Friday, July 29, 2011

Weingut Pawis in Saale Unstrut, Germany

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Bernhard Pawis

A few weeks ago I visited with the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim the Saale Unstrut wine region in the eastern part of Germany. We visited 7 wineries during a period of 4 days. Weingut Pawis was one of wineries. What Bernhard Pawis has created in the past 12 years is remarkable.

The Saale Unstrut Wine Region

The Saale Unstrut wine region is Germany’s most northern wine region, in the valleys of the Saale and Unstrut rivers, around Freyburg and Naumburg. With 730 hectares of vineyard area, it is one of the smaller wine regions in Germany. The oldest record of viticulture dates back to the year 998 during the reign of Emperor Otto III.

Located in the area of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), Saale-Unstrut has become a thriving emerging wine region after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 (as Sachsen, the other wine region in the area of the former GDR; Sachsen is half of the size of Saale Unstrut). Basically, all of the wineries we visited have experienced rapid growth and large investments over the past years, following 50 years of communism that did not allow for private initiative.

Picture: Germany's Wine Regions, including Saale Unstrut

Most of the region's vineyards are situated in the State of Saxony-Anhalt, with the remainder in the State of Thuringia and in the State of Brandenburg (the "Werderaner Wachtelberg" near Potsdam). The vineyards are located on the hillsides lining the Saale and Unstrut rivers. It all looks very attractive, with steep terraces, dry stone walls and century-old vineyard cottages, interspersed with meadows, floodplains. High above, are defiant castles and palaces. Culture, history, nature and wine are combined here perfectly.

Saale-Unstrut exports almost no wine and sells very little in the western part of Germany. Most of it is consumed in East Germany. The quality price ratio is not very favorable, so Saale Unstrut wines have a hard time to compete with the wines in West Germany. But the Saale Unstrut wine makers have no problems at all to sell their wine, as the Saale Unstrut wine is very popular with the locals and the tourists visiting East Germany, including the Baltic Sea. Of course, when you visit Weimar, Erfurth or Leipzig, to name a few of the many very historic towns of the eastern part of Germany, you want to drink local – either Saale Unstrut or Sachsen wines.

Picture: Cathedral of Naumburg

Saale-Unstrut is the northernmost of Germany's wine regions, and is therefore one of Europe's northernmost traditional wine regions. It lies to the north of the 51st degree of latitude, which was considered to be the limit for viticulture before global warming. Also, the weather is more variable than in the regions to the west. All the winemakers we met were concerned about the danger of late and winter frosts.

Picture: View of Freyberg

White grape varieties make up 75% of Saale-Unstrut's plantations. The most common grape varieties are the white varieties Müller-Thurgau and Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc). The wines tend to be vinified dry and have a refreshing acidity. In addition to the white classics of the region, we also had one fantastic tasting with red wines only (at Winzerhof Gussek) and got the chance to taste varieties like Holder and Andre that were new to me.

Weingut Pawis

Weingut Pawis – owned and run by Bernhard Pawis - is located in the historic Zscheiplitz Estate, close to Freyburg. It is a gorgeous set-up, but as Bernhard Pawis told us, the renovation of the Estate was a major undertaking.

Bernhard Pawis is a trained winemaker, who got his education in the former German Democratic Republic. Shortly after the Berlin Wall came down in 1990, Bernhard’s parents - Herbert and Irene Pawis– bought 0.5 hectares of vineyard land and founded a small winery cum wine tavern (Strausswirtschaft). They sold the wine they produced in tavern on their premise. Bernhard had a day job, but helped his parents after work. Business was good, so when his father died in 1998, Bernhard decided to quit his job take over his parents’ winery. He constructed a modern winery in the center of Freyburg and enlarged the winery’s vineyard land through purchases and long-term lease arrangements. In 1995, Weingut Pawis produced 5.000 bottles, five years later 2000 50.000 bottles. Not only quantity improved, but also the quality of the Weingut Pawis wines and in 2001, Weingut Pawis was invited to join the VDP, Germany’s association of elite winemakers.

Pictures: Weingut Pawis

The VDP membership put Weingut Pawis on Germany’s wine map and the winery Bernhard had constructed 8 years ago reached capacity limits. Bernard moved again, this time to something grand, the historic Estate Zscheiplitz. The former feudal Estate Zscheiplitz was completely run-down and required a major renovation effort. Bernhard pushed ahead with it, overcoming many obstacles. Since May 2007, the Weingut Pawis is based at the Zscheiplitz Estate in Freyburg-Zscheiplitz.

