Bill Hooper makes Riesling shine in German style
It is no secret that I am passionate about Oregon wines, so it should come as no surprise that I am equally enchanted by the stories behind them. I recently experienced Paetra Willamette Valley wines, made by Bill Hooper at Methven Family Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Valley AVA.
Both the wines and winemaker are worthy of our attention.
Bill's passion is Riesling, a wine he discovered many years ago when working in a large wine and liquor store. He said the Riesling section wasn't too exciting until he tasted a 1998 J.J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese at an in-store tasting. He says he quickly took it upon himself to invigorate the German section of the store as "Riesling deserved it."
"There were vivid flavors of fruit, mineral, acidity," he recalled. "It was like tasting a guitar solo of apples and steel — alive! I had to get to the bottom of it." He continued studying Riesling and, as luck or fate would have it, in due course met and married his wife, who happens to be German. During their annual trips to Germany Bill explored the diversity and breadth of German wines including dry Rieslings and excellent Pinot Noir.
"In 2009 on one of our trips overseas, my wife and I made the decision to sell everything we couldn't carry on our backs, leave family, friends and the best company I could ever hope to work for and move to Germany while our children were still young enough to do it," he said. The kids were 2 and 5.The family settled in Pfalz and Bill went to work in a winery in Südpfalz and also enrolled in the wine and agriculture school in Neustadt an der Weinstraße.
With just a couple years of German language night school classes under his belt, Bill had only a very basic knowledge of the language, but in short time built up a vocabulary of the local dialect and the scientific vocabulary required to take biology, chemistry, geology, technical and enology classes all in German. He also had to think and work in the metric system.
He said he was extremely impressed with the German apprenticeship program. Students are required to take and pass classes relating to all aspects of winemaking, cellar techniques, equipment operation, farming and running a business, and also work at wineries during their studies, normally three wineries in three years to learn different techniques from different philosophies, then pass written and practical tests conducted by the Chamber of Agriculture. He is one of just two American graduates of the school in the past 115 years.
After graduation Bill and his wife decided to move back the U.S., and began a nationwide search for a suitable climate for growing the wines that Bill had worked with in Pfalz, especially Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Silvaner and others. Oregon was the only place that met all his criteria, and the one with the most potential for Riesling. He worked the 2013 harvest at Brooks Wines, then got a job at a Willamette Valley vineyard management company farming other wineries' vineyards. In 2014, he rented space from existing vineyards to farm himself. He now has eight parcels in three different AVAs.
Bill says he is using the same traditional techniques here in Oregon that he used in Germany both for farming and in the cellar. He says many of these methods, though tried and true in Europe, have not been used in the Western Hemisphere.
"My goal is unabashedly to craft the very finest Riesling possible," he says.
Want to taste the wines for yourself? Visit paetrawine.com or call Bill at 503-560-8149.
Paetra Riesling is dry and crisp. You will love it paired with seafood or spicy cuisines like Chinese, Thai and Mexican cuisine. I am sharing a recipe for Snapper with Charred Tomatillos and Pepper Salsa. You can substitute salmon, cod or rockfish for the snapper if you prefer.
Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!
Snapper with Charred Tomatillos and Pepper Salsa
½ red bell pepper, finely diced
½ yellow bell pepper, finely diced
½ jalapeno, seeded and minced
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons minced red onion
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Ground white pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, plus more for greasing
Four 6 ounce, skin-on red snapper fillets
4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and sliced ¼-inch thick
1 tablespoon canola oil
Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a bowl mix the peppers, jalapeno, olive oil, onion, lime juice and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.
Butter a ceramic baking dish. Season the fish with salt and white pepper and arrange the fillets in the dish, skin side down. Scatter the 2 tablespoons of cubed butter around the fish and add ½ cup water. Bake the fish for about 15 minutes, until just cooked.
Heat a cast iron skillet. In a bowl, toss the tomatillos with the canola oil and season with salt and white pepper. Arrange the tomatillos in the skillet and cook over high heat, turning once, until charred, 2 minutes.
Transfer the fish to plates, top with the tomatillos and salsa and serve.
Recipe courtesy of Food and Wine.
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