Blog

Harvest Interview with the Winemaker

Harvest 2017 Q&A with our Winemaker Coby Parker- Garcia

Pinot Noir Clusters at Twin Creeks Vineyard

In general how does this year’s crop look?

2017 Vintage is looking average for most varietals. The only varietal where we see lower yields is with Pinot Noir.  Rain and cool weather contributed to poor flowering within our Pinot Noir Vineyards.

Which varietal will Claiborne & Churchill be harvesting first?

Pinot Noir from Greengate Ranch & Vineyard will be picked first starting this Thursday!  We will be picking two select clones of Pinot Noir,  Pommard and 2A. This makes up about 8-10% of the total amount of Pinot Noir for C&C. The soils at Greengate are not as heavy as the soils in the Twin Creeks Vineyard which allows the fruit to ripen sooner.

As weather changes during the harvest season, how do you adapt?

As harvest progresses, things get crazier and more compacted with less free time. We closely monitor and watch the weather making sure we are still on track to pick at the best time for each varietal.

How do you decide when is the optimal time to pick a vineyard?

It all depends on the varietal. We typically pick Aromatic White Wines earlier at lower sugar levels. This allows us to make white wines with lower alcohol and higher acidity. For Chardonnay and Pinot Noir we pick a little ripper allowing the flavors to fully develop.  Syrah and Grenache are picked last and at the highest sugar levels. Another factor in harvesting our fruit is tracking weather patterns. If the weather starts heating up, some grapes may be picked earlier before they get too ripe. If there is a cooling trend there is no need to panic and the grapes could stay longer on the vine.

Pinot Noir, Pommard: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Pinot Noir, Pommard Clone: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Pinot Noir, Clone 2A: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Pinot Noir, Clone 2A: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Are most grapes harvested around the same sugar levels?

No. Each varietal is treated differently. We look at the sugar levels but we also look at the pH and acid levels. It also depends on the vintage; certain vintages allow for grapes to be picked earlier where flavor profiles develop earlier and need less time to ripen. Sometimes the grapes taste better at lower sugar levels and are more balanced between the sugars and acid.

Do you typically go in and harvest from each vineyard all at once or do you do multiple picks from each vineyard?

We typically pick multiple times through a vineyard. If we are only getting a small amount of fruit then we pick it all at once. For our Estate Twin Creeks Vineyard we pick multiple times to get grapes at different ripeness levels.  Harvesting a vineyard at different times allows us to get different flavor profiles that add to the complexity of the wine.

What is one of your biggest challenges during harvest and how do you manage this?

Time is a big challenge. From the actual harvest and making sure we pick at the right time, to making sure each person on our production crew is doing their part to processing the fruit into wine.

Multi-tasking is another challenge with the different grapes coming in to make the variety wines we produce. I’m constantly traveling back and forth from vineyard to vineyard and then back to the winery.

During harvest we put in long hard hours day after day. As a winemaker this is what I look forward to each year, it’s my time to shine and make the best wine possible.

Harvest has wrapped up early in the last couple of years, what are you expecting for this year?

Last year was one of the earliest harvests on record. It looks like we are two weeks behind last year which puts us closer to our average cycle. I’d say we should wrap up harvest with Grenache sometime in late October or early November.

What are you most excited for this harvest?

It is always interesting to see what the “ theme” of the vintage will be (high acid year, good color, bold flavors). After spending so much time in the vineyards, it is exciting to get my hands on the grapes and make wine. I always look forward to the smells of fermentation; this is something that never gets old, even after my 15th vintage at C&C!


Bud Break Starts Harvest 2017 Excitement

We are finally starting to feel the spring weather on the Central Coast. It is so refreshing after the winter season we’ve had. The region was refreshed with many storms after years of drought. These storms were great for our dormant vines, as they flushed the toxins and salts in the top soil lower past the root zone and replenished our water storage. The recent sunshine has left the hills of the Edna Valley so green and wildflowers are starting to bloom. As the cherry trees are filled with flowers, we know something else is coming: bud break! In this post, we want to share what has been happening in the vineyard since Harvest 2016.