Pictures: Bernhard and Kerstin Pawis

The vineyard area totals 11 hectares, with holdings in the Edelacker, a 1. Lage (Grand Cru), Mühlberg (Freyburg) and Sonneneck (Naumburg). The area is planted with the white varieties Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Bacchus and Kerner, and with the red varieties Dornfelder, Portugieser, Pinot Noir and Regent. The white varieties account for 80% of the portfolio.

In terms of winemaking philosophy, Bernhard explained that he is following sustainable vineyard practices. The wines are made primarily in a dry style, using temperature-controlled fermentation. The premium wines are matured in barriques made from the Trias oak found in the region. When vintage conditions permit, noble sweet wines are also made. The estate also produces bottle-fermented sparkling wines and grappa-style spirits.

Pictures: Tasting Room and Art Gallery

Weingut Pawis sells about 1/3 of its production in the western part of Germany. This is unusually large, but having met Bernhard Pawis, seen the hip tasting room and tasted his wines, I can see why Bernhard Pawis is much more successful in the western part of Germany than his colleagues. But he does not export anything “and this will remain so” said Bernhard.

The tasting room and the garden serve on weekends as a wine tavern during parts of the year (Strausswirtschaft). Also, winemaker dinners take place here. Bernhard is very much into modern art and the Estate also houses a gallery with monthly changing modern art exhibitions.

The Wine Portfolio

Bernhard Pawis has about 30 wines in his portfolio.

Picture: The Wines we Tasted

The Pawis wines are grouped as follows.

Gutswein – weiss (white): Half a dozen entry-level white wines, in the Euro 7 to Euro 9 range.

Gutswein – rot (red): Half a dozen entry-level red wines, a tick more expensive than the white wines, starting at Euro 8.50.

Lagenwein – weiss: Single vineyard, white all around Euro 10.
Erste Lage Edelacker: Wines from the Edelacker, which is a steep sloped grand cru vineyard, between Euro 14 and Euro 20.

Edelsuess (noble-sweet wines) Weingut Pawis currently offers a 2008 Weisser Burgunder Beerenauslese for Euro 26 and a 2008 Gruener Silvaner Eiswein for Euro 41.

Holzfassgereift – rot: There are 3 red wines aged in barrique in the portfolio, a Dornfelder, a Blauer Zeigelt and even a Spaetburgunder, in the Euro 18 to 20 range.

Edition Weinhaus Pawis: Entry level wines made from fruit bought from “collegues” as he puts it.

Sekt-Flaschengaerung: Bernhard also produces a Sekt, brut nature, made in the méthode traditionnelle.

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German Spaetlese Wines Can Come in Different Versions. I Have Counted Five.

Phil Bernstein’s Third Annual German Riesling Tasting with the German Wine Society, Washington DC Chapter - Rieslings With a Touch of Sweetness

Visiting Agnes and Fritz Hasselbach at their Weingut Gunderloch in Nackenheim, Rheinhessen, Germany

Visiting Weingut Josef Leitz in Ruedesheim – Johannes Leitz is Germany’s Winemaker of the Year, Gault Millau WeinGuide 2011

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Terry Theise's Top German Wines of the 2009 Vintage

Germany's Top 16 Winemakers - Feinschmecker WeinGuide 2011

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JJ Pruem Goes Supermarket: Meeting Katharina Pruem and Tasting the Incredible JJ Pruem Wines at Wegmans

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David Schildknecht: Riesling's Gobal Triumph: A Pyrrhic Vistory? - Rieslings globaler Triumph: Ein Pyrrhussieg?

The Focus on Dry German Riesling – Daniel Hubbard Presents the German DSWE Portfolio to the German Wine Society (Washington DC Chapter)

The Wines of Franz Kuenstler from Hochheim, Rheingau, Germany

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Natural Wines of Terroir in San Francisco

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller at Terroir in San Francisco

The Terroir Wine Bar in San Francisco – like the Terroirs Wine Bar in London (but written with an “s”) and La Cremerie in Paris , which I both visited – serves only wines that are considered by the owners as natural wines. Terroir was inspired by wine bars like La Cremerie in Paris, where the natural wine movement started. Like La Cremerie, Terroir is a combined retail store and wine bar.

Terroir is currently owned and managed by founders Dagan Ministero and Luc Ertoran. When I visited Terroir, Luc Ertoran was there and I had a chance to talk to him.

The Natural Wines

All the wines that are served at Terroir belong to the group of natural wines. Natural wines are part of a larger group of wines that I would call “green” wines - wines made with an ecological concept in mind. There are several different concepts of “green” wines. I have provided a primer of “green” wines at the end of this posting.

