I thought I was prepared for the rigors of Riesling harvest with Dr. Ernst Loosen. I’d recently survived a week in Burgundy ‘embedded’ with the harvest crew 24/7 who were able to endlessly eat, drink, and dance while maintaining the energy to pick all day after a few hours of sleep. During the past seven years of capturing pinot noir harvest in the Willamette Valley I’d become accustomed to climbing up steep slopes covered in wet clay slick as an ice skating rink. I’ve experienced what the Canadians have coined as ‘extreme winemaking’ – traditional icewine harvest where the temperatures are in the single digits and the crew fortifies themselves with spirits and wear ski gloves to pick the frozen grapes. However it was the steep slopes of Dr. Loosen’s famous Ürzig vineyard in the Mosel region of Germany that have been the most surprising.
Imagine scrambling up a sixty degree slope covered with loose volcanic rocks, terrain only a mountain goat would be comfortable navigating. I was tempted to grab hold of the vines for footing, but was afraid of accidentally uprooting a rare and valuable resource – these vines are 100 years old and on original rootstock. I struggled to keep my footing while carrying my gear and focusing on the details, yet the harvesters were able to meticulously separate individual berries from each cluster into separate buckets depending on the level of botrytis (aka Noble rot). This was more labor intensive than any other harvest I’ve experienced and can’t be fully experienced without seeing it in action.
I was fortunate to enjoy the entire spectrum of wines from Dr. Loosen’s private collection, from dry to dessert Riesling, each reflecting the essence of the vineyard’s terroir and a purity of fruit. The Urziger vineyard photographed during harvest is known for spicy aromas and tropical fruit flavors, while the Wehlener Sonnehurh vineyard photographed with the blue slate is renowned for minerality and delicate acidity. Unexpected delights were a 10 year on the lees sparking Riesling from Ernest’s private library and wonderfully complex and mineral pinot gris unlike anything I’ve ever tasted.
Ernst is a tireless advocate for Riesling renaissance, however surprisingly modest about his own accomplishments: Decanter Magazine named him Man of the Year in 2005 and one of the world’s top 10 white winemakers in 2006, He regularly travels to Oregon to make pinot noir with Jay Somers and to Washington as a consultant for Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling label, Eroica.