Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pacific Rim Riesling #1 of Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Best Buy List 2011 - Meeting Founder Randall Grahm and Winemakers Nicolas Quille and Steven Sealock

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Pacific Rim Winemaker Nicolas Quille in Oregon

The Wine Enthusiast Best Buy Top 100 List just came out. Pacific Rim is #1 - “Over the past 12 months, our tasting panelists reviewed more than 16,000 wines, granting the coveted Best Buy designation to only 1,224 (7.6%). From there, we whittled the numbers down to the Top 100 listed here, based on the relationship between score and price and factoring in availability and buzz. We also tried to balance the list in terms of wine style, variety and origin. The result is one of the finest and most eclectic collections of Best Buys we’ve ever come up with, testament to the efforts of the wine industry to offer ever-improving wines at realistic prices, and—dare we toot our own horn a little—our reviewers’ efforts to find the wine world’s best values.”

3 names came to mind, when I heard this - Randall Grahm, Nicolas Quille and Steven Sealock. I met all three of them earlier this year, at different places and different times. Randall Grahm created Pacific Rim in the 1990s and recently sold it. Nicolas Quille has been the head winemaker of Pacific Rim Riesling for a decade or so. He is based in Postland Oregon, while the winery is in South East Washington State, near Walla Walla. Finally, Steven is the resident winemaker at Pacific Rim; he showed me around and introduced me to the new wines, when I visited Pacific Rim during the summer of 2011.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim produces 160,000 cases of wine now, almost all of which is Riesling made from Washington grapes (Grahm stopped using German grapes in 2008). That means only Chateau Ste. Michelle and Hogue Cellars make more Riesling in Washington. Pacific Rim produces 190,000 cases of wine now, almost all of which is Riesling. That means only Chateau Ste. Michelle and Hogue Cellars make more Riesling in Washington. Today, Pacific Rim makes 10 different Rieslings, as well as a Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, raspberry dessert wine and two blends. It is owned by the Banfi family from New York.

Pictures: Pacific Rim Winery in Washington State and pacific Rim Wines

First released by Randall Grahm in 1992, Pacific Rim Dry Riesling quickly gained a loyal following among Riesling lovers. Known for its fresh and bright characteristics, the wine was a welcome alternative to other wines available in the American market. Today, Pacific Rim makes 10 different Rieslings, as well as a Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, raspberry dessert wine and two blends.

Randall Grahm

One of the wine world’s true iconoclasts, Randall Grahm, founded Pacific Rim. The owner of famed Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz in California started his Pacific Rim project in 1992. Unusually, he used grapes from Washington State and from Germany.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Randall Grahm in San Francisco

By 2006, Randall Grahm’s decided to downsize and reorganize. Randall sold his popular Cardinal Zin and Big House brands and started to spin off his Pacific Rim wines as a standalone winery in Washington State, where the US Riesling grapes came from. He worked with the Den Hoed family, longtime grape growers in the Yakima Valley, to create a winemaking facility in the shadow of Red Mountain. The DenHoeds built the building, which they own and lease to Pacific Rim. This year, Pacific Rim has been purchased by the Banfi family, which owns an important wine import company in New York and a famous winery and vineyard in Italy.

I met Randall recently in San Francisco while I was there to see Richard Wagner’s Ring der Nibelungen at the San Francisco Opera. Randall was accompanied by his wife and his daughter. His wife is Japanese and this explains there is a Geisha on the Pacific Rim label.

Nicolas Quille

Nicolas joined Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz as General Manager in 2004 and initially managed the whole company, including Pacific Rim, but then focused on coordinating the spin-off of Pacific Rim and eventual sale to the Banfi family in 2010. He is now the General Manager and Winemaker for Pacific Rim winery.

Nicolas came to the United States in 1997 and worked for J. Lohr and The Hogue Cellars. During his time at Hogue Cellars, he went back to school and earned a MBA from the University of Washington. Nicolas Quille was born in Lyon, France, from a family in the wine business for three generations. He holds a Master degree in Winemaking from the University of Dijon, Burgundy and a Master in Wine Business from the University of Reims, Champagne. Prior to coming to the United States in 1997, he worked in Burgundy and the Rhone Valley as a winemaker.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Nicolas Quille in Oregon

I met Nicolas at the 1. Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium in Hillsboro near Portland (OR), where the headquarters of Pacific Rim is. We had lunch together and talked a lot about Pacific Rim.

Steven Sealock

Steven Sealock is the resident winemaker at Pacific Rim in Washington State. Steven told me that “as an Air Force brat, I lived in Germany for several years. Combine this with a German mother and you can begin to understand why Riesling has a special place in my heart. To me, Riesling and German beer is a normal accompaniment to a filling meal. So I jumped at the chance to work here at Pacific Rim, a great company dedicated to making world class Riesling.” Steven started his career in the wine industry at Columbia Winery.

Pictures: Christian Schiller with Steven Sealock at the Pacific Rim Winery

I toured with Steven Sealock the winery and we did quite a bit of barrel tasting of the 2010 vintage. Steven said: “2010 has been coolest season in many years. We had to go through a cold early spring and very cool end of season. A cool season like 2010 brings its load of challenges in the vineyard especially late ripening, low maturity, low yields and potential for rot. In challenging vintages, such as 2010, the trick is to accept that there will be compromises and to choose them carefully.”

schiller-wine: Related Postings

German American Wines: (1) Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, (2) Eroica, (3) Woelffer and his Schiller Wine

Wine ratings: Two American/German wines - Eroica and Poet's Leap - on Top 100 Wines from Washington State list for 2009

The Wines of Hightower Cellars in Washington State, US

The Wines of Abeja, Washington State

German American Wines: (1) NV Two Worlds Pinot Noir, (2) Poet's Leap Riesling and (3) Herrmann Wiemer's Finger Lakes Rieslings

The Excellent Wines of Ken Wright Cellars, Oregon

Meeting Joel Waite, Winemaker and Owner of CAVU Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington State

Visiting Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla, Washington State - Where Armin Diel’s Poet’s Leap Riesling is Made

Visiting Winemaker Steven Sealock at Pacific Rim Winemakers in Washington State, USA

August Kesseler’s Pinot Noir and Richard Wagner’s Ring der Nibelungen in San Francisco, USA

Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium at Oak Knoll Winery in Hillsboro

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