Generally, the idea behind natural wine is non-intervention and a respect for nature. “We certainly have the largest list of wines in the US with no added sulfur, but not all our wines are sulfur free. When they are not, we allow for only very small amounts” said Luc. Sulfur dioxide is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, meaning no wine is entirely sulfite free. And to prevent spoilage, winemakers for the past few hundred years have added small amounts of sulfur dioxide to their wines. Luc seems to put a lot focus the issue of sulfur, which I find a bit misguided. Most winemakers add additional sulfur as a preservative, to protect the wine from oxidizing or possibly re-fermenting in the bottle, and to kill off bacteria. If you do not do this, you have to revert to other means (that I would not call “natural”). As far as I can see all the French wines Terroir has in its portfolio have benefitted from adding sulfur.

Picture: The Wines by the Glass at Terroir

During vinification all kind of things can be added to and made with the wine: acids, tannins, sugar, water can be added; wood chips or wood powder can be used to add oak; wines are filtered and “fined” (adding substances that collect particulate matter) to make them less cloudy; there’s a process called “micro-oxygenation” that can soften harsh tannins, and another called “reverse osmosis” that can filter out unwanted flavors in a wine and bring down alcohol levels; natural-wine enthusiasts tout the virtues of using only the yeast already growing in the grower’s grapes or in the winery—on the walls, in the barrels themselves, wherever—to aid fermentation instead of laboratory-manufactured yeast to create a specific flavor profile. And then of course there’s sulfur. But sulfur is just one of many issues in making wine.

Ironically, the Americans are much stricter in terms of sulfur free wines, when it comes to organic wines. In the US, organic winemakers are not allowed to add sulfites during winemaking; an organic wine is a wine with basically zero sulfur. In Europe, sulfites are allowed to be added during fermentation and an organic wine typically contains a modest amount of sulfur.

You cannot find any American wine or other new world wine on the list of Terroir. I found that a bit disappointing, not to be offered natural wines so close to slow food queen Alice Waters and others over in Berkeley and in the heart of the American wine country. There is definitely a natural wine movement in the US. And the Terroir owners are definitely overselling the natural wines that are produced in France and other European countries. There is lots of natural wine made in America. I also found a bit disturbing the complete neglect of Terroir of the carbon footprint of their wines. Why ship natural wines all over from Europe, when they are available locally? I prefer the idea of buying natural and local - to minimize the carbon footprint.

Terroir opened about in 2007 selling 70 wines. Now it has 600 to 700 available. Almost all the wines are European. Within Europe, France and Italy dominates.

The Owners/Managers

Terroir is the brainchild of two Frenchmen, Guilhaume Gerard and Luc Ertoran, and their American partner, Dagan Minestro; Guilhaume Gerard is no longer part of the team. Terroir is now being owned and managed by Dagan Minestro and Luc Ertoran. Luc told me that he moved from France to San Francisco in 2001. Initially, he worked as a waiter.

Picture: Terroir Owner/Manager Luc Ertoran

The Place

Terroir looks like a converted warehouse with exposed beams - modern and minimalistic. There is a large open space, a simple, minimal bar, bottles on rough wood shelves and a wine storage area in back. Terroir has a record player in the corner and an extensive collection of vinyl.

Pictures: Terroir in San Francisco

Behind the bar, which also serves as the retail center, there is a chalkboard list of wines by the glass. Stairs on the right ascend to a loft with a couch, tables, and a few cushy chairs.

The Food

As for food, “we have charcuterie and cheese’’ said Luc and we ordered a very nice cheese plate.

Picture: Cheese at Terroir

Natural and Other Green Concepts of Winemaking

What are natural wines? Natural wines are part of a group of wines that I would call “green wines”, wines made with an ecological concept in mind. There are several different concepts of “green wines”.

Organic: Organic generally means the use of natural as opposed to chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. The key is: no chemicals.

Organic wines are changing the look of vineyards, literally. Whereas vineyards of the past commanded neat rows rid of all insects, rodents and weeds, organic vineyards are now replacing costly and damaging chemical sprays with environmental partnerships. Pesticides are giving way to introducing low-growing plants between vine rows that host beneficial insects that keep the pest insects in check.

Unfortunately, there is no agreement on what organic wine making as opposed to organic wine growing means. The main issue is the use of sulfur in the fermentation process. In the US, organic winemakers are not allowed to add sulfites during winemaking; an organic wine is a wine with basically zero sulfur. In Europe, sulfites are allowed to be added during fermentation and an organic wine typically contains a modest amount of sulfur.