After Harvest:

As we were finishing up all of the hard work that goes into harvest, we began to prepare the vines for the upcoming winter season. The vines had been under a lot of stress from producing the fruit we use to make our wines. After harvest we give them some water and nutrients over the next two weeks to supplement and prepare the vines for the upcoming dormant season. This process is what all perennials go through and resembles hibernation where little energy is used.

Claiborne & Churchill, Pruning, Vines

Pruning

In late February we begin to think about pruning the vines. Since we do not have any frost protection, we wait as long as possible to prune the vines. We are able to do this since we have so few acres and it doesn’t take much time to get through all of our vines. The old wood is removed to maximize the amount of one year old wood (fruiting wood) and minimize vine density thus encouraging airflow and circulation.

Bud Break

After pruning and the soil and weather warm up, you typically see bud break start to happen. Here in SLO Wine Country bud break occurs sooner than most AVA’s in North America. Typically, bud break is seen first in the Santa Maria and Arroyo Grande valleys, then in the Edna Valley, and lastly in Paso Robles. At Claiborne & Churchill our vines have just started to burst from the warm weather over the past weekend.

Claiborne & Churchill, Vines, Bud Break

Preparing for Harvest:

In the next few weeks, we will mow the cover crop and disk the cuttings back into the soil. We planted barley between the rows to add nitrogen back into the soil and also to keep the topsoil from eroding. Cover crops like barley attract beneficial insects and help maintain the soil structure during the rainy season. We will start to see rapid growth on the vines as shoots and leaves begin to form. After that, we will see flowering then berry set. The berries will begin to grow and start to look like little clusters. The red varieties will undergo veraison, when the berries change color from green to red. Over the next few months the grapes will ripen and develop tannins and phenolic compounds which contribute to the complex flavors found in wine. Before we know it, the fruit will be ready for 2017 Harvest!

Stay tuned for more production updates throughout our growing season!


Stay & Play in “America’s Happiest City”

We are proud to call San Luis Obispo home. Between San Francisco and Los Angeles, our town is nestled  along the coast on California’s historic Highway 1. This tourist destination has become popular due to its sunny weather and slow paced lifestyle, which is why the town is called SLO! In fact, Oprah Winfrey herself named San Luis Obispo “America’s Happiest City.” Check out her video here! You won’t want to miss a chance to visit (or live) in this gorgeous region of California home to SLO Wine Country.

slo, san luis obispo, Claiborne & Churchill

Wine:

We may be biased, but we think this is one of the best highlights of the region! Following in the footsteps of Napa and Paso Robles, the Edna Valley has become an established wine region. As SLO Wine Country shares, “in 1979, Lawrence Winery was established as the region’s first modern winery, and the property is today home to Center of Effort Winery. Chamisal Vineyard began making its own wine in 1980, and Edna Valley Vineyard followed in 1981. Claiborne & Churchill Winery, Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, and Talley Vineyards soon added further momentum to the local winemaking scene. These early wineries paved the way and put SLO Wine Country on the map.” The region welcomes thousands of guests each year to taste our award winning wines. The cool climate and diverse soil profiles help create amazing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay along with other varietal wines. Check out the SLO Wine Country Map to see where all the wineries are located in our region. Look here for six unique wine trails to hit, including Claiborne & Churchill on the Old Edna & Biddle Ranch Road Trail. Grab a picnic and enjoy your day with some great wines!

slo, san luis obispo, Claiborne & Churchill

Play:

The gorgeous weather, breathtaking landscapes, and close vicinity to the beach gives our locals and visitors unlimited options of things to do! The best way to take in our rolling hills or coastal views is to take a hike! Look at our previous blog post to see the perfect trail for you here – from a casual stroll to a challenging hike!

