Riesling – Wiemer & Frank

riesling grapes

Happy New Year and as you all toast to 2008, here are inspiring stories of two hard-working winemakers.

Spotted below are a gorgeous bunch of Riesling grapes I snapped on a Summer wine country trip in New York State’s Finger Lakes region. Riesling is famously well grown in Germany, Alsace, and California, but the best I’ve found is from upstate New York!

I had first mentioned my favorite Riesling makers in response to Mia’s comment on my Basil Pesto, where I recommended an unconventional pairing with Hermann J. Wiemer 2006 Reserve Dry Riesling or Dr. Konstantin Frank 2005 Semi Dry Riesling. It is a good, general rule to pair Italian foods with Italian wines, but Mango Power Girl loves a rule well broken 😉 and you won’t do better than an herbal, floral, and delicious Finger Lakes Riesling.

dr.frank & wiemer rieslings

Both Hermann “the German” Wiemer and Dr. Konstantin Frank (deceased) and family have brought their German heritage fully to bear in upstate New York, each with significant perseverance in business and with dedication to European grapes and methods in the United States. We visited their wineries to hear more of their stories and taste more of their wines. Hands-down their Rieslings are the most finely crafted and flavorful we have met! and I am happy to share with you what we found.

Hermann “the German” Wiemer enjoys deserved celebrity in the wine world, fueled first by a great family legacy of more than 300 years of winemaking near Germany’s Mosel River, and fueled forever by his success with German and European grapes in America. We enjoyed a touching story from one of the professionals at Wiemer Vineyard while we tasted, telling of the time when Hermann had not yet struck out on his own in winemaking. The story goes that he financed the conversion of an abandoned farm into his wine estate with a spark he nursed into a great fire: through the sale of his prized Porsche! Through this significant, personal sacrifice for any bachelor, Hermann committed to his great love — making great wine 🙂 Hermann, hand me a glass of Trockenbeerenauslese any day 😀

Hermann Wiemer still today inhabits a gorgeous and very private estate which is a peaceful, educational joy to visit. We visited Wiemer Vineyard this Summer on Seneca Lake, hoping to taste a few wines we could not locate in stores or otherwise. Having traveled 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) from Seattle, we were overjoyed to experience an uncommon tasting of Hermann’s Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). Cheers to Hermann and the Wiemer staff, for their great professionalism and hospitality! (and for taking this photo)

us at wiemer winery

We were excited to receive a letter from Wiemer Vineyard after our visit, in which Hermann and his top winemaker, Fred Merwarth note that 2007’s weather was clear and warm. They have been able to produce a Riesling TBA with residual sugar near 14% — it will be wonderful! Hermann also shared an historic announcement: “I decided this year to begin handing over the reins of the operation to Fred.” They will still tend vineyards and make wine together, but after 25 years, Hermann is easing into the next phase of his career and life.

Brian & I had visited the Dr. Frank family winery while on a mini-honeymoon in the Spring of 2004. We had just been married a few hours’ drive away in Ithaca, New York. It was well worth the trip for The Family Frank alone, but of course we enjoyed several other wineries en route along Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. Dr. Frank’s is tucked-away on Keuka Lake, with their vineyards and tasting room featuring storybook views of gently sloping hills, well sculpted for the task of slowly perfecting Riesling and other grapes.

Equally entrancing as his grapes & wines is Dr. Frank’s story of persistence as an immigrant to the United States. Dr. Frank spoke six languages but not English, and when he first arrived at Cornell University he spent time cleaning hallways partially due to this language barrier. His colleagues at Cornell were skeptical that European, or Vinifera grapes could succeed in the harsh New York climate. Dr. Frank though, brilliantly grafted Vinifera onto native, American root stock to survive the Winters and other local challenges. This began what has been called the “Vinifera Revolution” in the United States, through which American growers and vintners have been able to grow Riesling and all the classic European varietals.

In fact the Finger Lakes’ climate, geography, and soil are ideal for growing Riesling. You can read plenty more about Dr. Frank online, but I learnt some details about him thanks first to the man I married, who understands wine so well as a former Teaching Assistant in the world’s largest wine tasting and education course, at Cornell University. We not only made the trip to Keuka Lake from Ithaca, but later schlepped bottles all the way to Seattle which we are still savoring slowly. It was all well worth the journey. I share these stories with you all to encourage the same in you: when you know what is worth the journey, do not hesitate to make it.

Dr. Frank's vineyards overlooking Keuka Lake