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Ernst Loosen: Allegra, Adante and Fortissimo
By Roger Morris
Jul 5, 2023
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“I love Riesling and Pinot Noir with some age,” Ernst Loosen says on the other side of our Zoom screen.  It is early June, and all is quiet in the Loosen vineyards along the Mosel, as well as those in the Willamette Valley and in Eastern Washington.  Spring has been relatively frost-free in these locations, so now it’s on to another weather watch, this one for summer rains and hopefully no hail.

This Zoomy declaration of love for aged wines is the jumping off discussion point for “Ernie” Loosen, as he is generally known and who has one of the freest minds in the wine business.  Whereas many winemakers are good at making wine, Loosen is both good at making wine and having a guiding philosophy about how wine should be made and consumed.

The topic for Loosen’s seminar today is making wine at his 20-year-old Appassionata wine estate in the Chehalem Mountains in the north of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and I am happy to play the role of rapt pupil.

To begin there are three interrelated thoughts on Loosen’s mind:

--First, some sections of even his relatively small vineyard will produce grapes that, as wine, are capable of aging in the bottle better than those from other sections.

--But, second, we can’t trust your typical wine drinker – even one who knows how to savor great wines – to have the knowledge and the patience to not open wine until it’s reached its first prime.  That’s like giving a cat a perch atop an open goldfish tank or tempting a teenage boy to… no, we won’t go there.

--Third, there are ways for Loosen to designate Burgundy-like crus on his Chehalem Mountains hillside without going through a formal regulatory process.

Now back to Loosen: “The year 2005 was the first year we made Pinot Noir, but I still haven’t released it,” he says.  “Perhaps in 2025.”  He’s not sure.  “The first vintage we released was the 2007.  We have identified 11 different blocks within the vineyard, quite diverse for such a little hill.”

All well and good, and not that unusual in itself, as many wineries love to do block farming and harvesting.  The difference is in how Loosen approaches and handles them.  “There are no official crus, in Oregon, so I use opera as my classification system,” he says.  Accordingly, he notes, the winery’s name – Appassionata – comes from Beethoven’s piano sonata of the same title.  

Perhaps considering himself a winemaker-cum-conductor, Loosen looks the part – thick eye glasses and shocks of hair radiating from either side of his head in the style of Master Ludwig himself.

Thus, the first of Appassionata’s three Pinot Noirs is called “Allegro,” aged in oak for 18 to 20 months and released three years after the vintage.  It is ready to drink then, Loosen says, although it will continue to age gracefully.  “Some wines,” he notes, “stay one-dimensional.”  But unlike some producers, this is not considered a second or third wine, but the basic of his three crus, such as a plain “Bourgogne,” and comes from the same blocks year after year.  It also, parenthetically, provides cash flow while the other wines are bottle-slumbering.

Another group of blocks yield the second wine, which could be consider analogous to a “Premier Cru.”  It is called “Andante,’ and is released after five years.  The third and final wine is “Fortissimo” and is Appassionata’s equivalent of a “Grand Cru,” only released after 10 years.  

It is important to repeat that it is not the same wine being released in tranches, but three separate wines coming from separate parcels and released according to Loosen’s de facto classification.

So the current vintages are:

--“Allegro” 2019 for $95 at the winery,
--“Andante” 2017 for $135 and,
--“Fortissimo” 2012 – ask the winery for a price, the note says, but it is selling elsewhere for around $175.
Production is limited to a few hundred cases annually of each release.

“I fell in love with collecting old Burgundies 35 years ago, and I still collect them,” Loosen says, adding that, “today, many restaurants cannot afford to buy and hold fine wines until they are ready to drink.”  As a result, his aged Apassionata Pinots are geared both to them and to the private collector – ready to drink when the box is unpacked but with plenty of life to reward those who want to wait even longer.

For those who may be new to the Loosen name, it is a venerable one, especially in his native Germany where he produces Rieslings under the “Dr.  Loosen” label that range from cultish Auslesen to everyday vintages, along with the less-expensive “Dr.  L” wines from purchased grapes.  His home base is Bernkastel in the Middle Mosel region where he farms about 100 acres of vines that average 60 years of age, with some being twice that age.  He also makes some Pinot Noir.

In addition to Germany and Oregon, loosen has partnered with Chateau Ste. Michelle (which has newish owners) in creating “Eroica” Riesling at reasonable prices from grapes grown in Washington’s Columbia River Valley.

While most of his New World wines are sold in the New World, Loosen says, “I’ve started bringing a little Appassionata into Germany and also selling it on the Place de Bordeaux.”  And why not?  The Old World has a high appreciation of the tempos of operas and sonatas, knows a thing or two about designating crus and appreciates old wines, even those from the New World.

More from Roger:  Roger Morris
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