But biodynamic goes one step further, with the belief that inputs used to operate the farm should come from within the farming system, rather than importing the inputs from the outside.
When will the new 30,000-square-foot facility reach its maximum production of 300,000 cases of wine?
"The sooner the better," Quillé said, noting that some of the newer contracted vineyards won't reach full maturity and production until 2012. They have all the grapes they need to reach capacity under long-term contracts, some of which extend to 2019 and 2020.
"We could purchase grapes on the spot market to get there quicker, but that is not our first preference," he said. "We're putting a lot of effort to make sure that the grape quality stays up, and with spot-market grapes, that's sometimes difficult to ensure."
The target of 300,000 cases won't make them the largest Riesling producer. That title is held by Washington's Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, reported to produce up to 600,000 cases of Riesling annually. The goal for the Pacific Rim brand is to have all the grapes be as close to organic and biodynamic as possible, he said.
"That means that we have to pay more to support the growers."
Already, some 120 acres of Riesling are being grown under biodynamic specifications by the den Hoed brothers, and another 120 acres are in transition to being organic.
"We want to be recognized in the future as the Riesling reference in America," Quillé said. "There are several brands out there that are associated with a particular varietal. That's our goal."
Quillé pointed out that specializing in one variety will enable them to produce the highest quality Riesling and deliver more value at a lower cost to consumers. The Pacific Rim brand was the top-selling American Riesling in the $9 to $11 category, according to Information Resources, Inc., data for 52 weeks ending in mid-January.
"We have the brand and the grapes all lined up," Quillé said. "Riesling was one of the hottest-selling varieties last year, right up there with Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris. Consumers are moving away from Chardonnay and are looking for other varietals."
Pacific Rim takes full advantage of the versatility of Riesling by making a range of wine styles—dry, sweet, and dessert. The sweet Riesling has residual sugar but enough acidity to balance the wine and make it a good wine to pair with spicy food. They also produce a small amount of dry Chenin Blanc wine.