Pacific Rim’s best wine is without a doubt our Solstice Vineyard Riesling. I first got acquainted to Solstice Vineyard when I came to Washington State in 1998. At the time this was one of many vineyards that got blended away into large Riesling blends but I remember its depth and minerality and always thought it would be a good site for a single vineyard wine. When Pacific Rim expanded its range of Riesling my first thought was to get our hands on that block for that very purpose. Since 2007 we have picked and fermented those amazing grapes into a single vineyard bottling every year. I, and several wine critics, have been in awe with the quality. We often taste Solstice blind against the best of the Rheingau, Alsace, Wachau and the Clare and always feel that it is right there among the greatest Riesling sites on the planet though at a much better price for the consumer.
What makes Solstice special is a combination of factors. First the vines are now more than 30 years old (planted 1982) and are producing concentrated fruit like no other vineyard we have. Second the site is one of the best in Washington. The small two-acre block is in the cooler historic Yakima Valley AVA, it was planted as far North as one can plant providing elevation (1,200 feet above sea level) and cooler temperatures. The site is ideally located with a southeast exposure masterfully capturing all the sun’s energy, which is so critical in the last ripening days of October. The soils there are very mineral and shallow consisting of 18 inches of windblown loess atop the fractured basalt bedrock. All the conditions for quality (aging potential, intensity, high extract) are gathered on that site.
The winemaking has stayed simple over the years and is inspired from biodynamic practices. The grapes are hand-picked and whole cluster pressed. An early press cut is operated to select the first juices that are lighter and less phenolic. The wine is fermented with its native yeasts in stainless steel tanks at cold temperature (45-55°F). Nothing other than nutrients are added to the ferment. Once fermentation has stopped (it stops at different RS levels every year – we let the wine decide) the wine stays on its lees for 8 months or so – sometime in stainless, sometimes in an old German fuder. The wine does not undergo malolactic conversion. The wine is usually bottled between March and June following the harvest.
The wines from Solstice share some similar characteristics from vintage to vintage which, for me, is a requirement for a serious vineyard designate wine. The first characteristic is their long aging potential likely from their low pH (rarely above 3.05), the fact that the wine is handled reductively (no contact with air), the high dry extract and the perfect seal of screw cap closure we use. I taste regularly 10-year-old Solstice and those wines are by no mean tired and actually have fantastic bottle age complexity. Second, Solstice’s wines tend to gain a little bit of diesel/popcorn/UTA aromatics after 2 to 3 years in bottle and usually just enough to make the wines really complex and Alsatian like. Third, the wines share a high level of dry extract and a sense of minerality that I can pick up in a blind flight often.
I have had the chance to taste through the past three vintages of Solstice (2016, 2015, 2014) and they are fantastic! Below are my tasting notes taken 9/15/17:
Solstice Vineyard Riesling 2014:
– Bottling stats: 2.89 pH, 8.25 TA, 13.4% ABV, 8.8 g/L RS, 0.3 g/L VA
– 2014 vintage: A hot vintage (3,082 GDD in the Yakima Valley) with an incredibly long Indian summer. An easy vintage with no “bumps” – harvested on October 2nd.
– Tasting note: Very complex aromatics with high level of residual primary fruit. Lean mid-palate with zesty acidity and high dry extract suggesting a wine with long aging potential. All the stuffing of a great bottle of Riesling with hint of sweetness and intense acidity. This wine is likely going to thrive 10 to 15 years.
Solstice Vineyard Riesling 2015:
– Bottling stats: 2.95 pH, 6.98 TA, 13.1% ABV, 5.0 g/L RS, 0.35 g/L VA
– 2015 vintage: Hottest vintage on record (3,150 GDD in the Yakima Valley) with earliest harvest in Washington’s history. Low acidities usually across the board. Harvested on September 19th.
– Tasting note: Yeasty and mineral showing signs of early aging (not surprising considering the warm year). High complexity already making it ready to drink now . Great balance – high dry extract, low residual sugar and high acidity. Full body and quite like an Alsatian Riesling. Drink within 3 to 5 years.
Solstice Riesling 2016:
– Bottling stats: 2.99 pH, 7.0 TA, 12.2% ABV, 9.0 g/L RS, 0.12 g/L VA
– 2016 vintage: An even, barely above average temperature, vintage (2,663 GDD in the Yakima Valley) producing wines with great purity and focus. Harvested on October 12th.
– Tasting note: Terpene driven with lots of peach and green apple fruit on the nose. Fresh and fruity. Very youthful with bright acidity and a very pretty balance of lower alcohol, slight hint of sweetness and high level of minerality/extract. A wine built to age that would please at the moment those looking for pure fruit pleasure. For me needs a little time in the bottle to develop a little tertiary complexity. 8 to 12 years aging potential.