International Riesling Foundation
Like it or not, reviews are critical to a winery, they are a stamp of approval from the folks that are paid (or should be paid) to compare what one winery makes in the context of a region and sometimes they are useful more broadly as a comparison with all the other wines available around. Here at Pacific Rim, we have been blessed to be, in most cases, fairly well reviewed by the wine press. We like the praises for three main reasons: firstly, it is great for our winemaking team’s self-esteem; secondly, it helps us determine if we might be “onto something” (from viticultural practices to more natural winemaking); and thirdly, it is undeniable that they invite customers to give us a try.
Just as wine reviewers can’t agree on many ethical aspects of their profession (can they have a personal relationship with a winemaker? Can they make wine themselves? Should wine be reviewed blind? etc..), wineries wonder how loudly to tout their reviews. Should a wine producer gloat based on the accolades his wines receive? What is the fine line between humbleness and shouting out positive reviews with a blow horn? You see, the rating machine is ruthless because wineries have so many internal pressures to show off – mainly in order to differentiate themselves commercially from the great wine clutter (all of whom are, of course, inferior to your special wine offerings). This thirst for recognition is compounded by the fact that reviews are also desired by wine selling stores & restaurants, all wanting to offer highly rated wines at the lowest price to their customers.
It is no surprise that everyone in the wine biz ecosystem wants to get a super-sized score for their wine and wants it as quickly as possible (no one wants an un-scored vintage on their shelves). Okay, I’ve said it: “score.” Let’s be clear, the market craves the score on a 100 point scale, no one remembers or requests the tasting notes. Yup, unfortunately, that is the genius of the “reductive rating”: one score to distill the essence of a wine regardless of age, place, practices, etc. Imagine if a winery sends a particular vintage to a wine critic too soon (or too late) and it isn’t in its prime? I am certain it happens all the time and that one little score sticks to that wine forever… I wonder what I would have scored when I was a kid? I think I had several 75 point moments (mum – no need to leave a comment about that) but I believe I had a few 90+ events in between. Boy, I hope that critic catches me in a 90+ moment, because you have only one swing at the “score piñata” in this fast paced world!
Now, I can’t complain because critics have been very good to us (see our most recent Wallula Biodynamic Riesling rated 95 in Wine Enthusiast) and, of course, I believe this is because of the quality of our wines! And are we hiding the scores – nah, we put them on our labels shamelessly – why not?
Regardless of what we think about scores, they are here to stay and yes, it is still amazing what a 90 point plus score does to wine sales – we’ve found many retailers that only want 90+ point wines – what is up with that insanity? Perhaps it is easier to sort through the vast sea of wine by letting someone else do the job of tasting them all? Well, tonight I’ll enjoy an 88 point Riesling from Pacific Rim and perhaps that 83 point Chinon I love, though the wine critic did not care for it but, it works just fine for me.
We just released our 2012 vintage of our Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc! Yes, you read that right; even Riesling Zealots like us enjoy a different varietal every now again. After all, Chenin is a bit like Riesling in a way… it can be made it in many different styles (which could be why it is so misunderstood).
Chenin Blanc is actually the second wine we bottled way back in 1999. Since it’s been around for so long, the wine has gathered a loyal following within the walls of the winery and our friends and family (I think this might be the favorite wine of at least a third of the team). However, it does not always sell to our expectations. Many people do not know Chenin Blanc and shy away from it – which is a shame because it makes a very nice wine.
Similarly to Riesling, Chenin Blanc makes a great wine at all sugar levels, although; I love making ours around 1% residual sugar. We made about 3,000 cases last year. Our grapes come from Hahn Hill Vineyard in the Columbia Valley – some of the oldest vines in Washington (legend has it that they were planted in 1968)! It is almost impossible to screw up Chenin Blanc from a vineyard with 30+ year old vines, the grapes are so predictable that they practically bottle themselves.
Chenin was one of the original grapes planted in the state of Washington and I think that if you look at the age of the vines out there, you would find that all the total acreage is fairly old (30 years +). This works out perfectly since it takes 15 years for a Chenin Blanc vineyard to taste great. Sadly, Chenin Blanc production is slowing dramatically. I’d guess there is only about 200 acres left in Washington. As the acreage ages, the yields start to decrease – yields start to decline on most vineyards after 25 years of production – and since no one is willing to pay top dollar for Chenin Blanc, slowly but surely growers are forced to pull out the vines to replace with something more profitable.
This varietal has the potential to be a flagship for the state but I am afraid the market is not ready quite yet. Perhaps a few geeky sommeliers would love it, but I am dubious about its mass potential for now. Of course, I would have thought the same of Moscato 5 years ago – so don’t take my comment as an absolute prediction.