Biodynamic: Biodynamic is similar to organic farming in that both take place without chemicals, but biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an ecosystem, and also accounting for things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles. Biodynamic is an approach following the rules and ideas of Austrian philosopher-scientist Rudolph Steiner. In his 1924 lectures, he viewed the farm as an entire living ecosystem starting with the soil which is treated as a living organism and receives special applications to enhance its health.

Sustainable: Sustainability refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property; they may also focus on energy and water conservation, use of renewable resources and other issues.

Natural: The idea behind natural wine is non-intervention and a respect for nature. For example, only natural yeasts are used, the fermentation is slow, there is little or no use of new oak barrels; and there are no filtrations or cold stabilization. Natural wines are minimalist wines produced with as little intervention as possible.

Vegan: Vegan refers to the process of "finning" the wine. Proteins, spent yeasts and small organic matter in wines are sometimes eliminated from wines with fining agents made from animal products. Fish bladders, egg whites, milk proteins and even bull’s blood (not allowed in the US or France) are all used as fining agents. As an alternative, Bentonite, a specific type of clay, is used for clarification in vegan wines. It’s important to note that vegan or vegetarian wines may or may not be made from organic grapes.

Fair trade: Fair trade wines first came onto the market the US in 2007, following trends in coffee, tea and produce. Fair trade refers to the conditions and wages paid to employees of the winery; it guarantees employees a fair and "livable" wage for their product. Fair Trade certification of wine has been around since 2003 in Europe. The certification means that wineries met certain standards for living wages, environmental sustainability and community improvement. Oakland's TransFair USA just announced that it has begun certifying Fair Trade wines from Argentina, Chile and South Africa for the American market.

Carbon footprint: The carbon neutral label comes from a different angle: global warming. All economic activites have a carbon footprint, including wine making. Carbon neutral wineries are trying to make a contribution to the general efforts of reducing the emission of carbon dioxide.

A major aspect of carbon neutrality however is outside the control of wineries. It is the transport of the wine from the winery to the consumer. For example, the carbon dioxide emission of a Bordeaux send to New York City by ship is lower than that of a California wine transported on the road.

Water footprint: A new thing is water footprint, reflecting the concern that the planet is moving into a period where water becomes more and more scarce.

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The Natural Wines of La Cremerie in Paris

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Wine Event: President Obama and the First Lady eat at the "Green" Restaurant Nora and have a "Green" Spottswoode Wine

The Millesime Bio 2010 in Montpellier, France: A Discovery of Organic and Biodynamic Wines at the one of a Kind Wine Trade Show

Benzinger Wines Served at the 2010 "Green" Annual White House Correspondents Dinner

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Wine Bars in London: Vats Wine Bar, the Cork and Bottle, the Providores and Tapa Room

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Focus on Natural Wines: The Terroirs Wine Bar in London

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Schiller's Favorite Wine Bars and Other Places Where You Can Have a Glass of Wine in Healdsburg, California

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller at Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar in Healdsburg


As far as I am concerned, Healdsburg is the culinary capital of North California, i.e. the part of California that lies north of San Francisco. If you are in the region and are interested in good food and good wine, this is the place to go. Here are my favorites.

Pictures: Healdsburg in Sonoma County

Wine Bar: Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar

I love oysters and I love in particular US West Coast oysters. Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar, just north of the town square, has a superb selection of US West Coast ousters. The inviting, vibrant decor, and an extensive list of small plates combine with the eclectic drink menu to make visitors feel right at home. Designed for sharing, the menu features items ranging from New England Style 'Rolls" and Latin-inspired skewers to ceviches and tartares. But I went there for the impressive selection of oysters and the large selection of local wines by the glass.

Pictures: Healdsburg

Restaurant: Cyrus

For fine wining and dining, the place to go is Cyrus. At Cyrus, Nick Peyton and Chef Douglas Keane's intent was to create a top echelon restaurant in the Sonoma half of Wine Country and they've certainly succeeded. Cyrus is the most expensive table and has the most elaborate menu in Sonoma County. The food sets the highest mark in the county - and has been awarded appropriately two Michelin stars.

Picture: Cyrus Restaurant in Healdsburg

Unfortunately, the days of Cyrus in the current location appear to be numbered. The owners of Cyrus Restaurant are suing the new owners of the swank Les Mars Hotel, claiming they are unfairly trying to evict them from the building. Cyrus owners claim the hotel owners who bought the Les Mars in Healdsburg for $5.2 million last year are attempting to wrest control of the restaurant’s ground-floor space.

