Under German wine law, the most prized late harvest wines are trockenbeerenauslese
(literally: dried berry selected) where the berries are so dehydrated from botrytis that the must weight is over 150 Oechsle
, the sugar content roughly equivalent in the US to about 35° Brix. We're delighted that nature delivered us such a prize in 2014. The last time we were so fortunate was in 2004 and, given recent weather patterns. We suspect that the combined effects of prolonged drought and early harvests diminishes the likelihood of nature producing these luscious Anderson Valley gems very often. Cluster select wines present a couple of winemaking challenges over dry table wines. First, the press regimes are prolonged so that all the available juice is extracted from dehydrated raisins. Second, when grape juice contains almost 40% sugar, yeasts have a difficult time getting going; the fermentation is languid and we have to gently nudge it on; we had one cluster select fermentation that took eight nail-biting months. Since whole berries weigh more than dehydrated raisins, the vineyard produces much fewer tons per acre. At the winery, yield is reduced once again, since raisins don't contain much juice.
Ted and Sarah manage the crush pad and crew during harvest and personally operate the wine presses. Extracting juice from raisins requires patience to reprogram the presses to find optimum press cycles for the composition of botrytised fruit from that vintage. The press cycle for these 2014 grapes required working overnight on Saturday until early Sunday morning. Fortunately, Ted's house is just a few hundred feet away.
The combined effect of reduced vineyard yield followed by reduced juice yield results in a limited-production wine with concentrated flavors of apricot, honey, tropical fruits, apple and pear. No cluster select Riesling was produced in 2015 or 2016. This bottling has earned several Gold Medals, several Best of Class awards and was named Best of Show at the California State Fair.
A botrytised and shriveled Riesling cluster. The skins of the berries affected by botrytis are not broken; fungal spores on their conidiophores (left) remove water from the grapes, leaving behind a higher percentage of sugars, acids and flavor resulting in an intense, concentrated wine. The grapes for this wine contained about 20% sugar prior to the “noble rot”; by the time we picked, there were no green berries and botrytis had concentrated the must yielding almost 40% sugar.)