June 5, 2007
Gru-V in California

In the Dunne on Wine column in the Taste section of last Wednesday's Sacramento Bee, I wrote about gruner veltliner, a white wine that is starting to draw consumer interest for its refreshing crispness, adaptability at the table and alluring smells and flavors. Almost all gruner veltliner available in the United States is imported, generally from Austria, where it accounts for a third of the country's wine-grape vineyards.

In the column, I remarked, "If anyone is making gruner veltliner in California they are keeping it a well-guarded secret."

Not anymore. I just got off the phone with Rudy von Strasser, whose Von Strasser Winery is on Diamond Mountain just outside Calistoga in the Napa Valley. Diamond Mountain is where von Strasser about three years ago planted a third of an acre to gruner veltliner. He got a small crop this past fall, not enough for a commercial release of gruner veltliner. This fall's crop should be bigger, and by the end of the year he could be releasing the first gruner veltliner to come from California, at least in the modern era.

A couple of factors inspired von Strasser to take a fling with gruner veltliner. For one, he primarily makes cabernet sauvignon, and he wanted a white wine in his portfolio for winemaker dinners and to welcome guests to the winery. He also likes the wine, and despite the upper Napa Valley's reputation for torrid weather he figured he'd found an ideally cool microclimate on the mountain where gruner veltliner would flourish. And then there's his Austrian heritage. He's a native New Yorker, but his mother is Hungarian, his father Austrian, and his parents live in Austria, where he will visit them later this week.

"It's a quirky little project," says von Strasser, but he's been encouraged by interest shown in his experiment among sommeliers who appreciate the wine's food friendliness. "I can't justify taking out cabernet sauvignon for gruner, but we'll see what the demand is."

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