Wine Tasting Room: Boisset

“Winetasting Salon: Burgundy meets Sonoma” is written over the entrance door. You can taste wines made by wineries owned by the Boisset family and these include various Bourgogne estates, including Bouchard Aine & Fils, founded in 1750 in Beaune, and DeLoach in Sonoma. The tasting salon is very glamorous with darkly painted walls and ceiling, a raw steel table base with the white calacutta marble top, and steel tasting bar with leather panels, yet still fits in on the square in Healdsburg. I met DeDeLoach Winemaker Brian Malony a few days later in San Francisco.

Pictures Boisset Tasting Room in Healdsburg and Christian G.E.Schiller with DeLoach Winemaker Brian Malony in San Francisco

Winery: Seghesio

The Seghesio Winery is located right in the center of Healdsburg and features a very nice tasting room. The Seghesios are one of the pioneering families in Sonoma County's wine industry. Their story begins in 1886 when Eduardo Seghesio departed his family's vineyards in Piedmonte, Italy for a new life in America. Like so many immigrants, he was drawn to Northern Sonoma County and the Italian Swiss Colony. The "colony," as it was known, hired immigrants for three year stints, providing room and board and then, a lump sum at the end of those three years enabling employees to buy land or set up a business in their new home. Soon, Eduardo rose through the ranks to winemaker. In 1893, he married a young girl, Angela Vasconi, also from Italy. In 1895, they purchased a modest home in northern Alexander Valley, less for the home than the surrounding 56 acres Eduardo recognized as ideal vineyard land. They planted the "Home Ranch" that year to what has become the family's lifeline - Zinfandel.

Eugene Pio Seghesio, the son of Angela and Eduardo Seghesio, joined the family winery in 1941. During his tenure, Seghesio became a leading bulk producer, but he also started the process that would see the winery transformed to one of the world's premium producers of Zinfandel. While this transformation took place during the tenure of Eugene Pio, it was engineered by 2 Seghesios from the third generation: Eugene Pio’s son Pete Jr. Seghesio, who became the CEO (who I met recently in Washington DC), and Eugene Pio’s nephew Ted Seghesio, who became the winemaker. They trimmed production from 130.000 to 40,000 cases. The first wines bottled under the Seghesio label were released in 1983.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Pete Seghesio jun. in Washington DC and Seghesio Winery in Healdsburg

Today, all Seghesio wines are sourced from the four hundred acres that the Seghesio family owns and operates in Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and the Russian River Valley as well as another 100 acres leased on a long-term contract.

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Oysters and Wine

Monday, July 25, 2011

Visit: Oak Knoll Winery in Hillsboro, Oregon

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Winemaker Jeff Herinckx (above) and Greg Lint, President of Oak Knoll Winery (below).

I participated in the First Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium, which was organized by and took place at Oak Knoll Winery in Hillsboro near Portland. Frankly, living in Washington DC, I am not an expert when it comes to Oregon Pinot Gris and Oak Knoll Winery was a winery that I was familiar with.

Pictures: At the 1. Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium. Greg Lint, President of Oak Knoll Winery and Paul Gregutt, Settle Times (above).

But the Symposium gave me the opportunity to get to know a bit the wines of Oak Knoll Winery and to meet Greg Lint, President of Oak Knoll Winery, and Winemaker Jeff Herinckx. Winemaker Jeff Herinckx is a superstar in his own right, having been trained by Oak Knoll’s founder Ron Vuylsteke. Working under Ron for nearly 20 years, Jeff became winemaker once Ron retired. He’s now seen 26 harvests at Oak Knoll.

The Wines of Oregon

About two-thirds of Oregon’s wineries and vineyards, including Oak Knoll Winery, are in the Willamette Valley. Buffered from Pacific storms on the west by the Coast Range, the valley follows the Willamette River north to south for more than a hundred miles from the Columbia River near Portland to just south of Eugene. But Oregon is not only about Willamette Valley. Oregon’s vineyards span the whole State, rising up and falling over the rolling hills and gentle valleys of more than 12,000 acres (4,858 hectares) of wine grapes.

Wine has been produced in Oregon since the Oregon Territory was settled in the 1840s, when Italian and Swiss immigrants planted wine grapes and started bottling wine. Oregon's wine industry was suppressed during Prohibition. It was not until 1961, when Richard Sommer set up shop in southern Oregon, that the modern Oregon wine industry was borne. Other pioneers include David Lett, David Adelsheim, Dick Ponzi and Bill Sokol-Blosser. Then the French also came with Domaine Drouhin bringing European sophistication to Oregon. In the past 40 years, Oregon has become one of the country’s top three wine States, with 450 wineries producing an average of 3,500 cases.