Spend the day relaxing by one of our many beach towns just miles from SLO. Shop our local spots such as Downtown SLO, the quaint Village of Arroyo Grande, or the Pismo Outlets! Even shop for dinner – checkout the SLO Farmers’ Market on Thursday nights offering an amazing selection of local produce. Find an event to attend, everything from an art show to a concert on the SLO Happenings App. This is a great resource to create a fun trip to SLO!

slo, san luis obispo, Claiborne & Churchill

Dine:

The Central Coast has become known as a “foodie” destination! There is no shortage of great restaurants from breakfast to dessert. SLO Wine Country has a great list of some of the top restaurants to hit! Trying to figure out where to visit for dinner? Ask a local!

slo, san luis obispo, Claiborne & Churchill

Stay:

There are a wide variety of options to stay while you are on your trip! SLO Wine Country has a list of their suggested hotels here! The most well known place to stay is the famous Madonna Inn. The whimsical guest rooms are perfect for a unique experience with access to a delicious steak house, boutique shopping, and horseback riding. Grab a hotel in Downtown SLO or one with an ocean view! Wanting to try something other than a hotel? Checkout VRBO or Airbnb for fun options, including our Winery Guest Cottage!

Start planning your weekend getaway or summer vacation to SLO; you will love the time you spend in “America’s Happiest City.” Make sure to visit us at Claiborne & Churchill while you’re here!


Winter Release Tasting with the Winemaker

Come and join us for one of our Winter Release with the Winemaker tastings! These intimate events take you through a tasting of our newly released wines guided by our winemaker, Coby Parker-Garcia. This fun and interactive experience has been a favorite amongst the staff and we are now giving you the opportunity!

 

tasting, claiborne, claiborne & churchill

 

What?

The tasting will begin by exploring the newly released wines as you analyze the characteristics you pick up on and discuss why those characteristics are showing through. Our Winemaker Coby will educate Club Members on the growing season for these grapes, the production process of the wine, and food pairings in addition to sampling cheeses that have been perfectly paired with artisan cheeses from Fromagerie Sophie.

 

Who?

This is an event for wine lovers and novices alike. We want to have an intimate experience allowing a small group to hear the decisions that went into making the wine, what characteristics are coming out in the wine, and what these wines pair well with. With only 18 guests per seating, you will have the chance to interact with the winemaker himself and ask him your questions! Though it is only available for members of our wine club, it is not too late to join!

 

Tasting, Claiborne, Claiborne & Churchill

When & Where?

These 6 tastings are going to take place in our cellar at the winery. Check out the time most convenient for you!

Tuesday, February 7 – 3pm

Tuesday, February 7 – 6pm

Thursday, February 9 – 3pm

Thursday, February 9 – 6pm

Friday, February 10 – 3pm

Friday, February 10 – 6pm

How?

Buy your $10 ticket on our website here! Tickets are limited to two per Club Membership.

Not a member? Learn more here and sign up to be a member here!


Harvest 2016: Preparation & Predictions

With the beginning of August behind us, we are looking forward to our most exciting time of the year: harvest! The grapes are almost ready for their metamorphosis into some great wines. We have some special inside information into Harvest 2016 for Claiborne & Churchill from Winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia. Keep reading to see his explanation of how harvest works and his predications of how it will turn out this year.

Claiborne & Churchill, Harvest 2016


Harvest 2016 predictions:

Things are looking great for the upcoming 2016 Harvest! We are expecting higher yields of fruit compared to 2015. This year’s harvest will still be an early one, however, we will begin picking fruit about two weeks later than last year. Over the past decade we have seen a consolidated in the time span of which we harvest our grapes. There are some days where we are picking Riesling and Pinot Noir on the same day. So, we are seeing the ripening track close together.


How to decide when to pick:

We are expecting to start harvesting fruit in the next week. To decide when we start, it is important to test the fruit to make sure the flavor profile and sugar levels are at the right spot for optimal wine making. Coby makes frequent visits to the vineyards to sample the fruit, even the Riesling and Gewürztraminer vineyards in Monterey county. In the last days before picking, Coby is keeping a close eye on the forecast as heats spikes will accelerate ripening. August has had great weather for the end of the growing season with the morning fog and afternoons in the eighty degree range.


Next steps:

After the grapes arrive at the Claiborne & Churchill crush pad, it’s time for the next steps for Harvest 2016! This is where some of the processes differ from one variety to the next. See how it works for reds, whites, and rosé below!

