This harvest marks the ten year anniversary since Fred Merwarth officially took over as the head winemaker of Hermann J. Wiemer (HJW) Vineyards, partnering with Oskar Bynke, to continue the vineyard’s legacy.
In celebration of this, HJW hosted a harvest festival; a day-long celebration of their wine including a sparkling brunch, lunch seminar, and full-on party including demonstrations of sabering open sparkling wine every half hour.
Yeah- it was that kind of party.
I’ll admit it- one of my personal highlights was the room dedicated to sparkling wine during the harvest feast at the end of the day. I could linger in a room with HJW sparkling wine all night long. Did I mention they released a 2006 Cuveé Brut sparkling that was aged ten years on the lees (the leftover yeasty bits following fermentation that can give sparkling wine a creamier texture)? It was divine- toasty notes of green apple, apricot jam, bread crust, and hints of custard with lovely little bubbles and a clean acidity.
But that’s not what stuck with me- it was the harvest seminar. What I truly enjoyed about this event was the opportunity to learn more about the process of harvesting wine and how interconnected it is with other aspects of the winery.
Instead of tasting through ten years of the same type of wine, or ten years of the best wine, or ten years of the same grape, Fred led us through ten years of the most memorable wine from each of the last ten years based on the opinions of the entire staff. This made for a tasting that was unlike any I’d done before.
2007 HJW Riesling: It had to begin with this Riesling. It was the first year that Fred was on his own without Hermann, and as he left he said “Fred, everything looks great. Don’t screw it up.” It was a hot, dry year, and their first time making a single vineyard Riesling. The wine was light with notes of very ripe nectarine, candied lime peel, hints of petrol and tangerine with a big citrus kick on the palate and a bright acidity.
2008 Dry Riesling: Despite the cool summer, it was an incredible harvest that produced fantastic Riesling. This Riesling was more restrained than the 2007, with notes of slate, lime, and nectarine that continues when sipped with a nice big acidity and lingering pear notes.
2009 Late Harvest Riesling: It was not a great year, there was no warmth, it snowed in early October, and there was a devastating frost. Instead of picking the Riesling, they let it hang on the vine, creating this late harvest Riesling. With notes of cooked peach, almond, marzipan, and honey, we’re all glad they let it hang.
2010 Lemberger: This was the first vintage they made of Lemberger (previously it was blended), and they really wanted to let it find its own voice. The nose has notes of sour cherry, tobacco, fennel, pepper, and vanilla with a chalky mid-range tannin and lingering pepper notes.
2011 Magdalena Riesling: This was the year of Hurricane Irene, which meant lots of rain around harvest and high loss of grapes. Only 60% of the Magdalena grapes survived the weather for picking. The wine has notes of apple and tangerine, with stonefruit, a light acid, and a hint of sweetness.
2012 Gewürztraminer: This grape needs to be picked in stages based on ripeness- in this year, they had to keep going back to the vineyard to pick more over a number of weeks. By doing this, you get grapes at different stages to add different levels of fruit and acid. The nose is of white peach, something herbaceous, hints of spice, and a warm peachiness on the palate with an almost effervescent acidity.
2013 Magdalena Cabernet Franc: It was a horrible year with lots of rain, so they tried to experiment and see what could happen, making the wine in a different method than previous years. It has a nose of sour cherry and plum, leather, with some interesting vegetal notes, and a velvetly texture and lingering prune on the palate.
2014 Chardonnay: This was the first time in a long time that they brought back Chardonnay with a full malolactic fermentation. This leads to a wine that is rich and buttery, with notes of pear, yellow apple, clove, vanilla, and some hints of tropical fruit.
2015 Noble Select Magdalena Riesling: This wine took a lot of effort- it was the year of the polar vortex and there was a lot of crop loss. The rain in September meant lots of Botrytis (a fungus that can make wine delicious and rich). They picked specific clusters of grapes for the wine, coming back each week to pick more as the wines picked up that Botrytis. It has notes of candied peach and lime curd, with lots of sweetness and acidity.
2016 Reserve Dry Riesling: Last summer was quite dry and ripe, and this wine is a mix of the different vineyards at HJW, picking the best grapes from the different vineyards to create something special. Clean slate, lime, tangerine, and mineral are in the nose with lemon and green apple on the palate with a big clean acidity.
I loved hearing about the wines from a different perspective. We got to learn what was happening in the vineyard, what decisions they were making on the fly in reaction to the weather, what they thought stood out each year, and learn a little more about their process. The 2017 vintage is going to be an interesting one- it was a rainy summer but an amazing autumn meaning that there was a lot more wine than expected. Additionally, it is their first year dealing with the harvest at Standing Stone- so they’ve got a whole other vineyard that includes things like Saperavi! It will be exciting to see what becomes the memorable wine of this year.