Monday, June 20, 2011

The Oregon Trial

by Peter Bell, Winemaker

You could tell from the previous couple of blog posts. People in the wine business tend to be among the world’s most eager practitioners of what the British call a Busman’s Holiday. When we take a break from our wine-related tasks, whatever they may be, what do we have a burning desire to do? Taste wine, meet winemakers, visit other regions, or at the very least, seek out and consume a wine style that is new to us.

I wonder if vacationing bankers are similarly motivated to stop in at Fort Knox, or if sanitation workers profess an urgent desire to make a pilgrimage to Mount Trashmore? I bet not.

On a recent vacation to Oregon with my wife, I managed to slip in a little low key wine activity. I had arranged to give an informal tasting of some Finger Lakes products at a restaurant where my son works, wines that Oregonians would be unlikely to taste too often. It wasn’t really a sales pitch, which is a good thing: I’m about as good at sales as a statue is at strolling through the park.

The very first person to approach my table took one look at my lineup (you should have no trouble guessing what  I was pouring) and turned away. No big deal – perhaps she wasn’t a wine drinker. But I was really revved up here, having tasted through my wine selection minutes earlier, and didn’t want to adopt a purely passive approach, so I lobbed a gentle lure her way:

“Hi! Would you care to taste some great Finger Lakes Rieslings?”

“No thanks. I don’t like sweet wines.”

“Then you’re in luck. These are all dry.”

“I thought you said they were Rieslings!”

The task of convincing the wine-drinking public that there is such a thing as dry and off-dry Riesling, and then helping them learn that it is actually the greatest white wine out there, seems Sisyphean at times. We’re so lucky here in the Finger Lakes to have a general audience who has moved to a more advanced stage of knowledge – that is something I can see by how quickly our dry Riesling sells out each year.

There’s a certain coals-to-Newcastle feeling that comes over me when I’m pouring Finger Lakes wines in another famous wine region, and it came on there in Oregon, so I tried to offset it by making a point of ordering local Pinots with my meals. I have been to Oregon many times, and tasted lots of beautiful, expressive wines there.

It would be extremely untactful of me to make any direct derogatory remarks about another place’s most famous varietal, so let me just say that it appears that wines in the $20 range might not represent the best Oregon has to offer. Perhaps real quality starts appearing at $40? And here we are selling world-class Rieslings in the Finger Lakes for around $15 a bottle…

After my tasting was over, I gathered up the bottles, each holding a few glasses’ worth of wine, and took them over to an empty table. What the heck: free tasting for someone. Oregonians are WAY more laid back about wine and beer consumption than are New Yorkers, so I was confident that I wasn't contravening some Draconian law, or even bylaw.

A somewhat weary-looking threesome, consisting of a fellow my age, his wife and their twenty-something daughter, sat down at that table for their meal. I was sitting at an adjacent table, within eavesdropping distance. It was easy enough to pick out the guy’s comment:

“What the hell are these?”

He wasn’t one to speak in hushed tones.

That’s when I, inveterate smooth-talker that I am (not), leaned over and told him that they were a collection of high end Rieslings from New York, and he was welcome to have at them. Glasses were procured, and I left them alone while we ate our pizza.

Barely a minute had passed before he yelled, “Oh my God! These are fantastic!”

It turned out that he was a physician from Colorado. His worn-out look was on account of his having driven almost a thousand miles that day, in a battered Camry no less. And he was a serious collector of wine. Moira, Greek goddess of Fate, I owe you one: it could have been Joe Six-pack who sat down there.

Once we had introduced ourselves, he commenced to recite to me, almost bottle by bottle, what was in his cellar back home; and though my eyes started to glaze over, I noticed that aside from a lot of red Burgundies, he was the owner of an astonishing collection of German Rieslings.

“But I have never tasted a Finger Lakes Riesling!” he told me and the rest of the restaurant patrons. “Heard about them, yes! How is it that I have to go to Oregon to taste them?” he asked rhetorically.

I had found a confluence here of a guy who knows wine plus a fine collection of Finger Lakes Rieslings, so the impromptu post-tasting tasting went off extremely well. It didn’t hurt that his effusive personality caused a bunch of other diners to take note and wander over for their share of the spoils.

1 comment:

  1. The task of convincing the wine-drinking public that there is such a thing as dry and off-dry Riesling, and then helping them learn that it is actually the greatest white wine out there, seems Sisyphean at times."

    Very true. Well done in Oregon, then!

    Super extra awesome bonus points for using the word sisyphean.