The name Dr. Ernst Loosen is globally synonymous with Riesling. In Germany, the Dr. Loosen Estate on the Mosel River has been in the family for more than 200 years, and in the United States, the good doctor has led the good fight for Riesling in a collaboration with Washington’s Chateau Ste. Michelle, one of the world’s largest producers of the grape variety.
Though his original love was of local Roman ruins and fueled his fire for archaeology, with his father’s health failing and lack of interest from his siblings, Loosen was the rightful heir to the Loosen Estate. He picked up the reigns in the mid-1980s and, since then, has been empowering Riesling to its due glory as his global mission.
After a recent visit to the Northwest to drop into the Woodinville winery for a class on Riesling then to eat in Portland, one of his favorite cities, Dr. Loosen sat to chat archaeology, Riesling and chuggable beer.
Did you ever have dreams outside of winemaking? How did the family business draw you in?
Originally I studied archaeology, it was always my dream to be an archaeologist and it’s definitely still an interesting study to me but it’s very difficult to get a job in [the field]… So my brothers and sisters said, “you better take over the family wine business!” My father got sick and somebody had to take over anyway, my other [siblings] had their own careers already, so I was set with a choice to not have a job or take over the family business.
You’ve traveled all over the world for wine, to make and taste. What brought about the partnership with Chateau Ste. Michelle?
I remember pretty well it was a friend of mine from Portland, Oregon. He once told me, I think in 1999, that the largest Riesling producer in the world was in Washington state at Chateau Ste. Michelle. I said I hadn’t heard of it, he recommended tasting the wine and they were quite great. He recommended doing something with them as they had just started a joint venture with Antinori a few years before that was quite interesting and a thoughtful relationship. And because they were so famous for Riesling, and German wines had been suffering from a bad reputation at that time for being cheap and sweet… We thought we could do something together to give Riesling a better image.
How would you describe where Riesling is in the industry and where is it going?
When I started in the wine industry, I was born into the industry that does only Riesling. When I started, we were struggling with the bad image of cheap and sweet… So I thought we have to do something and we can see what happened now over the last 30 years and how the image of Riesling has changed completely. It has become popular again, especially in America where it has been growing and growing and growing. Riesling is everywhere and now the sommeliers see it as a noble variety. I have been working for 30 years for the people to see Riesling as noble of a varietal as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, rediscover it and respect it. Riesling belongs to these top varietals and all the others. We really succeeded in that in the last 30 years.
Other than wine, what is your preferred beverage?
Beer! It takes a lot of beer to make good wine. It’s an old tradition here [in Germany], after a day of winemaking or tasting, you drink a beer. We’ve started to brew our own beer, we just got our license and packaging and are going commercial with it. We are turning our little hobby into a business, too! It’s a craft beer but on the lighter side – it’s a 4.6 percent ABV kellerbier [unfiltered lager], lighter style on the yeast, a little cloudy.