An evening of Eroica Riesling at Chateau Ste. Michelle & Q+A with winemaker Bob Bertheau

A Riesling tasting flight (Image by Aakanksha Agarwal)

Chateau Ste Michelle, one of the country’s most historic wineries hosted a winemakers dinner on January 23rd, providing a behind-the-scenes experience with winemakers Bob Bertheau and Ernst Loosen.

Circa 20 years ago, Eroica was born out of a special partnership between two world-class winemakers in 1999. Two of the world’s greatest Riesling producers came together for this—famed German winemaker Ernst Loosen, whose family has been producing rieslings in Germany’s rich Mosel Valley for more than 200 years and Chateau Ste. Michelle’s head winemaker, Bob Bertheau is the duo that crafts this award-winning riesling year after year.

Each winter, Ernst travels to Washington and joins Bob’s winemaking team at the blending table to carefully select the upcoming Eroica vintage by tasting dozens of small lots of Riesling. Named after Beethoven’s “Third Symphony,” Eroica naturally has the best of both worlds—peach and citrus aromas that are the hallmark of Washington state Rieslings and bright acidic notes and minerality reminiscent of German Riesling.

Chateau Ste. Michelle grounds. Photo credit: Chateau Ste. Michelle

We went prepared for an evening of smelling, swirling, and tasting. We got all that and much more at this unique event. The evening started off with a tasting flight of 6 wines—beginning with the vertical flight of Eroica Riesling and finishing off with the rare Eroica Single Berry Select. What made the tasting truly exceptional was that for every glass of Eroica made right here in Washington’s Columbia Valley, there was a glass of its German counterpart wine from Dr. Loosen wines in Germany’s Mosel Valley.

This sparked a lively discussion about different regions and climes for winemaking. The winemakers collaborate on everything from site selection to irrigation to determine the final blend. We also got to know something interesting facts about wine: did you know that it takes about 2.5 pounds of grapes to make a bottle of wine? The experts also gave a profound piece of advice to know your wine better: enjoy your wine; there is no wrong kind of wine to order at dinner. Once you know what is pleasing to your palate, you can build onto tha. Simple, but freeing.

A Riesling tasting flight. Photo by Aakanksha Agarwal

Following the tasting, we enjoyed a multi-course, winemaker dinner. Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Chef de Cuisine, Scott Harberts, collaborated with winemakers to cleverly pair each course with Eroica and other wine gems from Chateau Ste. Michelle’s library. The evening ended on a sweet note with Ricotta Cheesecake and Huckleberry Compote, served with an unforgettable glass of wine—Chateau Ste. Michelle 2016 Ethos Reserve Late Harvest Riesling, Columbia Valley.

We were lucky to have the opportunity to chat with Bob Bertheau about the Eroica and this unique partnership…

Seattleite: Could you tell us a little about the history of Eroica?

Bob Bertheau: Eroica was launched in 1999 and is a labor of love for two of the world’s great Riesling producers. One from the Old World, Dr. Loosen estate of Germany, and the other from the New World, Chateau Ste. Michelle of Washington state. The partnership is a blending of Old and New World philosophies and techniques that enable us to craft an extraordinary Riesling from Washington grapes. When we introduced Eroica nearly two decades ago it immediately generated renewed excitement for Riesling and showed people what Riesling can do. It set the bar for American Riesling.

Seattleite: How did the partnership with Ernst Loosen come to be?

Bob Bertheau: Ernst Loosen, the owner of Dr. Loosen estate, which has a 200-year tradition of producing Riesling in Germany’s Mosel region,  tasted our Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Riesling at a friend’s house in Portland and was immediately impressed by the quality of Washington Riesling. He approached Chateau Ste. Michelle for a joint venture to craft an ultra-premium Riesling from Washington grapes, which we thought was a great idea. We decided to call the wine Eroica for Beethoven’s Third Symphony. It has truly been a wonderful partnership and friendship over the years.

Bob Bertheau and Dr. Ernst Loosen. Photo credit: Chateau Ste. Michelle

Seattleite: In what ways is this a complimentary partnership? What are the biggest strengths that you both bring to the table?

Bob Bertheau: Ernst travels to Washington several times a year to work with us on Eroica. We collaborate on everything from site selection, irrigation and canopy management in the vineyards, to determining the final blend. Together we consider dozens of small lots, each reflecting a slight difference in character depending on where the grapes were grown, resulting in the complexity of the final Eroica Riesling blend.

Given Ernst’s expertise in Riesling, he has helped give us advice on how to better grow Riesling vines. A few decades ago we grew Riesling just like we did red grape varieties. Ernst showed us that by adjusting yields and managing fruit exposure to prolong the ripening season you get added flavor development. He has benefited our entire Riesling program. He also learns from us on techniques we use in Washington and in our cellar.

Seattleite: What would be some unexpected but exceptional pairings for Eroica Riesling?

Bob Bertheau: With is crisp natural acidity and slight sweetness, Eroica Riesling pairs well with a wide variety of foods. I love it with anything with some heat like Thai food or Indian curries. Riesling also pairs well with seafood and sushi. It’s even great with smoked meats and sausage!   

Seattleite:  How has Eroica evolved over the years?

Bob Bertheau: We have continued to evolve the Eroica style over the past 20 years and have changed our vineyard sourcing to achieve the style we want. In the early vintages, we sourced Riesling fruit from warm sites like our Cold Creek vineyard for a riper tropical fruit style. But now we want the Eroica style to offer bright fruit with crisp acidity and enhanced minerality. Today we source Riesling fruit from cooler sites and higher elevation vineyards. The result is a Riesling with white peach and mandarin orange aromas characteristic of Washington Rieslings melded with crisp apple, and mineral notes and lively acidity associated with German Riesling.