November 8, 2017–Silver Thread will release its first club-only wine, the 25th Anniversary Reserve Riesling 2016 in December. A truly stunning wine, it demonstrates the ability of Silver Thread Estate Vineyard to produce some of the best Riesling on Earth. Grapes were hand-harvested at optimal ripeness from our oldest estate vines, then fermented bone-dry in a neutral oak barrel. The result is opulent, rich and mouth-filling, with generous length and tremendous ageability. Only twenty cases were produced, so this wine is limited to Phenology and Case Club members. Phenology VIP, Winter and Riesling Club members will receive one bottle in their December 2017 shipment. All club members (including members of the Phenology Sampler Club and the Case Club) will receive an e-mail offer to purchase this Riesling on December 1, 2017.
Reserve Riesling Story
2016 was the 25th Anniversary of commercial wine production at Silver Thread. Although the first vines were planted in 1982, the fruit was sold to other wineries for a time. The first vintage of Silver Thread Riesling was 1991. Dry in style, it was ground-breaking for a region that focused on sweeter versions of Riesling at that time. Inspection of the label shows the long-standing tradition of environmentally-friendly and low-impact farming practices that continue today at Silver Thread.
Fast forward to 2016, and we are still farming two rows of the original Silver Thread planting from 1982. These 34-year old vines are distinct individuals with gnarly and thick trunks that tell the story of their survival in a harsh climate. Their roots have explored the stony ground for decades and their fruit displays the unique flavor of old vines grown in shale rock. The vines were established from cuttings taken from the highly-esteemed Sawmill Creek Vineyard (SMC) in Hector. They were hand-grafted onto 3309 rootstock and hand-planted by Silver Thread founder Richard Figiel.
In 2016, we decided to harvest these two rows of 1982 vines separately from the rest of the estate Riesling. We wanted to craft an Anniversary Wine that would be a tribute to the founder’s vision. It was a drought year, with extremely low rainfall and low disease pressure–ideal for letting fruit hang prior to harvest. With no threat of fungal infection, this Riesling ripened slowly over many weeks with warm sunny days and cool, crisp nights to develop complex flavors.
On Tuesday, November 1, 2016, we decided the fruit was ready. A small crew of Silver Thread employees braved the chilly morning to hand-pick the special Riesling. The berries were golden and ripe, having received two extra weeks of hang time compared to the other rows of Riesling. If we were following the rules of the German wine industry, the grapes would be classified as “Spatlese” or “late harvest.” Today, some of the most prized Rieslings in Germany are the dry spatlese styles that combine brisk elegance with very ripe flavors.
Once inside the winery, the grapes were whole-cluster pressed and the juice transferred to a 10-year-old barrel. At ten years old, a barrel no longer imparts oaky flavors to the wine. Barrel fermentation and aging allows the wine to “breathe” a bit for richer texture. The wine was racked off its gross lees (lees are the dead yeast cells) following primary fermentation, then aged for 10 months on its fine lees. Lees were stirred regularly during aging to impart a creaminess and add body to the wine.
Fermenting Riesling in large, neutral oak casks called foudres is common in the Old World. Although we don’t have anything as large as a foudre, we have been fermenting portions of our Riesling in neutral barrels for many years. Normally, we blend the neutral-barrel-fermented Riesling with stainless steel fermentations, but in this case we decided to bottle a 100% barrel-fermented wine.
The finished product is called Riesling STV Estate Vineyard 25th Anniversary Reserve 2016. It is 11.9% alcohol and 0.4% residual sugar (which is below nearly anyone’s ability to detect). Our team tasted the wine last week and composed this description:
Gentle aromas of lemon rind, golden apple, quince and chamomile; lush texture with ample body and notes of candied orange and lemon. Bone dry with gentle but mouth-cleansing acidity. Long and lingering finish with citrus notes, flint, stones and a slight whisper of oak tannins. Riesling is known as the “noblest white grape” and this wine will make you a believer. Drink now or cellar 10-15 years.
This wine is extremely limited–only 20 cases produced from one barrel. Phenology VIP, Winter and Riesling Club members will receive one bottle in their December 2017 shipment. All club members (including members of the Phenology Sampler Club and the Case Club) will receive an e-mail offer to purchase this Riesling on December 1, 2017. Stay tuned!