Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Wines of Switzerland – Grand Tasting with (and Introduction to Swiss Wines by) Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz

Pictures:  Grand Tasting with (and Introduction to Swiss Wines by) Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz in Montreux at the 2014 Digital Wine Communications Conference

In 2014, the Digital Wine Communications Conference (formerly European Wine Bloggers Conference) (DWCC) took place in Montreux, Switzerland. Obviously, Swiss wine figured prominently at the conference. Without any doubt, the highlight was a Grand Tasting of Swiss wines, led by Jancis Robinson and Jose Vouillamoz. This was followed by a Walk Around Tasting of Swiss wines, with Swiss winemakers from all main Swiss wine regions presenting their wines. A limited group of us then had the opportunity to attend a Masterclass on Rare Swiss Varietals with Jose Vouillamoz and/or a Masterclass on Iconic Swiss Wines with Star Sommelier Paolo Basso.

For an overview of the 2014 Digital Wine Communications Conference, see:
The 2014 Digital Wine Communications Conference (DWCC) in Switzerland

Pictures: Annette Schiller, ombiasy PR and WineTours, and Christian G.E. Schiller with Jancis Robinson in Montreux at Lake Geneva

José Vouillamoz is a botanist and grape geneticist with an international reputation currently based in his native Switzerland. His massive book “Wine Grapes”, co-authored with Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding is the standard reference book about all grape varieties that are used to make wine in the world.

José Vouillamoz presented a power-point presentation. I took pictures of many of the slides; you find them below. Jancis Robinson published an introduction to Swiss wines on her web site; I am quoting her extensively below. I also took note of her comments about the wines and are sharing them below.

Wine Producer Switzerland

Switzerland is a small wine producer with about 15 000 hectares of vineyards only. This is about 15 percent of Germany’s total winegrowing area and a bit more than 1 percent of that of Spain. Only less than 2% of the wine is exported, mainly to Germany.

Picture: Switzerland

Switzerland's particular situation - in between four wine-producing nations (France, Italy, Germany and Austria) and itself divided into four different areas with different languages and traditions - has resulted in an extreme diversity of its wines, although wine is mainly produced in the French part of Switzerland, in the cantons of Geneva, Neuchâtel, Ticino, Valais and Vaud.

Switzerland has an extensive range of grape varieties. Among the white grapes, the Chasselas is the most widespread. Müller-Thurgau, cultivated above all in the German speaking part of Switzerland, and Sylvaner are also popular. The main red grape varieties are Pinot Noir, which can be found in all the wine-producing regions of Switzerland, and Gamay, which predominates in the Valais; Merlot has found a second home in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, the Ticino. In addition, there are 40 or so indigenous grapes, all of them practically unknown anywhere else in the world.

Jancis Robinson: Swiss Wine

Jancis Robinson: Swiss wine, like Swiss anything, is expensive. It is a direct reflection of the Swiss cost of living, and its reputation has not been helped by the fact that the bigger Swiss wine merchants were in the past allowed to blend imported wines with their own. This was banned in 2006 and there have been many changes since the wine market was fully opened to the outside world at the beginning of this century, not least the fact that Switzerland now produces more red wine than white. (Because Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, it is not answerable to European wine law, although it has tightened up its wine laws considerably in recent years and has developed its own appellation contrôlée system.)

Pictures: Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz in Montreux at the 2014 Digital Wine Communications Conference

Jancis Robinson: But all over Switzerland are passionately obsessive winemakers who each year are making better and better wines, many of them red, in such small quantities that they go straight into the cellars of the connoisseurs of Geneva, Zurich and Vaduz (Liechtenstein is close to one of the best wine regions) and are rarely mentioned in the international wine press. Only about 2% of Swiss wine leaves the country.

Pictures: The Tasting

Jancis Robinson: The Swiss have been careful to preserve their agricultural heritage, which means not only the preservation of the clanking cowbell Heidi tradition, but the preservation of some of the world's prettier and more inconvenient vineyards - the great majority of which are in the western French part of the country.

