Nicolas Quille is the head winemaker and general manager at Pacific Rim, which produces some the best Rieslings in Washington State.
So much so that Italian powerhouse Banfi Wine Family bought it in 2011 as part of a larger investment in the Pacific Northwest.
Quille is involved in the whole investment. He now overseas about 200,00 cases of wine from a few different projects, including Silver Totem, a Cabernet Sauvignon project and Unparalleled, which includes select varietals from around the world.
But the majority of those cases are Riesling.
And he calls himself a Riesling zealot beacause he is on a mission to teach the world about the wonders and many nuances of Riesling. He even wrote a little book, titled Riesling Rules, which is now in its 5th edition, with 75,000 copies distributed.
So we caught up with Quille and asked him how a man with a Masters degree in the Sparkling Wine Business from the University of Reims, in Champagne, France, ends up making a lesser known varietal in the US.
1. What brought you from France to the Pacific Northwest?
I came to the United States in 1997 for only one harvest in California. But the economy wasn’t so great back in Europe so it would have been a hard road if I went back. Then I got an offer in Washington. I didn’t even know there was a state with that name above California. But it was like a John Wayne cowboy movie and it had the impression of freedom. The people that I met were so open minded and excited and gave me a ton of responsibilities. I figured why would I go anywhere else?
2. Why would a mainly Italian producer like Banfi want to buy Pacific Rim?
Banfi believes that Riesling is going to be the next big breakout varietal for Americans, and that Americans’ interest in wines from the Northwestern USA — Oregon and Washington specifically – will continue to grow.
And from a business point of view, the cost of the property, the return on investment and the growth potential are way more attractive in Washington than in California. So it makes it a no-brainer.
3. What should people know about Washington State?
Its paradise. It’s the largest New World producer of Riesling. [Germany and Austria are Old World Producers].
It is the same latitude as South Germany so the terroir is somewhat similar. It has the same cooler nights. It has more oceanic climate than California. The Pacific Northwest has more snowy winters [than California] so the wines have more acidity…more vibrant fresh fruit – so it’s perfect for Riesling
And the wines have a great sense of place — there are distinct regions with different climates and pockets. The Columbia Valley [where Pacific Rim is located] is perfect for Riesling. The Willamette Valley is better for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Walla Walla is great for Syrah.
4. You call yourself a Riesling zealot — why?
Riesling is a confusing variety. It’s made in so many different styles — dry, medium, sweet.
And yet so many assume that German Riesling is sweet. Really, everyone else in world believes its dry, except for us. Today, it's more difficult to find a sweet in Germany. So we need to educate people about Riesling. We try to make it simple with our back label: Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, Sweet. So people know what they are drinking.
5. What is your favorite wine and food pairing?
Our Solstice Riesling is very sentimental and important to me. It is made from only 2 acres and there are just 200 cases. But I love that wine. I think its one of best Rieslings out there.
And Riesling goes with so many different foods. You have to serve it at Thanksgiving or a big meal because there are so many different dishes and flavors. But my favorite pairing now is with Vietnamese Pho [soup] — all the different levels of spiciness — it’s just perfect with a dry Riesling.
Tracy Byrnes, former FOX Business Network anchor and host of “Wine with Me” for Foxnews.com, is editor-in-chief and chief contributor of The Sip.