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in the deep end
experimental revelation from the west
Desire Lines Dry Riesling

{"This is probably the greatest CA Riesling I've ever had. You add 20 liters of German acidity or wtf? I would like to hear the story of this wine. Bravo my man."}
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The above is a quote from an email I sent to Cody Rasmussen, the winemaker at Desire Lines Wine Co., in California’s Sonoma County, on October 5th, 2020, after tasting this beautiful, shocking dry Riesling.

I will admit that it probably wasn’t the most elegant email I’ve ever sent. But I’ll also admit that this bottle more than shocked me, it disoriented me. I have tasted a lot of California Riesling; they are most often bold and ripe with all the subtly of a million suns.

But this wine had a glorious, rushing, mineral-water-fresh acidity, a forceful broad structure more than capable of keeping it all in focus. It has an almost palpable tension and energy.

The wine is California, with all the depth that implies, but it is somehow also cool in tone and profile. The wine has clarity. It has some California swagger, but it is balanced.

I was so shocked by this wine that I honestly had to go into the cellar to pull out some German Rieslings, just to benchmark the damn wine. (With all due respect, it is one thing to be a very good California Riesling; it is another thing to play the game at the level of some of the German greats.)

I had a 2019 Keller estate at the right temperature, which didn’t feel exactly fair, but I thought if this wine can stand next to Keller... you know, trial by fire? And so this is what I did, just for fun, with genuinely no motivation other than to learn by comparison. I did take a photo to send to Cody and Emily; the wine held up beautifully next to the Keller.

This was not done as any sort of promotional show. At the time I knew nothing about the wine. I didn’t know whether it was $10 or $100, whether it was available or not. The “Experimental Series” moniker did little to add clarity.

The only thing I knew was that this wine was awesome. The idea that we could go rogue and offer up a California Riesling didn’t even dawn on me; Source Material is, by our self-imposed rules, a focused affair.

But the simple truth is this wine deserves the attention. Cody and Emily, two of the nicest people in the wine business, deserve the attention. So, I’ll give you a little bit more of the story here, and then you go buy 3 bottles of one of the greatest California Rieslings I’ve ever had. I mean, $25 a bottle? C’mon. (Please note there are only 15 cases available, this will be sold first come, first served.)

While Cody and Emily’s small label, Desire Lines, has had some serious press and attention, they are still exploring the California landscape. They use the “Experimental Series” label for wines that they make in vineyards that they haven’t fully committed to yet. So, this bottling, the 2019, is the first vintage they’ve made from the Wiley Vineyard – only 600 bottles were produced.

That coolness in the wine comes from the vineyard; Wiley is in what’s referred to as “the deep end” of the Anderson Valley, very far north and west. This is the last stop before you head out of the valley toward Navarro and the coast. This is a cold and coastal location, with the marine layer not normally burning off until late in the morning. The vines here were planted in 1976 – 45 years old – and by Cody’s count it’s the sixth-oldest Riesling vineyard left in California. The site is no-till, so the vines grow slowly. It is not the picture of vigor that many have come to expect from California.

The wine was whole-cluster pressed, and very gently at that, fractioning and only taking the early and middle section of the press, before the acids dropped too much. The juice was settled and then transferred to an old, neutral barrel where it went through ferment. (Cody is also the associate winemaker at Bedrock Wine Company, and his boss Morgan Twain-Peterson has access to some very fine barrels indeed, and Morgan’s another one of those kind and generous California personalities, so the élevage here was very good.)

To his surprise, writes Cody, the wine “absolutely ripped through native fermentation.” Many growers in Germany, including Keller it should be noted, favor a warm, quick fermentation as it tends to focus the wine less on the fruit and more on the acidity and energy... so maybe my opening the Keller wasn’t as crazy as it seemed at the moment.

The wine was kept in barrel till July when it was bottled.

And as I learned in all these random for-the-love-of-it emails through the fall of 2020, the wine wasn’t yet released. Cody planned on releasing it in February, to the estate’s direct list. It occurred to me, more slowly than it should have, that maybe, just maybe we could be next in line?

Yes, our focus is a touch myopic, but great Riesling is great Riesling and this wine not only deserves to be on your table (and in your cellar; this wine has structure and tension to develop for many years), this wine deserves to be part of the larger conversation of Riesling.

Please note, as this wine has not yet been released to retail, all orders will be processed directly by Cody and Emily at Desire Lines. There are only 15 cases available.

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