Maximilian Riedel glassmaker fifth generation

Heart of glass | the Riedel reach | champagne tastes

Brainy and cheeky. Witty and inventive. Always smoking hot.

The 11th generation of the famous glassmaking family, Maximilian Riedel is already known for introducing stemless wineglasses. Now he is dispensing with the champagne flute.

Maximilian Riedel is contemplating a topic close to his heart: shape. It’s a conversation that roams across eggs, flowers, women, chairs – as well as the wineglasses his family is famous for.

“There is nothing more complete in the world than the egg, the egg is perfect. In appeal, look durability, structure… all the churches, the domes have this egg shape implemented. I’ve always liked long stems – whether on wineglasses, flowers or women,” says Riedel, 
as he holds court in the North Sydney offices of his Australian 
distributor, surrounded by a sea of sparkling crystal.

Riedel wine glasses maximilian riedel veritas collection2

Riedel’s Veritas Collection of fine glassware

“Lilies give me goosebumps, their scent is like a tonic. They put me in a better place – they are very motivating. When I think about a tree, a leaf, I think about gingko – its leaf is sheer perfection. Women? I have always dated very tall, sportif girls.”

And chairs? He’s a sucker for the simple and graceful designs 
of Thonet furniture, the Austrian company that patented the process of steam-bending wood. “The less [there is] to it, the more appealing to me. I am not a baroque kind of guy. I also don’t wear loud outfits. Same with my glasses – you will very rarely find them in colour.”

All of which brings him back to the subject of glass. “Nothing has a more brilliant shape than a wineglass: see-through and minimalist.”

Dressed in a (just-a-little-bit-loud) royal-blue bespoke suit with red kerchief and pink silk lining (“one of my mentors died of breast cancer and I always carry her close to my heart”), Maximilian Riedel is 11th-generation Riedel. He became CEO and president of the Austrian-based company, Riedel Crystal, in 2013, at the age of 35.

The story of O

Ironically, given his penchant for long stems, Riedel is most famous for introducing, in 2004, the stackable stemless “O” glassware series, whose design has been widely acclaimed – and copiously copied. “The O is most durable. I have broken it for you already by taking the stem off. You can use it to drink orange juice or milk. It’s just another tumbler. It stacks. You can put a candle in it and float it in the jacuzzi.”

He can lay claim to free-form decanters that 
look like balletic snakes, a state-of-the-art 
website and online store, restaurant diffusion lines, and partnerships with cruise lines, 
chocolatiers and appliance-makers. Riedel recently crafted two exquisite coffee glasses – on pedestals – for Nespresso.

Innovation appears mandatory in this family. Riedel’s grandfather, Claus J, experimented with the way shape, size and colour affected the taste and enjoyment of wine, developing, in the late 1950s, the varietal-specific wineglasses that have changed the way we savour wine.

“My grandfather was the first to say ‘less is more’, to pick up on the Bauhaus principle. He was the first to produce the egg shape in the history of glass,” says Riedel. “All the glasses up to this period were thick, coloured, cut – and they all flared out, because the technique to bend them in wasn’t there. So he came up with a new technique that allowed him to bend in the upper part of the glass, to mould the glass without reheating it.”

Actually, there was a reason, he says, that Claus Riedel favoured clear glass. “The fortunes of my family were lost after World War II. We didn’t have the money to colour glass. Red in glass used to be a result of adding gold; so he went to clear. It allows you to inspect the colour of wine. He was the first to put a long stem on the glasses.” Coloured glass was back on the menu, though, when Riedel bought Nachtmann, makers of beautiful crystal, in 2004. Nachtmann (their Prezioso tumbers are below) is now a sought-after label in the Riedel protfolio, along with Spiegelau.

His father Georg Riedel’s 1986 Vinum collection became one of the best-selling wineglass ranges. Georg also came up with the diamond-shape glass, epitomised in the Vinum Extreme collection. “He squashed the egg!” says Riedel.

Georg’s most recent innovation is the Veritas series, made in the Weiden factory in Bavaria, which Riedel claims to be the finest and lightest machine-blown glasses ever made in lead crystal.

The new status symbol

It was Georg Riedel who decided, around 1989, that the company would reposition and switch from being a tabletop company to a wineglass company. Hitching the wagon to the wine industry proved auspicious. The tabletop got dusty, says Riedel. “Where people used to show off their wealth by inviting you home to see their estates, silver, flatwear and horses, now they took you out to dinner, where you could see their cars, Louboutins, Hermès handbags. Ask anyone about bone china today and no-one has a clue. But they know wine tastes good – and can taste even better out of the right wineglass.”

Maximilian Riedel can be something of the disrupter, recently courting controversy around the champagne flute. Basically, he has ditched it in favour of a less-anorexic wineglass.

Having worked as a tour guide and lived among families who make champagne, Riedel noticed they used wineglasses for champagne workshops. “I would say, ‘Why do you not 
communicate this and they’d say, ‘It’s tradition, we can’t break with tradition.’ But I have to break with tradition, if I want to leave a mark on this planet after the great doings of my grandfather and father!”

Bubble rap

At home in Austria, he says, although his grandfather had designed beautiful flutes , the family drank champagne from wineglasses. “One day, my father and I tried a Pol Roger in our new pinot wine glasses and we were stunned. So we called up an icon in the wine industry, Richard Geoffroy, the cellar master at Dom Pérignon. I said, ‘Try it, please.’ He said, ‘Come and visit me.’ So we did, and we lined up all our glasses for Dom Pérignon rosé. Today, our New World Pinot Noir/Nebbiolo/Rosé Champagner glass is the official Dom Pérignon rosé champagne glass. Huge!”

Related article: Dom Perignon’s dalliance with Ferran Adrià

Drinking champagne from a shallow martini glass is something from the 1920s, he maintains. “And it is the worst thing you can do for champagne, because you can’t smell it. What is a wine without perfume? Pfff! In the martini glass, the bubbles don’t rise.”

Riedel met with some opposition when he informed his father he would not be including the flute in the new collection.

“He said, ‘You know that flutes represent a big portion of our sales?’ I said, ‘I don’t speak for them any more, you don’t speak for them any more. The champagne industry won’t take us seriously, they will think we are not paying attention. We will have not a flute, but a champagne wineglass.’”

He reaches for one of the new elegant Veritas “wine tools”. “This is the result, a perfect champagne glass… it looks like an egg.”

Source: First published in Qantas The Australian Way, February 2015


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