There are so many great stories behind each bottle of wine; where does it come from? Who made it and how? Why was it made? Who believed he could sell it? Many consumers just think about what the bottle looks like and then how it tastes but every once in a while one has the opportunity to step back and think about the accumulation of circumstances that lead to a specific bottle arriving at your table. With our Grüner Veltliner, I had my first opportunity to see its progress from start to finish and this is your chance to share the creation of a bottle of wine from the very very beginning.
Year 0: A stupid idea
The journey starts in an office in Santa Cruz in 2006 where a couple business partners talk about what wine could be interesting to add to a Riesling portfolio:
The dreamer: a new Bordeaux blend?
The pragmatist: Na! too many “me too brands” already – plus Bordeaux is dead in the USA
The dreamer: a Cabernet Franc, Loire style?
The pragmatist: Na! too herbal and hedgy for our consumers and we don’t have the right terroir
The dreamer: A Gamay Beaujolais?
The pragmatist: Maybe but would have to be called something else than Gamay – Gamay gets no love
The dreamer: A Grüner Veltliner?
The pragmatist: Now that is crazy enough that it could work – Grüner? I’ve heard Sommeliers love it and it fits our Germanic portfolio.
The dreamer: It makes such interesting, mineral driven, enigmatic wines – It might sing in Washington.
The pragmatist: Let me think about what it would take….
And so a concept is born, make a dry Grüner in Washington: #1 It has a Teutonic flair fitting Pacific Rim, #2 it is trendy among influencers, #3 it is a very noble grape and we might have the right terroir to make a distinctive Grüner in Washington – check, check, check. Now one has to find out (the job of the pragmatist) how to make this happen.
In 2006, it rapidly became clear that there was very little Grüner in Washington. The only plot we knew about was in the Gorge and the vineyard owner was not selling fruit nor was he willing to sell us vine clippings to plant a vineyard. Since Washington State’s vineyards are planted on their own rootstock, there are strict quarantine laws preventing grape diseases to enter the state. Therefore, unless the grape material is certified, it has to go through a quarantine process where it can be evaluated for viruses before propagation. And so it happened that we found some Grüner in British Columbia, brought it into the State of Washington and had to clear the quarantine process and only then could we start the propagating process with ten vines. What made the process even more challenging was the name Grüner Veltliner. No one had heard of it so we spent most of our time trying to explain how to spell it, where it came from (and no Austria is not like Australia) and why it could do well in our climate and soils (thank you Bill and anyone else that worked so hard to propagate those vines). Finally, after 3 years of propagation in a Washington nursery we got enough material to plant 1 acre in the Yakima Valley. Phew!
Year 7: First harvest
The first vines went into the ground in 2010 at the Spring Creek Vineyard (thank you Rick and Ron for taking the risk with us). The site was perfect: slight southern exposure, high elevation in the Yakima Valley, mineral-driven soils. It was previously planted with grapes and was left fallow for one year prior to planting. Unfortunately, the take was weak and many plants died the first year so the few surviving plants were used to get wood clippings for the second year to replant the missing vines in the block thus delaying harvest by another year. The first crop finally occurred in September 2013, eight years after the stupid idea. With the crop in hand, we then had to decide how to make the wine. We decided it would be fermented in stainless steel with native yeasts, fermented bone dry (the driest wine we make) and aged in an old fuder with no malolactic conversion. The first wine turned out beautiful and it was precisely what we had hoped four 8 years prior – I cannot tell you how great it felt to finally get to taste what we had dreamt about since 2006.
Year 8: Dress up Grüner!
Next step was how to package the wine. We wanted to highlight the fact it was a single vineyard and single varietal wine. We also thought this would be appealing to restaurants and needed a package that restaurateurs would get behind. At the same time, we discussed the price target as $9 by the glass (trick of the trade: most restaurant match the price of the glass to the price of a bottle at wholesale cost – I know it seems crazy but this is the commonly used algorithm). Based on the target channel of trade and the desired wholesale price, we designed a package. After countless hours, we decided to bottle the Grüner in a traditional hock bottle, amber color to protect the wine from light, with a beautiful label (the red fox on the label is a nod to Austria) and a screwcap to preserve the delicate aromatics of Grüner Veltliner. Then we were proud to say that the 2013 vintage was released in the market in 2014!
Year 9: Second vintage and expansion
Our first vintage was such a great success and the wine was so tasty that we decided to expand our planting by 5 acres, which all together with the original acre, will allow us to sell 28,000 bottles of Grüner by 2020. We hope that our excitement shines through and will be shared by our clients and in particular, by influential Sommeliers. It was a big gamble that took 14 years to bring to life. Countless people have touched our Grüner dream: nursery men, state agencies, grape growers, winemakers, marketing and creative teams, distributors, sales people, restaurant and retail buyers and finally consumers. Those early adopter consumers will ultimately decide if those 14 years have produced a wine worth drinking.
The second vintage of the Spring Creek Grüner Veltliner was picked on September 19th. The grapes were lightly pressed and only the free run and early presses were kept for the cuvée. The wine was fermented cold in stainless steel with native yeasts. Post fermentation, a touch of sulfites were added to avoid malolactic conversion and the wine was sent to our old German oak fuders for aging. The wine was aged on fine lees for 8 months prior to bottling. The wine is bone dry (no Residual Sugar), high in acidity with no new oak. It is fresh with typical aromatics of celery and clove. This is a lovely wine to enjoy with a grilled fish or a fresh arugula salad. If you like a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris – you will likely enjoy our labor of love: Grüner Veltliner. Cheers!