Picture: Switzerland - 26 Cantons - 4 Languages

Picture: Switzerland - 15000 hectares - 6 regions: German Switzerland, Trois-Lacs region, Vaud, Geneva region, Valais, Ticino - 2 % Exported

Picture: Switzerland - Dramatic Vineyards and High Costs

Picture: Grape Varieties - Pinot Noir + Chasselas More than Half of Production

Picture: 20 Historical Varieties Indigenous to Switzerland

Jancis Robinson: Swiss white wines taste quite unlike those of Germany or Austria, for example, because Swiss winemakers routinely encourage the second, softening malolactic fermentation so the wines seem much less obviously acid. They have also tended to increase most of their wines' final alcohol content quite considerably by adding sugar to the fermentation vat (a practice familiar to any Frenchman as chaptalisation) and so most Swiss whites taste much less tart and thin than the country's high altitude and relatively continental climate might suggest. Climate change is making chaptalisation unnecessary however. For the increasingly fashionable reds, Pinot Noir (also known as Blauburgunder or Clevener) is the dominant variety and is grown everywhere except the southern Ticino region, where Merlot is more popular.

The Wines we Tasted at the at the 2014 Digital Wine Communications Conference

3 Chasselas Wines from Vaud

Picture: Chasselas

Jancis Robinson: French Switzerland

Jancis Robinson: The main grape variety by far here in the south and east of the country is Chasselas, which is also sometimes sold as a table grape. The sunny, south-facing slopes of the Valais in the upper Rhône Valley south east of Lake Geneva produce more Swiss wine than any other region. So dry and warm are summers here that some vineyards, many of them so steep they need to be terraced or worked with pulleys, may need irrigation from time to time. Local vine variety specialities in some of the highest vineyards include the characterful, full bodied white variety Petite Arvine, Amigne, Humagne, and the red grapes Humagne Rouge (also known as Cornalin), and some serious late-harvest sweet wines are made, sometimes from raisined (flétri) grapes. Further down the valley, some concentrated whites from Fendant (Chasselas), Johannisberg (Sylvaner), Ermitage (Marsanne), Malvoisie (Pinot Gris) are made, as well as some deep, red Syrahs which would impress many winemakers in Tain l'Hermitage miles further down the river Rhône in France. Much of the Pinot Noir and Gamay grown in Valais is blended to be sold as Dôle, Switzerland's answer to Burgundy's Bourgogne-Passetoutgrains (see Burgundy). The best producers include Michel Boven, Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, Claudy Clavien, Cornulus, Didier Joris, René Favre & Fils, Jean-René Germanier, Simon Maye & Fils, Denis Mercier and Rouvinez, and the most highly regarded areas, officially designated as grands crus, are Fully, Conthey, Vétroz, St-Léonard and Salgesch.

The canton of Vaud, on the northern shore of Lake Geneva, is also an important Swiss wine region, and houses many of the larger merchants. Aigle, La Côte, Lavaux, Dézaley, Chablais and Yvorne are the main Vaud wine regions and are also dominated by Chasselas. Salvagnin is Vaud's version of Dôle, made here using a local clone of Pinot Noir blended with Gamay. Some Chardonnay and Pinot Gris is also grown here on vineyards which slope gently towards the lake, benefiting from its reflected, grape-ripening light. Some of the most respected winemakers are Bernard Cavé, Michel et Raoul Cruchon, Christian Dugon, Philippe Gex, the Ville de Lausanne and Raymond Paccot. The two grands crus here are Dézaley and Calamin.

A wide variety of vine varieties is grown around the city of Geneva itself, where Gamay is now the most planted grape variety, but respect for Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris have been growing. In Neuchâtel, where the dominant varieties are Chasselas and Pinot Noir, pale pink Oeil-de-Perdrix (partridge's eye) is a popular local invention.

The Wines

Domaine Blaise Duboux - Epesses, Cuvee Vincent, Calamin Grand Cru 2012, AOC Lavaux, Vaud
JR:  fresh, not very perfumed, reminds me of a Muscadet, on the palate quite full, there is a tradition of malolactic fermentation in Switzerland.

Chateaux Maison Blanche - Yvorne, Grand Cru 2010, AOC Chablais, Vaud
JR: Less aromatic initially, but on the palate it is racier, has nice tension, saltyness.

