When he moved north to manage a winery in 1995, Brian Ulbrich perceived a promising wine scene taking shape and knew he had to be part of it. Since launching Left Foot Charley in 2007, Brian has created some of the region’s most compelling and awarded vino, so this month we sit down with him to talk about the much-anticipated 2016 vintage and learn the virtues of pinot blanc. Ulbrich describes this wine as the liquid equivalent of a basket of ripe pears. Elegant and well rounded with texture, acidity and fruit in near perfect measure.

What lessons did growers and wineries learn from the ’14 and ’15 vintages that were nearly wiped out by the weather?
The big lesson is that we’re playing cards with Mother Nature every day, and there are no guarantees. In terms of working with our growers, the careful practices—the vine training methods and agricultural practices—we committed to helping the vines survive, so that while we had crop loss, we didn’t have much vine loss. We also saw the value of aging wines in the cellar in order to have some fallback. I think now everyone’s glad to be releasing their 2016’s.

Speaking of 2016, what can we expect from last year’s much-hyped harvest?
It was like coming out of dark despair into the blinding light. The grapes showed better chemistry and ripeness than I’ve seen in a long time. The dry whites show beautiful balance, and the off-dry wines are deeper, bigger and more powerful than usual. This will be a vintage we come back to down the road to show writers and critics the viability of our region.

You’re making me thirsty. Since it’s early spring, what should we be drinking?
My vote is for pinot blanc. It performed really well last year and has the texture and acidity that make it the perfect spring and summer sipper.

When a winemaker pops that first bottle of pinot blanc what is he eating?
Now that the temps are climbing, I start to get the grill going and really crave those early greens tossed into a salad with grilled chicken or shrimp. It makes me healthy and, if at all possible, I want to eat it outdoors.

Spring Sippers:

Pinot Noir Rosé 2016, Bowers Harbor
The first peeps of green mean it’s pink wine time. Strawberry, watermelon and pomegranate notes vault from the glass in this dry and delish bottling.

Gewürztraminer 2015, Blustone Vineyards
A short stint in oak and acacia barrels balances the exotic fruit, rose petal and spice driving Blustone’s gewürz. Drink it with fresh spring rolls.

Tradition Brut NV, L. Mawby
Bring on the bubbly! Mawby’s pinot noir–driven multi-vintage bottling is an effervescent celebration of spring with its finely wrought bubble structure and enduring crispness.

Pinot Noir 2015, Laurentide
Newly released from the Laurentide cellar, this is a big and brooding pinot with exotic oak-induced spice notes and plenty of staying power.

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Photo(s) by Taylor Brown