PROSSER, Wash. – The late Walter Clore prized Lemberger, and no one champions the obscure, yet delicious red grape from Austria more than the Williams family of Kiona Vineyards Winery on Washington’s famous Red Mountain.
So next month, the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser will stage the inaugural Lemtoberfest, an afternoon celebration on Saturday, Oct. 28 that allows consumers to taste wines from producers of unsung German varieties throughout the Northwest. Cost is $45.
“This was JJ Williams’ idea,” said April Reddout, wine program director at the Clore Center. “Since Kiona is a big producer of Lemberger, he approached us with the idea of having a festival that celebrates Lemberger. Of course, there aren’t enough producers in the area to have a festival for just Lemberger, so the idea morphed into lesser-known German varietals. So it’s basically everything except Riesling.”
The list includes Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, Müller-Thurgau, Siegerrebe and Zweigelt, and there are a couple dozen producers from Washington, Oregon and Idaho working with at least one of these grapes in some form.
Admission allows for tastings of every wine available and includes a hand-created bratwurst from Castle Catering in Richland. The Clore Center is working on lining up a brewery that will offer German-style beer, and there are plans for live music from 1 to 4 p.m.
“We picked that date to create an Oktoberfest-style event, but rather than beer it’s Lemberger and the lesser-knowns,” Reddout said. “Our hope is people will take the opportunity to see these wines.”
Tickets are available through the Clore Center, and there’s a $5 discount if purchased prior to Sept. 30.
Walt Clore’s early embrace of Lemberger
Lemberger produces fruity, spicy and easy-drinking red wines, and Kiona made the first commercial Lemberger in the United States back in 1980.
Historically, it is known in Germany as Blauer Limberger. The variety goes by Blaufränkisch in its native Austria, where it’s been the country’s No. 2 red grape behind Pinot Noir. It is celebrated as Kékfrankos in Hungary, where the wines earned the attention of Napoleon. Beyond Eastern Europe, it’s obscure, garnering just a few paragraphs near the back of acclaimed British author Jancis Robinson’s Vines, Grapes and Wines.
Clore, a grape researcher raised in Oklahoma by teetotalers, helped get Lemberger established at the Washington State University experimental station in Prosser during World War II. “The Father of Washington Wine” believed that this cool-climate red would be an ideal fit for the Columbia Valley and brought plant material down from a British Columbia nursery.
Well, Clore was correct. By the 1980s, Lemberger could be found across 250 acres in Washington state.
Alas, recent estimates now have less than 50 acres in the ground. For example, Malbec replaced Lemberger at Zephyr Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. Not long after, nearby Destiny Ridge Vineyard saw its Lemberger ripped out, also sacrificed for more expensive grape varieties.
Winemakers in Washington have wondered that had the grape been branded as Blaufränkisch rather than Lemberger, it would have been an easier sell, but Kiona has succeeded where others have not. The Williams family devotes 13 acres of its pricey Red Mountain real estate to Lemberger, and fanfare for their work with the grape prompts Kiona to produce 4,000 cases of Lemberger. The wine is a bargain at $15 per bottle, and it’s perfect for barbecue fare.
Lemtoberfest fits mission of Clore Center
Clore Center research identified 22 wineries working with Lemberger or the lesser-known German grapes grown in U.S. Northwest. Perhaps the most famous producer of Lemberger is Gonzaga grad Jed Steele of Kendall-Jackson acclaim. The Northern California winemaker’s own brand, Shooting Star, bottles Lemberger as “Blue Franc,” which he has trademarked. He retails the wine for $13, and the label reads “Washington State Blaufränkisch.”
More than a dozen wineries have lined up to pour at Lemtoberfest, including Bainbridge Vineyards (Müller-Thurgau, Siegerrebe), Bonair Winery (dry Gewürztraminer), Domanico Cellars (Lemberger), Kiona (Gewürztraminer, Lemberger), Maryhill Winery (Gewürztraminer), South Seattle College’s Northwest Wine Academy (Blaufränkisch), Pacific Rim Winemakers (Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, Müller-Thurgau), Syncline Wine Cellars (Grüner Veltliner), Thurston Wolfe (Lemberger), Treveri Cellars (sparkling Gewürztraminer, sparkling Grüner Veltliner, sparkling Müller-Thurgau), Two Mountain Winery (Lemberger), Wilridge Winery (Zweigelt) and Yakima Valley Vintners (Gewürztraminer, Lemberger).
“I’m hoping the guys from Crossings Winery in Idaho will come because they trademarked Bleu Noir for Lemberger,” Reddout said. “And Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards in Southern Oregon does such beautiful Grüner.”
Each month, the Clore Center regularly offers “Washington vs. The World” seminars that include blind tastings of non-Washington wines, so there is precedent for the interstate concept of Lemtoberfest.
“We thought we would band together and give those lesser-known varietals some love, and then the idea was to extend beyond Washington,” Reddout said. “Even though the Clore Center’s mission is to promote Washington wines, with a special theme like this we can flex those guidelines.”
Those who have attended the popular Rising Stars festival at the Clore Center should find a similar layout at Lemtoberfest.
“It will be fun and lively, and it will give people a chance to feel a connection to harvest,” Reddout said. “It’s a great time of year to be out and enjoy the fall festivities, and there will be beer and wine and food together.”
Attendees will be able to buy and take home bottles of their favorite Lemtoberfest finds. Those wine purchases help support the Clore Center, which operates as a non-profit.
“It’s fun to do a new program,” Reddout added. “We didn’t know what to expect when we launched Rising Stars, and it’s been wildly successful.”
Wineries are urged to contact Reddout at (509) 786-1000, ext. 204, for information on participation.