Tue 01 Sep 2015

Rekindling My Love For German Wine

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Campaign manager and wine student Yvonne Blandford accompanies buyer Sebastian Payne MW around the vineyards of the Mosel and, amongst the steep vineyards, steely rieslings and gothic scripts, rediscovers her love of German wine…

The Mosel valley

The Mosel valley

I have worked for The Society for just over two years in the Marketing department. Many moons ago I lived and worked in Germany where I first fell for the wine, although these were the bad old days when all German wine meant to most of the UK market was sugary Liebfraumilch and Black Tower.

So it was a great privilege to be given the chance to join Sebastian Payne MW earlier this year on his buying trip to Germany and having recently passed the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 exam, it offered me the chance to rekindle my love for German wine and hone my skills by watching a master at work.

Day One
As we set off from Frankfurt-Hahn airport in the direction of the Mosel valley, Sebastian explained about the region and producers we would be visiting over the next two days.

The purpose of our visit was to make the final selection of wines to feature in the 2014 Germany offer. Sebastian had already tasted many of the wines at the ProWein exhibition in Düsseldorf earlier this year and he wanted to assess how they had developed in the interim.

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt

Annegret, Wolfgang & Sebastian tasting the wines

Annegret, Wolfgang & Sebastian tasting the wines

The first stop on our whistle-stop tour was Schloss Marienlay to taste wines from Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt. Here we were joined by Bernd Weber, who has assisted Sebastian for several years by seeking out opportunities in Germany. After being warmly greeted by Annegret Reh-Gartner and her husband, Gerhard – Sebastian, Annegret and Wolfgang Mertes, their chief winemaker, worked their way through a line of wines.

This was my first experience of witnessing the close relationship Sebastian has established over the years with the producers and the high level of respect they have for him. I observed how Sebastian tasted each wine, meticulously writing notes on each and then referring back in his book to the notes he made on that wine at ProWein to see how they had ‘opened up’.

Soil
The von Kesselstatt winery has extensive plots in the three main areas of this important wine-growing region of Germany. Vineyards occupy much of the slopes adjoining the Mosel, Ruwer (pronounced ‘roover’) and Saar rivers and von Kesselstatt own approximately 36 hectares in total.

The red, blue and grey slates at von Kesselstatt

The red, blue and grey slates at von Kesselstatt

Schloss Marienlay is located near Morscheid on the banks of the Ruwer. Annegret kindly explained the importance of the slate soil in these regions and how they vary in colour from red, blue and grey ‘Devon’ slate. The slate ensures that the soil does not become ‘claggy’, as the rain drains off of it. At the same time the vines do not grow too rigorously and the warmth from the sun is reflected back into the soil. I was interested to see they have a little display in their tasting room that features examples of the three slates with descriptions of the different vineyards and how the slate affects the taste of the wines.

Their Josephshöfer wines emanate from the grey slate Graach vineyard, whereas the Scharzhofberger vines are planted in red Devon slate – von Kesselstatt’s Niedermenniger Herrenberg Kabinett (£9.50), Josephshöfer Kabinett (£12.95) and Scharzhofberger Kabinett (£16.50) feature in the Germany offer.

Grape pickers face the back-breaking task of hand harvesting the grapes whilst gingerly negotiating the slopes.

Grape pickers face the back-breaking task of hand harvesting the grapes whilst gingerly negotiating the slope.

After a buffet lunch, which was much needed after our crack-of-dawn start, we were on our way. As we travelled through the valley to our next appointment, I was staggered to see how steep the vineyards are.

Value for money
The vineyards in this region are predominantly built on the hillsides rising up from the three rivers. Gradients of 80° are not uncommon which makes machine harvesting of the grapes virtually impossible. The producers all employ large numbers of pickers in the autumn, who have the back-breaking task of hand harvesting the grapes whilst gingerly negotiating the slopes.