White Wines:

All of the white grapes for Claiborne & Churchill wines are whole cluster pressed; that takes just over ninety minutes to extract the juice from the skins. After this, the juice is pumped into a tank to cold settle ( at 40 to 50 degrees) where the solids fall to the bottom and the juice is racked off its solids to another vessel for fermentation. The clear juice then ferments in the vessel of choice, which at our winery is either barrels or stainless steel tanks. Fermentation in the barrels takes about three weeks compared to the stainless steel tanks which takes five to six weeks. After that, they can be transferred into a new clean vessel.

Red Wines:

For the red grapes, we de-stem the grapes and leave them as full berries. For some, we even leave the stems on! The grapes then sit in fermentation vats for two weeks and get punched down 3-4 times per day. The grapes do a three to five day cold soak and then we inoculate with three different yeasts or allow for native fermentation. All red wines go through malolactic fermention (about 3months) with the exception of our Port. After secondary fermentation SO2 is added to the barrels and topped every two to three weeks. After aging for 8-14 months the wine is filtered and bottled.

Cuvée Elizabeth Rosé of Pinot Noir:

We pick the Pinot Noir a little earlier for the Rosé and then crush and de-stem the grapes into ¾ ton fermentation bins. After 17 to 24 hours of skin contact the juice is Saignée and racked into neutral oak red wine barrels. Select yeast is added, and the juice ferments for about 3 weeks to a month. The Rosé is then racked back into clean barrels and ages for 4-5 months.

A small percentage of finished white wine is blended into the Rosé to increase aromatics and fruitiness. The finished blend goes into stainless steel tank where it sits for about one month before being fined, filtered and then bottled.


We are excited for harvest 2016 to begin and are looking forward to making our ever popular Sparkling Wine, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as a new Grenache/Syrah blend. Check out our social media accounts for updates on Harvest 2016 at Claiborne & Churchill!


Interview with the Winemaker

Through this Interview with the Winemaker, get an inside look into Coby Parker-Garcia‘s predictions on this year’s harvest and what he is excited about! As he says, our wines “are challenging to grow and fun to make!”

claiborne and churchill, coby, winery, vineyard, Q & A with the Winemaker, Interview with the Winemaker

Where did your interest in the wine industry begin?

“My first interest probably stemmed from wine tasting. I became really excited about the wine making process and the ability to turn grapes into an alcoholic beverage. I wanted to be able to do that process myself.”

Why do you like to work with the unique varietals Claiborne & Churchill is known for?

“I have always believed these characteristics and more interesting flavor profile than your typical Chardonnay and Cabernet. They’re unique wines that go with a variety of foods. They are challenging to grow and fun to make.”

Is your winemaking philosophy similar to that of Clay’s?

“Clay would put a lot of trust in the vineyard management, but I like to spend a lot of time in the vineyards. We are making the Riesling and Gewürztraminer a little drier than in the past and using a different yeast than before. There is more time spent doing lab work and monitoring the sulfur levels, pH and the total acidity to make the best decisions in the vineyard and prior to bottling.”

What are you most excited for in the upcoming harvest?

“Every harvest and every vintage brings a new challenge. I’m excited about how happy and healthy the vineyards are looking. We’re getting some really nice growth on the vines and starting to see that we’re going to get about two clusters per shoot. This is a good indication that we’ll have a good crop this year.”

Was bud break early this year? How will that impact harvest?

“Bud break came later than last year, but still earlier than usual. Our Riesling and Pinot Noir vineyards had bud break about two weeks earlier than usual. The next few months will help us forecast when harvest will come this year. Growth will slow down if we have cooler months with rain, but will speed up if the weather is warmer. It’s looking like it will be an early harvest, but not as early as last year.”

claiborne and churchill, bud break, vineyard, winery, Q & A with the Winemaker, Interview with the Winemaker

How important is our vineyard practices? What do we focus on in the vineyard?

“It is known that you need great fruit quality to make great wine. We follow the SIP (Sustainability in Practice) protocol which has shown it ensures quality.”

What are you doing different this year?

“We don’t have any frost protection on the property, so we left some extra canes to ensure that if we had frost damage, we have the chance to get secondary growth. Now that we are through the frost period, we will begin thinning to get back to a more balanced vine.”

How has the drought impacted our crop and wines?

“In 2015, the quality remained high, because there wasn’t a lot of mildew pressure due to the lack of rain. These wines are really concentrated and have a lot of density. We were able to make balanced wines that aren’t too high in alcohol but have a nice balanced acidity.”

