This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the visionary partnership between Washington state winery Chateau Ste. Michelle and German winemaker Dr. Ernst Loosen of Loosen Wines with the release of the 20th vintage of Eroica Riesling.
Liquid proof that Washington can produce a world-class wine, Eroica is a commingling of its Washington and German roots, in both technique and flavor. Launched in 1999, Eroica was the first of its kind and a trailblazer for premium American Rieslings to follow, even earning a place on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list for the first five vintages.
“At first people thought we were crazy to release a $20 premium American Riesling,” says Bob Bertheau, Senior Vice President of Winemaking at Chateau Ste. Michelle, in a recent press release. “Eroica showed people what Riesling can do and we’ve continued to push the boundaries on the diverse expressions of Riesling.”
We spoke with winemaker David Rosenthal of Chateau Ste. Michelle about the transformative journey of Eroica. After landing his first job working in wine production in 2001 in Napa, Rosenthal has worked in wine labs and cellars all over the world. He now works at Chateau Ste. Michelle, where he has been in charge of white wines for six years.
What led you to pursue a career in winemaking?
I knew nothing about wine or winemaking when I started, but as I got to see the process unfold, it sparked an interest. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. In an ever-virtual world, I love that we get to produce a tangible product from nature and that I can open a bottle and enjoy a year’s worth of hard work in my glass.
Additionally, there is something intangible about wine as well. Being a winemaker means being a farmer, scientist, artist, sales person… The winemaking process requires me to use my entire brain, but it also constantly forces me to be very introspective. A good winemaker has to have a point of view and a rock-solid winemaking philosophy in order to overcome the challenges of changing markets, vintage variation, and evolving science. The confluence of all those skill sets and factors keeps me engaged and continuously striving to produce better wines.
Has there been an evolution of Riesling in the wine world since Eroica was first released 20 years ago?
Eroica was a game changer in the world of Riesling — [it] helped to propel Riesling back into the limelight in the United States pushing a massive growth in Riesling drinkers throughout the early 2000s. This “Riesling renaissance” began with sommeliers, but extended more importantly to every corner of the consumer market. Chateau Ste. Michelle started hosting Riesling Rendezvous in 2007 bringing together the top Riesling producers from all over the world and since then, the quality of global Rieslings continues to improve and diversify. The development of Eroica certainly was not the only driving force in all of that change, but in my opinion it was one of the seminal moments pushing the Riesling trajectory to its current heights.
What is it about the partnership of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen that works so well?
We both want to make the best Washington Riesling possible. It’s simply about the wine which gives the project focus and purpose. It drives every decision and every conversation. Additionally, it is almost impossible not to love Ersnt Loosen. He is an expert winemaker, storyteller and beer drinker. We have been getting together for 20 years and everyone involved in Eroica is family at this point. Sitting down to blend the wine with Erni each vintage is usually the best week of work in the entire year.
How would you describe the 2018 Eroica to someone who’s never tasted it?
Many people have misconceptions that Riesling is only produced in a sweet, simple style. That is 100% false: Riesling is produced in more diverse styles than any other grape in the world.
In the glass, Eroica hits your nose with lime, white peach and orange blossom. The fruitiness leads you to believe you are about to taste something sweet, but when the wine hits your tongue, your eyebrows will raise up in surprise at the crisp acidity and refreshing character. You will then contemplate all you thought you knew about Riesling while basking in the harmony of a perfectly balanced wine.
As you swallow the wine, the complexity of minerality, citrus and stone fruit will leave your taste buds salivating and you will immediately want to tell anyone within ear shot that they should try Eroica as well. This may seem a bit overdramatized, but that’s usually exactly what happens when I pour Eroica for someone for the first time.