Picture: The Wine Regions of Oregon

Most of it is Pinot Noir (8000 acres), Oregon’s signature grape variety, followed by Pinot Gris (1300), Chardonnay (800), Merlot (500) and Riesling (500). Oregon produces wine on a much smaller scale than its southern neighbor California. The majority of wineries in Oregon operate their own vineyards, although some purchase grapes on the market, including Oak Knoll Winery.


Oak Knoll Winery is one of the oldest wineries of Oregon and the largest winery in Washington County. The Oak Knoll Winery story begins in 1970, when Ronald and Marjorie Vuylsteke became pioneers of Oregon winemaking by founding the first winery in Washington County. At that time, there were only a few vineyards and a handful of wineries in all of Oregon. In 1970, the winery was established by Marjorie and Ron Vuylsteke on what was then a dairy farm. Oak Knoll became the first winery in Washington County. The first batch consisted of 4,000 gallons of fruit wine (blackberry), with the first Pinot Noir coming in 1973.

Ronald Vuylsteke's grandfather Leonard, a native of Belgium, was a winemaker in the St.- Emilion region of Bordeaux in the early 1900's before immigrating to the United States with his family and settling in the farmland of the northern Willamette Valley.

Both Ronald and Marj Vuylsteke are native Oregonians. Ron was an electronics engineer in the early 1960's when a bumper crop of blackberries at the family home led to a gallon of blackberry wine. The result was tasty and the Vuylsteke's family winemaking heritage was reborn. Ronald and Marj decided to take the dramatic step of pursuing commercial winemaking and founded Oak Knoll Winery.

Pictures: Oak Knoll Winery

With the help of Marj (and their six children), Ron made approximately 4,000 gallons of wine in the fall of 1970 from grapes--and fruit--he rounded up from area farmers. A wide range of fruit wines was produced during Oak Knoll's first vintages. The wines caught on in the Oregon market and by 1978, one out of every three bottles of Oregon wine sold were from Oak Knoll. Ron tinkered with small lots of varietal grapes produced from some of the first vineyards in the northern Willamette Valley. As more vineyards became established in Oregon, Oak Knoll was able to concentrate increasingly on Pinot Noir (the first vintage was 1973); Chardonnay (first vintage 1975); Riesling (first vintage 1975); and Pinot Gris (first vintage 1990).

Oak Knoll also became the first winery in Washington County to open a tasting room. By 1986 the winery was the second largest by volume sold in Oregon. Also in 1986, the Washington Post named the winery’s Pinot Noir some of the best Pinot Noir from the United States.[5] Overtime the winery has produced other unique wines such as won using loganberries.

The Oak Knoll Winery has always been a family operated business, with Marj and the children being involved since the first crush.

Second Generation

Today, the second generation has stepped in to carry on the tradition in Ron and Marj's footsteps. Head Winemaker, Jeff (a cousin) took the reins in 2001 after working at the winery for 17 years. During his tenure he spent several years learning the craft from Ron, and then served as the Assistant Winemaker. Step-son, Greg now oversees the company as President.

Wine Portfolio

Pinot Noir is the major focus of red wine production at Oak Knoll. Having experienced some success with Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll is now continuing with that, and exploring the diverse varietals of the Northwest region with a Barbera and Syrah, all from the Columbia Valley.

Picture: Oak Knoll Winery Wines

Pinot Gris is now Oak Knoll's most popular dry white wine; its charming combination of attractive fruit character and crisp, refreshingly dry aftertaste is irresistible. Oak Knoll also produces an unoaked Chardonnay; a slightly sweet, Spatlese-styled Riesling; and a native-American varietal, Niagara.

Staying true to its origins, Oak Knoll makes two very special dessert wines. Frambrosia, Oregon Raspberry Wine was first made in Oak Knoll Winery's early vintages. Today it continues to set the standard for super premium, non-grape wines in this country. The second generation also experiments with berry wines from the past, due to the request of many customers and the dedication of a second generation to honor the beginnings of Oak Knoll Winery. Current production is running at 30,000 cases.

Work in the Vineyard

Oak Knoll has developed long-term relationships with several local grape growers. Nearly all the grapes are grown within a five-mile radius of the winery in the nearby foothills of the Chehalem Mountains. Growing premium wine grapes in the Willamette Valley is labor intensive. The vines must be hand pruned, then the growing canes are tied by hand to the trellis wires. As the growing season continues, vine shoots must be thinned by hand to regulate the size of the crop. The vertical canopy favored in the region must be hedged to control vigor. Leaves are removed from the "fruit zone" on the east side of the rows to increase exposure to the sunlight and air; this practice promotes ripening and lessens the potential for mildew and mold problems. Cluster thinning (or "green harvesting") is also a common practice used to reduce yields and encourage color and flavor concentration in the grapes. Finally, all the grapes are picked by hand.

