Traditionally in the Finger Lakes, Riesling is produced in stainless steel tanks. This is a great tool, as it allows very good control (relatively) over the wine since wine in stainless is a bit more predictable. It is also easier to cool and heat, and for a host of other reasons it just makes perfect sense to nearly everyone. All that being said, of course we had to go and try something new. Something that would totally separate us from everyone else. You know, put our stamp on things because that is what we are told we have to do…be different and edgy! What is this new, cool, edgy and never-tried technique? Making Riesling in barrel! That’s right we are turning the wine world on its head. This is gonna put us right on top of the heap. Straight to number 1 baby…
Actually, I am blowing smoke! Blowing smoke in a big way…Riesling being done in barrel has been around a heck of a lot longer than anyone at Forge Cellars. In fact, take this simple little test and ask yourself, “Before stainless steel tanks were around, what did they keep wine in?” So no, we are not trend setters. Have you ever seen how the three of us dress? If anything we are rolling back the clock a bit.
Louis and I had a conversation about this some 3 or 4 years ago while sitting in Gigondas. We were talking about “cool climate” wines, wines that are often coveted for their fresh, searing, laser-like acidity. We both were commenting how wonderful acid is and then he started to tell me about experiments he had done with high acid whites in barrel and how wonderful they turned out. I thought it all made sense because if you look at all the cool climate regions of the world, using barrels of different sizes was the norm before the stainless steel manufacturers showed up. So from early on, we decided we would “work” in a different way by using OLD barrique for our rieslings. I say OLD because it is almost a prerequisite to explain that using barrels does not mean using brand new just-out-of-the-coopers’-hands barrels that end up imparting toasty, buttery, vanilla flavor to your wines. Besides, who the hell can afford that? Great barrels are $800 to $1000 apiece. Mind you, a barrel holds 25 cases of wine…do the math. The idea of hammering helpless little white wines with new oak is well, lets just say, not for us, but the idea of letting a high acid, fresh, laser-like riesling “relax” a bit in a nice aged barrel could make a whole bunch of sense.
Thus far, I think the wines are showing great promise and are responding in a way that I think is consistent with what we thought. They feel more mellow, less edgy and honestly, I have a hard time not drinking them now!