Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Here comes Grüner Veltliner

With the weather warming up, there is one white wine that I have been enjoying lately. According to the Grape Crush Report from the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service, California processors didn’t crush any Grüner Veltliner in 2008. By 2009, 5.2 tons were processed in Napa County; 149.9 tons in Monterey County and 14.4 tons in San Louis Obispo, bringing the statewide total to 169.5 tons.

Grüner Veltliner (GV) represents approximately one-third of all winegrapes grown in Austria. As a wine, the variety exhibits fruity melon-like qualities with spicy white pepper and subtle licorice root notes. It has a wide range of regional styles, but is usually vinified dry and consumed young. It’s said to pair well with tricky foods such as asparagus and artichokes.

Limited quantities are planted in other states also, including Maryland, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

California GV growers
Von Strasser Winery (3,000 cases), in northern Napa Valley’s Calistoga, claims to be the first to produce Grüner Veltliner commercially in California. Rudy von Strasser planted a 1-acre vineyard on Diamond Mountain in 2005.

Currently, von Strasser is on his third vintage of Grüner Veltliner. His first bottling in 2007 was a test run of only 28 bottles. In 2008, he produced 60 cases. By 2009, case output increased to 177 cases; that vintage produced the first sizable yield. The wine retails at $40 per 750ml bottle.

Burgundian winemaker Christian Roguenant, at Niven Family Wine Estates in San Luis Obispo, debuted his first 926-case vintage of Grüner in 2009, retailing at $20 per 750ml bottle. Zocker, the German word for “Gambler” was made from Paragon Vineyard Grüner planted in 2006 from vines acquired at Sunridge Nurseries, Bakersfield, Calif.

Andrew Jones, Sunridge Nurseries’ vineyard representative, estimates that there are about 10 to 20 acres of Grüner in Monterey County, about 15 acres in the Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County, and 12 acres in San Luis Obispo County.

Roguenant says he is happily surprised that so far Grüner looks like a sturdy variety. He says that appropriate canopy management is key. “To get less tropical, estery qualities and more mineral qualities, the fruit needs shade. The berries can handle heat stress fairly well. Three to four days this year it was 110°F in the vineyard, and it stood up well. It has only been two years, so we’re still just learning.”  

Clarksburg weighs in
Dancing Coyote Wines, Acampo, Calif., had roughly 7.5 acres of Grüner planted in 2007. Its first crop yielded 400 cases in 2009.

Around 2005, Tom McCormack, owner of 8,000-case Dancing Coyote, noticed GV was being offered by the glass in trendy restaurants and wine bars. The fad inspired McCormack, who says he strives to plant varieties not typically grown in California.

Chad Joseph, Dancing Coyote winemaker, reports his Grüner-growing experience: “The Clarksburg appellation in the Sacramento Valley heats up during the day, but pulls in a cool maritime breeze in the evening, so it responded really well to the Delta weather. We have it trained on a standard California T-trellis. It’s a hearty grape with large berries, and can potentially produce good tonnage, so you have to stay on top of pruning.”

He also cautions that it’s still too early to know precisely how Grüner will fare in California, since he’s still learning its ripening patterns and crop loads. “It was the first to be picked in 2009 and the last in 2010. It’s a healthy canopy without being overly vigorous, as we harvested 4 tons per acre this year.”

I would suggest popping over to one of your local wine stores and picking up a few different bottles of Grüner Veltliner, and please let me know what you think!

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