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Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium at Oak Knoll Winery in Hillsboro

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dining and Wining at the Josef Bock Winery Restaurant in Villany, Hungary

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Joseph Bock in Villany

Many feel – as I do - that the best Hungarian red wines come from Villany in the southern part of Hungary. I visited 3 winemakers in the region a few days ago: Evelyne and Erhard Heumann (met Erhard recently in Washington DC, see here), Attila Gere and Josef Bock.

Josef Bock also operates the fabulous Bock Bistro in Budapest and a Hotel plus Restaurant at his winery in Villany, where we dined and wined. At both places, the food we ate was superb and the Bock wines we drank excellent.

Weinrallye and Danube Swabians

This posting is part of WeinRallye #47, a monthly blog event in Germany. Participating wine bloggers - mainly in Germany - are all releasing postings today on the same theme. The WeinRallye #45 heading is "The Wines of Alemannia”. Weinrallye is the brainchild of Thomas Lippert, a winemaker and wine blogger based in Heidelberg, Germany. Thomas Lippert is the author of the wine blog Winzerblog and is also the organizer of this month’s wine rally.

What is Alemannia? Alemannia was the territory inhabited by the Germanic Alemanni after they broke from the Main basin through the Roman limes in 213 and settled on the left bank of the Rhine river. The territory of Alemannia as it existed from the 7th to 9th centuries corresponds roughly to what is today the German region of Swabia, the French Alsace and Eastern and Central Switzerland.

What do the wines of Josef Bock have to do with Alemannia? Well, not much, but they do if one interprets the WeinRallye #47 theme broadly. And Thomas invited us to do so.

Attila Gere and Josef Bock did not speak English, but I could converse with them in German, because they belong to the so-called Danube Swabians. The Danube Swabians are Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans whose ancestors had moved from Swabia to the former Kingdom of Hungary and settled there, especially along side the Danube River valley. A first wave came in the 12th century and a second wave in the 17th – 18th, after the war between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire had depopulated much of the country. Between 1740 and 1790, more than 100,000 Germans immigrated to the Kingdom of Hungary. Andrea Gere, the daughter of Attila Gere, told me that her grandparents would only speak German at home.

Hungary has a Long History of Winemaking

Wine was introduced to Hungary by the Romans. During the Turkish occupation beginning in the early 16th century, displaced Serbs brought the red Kadarka grape to Eger, which was the basis for the red wine blend that later became known as Bull's Blood. It was also during the Turkish occupation that the Tokaji region became known for dessert wines. After the Ottoman Empire ceded Hungary to the Austrians in 1699, the Germanic influence was felt with the introduction of grape varieties such as Portugieser (Kékoportó). From 1882, the phylloxera epidemic hit Hungary hard. The 2oth century saw the introduction of modern grapes such as Zweigelt. Under Communism quality was neglected in favor of industrial production. Since 1989, when the Berlin wall came down, there has been a lot of new investment and renewed interest in the traditional varieties. In general, red grapes have been on the rise.

Hungary’s Wine Regions

Hungary has 22 designated wine regions, in all 4 corners of the country. Many people consider the red wines from Szekszárd and Villány in southern Hungary to be the cream of the crop. Around Lake Balaton, you will find the Balatonfelvidék, Balatonfüred-Csopak, Balatonboglár, and Badacsony regions. Further to the North, the Somló hills and Sopron region also offer fine wine. I have reported about the wines of Franz Reinhard Weninger in Balf here. The vineyards of the Tokaji region were classified long before Bordeaux, already in the 1700s, with vineyards grouped into 3 categories depending on the soil, sun exposure and potential to develop noble rot. Noble-sweet Tokaji has been Hungary’s crowning glory for hundreds of years. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, noble-sweet Tokaji was a cherished wine enjoyed by the European Courts. Winemakers in Tokaji are struggling now to adjust to new market conditions. See here.

Picture: The Wine Regions of Hungary


The wine region of Villany has about 2.100 hectar under vine on the hills of Villány and Siklós. In Siklós (where the Heumann Estate is based) white wine grapes prevail, while in Villány (where the Joseph Bock Estate and Attila Gere Estate are based) red grapes dominate. Traditionally, the Kadarka, Kékoprtó and Kékfrankos (Blaufrankisch) varieties are common to the area. Following the phylloxera pest, French varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were also planted.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Bock Restaurant Sommelier Tamas Robert

Under the Turkish occupation, Villány was completely destroyed. When the Danube Swabians came, they brought with them the Kékoportó and other grapes. During the communist era the fine wine of Villány basically disappeared. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the family-owned wineries re-emerged. These, with Joseph Bock and Attila Gere leading the way, have succeeded in making Villány wines famous again.