How will the wines be different this year from past vintages?

“I believe we will have higher yields, but will have a better idea once we see the fruit set and how the berries form. Right now things are looking good, but there is still a lot of game to play.”

What are you doing now to prepare for harvest?

“Now is the time when we implement practices to prevent mildew and other harmful problems. We are getting the weeds cut back, mowing the cover crop and tilling it back into the soil to improve the nitrogen levels. We are thinning back a little bit, especially the extra canes we left incase of frost damage. It is  a waiting game now.”

claiborne and churchill, winery, vineyard, Q & A with the Winemaker, Interview with the Winemaker

Where do you want to see Claiborne & Churchill Winery in five years?

“With the size of our facility, we are currently at maximum case production. I think we will see more wine club members and people coming to the winery. We will rely less on distribution, and more from the tasting room and direct sales.”


Riesling Rediscovered Book

Riesling rediscovered, Claiborne and Churchill, Riesling, John Winthrop Haeger

Riesling Rediscovered Overview

A new book has been released telling the story of something dear to our hearts: Riesling. In November of 2015, John Winthrop Haeger released his account of this white wine grape variety titled Riesling Rediscovered.

At Claiborne & Churchill, we make our Rieslings dry compared to the common sweet Rieslings of North America. As the book’s description says, “Now usually made dry in most of Europe and Australia, and assumed dry by most German consumers, Riesling is made mostly sweet or lightly sweet in North America and is believed sweet in the American marketplace irrespective of origin. Riesling is thus consequently—but mistakenly—shunned by the mainstream of American wine drinkers, whose tastes and habits have been overwhelmingly dry for two generations.” We see that most of our guests that say they dislike Riesling are pleasantly surprised by the dryness of our varieties.

This book takes an in depth look into how variety, place, and style impact the final taste of the Riesling. The variety looks into how the cultivar of Riesling, a variety created by selective breeding, will change the taste. Place investigates how the location, topography, climate and other factors alter the wine. Style looks at how growing practices, processing, and storing methods modify how the winery’s Riesling will taste. Haegar also talks about the history of Riesling, how it is made, and a map of winery locations. Another section of the book features a number of vineyards and wineries known for Riesling, including Claiborne & Churchill.


Riesling rediscovered, Claiborne and Churchill, Riesling, John Winthrop Haeger

Claiborne & Churchill Highlight

We are very honored to be highlighted in this renowned book. Our section starts with a look into the Claiborne Vineyard. He discusses where the vineyard is located, climate, and other factors of our vineyard. In the next section, Haegar follows the story of Clay and Fredericka, the start of the winery, Coby’s time as our winemaker, and a look into the Riesling we produce.

Make sure to grab a copy of Riesling Rediscovered here! It gives a great insight into the variety we love so much!

We appreciate the width and depth of information that Haeger shares in Riesling Rediscovered. It is evident that he made sure to represent Riesling as a whole. As Oliver Humbrecht said, “John Winthrop Haeger has captured the essence of Riesling. The author goes against the modern trend that favors sweeter and softer styles, demonstrating that Riesling can be at its best as a dry wine. Riesling wine producers from around the world will applaud this research.”


2015 Harvest Recap with Winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia

Harvest 2015 has officially come to a close, and we are heading into a new season here at the winery. Despite the doomsday reports in the news about the impact of drought on California agriculture, we are really excited about what this vintage has in store. As can often happen, the dry climate this year really stressed the vines, which has led to some incredible fruit quality.Claiborne & Churchill Staff Picking the Estate late harvestRiesling

 

Spider web in Estate Riesling VineyardAs many people have noted, picking also came early this year. One question we often get from visitors is how an early harvest impacts the wine. Does the shorter growing season have a positive or negative impact? There are different views on this, but I tend to see this as a good thing. We are looking for maturation of the fruit and proper ripeness, and whether that happens early or late does not necessarily have much impact on quality. The benefit of an early harvest is that we are able to get the fruit off the vine and process it sooner, which minimizes the risk of something going wrong. The longer the fruit hangs on the vine, the more risk we see of damage due to weather like wind, rain, and frosts, as well as harm from pests like gophers, ground squirrels, and birds. Fruit that ripens quickly is generally safe from these hazards.Winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia

