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Claus Riedel: The Man Behind the Glass
To many, the container from which wine is consumed may be of little importance, with some people drinking from anything – a mug, a cup, a kiddy pool, and, in the event of an accidental spill, a throw rug. However, to the serious wine drinker the container from which wine is consumed is almost of as much importance as the wine itself. This is because the shape and type of a wineglass can alter the flavors, balance, and finish of wine. A seemingly magical feat with a scientific base, this concept was first poured into the minds of wine consumers by Claus J. Riedel.
The Riedel tale of glassmaking, with pivotal chapters authored by Claus, began in 1678 in north Bohemia, a historical region of the western Czech Republic. A name that in present day is often defined as being artistic, unconventional, and inventive, Bohemia was a fitting place for the Riedel legacy to begin, laying the groundwork for Claus Riedel’s innovative way of thinking.
Born in 1925 to an Austrian family, Claus Riedel opened his first glass factory with his father in Kurfstein, Austria in the mid 1950’s. Setting out to design a glass that consumers could wrap around their fingers as well as their taste buds, Claus was determined to produce something that wouldn’t merely hold wine, but hold the joy of the wine drinking experience. He did this by taking a wineglass back to its basics, and back to its essence, producing thin, long, undecorated glasses. After soliciting the help of experienced wine tasters, Claus discovered that wine consumed from the glasses he designed was generally enjoyed to a greater degree. With this, he became the father of a wineglass revolution.
In 1958, Claus made his way into both wine lore and the history books by inventing the Sommeliers Burgundy Cru stem, the world’s largest wine glass that now resides in the New York Museum of Modern Art. The design of this glass was based heavily on the Bauhaus Design Principle, an ideology epitomizing functional, simple design that came about during the Bauhaus Design Movement in post World War I Germany.
As more museums curators and awards representatives were knocking on his door, Riedel began producing several different wine glasses to hold several different types of wine. Using the hypothesis that different glasses would guide different types of wine to the taste buds most conducive to that wine’s flavor, he made things ranging from short, thin glasses to hold Port Wine, to wide-mouthed, bowl shaped glasses to hold Burgundy. He also designed glasses that held smaller amounts of wine than conventional glasses, giving the aroma of the wine a chance to accumulate inside the glass, ultimately enhancing the drink.
Less than a decade after starting his glass factory, Claus Riedel featured the first line of wine glasses made in different sizes and shapes. A pioneer in his field, all previous wine lines had featured glasses laden in uniformity, not the uniqueness that Claus showcased. When this concept was introduced as part of the Sommeliers series in 1973, Claus Riedel secured his lock on the world of wine forever, allowing him to finally take a bow with the bowls he had created.
Though Claus Riedel passed away on March 17, 2004, his legacy, knowledge, and innovations continue to live on with future Riedel generations, continually making his family’s name nearly synonymous with the word “wineglass.”
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