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Staking a Livelihood on Oregon Riesling: Trisaetum

Is there anyone in Oregon's Willamette Valley more passionate about the potential of Riesling than James Frey, owner and winemaker at Trisaetum (tris-say-tum) Vineyards? He's crazy enough to make up to eleven Rieslings a year. Why? It stems from his passion for single vineyard wines that express a sense of place. If you think Pinot Noir is the top dog when it comes to expressing terroir, Frey counters, "Riesling does as well if not better at taking what's in the soil and putting it in your glass." He also quipped that he's probably "the only person in Oregon history to graft over Pinot Noir with Riesling."

I was invited to attend a tasting and lunch that served as a preview of Trisaetum's 2013 Rieslings. These were tank samples, just cold-stabilized but not yet filtered, that would be bottled shortly. We tried a trio of single vineyard Rieslings (Coast Range, Ribbon Ridge, and Wichmann Dundee) in both dry and off-dry styles. Frey doesn't preordain which grapes and lots end up becoming dry or off-dry. He rather lets his taste decide whether to let a wine retain some sweetness or not. And this is no simple task, as he'll have 125 (!) small ferments going on each vintage for his broad assortment of Rieslings.

My favorite was the off-dry Ribbon Ridge, which though not shy with residual sugar, drank remarkably dry due to high levels of acidity. (Frey smartly didn't give out the technical numbers behind the wines until after we'd tasted each flight; this way we weren't prejudiced by statistics.) Regarding the Ribbon Ridge, Frey revealed it's a site that "at times seems to be tailor-made for making off-dry [Riesling]."

What does the future hold for Oregon Riesling? Frey is anxious for more clones to become available and to continue experimenting. Because clearly 11 Rieslings and 125 ferments don't keep him busy enough.

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