This week we are going to directly address an old exam question from 2016 that popped up again this past June as part of the stage 1 assessment.
"Can Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling be successful in the same location?"
Remember - with MW essays, the two most important things are to DEFINE YOUR TERMS and PROVIDE EXAMPLES.
So, with that in mind.... take your shot! Or at least post some ideas.
Are there places where these two varieties perform well in the same location? What does "location" mean, anyway?
Compare and contrast the preferred habitats of these two varieties. A well-rounded answer will consider a number of angles -- climate, soil, perhaps even the cultural traditions of various regions (though this is a Paper 1 question, i.e. viticulture, so probably best to keep your answers grounded).
But before I leave you to your thoughts, I wanted to make an important statement: I am an MW student, not an MW, and certainly not an adjudicator. The same applies to Sarah Bray and Sabrina Lueck. So while we are guiding this conversation, please know that we don't have all the answers. We are, effectively, studying along with you. So we are all vulnerable here! Good luck!
Lots of great thoughts and answers here. And examples, so thank you very much!
Again, I don't know THE answer, I can only supply what I believe to be some good info.
So. I believe (memory's a bit hazy) I started out the essay by stating that both Cabernet and Riesling are globally popular varieties that are relatively adaptable to different climates and locations. Then I defined the terms 'successful' and 'same location.' Successful being that the place is able to regularly ripen both varieties and that the resulting wine is high quality enough to warrant either regular praise from critics or to draw a significant customer base. 'Same location' is vague and could mean a number of things, from region to appellation to single vineyard. So I tried to give examples from all of those categories as the essay progressed.
I then discussed climatic conditions, as this is where the varieties really diverge. Citing Greg Jone's article on this site (screenshot below, https://www.guildsomm.com/public_content/features/articles/b/gregory_jones/posts/climate-grapes-and-wine), I mentioned that while both varieties enjoy a climatic range, Cabernet prefers warmer conditions than does Riesling, and they really overlap at the warmer end for Riesling. So then I mentioned some regions such as Clare Valley and Walla Walla and Okanagan Valley where a more powerful style of Riesling is produced alongside what is often a lighter style of Cabernet. I made the point that excellent Riesling comes from Walla Walla but if the wines have a flaw its that they can be flabby. And that if the Cabernets there have a flaw, its that the compressed growing season can make for underripe or gruff tannin. So I finished by saying that a place in which both varieties thrive can often mean that the wines are not at their perfect ideal all the time.
I then wanted to speak about places in which they don't work together, so I invoked the Finger Lakes. Many may disagree with me, but I would hardly describe Cabernet Sauvignon from FLX as 'successful.' I've had some good ones, yes, but they are fairly inconsistent and occasionally quite herbal, which is not a fashionable note for most American drinkers. I made the point that, of the two grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon is by far the more in-demand commercially, so growers often plant it where it doesn't quite work. I said that the FLX climate was consistently too cold to ripen Cabernet properly but there was also a further complication - cold hardiness. While it's true that the physical wood/plant of both Riesling and Cabernet are fairly cold hardy, they differ in terms of secondary bud fruitfulness. In places where cold and frost is a regular threat, secondary bud fruitfulness is an important concern. Riesling is known to have especially fruitful secondary buds, so if a cold snap kills the primary bud, the grower can still expect a decent yield. But Cabernet's secondary buds are far less fruitful, so a frost can affect not only quality but QUANTITY of fruit, rendering the variety commercially unviable, AKA unsuccessful. (Note: my claim RE secondary bud fruitfulness is anecdotal, coming from conversations with FLX growers, I have struggled to find scientific reference to back that up as the research is scant).
I then went on to say that, because of these differences, most successful locations where the two varieties co-exist have effectively cordoned them off from one another. I cited the Okanagan Valley and Walla Walla as places where, over time, growers have realized that certain micro and meso-climates do better for Riesling OR Cabernet, and that you rarely see them right next to each other. In the Okanagan Valley you have the lake-chilled alpine Naramata area which makes great Rieslings, and then most of the great Cabernet is down south in the hotter and drier Osoyoos. (I wished for this I knew the Clare Valley more intimately and could have spoke to the planting patterns, but alas). And then I went on to cite a notable exception. I made the point that while Riesling is no longer widely found in Napa, it was historically an important variety to the region, but has been largely supplanted by Cabernet. In pockets where you can still find it, it is often right next to Cabernet. The best sites have some way of segregating the two in a meaningful way. I mentioned Smith-Madrone vineyard in Spring Mountain. They excel at both a riper style of Riesling and a more elegant style of Cabernet Sauvignon. They are able to grow them together side-by-side on the same vineyard because they confined the Riesling to the cooler north-facing slopes, and the Cabernet to the warmer south-facing slopes (the vineyard is on the ridgetop of the Mayacamas mountain chain).
I do remember thinking that I wish I had dedicated a paragraph to soil preferences, but my knowledge is lacking here. I know that Riesling enjoys slate (Germany) and sand (eastern washington) and Cabernet likes gravel (bdx) and loam (many places) but I remain unsure as to what they DON'T LIKE. I'm fairly certain that Cabernet doesn't enjoy wet feet but I'm not 100% on that. Is there any particular type of soil that one or either variety truly detests? Please share your thoughts!
(this chart shows the temps at which a 10, 50, or 90% of variety's primary buds will die. Generally speaking, the LTE50 is the number most widely referenced. This of course does not mention the fertility of the secondary buds)
First of all my heart sank a bit when I saw this was the mandatory question!
In the intro I felt the two things to define/bound were "location" and "successful." For successful I argued that is was a combination of sufficient ripening and acid retention to retain correct varietal expression, further I argued, as did many it seems, that economic viability for the wine was also critical. For location, I mentioned that this could be interpreted in several ways but that only in a broader sense of location, would success be found.
I did not feel my viti knowledge on this was going to carry the day so I decided I better employ an example led/case study approach if I was to have any hope.
I then used specific producers like Ch. Ste Michelle and Leonetti that are highly successful , at different price levels, but because the location in this case was an AVA, not a smaller area. I also used Penfolds as a successful producer of both Riesling and Cabernet but again used Barossa not just Eden Valley for the "location." I used Inniskillin in Niagara penninsula so I could include a sweet wine style as they make both as Ice Wines. Lastly, I argued that while yes, both could be successful if one accepted this as the definition for same location, the grapes never reached their zenith in terms of expression. So i compared the likely success possible for Cabernet in the Mosel or Rheingau and Riesling in Bordeaux.
I discussed canopy management challenges, ripening, acid retention, but I really did not focus enough on the viti and felt like I might have sunk myself because I answered the question too much like a business of wine question. So in my case I am sharing my approach as more of a cautionary tale to others, and a way to make the best of a question one is not as well prepared for. As several MW's have said to me, use what you DO know and keep plugging. I probably only passed this because my examples were decent, albeit imperfect and my arguement did have a logical flow. I wish I had know about the Smith-Madrone Vineyard, but sadly I did not at the time.
Thank you for sharing this and being so honest! Some really valuable advice here RE working with what you know! :)