Domaine La Colombe - Fechy, Le Brez 2005, Fechy AOC Lavaux, Vaud
JR: Quite aged.

3 Arvine Wines from Valais

Picture: Arvine

The Wines

L'Orpailleur - Uvrier, Frederic Dumoulin, Petite Arvine 2013, AOC Valais
JR: I am a big fan of Arvine, does not travel well and is a speciality of the Valais, this wine is still young, excellent acidity, grapefruite notes, has great substance, lingers on.

Provins Valais, Petite Arvine, Maitre de Chais 2005
JR: Is in good shape, not too old, not oxidised, reminds me a of a good quality Pinot Gris from Alsace, seems off-dry to me.

Picture: Provins Valais, Petite Arvine, Maitre de Chais 2005

Domaines Rouvinez - Sierre, Chateau Lichten 2002, AOC Valais
JR: Arvine can age somehow, this one is very racy, there are many 2002 wine out there that are much more aged than this one.

3 Pinot Noire Wines

Picture: Pinot

Jancis Robinson: German Switzerland

Jancis Robinson: The wines of eastern Switzerland are quite different. Pinot Noir or Blauburgunder is particularly popular and is made in a wide range of styles from slightly sweet and juicy through seriously burgundian to a strong, sweet version made from dried grapes in the Graubünden region, a hotbed of experimentation. Reds make up 80% of production and Müller-Thurgau (also known as Riesling-Sylvaner) dominates the whites; indeed the largest wine region Schaffhausen is effectively a southern extension of Germany's Baden region. Baumann, Bovel, Gantenbein, Kesselrring, and Schwarzenach are some of the most reliable names.

The Wines

La Maison Carree - Auvernier, J.P. et Ch. Perrochet, Pinot Noir 2010, AOC Neuchatel
JR: Most widely planted grape variety, 3 very different Pinot Noirs, this one is fresh, with almost green aromas, light bodied, light tannins, reminds me of an Alsatian Pinot Noir, attractive lunch wine.

Peter Wegelin - Malans, Malanser Blauburgunder, Reserva 2011, AOC Graubünden
JR: I really like this wine, very nice balance, not a heavy wine, very delicate wine.

Picture: Peter Wegelin - Malans, Malanser Blauburgunder, Reserva 2011, AOC Graubünden

Caves des Champs - Miege, Claudy Clavien, La Part des Anges, Pinot Noir Fut de Chene 2012, AOC Valais
JR: Will age rather nicely, a bit young now, high in acidity, needs some time to calm down.
JR: All three wines are very light.

3 Merlot Wines

Picture: Merlot

Jancis Robinson: Italian Switzerland

Jancis Robinson: The Ticino is yet another quite distinct winemaking zone in Switzerland (with an unusual tradition of still cultivating hybrids). Much of its produce is light Merlot designed to satisfy the Swiss thirst for wine of any quality so long as it's red. Some top-quality, oak-aged Merlot del Ticino and other international reds are made, however, from low-yielding vines grown in particularly well-favoured sites - even if few of them escape the clutches of the Swiss themselves. Brivio, Gialdi, Monti, Zanini and Zündel are some of the most admired winemakers.

Picture: 3 Merlot Wines

Kopp von der Crone Visini, Barbengo, Balin 2009, AOC Tessin
JR: Merlot has become very popular in Ticino, Ticino has become one of the best regions for Merlot outside of Bordeaux, this wine is beautiful, lovely colour, fresh, I love the nose, this is a style of wine I personally really like, very successful Merlot.

Casa Vinicola Gialdi . Mendrisio, Merlot Sassi Grossi 2010, AOC Tessin
JR: A little bit simpler on the nose, too early to drink.

Domaine Grand Cour - Peissy, Jean-Pierre Pellegrin, Merlot 2011, AOC Geneve
JR: Different animal, too early, very promissing.

Great Event

Thanks Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz for an highly entertaining and educational event.