Villany is a picturesque little town, with cute little wine cellars located on the main street next to each other. They are open for tasting, but I did not have an opportunity to check them out. Some winemakers, like Joseph Bock and Attila Gere, have expanded rapidly in recent years and now offer in addition to their wines first class cuisine and luxury accommodation.

Joseph Bock Winery in Villany

Joseph Bock is without doubt one of the stars of Villany. His winery is situated in the center of Villany and comprises also a restaurant, where we had dinner (see below) and a luxury hotel.

The Joseph Bock forefathers were Danube Swabians, who, as part of their farming activities, always have made wine. But up to the recent expansion, the Bock family vineyard area did not exceed 2 hectares.

Until the death of his father in 1981, Joseph Bock wasn’t really into wine making. He had gone to a technical collage and had a job as a technician. With the death of his father, things changed and Joseph Bock started to get involved with wine – albeit on a limit basis. However, the success of his wines and the rapidly increasing demand pulled him into becoming a full-time winemaker in 1991. In 1987, he had started to bottle his wines and sell them directly to restaurants and hotels in the area. As a next big advance, in 1992 he entered the Budapest market and also started to export in that year. Concurrently, a modern winery was constructed in 1994 to 1996 (and later expanded during several phases). Until 1994, the wine was produced at the Jammertal Cellar, which I did not have a chance to visit. The Bock family has owned the Jammertal Cellar since 1850, although the cellar had been expropriated for about 10 years in the 1940s. Today, the cellar is used for storage only, with a capacity of 400 hl. Soon Joseph Bock was named – in 1997 – Hungary’s winemaker of the year and became known in the international wine scene.

Today, the Bock empire in Villany comprises the winery producing 600.000 bottles of wine, of which 15% is exported, a hotel and restaurant . The vineyard area has increased from initially 2 hectares to 75 hectares. In addition, Joseph Bock buys fruit from other vintners, with the share of fruit bought from others approaching 40 percent of total input. The wine cellar comprises 1500 barrique barrels.

Joseph Bock is a family owned and run enterprise, with his wife Valeria, his daughter Patricia (management), his son Valér (winery) and his son-in-law Gábor Béni (winery) part of the Bock team.

When I was there, the winery and the hotel were undergoing another major expansion. At the end of it, the room capacity will have increased to 30 rooms and a new, impressive wine cellar, which is 100 meter long, will be add to Bock’s aging and storage capacity.

Dinner at the Bock Winery Restaurant in Villany

We had a wonderful meal cum wine tasting at the Bock Winery restaurant, which has a big terrace outside the winery. We had a 3-course dinner and went through 7 wines by the glass.

Picture: Bock Winery Restaurant

In German, Bock means goat; so the symbol of the winery is a goat head, which you can find in all Bock wine labels. 95% of Bock wines are red wines. About 30% of the wines are aged in oak. Bock wines tend to be powerful, rich, "brawny" wines that should not be drunk too young. Villány’s signature grape, the Portugieser, is grown in large quantities by Joseph Bock. Other varieties, like Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are also grown. The premium wines include the flagship „Magnifico“ (Merlot) as well as the blends „Bock Cuvée“ and „Capella“ (both Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot), all of which are matured in new barriques for 24 months, Blaufränkisch Selection (14 months in barrique), as well as Chardonnay (8 months in barrique).

Shared starter: Bock Mixed Appetizers:

Main Course: Kacsa Trio – Mulard duck trio (breast, liver, drumstick) and Steak Tartare:

Dessert: Shared Chocolate Souflee with Sour Cherries:

The Wines

We started with 4 entry-level Bock wines: Rose, Siller, Chardonnay, Hárslevelu:

Then we moved to 2 Bock reserve wines, both 2007: Cabernet Sauvignon and Kekfrancos

We finished off with a Bock Capella Cuvee 2006 – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc; 24 months in new barrique:

Bock Bistro in Budapest

We had our first encounter with Joseph Bock food and wines at the Bock Bistro in Budapest, which is one of the best restaurants in Budapest. Bock Bistro is also a wine shop, where you can buy Joseph Bock and other Hungarian wines. We had a small cheese plate with a glass of wine, to finish the evening, after a wine bar tour in Budapest and dinner at Klassz Bistro at 41 Andrassy u. Bock Bistro serves about 60 Hungarian wines by the glass, of which 15 Bock wines, 15 wines from Tokaji and 30 wines from other Hungarian producers. I will write about it in more detail on schiller-wine.

Picture: Bock Bistro in Budapest

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