by Fred McMillin
for September 10, 1997

A Riesling to Remember


  • 1965— In a fine French sauternes or German Beerenauslese dessert wine, the sweetness comes naturally from the grapes themselves, which have been allowed to hang on the vines until overripe. No such natural wines are produced commercially in the United States.

    ...by Frank Schoonmaker in "Encyclopedia of Wine"

  • 1989— At the Fourth Annual Bordeaux Wine Olympiad, in the late-harvest dessert wine competition, the 11 finalists included one American, a 1985 Renaissance Winery late-harvest Riesling from Yuba County, California.

    ...by Frank Prial, New York Times

The Rest of the Story: Miraculous! In dessert wine competition, an American Riesling from a little-known winery won a gold medal in Bordeaux. and the '85 was not a fluke. The '86 was rated just as high by the Wine Spectator. Even when nine years old, it won a gold in a national tasting.

How did this winemaking miracle come about? The short answer is that when the Renaissance Winery was built in 1970, the founders brought in German winemaker Karl Werner. He in turn brought in 500 years of family experience with the Riesling, as well as vines and wood from his homeland. With hundreds of acres of terraced vineyards at a cool 2,000-foot elevation to choose from, Karl found a world-class microclimate and in time the medals flowed.

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to go back and taste one of those early, landmark wines? Well, you can! The winery has released some of the '87 under their Da Vinci label at a bargain price of only $8 (.375 ml.). It still has plenty of the honeyed apricot flavors that charmed those Bordeaux judges a decade ago. Here's a rare chance to enjoy a sip of American wine history.

1987 Late Harvest Riesling, Sierra Foothills, Yuba County
Da Vinci Vineyards (by the Renaissance Winery)
Sugar Content—11%
Service—Pair with a dessert that is less sweet than the wine...was delicious with Key Lime Pie.
Contact—Joseph Granados, (916)692-2222
$8 (375 ml.)

Postscript: What's the origin of the name Yuba? Quite appropriately, it is derived from the Spanish word for grape, "uva."

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

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