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Freemark Abbey Johannisberg Riesling 1998
The history of Freemark Abbey began in 1886, when Josephine Marlin Tychson became the first woman to build and operate a winery in California. The historic site where Josephine's winery, Tychson Cellars, once stood is now known as Freemark Abbey.
Josephine, a native of San Lorenzo, California and her husband, John Tychson, a Danish immigrant, moved to St. Helena in 1881. For $8,500, they purchased 147 acres north of St. Helena, which later became known as "Tychson Hill".
Shortly after her husband's untimely death, Josephine began construction of a fifty square foot redwood winery which would grow to hold a capacity of about 30,000 gallons. In addition, she hired Nils Larsen, an experienced vintner, as her foreman. Josephine successfully produced wine for the next eight years and then sold the winery to Larsen in 1894. In turn, Larsen leased the winery to Antonio Forni, a good friend of Josephine's. Forni later purchased the property in 1898. Forni is responsible for building a new winery on the old site of the Tychson structure.
In the years that followed, Freemark Abbey went through a period of several different owners until 1966, when a group of partners purchased the winery. In 1993, Winemaker Ted Edwards became a partner. Edwards assumed the role of managing partner in addition to maintaining the responsibilities he has held as winemaker since 1985.
One of the world's most highly regarded regions for wine production as well as tourism, the Napa Valley was responsible for bringing worldwide recognition to California winemaking. In the 1960s, a few key wine families settled the area and hedged their bets on the valley's world-class winemaking potential—and they were right.
The Napa wine industry really took off in the 1980s, when producers scooped up vineyard lands and planted vines throughout the county. A number of wineries emerged, and today Napa is home to hundreds of producers ranging from boutique to corporate. Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the grape of choice here, with many winemakers also focusing on Bordeaux blends. Napa whites are usually Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Within the Napa Valley lie many smaller sub-AVAs that claim specific characteristics based on situation, slope and soil. Farthest south and coolest from the influence of the San Pablo Bay is Carneros, followed by Coombsville to its northeast and then Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford. Above those are the warm St. Helena and the valley's newest and hottest AVA, Calistoga. These areas follow the valley floor and are known generally for creating rich, dense, complex and smooth reds with good aging potential. The mountain sub appellations, nestled on the slopes overlooking the valley AVAs, include Stags Leap District, Atlas Peak, Chiles Valley (farther east), Howell Mountain, Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain District and Diamond Mountain District. Wines from the mountain regions are often more structured and firm, benefiting from a lot of time in the bottle to evolve and soften.
A regal variety of incredible purity and precision, Riesling possesses a remarkable ability to reflect the character of wherever it is grown while still maintaining easily identifiable typicity. This versatile grape can be just as enjoyable dry or sweet, young or old, still or sparkling and can age longer than nearly any other white variety. Riesling is best known in Germany and Alsace, and is also of great importance in Austria. The variety has also been particularly successful in Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys, New Zealand, Washington, cooler regions of California, and the Finger Lakes region of New York.
In the Glass
Riesling typically produces wine with relatively low alcohol, high acidity, steely minerality and stone fruit, spice, citrus and floral notes. At its ripest, it leans towards juicy peach, nectarine and pineapple, while cooler climes produce Rieslings more redolent of meyer lemon, lime and green apple. With age, Riesling can become truly revelatory, developing unique, complex aromatics, often with a hint of petrol.
Riesling is quite versatile, enjoying the company of sweet-fleshed fish like sole, most Asian food, especially Thai and Vietnamese (bottlings with some residual sugar and low alcohol are the perfect companions for dishes with substantial spice) and freshly shucked oysters. Sweeter styles work well with fruit-based desserts.
It can be difficult to discern the level of sweetness in a Riesling, and German labeling laws do not make things any easier. Look for the world “trocken” to indicate a dry wine, or “halbtrocken” or “feinherb” for off-dry. Some producers will include a helpful sweetness scale on the back label—happily, a growing trend.