I did see a few metal ‘chair lifts’ at the bottom of slopes that Sebastian advised were used to ascend and support pickers on the steepest gradients, but the majority of harvesting appears to be done by sure-footed workers from eastern Europe.

Taking this hand-harvesting method into account, which must be fraught with danger, it seems to me that German wines are actually very good value for money when compared with other wines grown in flat vineyards around Europe.

Maximin Grünhaus, Mertesdorf
We were met by Dr Carl von Schubert, whose family bought the estate in the 19th century and has lived here ever since. The estate lies at the foot of a long steep south-facing slope on the left bank of the Ruwer river, about 2km from where it joins the Mosel. It is divided into three separate, but adjoining vineyards: Abtsberg, Herrenberg and Bruderberg.

Dr Carl Von Schubert of Maximin Grünhaus with Abtsberg vineyard in background.

Dr Carl Von Schubert of Maximin Grünhaus with Abtsberg vineyard in background

The Abtsberg wines are grown in the plots nearest to the estate property and have an individual mineral flavour – the Kabinett (£14.95) and Spätlese (£17.50) are both featured in the Germany 2014 offer.

Carl kindly gave us a tour of his cellars where barrels are manufactured from the oak trees on his land and which store their riesling, pinot blanc and pinot noir wines. The lower levels of the cellars are so old that black mould covers the walls, roof and barrels – formed from the high humidity of 80-95% which is fed by the volatile acidity, alcohol, etc. that originates from the yeast. The mould is an excellent regulator of the humidity in the air and takes decades to form in this way. I didn’t find this particularly pleasant to touch, but it is something that makes them the envy of many producers, (or so I’m told!).

Herr von Schubert was an interesting man who recounted humorous anecdotes of family weddings on his estate (he has a number of children of marrying age!) and his attempts to prevent wild boar from destroying the vines – 68 were shot last year alone in this region! These shooting parties have enabled Carl to diversify into selling produce like wild boar paté, so it is a win-win situation for him!

Karthäuserhof, Trier-Eitelsbach
Karthaeuserhof Our last appointment of the day was to Karthäuserhof where we were greeted by Christian Vogt, chief winemaker. Like Maximin Grünhaus, all their vines are grown in the vineyards surrounding their estate, which is quite unusual for the region, rather than owning a mixture of plots dotted around various vineyards.

We were taken to the historic tasting room of this picturesque villa, which was surrounded by beautiful wisteria in full bloom in the warm May sunshine.

As Sebastian methodically tasted the wines and compared them to his earlier tasting at ProWein, Christian explained the history of the tasting room to me. It dates back to 1895 when the great grandfather of the current owner had to convince the father of his future bride that he was worthy of her hand in marriage. He had everything produced for the room including three marble wall displays by Villeroy & Boch of local scenes including Trier and Cochem.

Karthaeuserhof's tasting room dates back to 1895.

Karthaeuserhof’s tasting room dates back to 1895

Climate
Over dinner that evening in the ancient Roman city of Trier, Sebastian, Bernd and I talked about how hard these producers have to work to maintain their businesses. Many travel frequently to all corners of the world in an attempt to get restaurants, hotels and wine merchants to list their wines. What had become very apparent to me in the few hours I had spent in the wine region, was the importance of climate on the producers’ livelihoods and that within the space of a few hours/days their whole year’s work can be ruined if it rains too much or if there’s a hail storm. The crucial decision as to when to start harvesting is an extremely hard one to make and again can have catastrophic or tremendous results. I now begin to understand the high numbers of suicides that take place within the wine growing industry.

Yvonne Blandford
Marketing Campaign Manager

• Yvonne’s dispatch on Day Two will feature JJ Prüm, Dr Thanisch, Schloss Lieser and Willi Haag, as well as some useful information on Germany’s oft-tricky wine labels. Look out for it on Society Grapevine tomorrow…

• The fruits of this trip can be found in our Germany 2014 offering.

Categories : Germany, Other Europe

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