Riesling is an old varietal. Riesling parents are not all known but one of them seems to be Gouais Blanc (Heunisch Weiss in Germany). Gouais is also in the lineage of Chardonnay, Semillon and Gamay which makes Gouais a bit of the Casanova of grapes with “decendents” everywhere (80 varieties have been linked to Gouais Blanc through DNA profiling.) Gouais Blanc was a favorite of northern Europe in the middle ages and was rumored to have been brought to Europe by the Huns which is why it is called Heunish in Germany (see, they weren’t all that bad, at least they were carrying Riesling’s parent with them!). The other parents of Riesling are unknown but they were probably local grapes (Vitis Sylvestris?), perhaps hybridized with Traminer which had been spread out by the Romans. Riesling is first mentioned in literature in the 15th century (1435) on a transactional document from the Rheingau showing the sale of grapevines. That would make Riesling at least 600 years old with roots in Roman times (Traminer parent) and Huns times (Gouais Blanc parent) – a very nice pedigree.

It is clear that as early as the beginning of the 9th century, grapes were planted in the Rheingau and the Mosel. In the USA, the first Riesling vines hitting the west coast were probably planted in the 1850s. They were recorded as “Johannisberg Riesling” and were brought over by German immigrants. Emil Dresel and Jacob Gunlach planted Rhine Riesling on a farm in Sonoma in 1858. Agoston Haraszthy brought many Riesling cuttings in 1861. Riesling flourished in California, reaching 10% of total acreage in 1921, but prohibition put a halt to that expansion. In the 70s Riesling was again on the rise and peaked in 1976 when it was the fourth largest crop in California before falling off again to pre-1921 acreage levels by 2003. By then, another State had captured the attention of wine consumers for Riesling wines – Washington State. In Washington, Riesling found a home like nowhere else in the country, growing uninterrupted from the early 80s to the present. Washington is the number one producer of Riesling in the new world churning more Riesling than California or SE Australia. Did you know that Washington now produces as much Riesling as Alsace in France?