Picture: Grand Tasting of Swiss Wine

schiller-wine: Related Posting

Germany-South Wine Tour by ombiasy, 2014

Germany-North Wine Tour by ombiasy, 2014

3 Wine Tours by ombiasy Coming up in 2014: Germany-North, Germany-South and Bordeaux 

The 2014 Digital Wine Communications Conference (DWCC) in Switzerland 

The Wines of Weingut Saxer, a Winemaker in the German-speaking part of Switzerland

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Germany-South Wine Tour by ombiasy, 2014

Picture: At Weingut A. Christmann in the Pfalz, with Owner (and VDP President) Steffen Christmann

The Germany-South Wine Tour by ombiasy (September 14 – 20, 2014) was the second of two wine tours in Germany in 2014, both organized by Annette Schiller. This posting provides an overview.

For the first tour, see:
Germany-North Wine Tour by ombiasy, 2014

We visited a total of 17 wineries (12 members of the VDP, the German association of elite wine makers; 1 in Alsace) in 3 different wine regions where predominantly grapes other than Riesling are planted: Baden, the most southern German wine region and Germany’s answer to Burgundy; Pfalz with its almost Mediterranean climate and voluptuous whites and reds; Southern Rheinhessen where a variety of white grapes and also Pinot-Noir grow.

Pictures: Tastings

Germany with its roughly 250,000 acres under vine belongs today to one of the smaller wine producing countries in the world. However, viticulture in Germany has a long tradition, going back to Roman times. In the 15th century, the area under vine was four times larger than it is today. Wars, subsequent loss of territory, diseases, overproduction, and competition from beer brewing resulted in land turned over to other agricultural uses.

In the 19th century, concentration on terroir and technological progress fostered a tremendous improvement of quality and of the prestige of German wines. In 1987 German red wine accounted for only 15 percent of German wine output. Today, close to 40 percent of German wine is red. Soil conditions in the South were always conducive to Pinot-Noir and other red grape varieties, and with the climate changing, more and more red varieties, in particular Pinot-Noir, were planted. Today Germany makes stunning Pinot-Noirs on par with the best of Burgundy.

Annette Schiller: Our way of traveling allows wine lovers to fully experience authentic Germany. Drawing on our love and deep knowledge of Germany and close personal ties to many personalities in the wine scene, our small group visits many of the hidden gems that other tours pass by, but which are essential to comprehend what German wine is all about.

DAY 1: Sunday, September 14

09:30 am Departure by coach from Frankfurt am Main.

11:30 am Vineyard tour and cellar tour at winery Schloss Neuweier (VDP) in Baden-Baden-Neuweier. We were hosted by owner and winemaker Robert Schätzle.

Wine has been produced at this impressive 13th century castle for more than 700 years. About 100 years ago Riesling became the dominant grape and passion. Still today, winemaking takes place in the vaulted cellars that date back to the 17th century. The Rieslings grown in the steep vineyards produce sumptuous, racy wines with delicate fruit.

In 2012 the Schätzle family bought the estate and continues to produce wines of uncompromising quality. Robert Schätzle, the winemaker, studied oenology and comes from a family with a long tradition of winemaking in the Kaiserstuhl region to the south.

01:00 pm Wine pairing lunch at Röttele’s Restaurant – a 1-star Michelin restaurant - at Schloss Neuweier, with Robert Schätzle. Chef Armin Röttele greeted us after the lunch.

05:00 pm Arrival at Mercure Hotel in Freiburg im Breisgau.

06:30 pm Cellar tour and tasting at winery Zähringer in Heitersheim, Markgräflerland, Baden. We were hosted by winemaker Paulin Köpfer.

Since 1844 the Weingut Zähringer makes wine in the Markgräflerland, in southern Germany right across the Rhine River from the Alsace region. This area benefits from lots of sunshine, a good terroir, and a mild climate that favors varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinots.

In 1986 Walter Zähringer rigorously pursued quality control and was convinced that this can only be achieved through organic winemaking. In those days this philosophy was unimaginable, but as time went by Walter Zähringer and the estate manager Paulin Köpfer won recognition. Today their long experience has become an asset in marketing organic wines, and they count among the pioneers of organic wine in Germany.

