Following the retirement of Gerard and JoAnn Bentryn, owner/winemaker Betsey Wittick uses their original vines to craft a delicious white table wine and a stunning dessert wine.
A CURIOUS GERMAN white-wine grape, whose history in our country is intertwined with Pacific Northwest viticulture, leads to a refreshing wine well worth seeking out.
It’s siegerrebe — which means “victory wine” in German. (Pronounce it “Seeger,” as in Pete, and add “eh-bay” to the end.) It was developed by a German scientist in the 1920s as a cross between Madeleine Angevine and Gewürztraminer.
Gerard Bentryn became familiar with the wine while living in Germany in the 1960s, discovering it was a secret weapon for boosting the flavors of riesling in parts of the Rhine Valley. When he returned to the United States, he and his wife, JoAnn, wanted to plant grapes and make wine, and he remembered siegerrebe.
Five siegerrebes to try
This unusual white wine will be difficult to track down, so plan to contact the producers directly.
Bainbridge Vineyards 2016 siegerrebe, Puget Sound, $22: Floral aromas, Golden Delicious apples, fresh pear; round, rich mouthfeel; bright acidity; nice tension between fresh fruit flavors; and just a hint of sweetness. Easy to imagine with crabcakes.
Lopez Island Vineyards 2017 siegerrebe, Puget Sound, $25: Aromas of fresh apricots, ripe pear, spice. Flavors of crisp apple, ginger gold apple, kiss of sweetness.
Perennial Vintners 2015 siegerrebe, Puget Sound, $24: Fresh-cut Golden Delicious apple followed by notes of ripe pear; fresh, crisp flavors of peach, nectarine and tart star fruit in the finish.
Chaberton Estate Winery 2017 siegerrebe, Fraser Valley, $17: Spicy aromas of fresh-picked apples, pear, melon.
Bainbridge Vineyards 2016 late harvest siegerrebe, Puget Sound, $32: Beautifully spicy aromas, reminiscent of poached pears with vanilla notes. Sweet, with notes of lavender-infused honey. Among my favorite Northwest dessert wines in the past 30 years.
Working with Washington State University’s extension agent in Mount Vernon, Bentryn was able to get plant material brought in through British Columbia. He planted seven vines on Bainbridge Island, and from those managed to ultimately plant one acre on his property that remains part of Bainbridge Vineyards. When he put his vines in the ground, they became the first siegerrebe planted in the United States. When he made his first wine from them, that was the first siegerrebe made in the country.
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These days, Bainbridge Vineyards owner/winemaker Betsey Wittick continues to use those vines to craft a delicious white table wine and a stunning dessert wine.
She isn’t alone. Siegerrebe is established in small amounts on Lopez and San Juan islands, too. A little more than 10 acres are planted within the Puget Sound American Viticultural Area, which stretches from around Olympia to the Canadian border. Small amounts are planted north of the border, meaning that if you search it out, you can find at least a half-dozen examples of siegerrebe.
Because of its cool-climate properties (late bud break and early ripening), the vine is well-suited for west of the Cascades. Fortunately, it also leads to a charming white wine that pairs well with our cuisine, including seafood and Asian-inspired dishes.