This week, we officially finished up harvest as our staff lent a hand to pick the rest of our Estate late-harvest Riesling, fruit that will be used in our 2015 Nektar. It was a fun way to get our hands dirty out in the vineyard one last time as we celebrated the end of another successful season here at Claiborne & Churchill! Now, for me, things will slow down a bit as we shift from around-the-clock pressing, fermentation, and punchdowns to monitoring the wines, topping barrels, and planning our 2016 bottling schedule. Out in the vineyard, the vines are starting to lose their leaves and will soon be dormant. As for me, after the craze of crush, I’m ready for a little breather, too. I’ll be sitting here in California on the edge of my seat with a glass of Pinot in hand, waiting to see how and when this El Niño winter everyone is talking about plays out. We just had our first big storm of the season yesterday. But stay tuned: experts are saying there’s more on the way.Claiborne & Churchill Harvest Intern: Jake Nivison

From all of us here at Claiborne & Churchill, we’re wishing you and your family a wonderful autumn. Stop by and visit us soon, or plan on attending one of our upcoming events! Before you know it, these 2015 wines will be ready to pour, and we can’t wait to show you what we’ve been working on. 


Harvest 2015 with Winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia

Harvest is in full swing here at Claiborne & Churchill! This week, we tracked down Coby in the cellar and asked him all our winemaking questions about Harvest 2015.

Coby Parker-Garcia, Winemaker 

Harvest seems to be firing on all cylinders! How much have we picked so far?
As of this week, we are 95% done with picking everything. Pinot Gris from Laetitia came in yesterday. We also got Merlot from Vintage Cowboy, which will go into the Port. Last week, we finished picking Gewürztraminer, Estate Riesling, Riesling from Talley, and Pinot Noir from Wolff. We picked some Pinot Noir early for Rosé, too, to keep that low alcohol and good acidity. Everything is looking really good so far.

Any exciting new changes?
This year, we got Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from across the street at Greengate Ranch & Vineyard. That’s the first time we’ve gotten fruit from them, and we’re stoked about that. Also, recently Twin Creeks Vineyard was granted Estate status, which is really exciting. Now we can make Estate Pinot Noir using Twin Creeks fruit.

Any cool new winemaking gadgets you are using this year?
We have a new CO2 sprayer. It’s this tank that sprays carbon dioxide snow. It’s really fun to use.

What’s it for?
We add CO2 before and after fermentation. It’s a heavier gas, so it weighs down on top of the fruit to prevent it from touching oxygen.

Why don’t you want oxygen touching the wine?
Oxygen touches the fruit and juice throughout the winemaking process. It alters the color and flavor of the wine, and has the effect of aging it. We try to minimize that wherever possible. This CO2 helps us keep the wine from oxidizing.

Can you walk us through that process?
After the fruit comes in, we process it, and then we put it into three-quarter or one-and-a-half ton fermenters. Then, we spray CO2 on top, or we can gas a whole tank with CO2 before we put the fruit in. In those cases, we fill the tank with carbon dioxide so it’s filled with heavy gas. Then when the fruit goes into the tank, it hits CO2 instead of oxygen. That is really important in preserving the quality of the wine.

We’ve heard you can use CO2 spray, or use dry ice instead. Is that true?
Yes, but dry ice chills the fruit down. If you add enough of it, it will actually lower the temperature of the must. Even though the CO2 is cold, it won’t have the same chilling effect on the fruit. Dry ice is really good, but it’s expensive. Instead of using dry ice, we pick our fruit early in the morning or late at night. When the fruit comes in, it’s already really cold, so we don’t really need to make it colder.

Doesn’t wine release it’s own carbon-dioxide during fermentation?
Yes. For example, when we are doing punchdowns, manually pushing down the cap of the wine, CO2 will come up. But as fermentation goes on, that slows down. Toward the end, very little CO2 is being made naturally. That’s where it can become a problem. When oxygen reaches the wine at that point, it can create volatile acidity and other issues. You spray the C02 over the bin, and it’s like a blanket. It keeps the wine safe.

