Though French organizations have been establishing winery operations in Oregon for a number of years now, it is rare that a German wine business is attracted to the state that is renowned for its pinot noir wines. However, Ernie Loosen, the famous German winemaker known globally for Loosen Riesling, decided that the Willamette Valley of Oregon is a great place to launch his new brand called, Appassionata.
“Oregon, specifically, the Willamette Valley is not only ideal for pinot noir, but it is also cool enough to produce delicious riesling wines,” explained Loosen in a Zoom interview.
So Loosen set out to do exactly that – produce both dry riesling and pinot noir wines at his new winery, but with a unique twist. He decided to age his Oregon rieslings for 3 to 5 years in bottle before release, and age his Oregon pinot noir for up to 10 years before release.
From a financial viewpoint, many winery accountants would call this crazy, because of the increased cellaring and inventory costs, not to mention the long wait time before the wine is sold and a profit can be realized. In general, most wineries release riesling with only 6 to 12 months of bottle aging, and one to two years of aging for pinot noir.
So why did Ernie Loosen make this decision?
“I am producing the wine in the same style as my grandfather did in Germany,” explained Loosen. “He kept his special Grosses Gewächs (GG – meaning highest quality from a special site) in the barrel for two years on the yeast and never racked it. Then he bottled it and released it after 6 years. In this way, the wine is ready to drink when the customer buys it. They do not have to wait.”
For his pinot noir wine, Loosen ages it even longer, citing the famous Lalou Bize-Leroy, owner of Domaine Leroy, which produces some of the most expensive wine in the world, as his inspiration.
“I started buying Madame Leroy’s wines in the early 1990’s, and they impressed me with how beautiful they are to drink. She ages some of her pinot noir wines for many years before selling them, and doesn’t leave it to the consumer to age,” stated Loosen.
The Name, Winemaking and Taste of Appassionata Wines
The winery was started in 2010, along with planting 20 vineyard acres of vineyards, but because of the long aging regime, many of the wines have just been released in the past few years.
“I named the winery, Appassionata, after Beethoven’s dramatically expressive, ‘Appassionata’ Piano Sonata,” said Loosen. “Then depending on the aging regime, for our pinot noirs, they are each named after one of the movements in the sonata.”
Therefore, the Appassionata Allegro pinot noir ($95) is aged 3 to 4 years; the Andante ($135) is aged for 5 to 6 years, and the Fortissimo is always aged for 10 years ($175).
“Both riesling and a well-made pinot noir wine can easily last for 20 to 30 years,” reported Loosen. “Both of these grape varieties need a cool climate and terroir, so the Willamette Valley of Oregon is ideal for this. They both express our soils in a very dramatic and transparent fashion.”
It is because of this that Loosen selects the grapes from top vineyards in the Willamette Valley, uses native yeast and non-interventionist winemaking methods. He also ferments and ages in large oak puncheons so there will be less oak influence.
I was able to taste two of the Appassionata wines with Ernie Loosen on the Zoom call, and both were very complex with elegant long finishes. The Appassionata 2017 GG Riesling ($50) was aged for 5 years before release, and had a nose of fresh lemon zest, white flowers, and wet stone. On the palate the wine had beautiful texture, with flavors of marzipan, green peach, and a hint of herbs. The acid was very crisp, creating an appealing zippy, mouthwatering note that lingered on the very long finish. The grapes were from a vineyard planted in 1976 in Chehelam Mountains AVA.
The Appassionata 2017 Andante Pinot Noir ($135), aged for 5 years before release, had an aromatic nose of ripe red cherry, plum, and spice. On the palate hints of maraschino cherry, raspberry and potting soil emerged amongst the silky tannins. The wine concluded in a long and elegant finish. It was matured for 20 months in 25% new French oak barrels, with no fining or filtering.
“Our motto is Passion, Patience, and Place,” concluded Loosen, and those characteristics were reflected in the wines. Loosen makes the wine in partnership with head winemaker, Timothy Malone.
Appassionata Winery also produces a few other varietals, including a chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Wines are available on the website, but due to the low production and aging regime, some of the wines require that customers sign up on a wait list.
The Appassionata tasting room and winery is located in Newberg, Oregon, 25 miles south of Portland. Visitors can schedule appointments online.
In addition to Appassionata, Loosen also owns J.Christopher Wines in Oregon, along with Eroica in Washington State, in partnership with Chateau St. Michelle. In the Mosel region of Germany, he manages his 200 year old family winery, Weingut Dr. Loosen, with his brother, and also owns the Villa Wolf winery in the Pfalz.
International Investment in Oregon Wine Industry Continues to Grow
Though Ernie Loosen may be one of the few German winemakers who has recently invested in the Oregon wine industry, a review of Oregon wine history shows that other Germans arrived in Oregon in the 1880’s to plant grapes and produce wine. They were followed by Europeans and Americans who planted additional wine grapes, and today the wine industry continues to flourish in Oregon with 884 wineries to date.
According to Tom Danowski, President of the Oregon Wine Board, wine businesses from other countries continue to be interested in the Oregon wine industry.
“Wine company executives from around the world recognize that Oregon is a growing segment in a flat wine category. Their customers are looking for Oregon wines more often and our $7B industry benefits from the expanded distribution and market penetration that global sales organizations can deliver,” reported Danowski, in an online interview.
He continued: “Oregon has embraced international winemaking expertise and the opportunities to share the values (e.g. sustainability, quality, concern for worker welfare) and business practices that advance Oregon’s wine reputation even further.”