CLOVERDALE, Calif. — Acclaim for Stephen Reustle’s Grüner Veltliner program reached new heights on Friday when the Southern Oregon winemaker’s Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2021 Green Lizard shared honors as the Best White Wine at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition — the largest wine judging in North America.
“Oh man, I’m thrilled to death,” Reustle told Great Northwest Wine minutes after the sweepstakes votes were tallied and revealed on the Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds in Sonoma County. “I called the team in, congratulated everyone and then said a prayer of thanks.”
The winegrower in the Umpqua Valley near Roseburg has been credited as the U.S. pioneer for commercial production of the noble grape of Austria. Recognition of his work began with the 2005 vintage and judges at West Coast wine competitions soon took notice. Reustle is into his third decade of work with Grüner Veltliner, which accounts for about 15 percent of the overall production at his 7,500-case winery. He crafts several styles of Grüner Veltliner, and the 2021 vintage of the Green Lizard — a tribute to the mascot of Austria’s famed Wachau Valley — represented 320 cases.
“As soon as we heard the news, I asked, ‘How much do we have left?’ It’s not nearly as much as I had hoped for — only about 170 bottles,” Reustle said with a chuckle, “but that’s better than nothing.”
That’s because customers and critics continue to appreciate and applaud his work with the Green Lizard. In 2022, that bottling won a platinum medal at the Critics Challenge International in San Diego and a double gold at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition in Hood River, Ore.
Reustle’s Grüner strings together golds, Platinums
One of the delicious hallmarks of Reustle’s program is the remarkable consistency. At Great Northwest Wine’s annual Platinum Awards, a smackdown among Pacific Northwest gold-medal winners, the Green Lizard has won a Platinum or better in each of the past five years. Last fall, the 2021 expression that reached the heights of the San Francisco Chronicle received a Double Platinum and 97 points from that Great Northwest Wine panel.
Sacramento-based author Mike Dunne, who reviews all of the best-of-class winners as a contributing writer for the San Francisco Chronicle’s March 12 special section on the competition, suggests pairing the Green Lizard with lightly seasoned cauliflower salad.
“One of the defining characteristics for Grüner Veltliner to me has been white pepper,” Dunne told Great Northwest Wine. “It also has a lean structure — it’s dry, but not harsh — with a fresh fruit structure. It ended up in my top 50 of the week.
“And in the sparkling wine competition there was a Grüner there that was a real surprise, and I liked it a lot,” Dunne said. “Maybe there will be prospects for expanding Grüner Veltliner, but they definitely have the correct growing conditions in Southern Oregon.”
Reustle grew up in Philadelphia, graduated from Rutgers University, became a certified public accountant and then owned a successful marketing agency. When he sold that company, he wasn’t ready to retire, eventually purchasing 200 acres in Southern Oregon in 2001 and launching his winery three years later.
In 2017, Wine Press Northwest named Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards as its Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. He was introduced to Grüner during a motorbike tour of Europe that included Austria. When he returned home, Reustle searched for commercial examples of the grape grown in the U.S. He found none. He got material and planted it. That was 20 years ago — 2003.
“This award bodes really well for the varietal,” Reustle says. “Once I get people in the tasting room to try Grüner, they go gaga for it because it is leaner than Riesling. And the block for the Green Lizard gets special attention in the vineyard.”
Reustle – Prayer Rock Vineyards raked in five gold medals or better this year at the Chronicle. Those included his 2021 Estate Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir, 2021 Estate Syrah, 2021 Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah and the 2021 Estate Selection Grüner.
Coincidentally, Reustle didn’t plan on doing anything special to celebrate his sweepstakes win because he’d already scheduled work for Friday night.
“I will be doing blending trails tonight on the 2022 Grüner, but I will open up one of the 2021 Green Lizard bottles and use that for my benchmark before I start the blending,” Reustle said.