So, it’s super important.
Yep. Really important.

Have any winemaking or harvest questions for our winemaker? Comment below, and we’ll choose a few questions to answer in later posts!


Riesling: The World’s Greatest White Winegrape?

For over 30 years in California’s Edna Valley, we have quietly produced what is considered one of the most dependably delicious Dry Rieslings this side of Alsace, France. Always erudite, educational and entertaining, our founding winemaker Claiborne Thompson shares what he’s discovered about what many consider to be “the world’s greatest white winegrape.”

Claiborne & Churchill Dry Riesling

Is Riesling a German word? Any idea what the root of the word is, or its meaning?
Its name is a bit of a puzzle. It’s possibly related to the German word reissen, “to tear, to carve, to cut,” but attempts to explain this connection are pretty lame.

Where does the Riesling grape originally come from?
It’s origin is no doubt to be found in Germany, specifically the Rheingau. There is a reference to “riesslingen” vines in a document from 1435, written by a cellarmaster with the amusing name of Klaus Kleinfisch (“Littlefish”) to his boss, the Count of Katzenelnbogen (“Cat’s Elbow”). The whole story sounds to me like a Mel Brooks comedy sketch.

Do you know how old it is?
Really old, probably going back to Roman outposts along the Rhine.

How did you get into Riesling?
Well, both my wife Fredericka and I have connections to Germany, and Riesling is the German grape par excellence.  I first visited Germany when I was 17, so my first wine experience was with Riesling. Fredericka’s mother is German (from the Rheinland), so she no doubt has a bit of Riesling running through her veins.

How does Alsatian-style Riesling differ from German Riesling?
When we started Claiborne & Churchill, we took our inspiration more from the (once German, now French) province of Alsace, across the Rhine from Germany. In Alsace, Riesling is king; it is the most planted varietal there, and nowhere else in France do they allow it to be grown. The Rieslings from Alsace tend to be drier, more structured and full-bodied than those in Germany. They are definitely not “sweet sipping wines.” (Having said that, it must be pointed out that these days German Rieslings are getting drier and drier.)

Claiborne & Churchill Estate Riesling

Where does C&C Riesling come from?
At Claiborne & Churchill we source our Riesling grapes from two regions: (1) our own Edna Valley, including our Estate Vineyard, and (2) Monterey County, specifically the Arroyo Seco area, where cold weather produces intensely aromatic grapes.

What are some typical aromas and flavors associated with wine made from Riesling?
One of the great things about Riesling wines is how they reflect a sense of place, of terroir if you will. But what all Rieslings have in common (if grown and made properly) is an abundantly floral and fruity aroma in the nose and a wallop of bracing acidity on the palate. In its youth you might find hints of apple blossoms, of peaches, of honey. As a Riesling ages it takes on more depth of flavor, and often develops a bouquet referred to by the off-putting word “petrol.”

What are the challenges to making it?
Riesling is a bit of a challenge to grow, because it is a late ripener and fairly susceptive to rot (including the precious “noble rot”). The grapes need to be pressed slowly and long, to get the best juice. Fermentation should be cold.

Claiborne & Churchill Dry Riesling

How long between pick, bottling, and release?
Riesling can be bottled relatively soon after it is made, but it needs a bit of aging before release. It is unfortunately true that most Rieslings are released too early (including ours) because people prize the youthful fruitiness more than the more profound flavors that the patina of age gives. Oh well, each to his own!

How do you most enjoy Riesling?
Riesling is famous for being the most versatile of wines and the most food-friendly. We enjoy it by itself as an aperitif wine (especially if it has a tiny touch of residual sugar), but it really stands out on the dinner table. I love it with poultry (Chicken in Riesling is a standard Alsatian dish), and fish, particularly shellfish. I think Dungeness Crab and Dry Riesling is a match made in heaven.

What other regions are making Riesling that you enjoy? (New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, etc)
Outside California, Germany and Alsace, good Rieslings can be found in Oregon and Washington, in the Finger Lakes region of New York , and in Australia. Each Riesling bears the hallmarks of its place of origin.

We will be releasing our 2014 Dry Riesling on May 1st 2015.