DAY 2: Monday, September 15

09:45 am Estate tour and tasting at winery Freiherr von Gleichenstein in Oberrotweil, Kaiserstuhl, Baden. We were hosted by Baron Johannes von Gleichenstein.

Since 1634, this estate has been in the hands of the family of the Baron von Gleichenstein. The estate comprises 75 acres of the finest vineyards exclusively planted with the classic Burgundy grapes.

Baron Johannes and Baroness Christina von Gleichenstein manage the estate in the 11th generation. They aimed at producing top level wines: through consistent yield reduction and other measures to optimize quality, they produce wines that have won several awards, in particular the spectacular Pinot Noir.

12:00 pm Tour and tasting at winery Franz Keller (VDP) in Oberbergen, Kaiserstuhl, Baden. We were hosted by owner Fritz Keller.

With the Keller family, which can trace its roots as winemakers and hoteliers back to the Thirty Year War in the early 17-hundreds, everything started with producing and offering outstanding food. Franz and his wife Irma, parents of the current owner, were among the first generation of chefs to start the German revolution in the kitchen more than forty years ago. Well beyond the immediate post WWII era, the urge to simply have enough food on the table – quantity over quality- lingered on. In 1969 Franz and Irma Keller and their restaurant Schwarze Adler were awarded one Michelin star, which the restaurant defends until today. For Franz Keller, the central idea of winemaking was to produce top quality wines that perfectly accompanied the creations in the kitchen.

The current generation, Fritz and Bettina Keller have brought the winery to a new level. They just finished construction of a brand new winery that is an architectural landmark, beautifully integrated in the landscape. Their efforts to produce top wines, among them stunning Pinot Noirs, were acknowledged by their selection as new member of the VDP in 2013.

01:00 pm Wine paring lunch at Restaurant Schwarzer Adler in Oberbergen, Kaiserstuhl, Baden. Fritz Keller brought us to the restaurant and Bettina Keller joined us later to greet us.

This 1-Michelin star traditional restaurant run by the Keller family of winegrowers offers a harmonious mix of Baden country charm and elegance. The menu is a successful marriage of French and German cuisine reflecting the frontier on the nearby Rhine River, which is the border between Germany and France. The impressive wine list boasts 2 600 different wines, including a good selection of bottles from both Baden and France.

04.15 pm Tasting at winery Huber (VDP) in Malterdingen, Breisgau, Baden.

The Huber Estate is located in Malterdingen in the Breisgau area. More than 700 years ago, Cistercian monks came to Malterdingen, and found the same terroir as in Burgundy and thus started to plant Pinot Noir grapes. Still today, in many reference books on grape varieties, “Malterdinger” is used as a synonym for Pinot Noir. In 1987 Bernhard Huber and his wife Barbara started their own estate, leaving the co-operative where they produced wine before. They now own 65 acres of vineyards of which 70% is planted with Pinot Noir and the rest with Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, a little bit of Muskateller, Riesling, and Müller-Thurgau. All Huber wines are dry.

Bernhard Huber does not produce any botrytised noble sweet wines or ice wines, nor does he chaptalize or add sweet reserve (Suessreserve) to generate sweetness in the finished wine. All his wines are fully fermented, dry and at around 13.5 percent alcohol. Bernhard regularly received the highest awards for his Pinot Noir and became something of a legend for producing top Pinot Noirs that can compete with the best of Burgundy. Bernhard Huber, only 53 years old, died in June 2014 after a battle with cancer. His wife Barbara wrote me in a moving email that she and their children try to keep Bernhard Huber's vision of wine making alive and that they will continue to produce top quality wines.

DAY 3: Tuesday, September 16

09:45 am Cellar tour and tasting at winery Dr. Heger (VDP) in Ihringen, Kaiserstuhl, Baden.

This estate is also one of the young wineries by German standards. It was founded in 1935 by Dr. Max Heger, a country doctor. Today the winery is in the hands of the third generation. Joachim Heger and his wife Silvia are in charge of 50 acres planted primarily with Pinot Noir and the white Burgundy grapes. The winery lies in the Kaiserstuhl, a small volcanic group of hills in the Upper Rhine Valley in southwest Germany.

The town of Ihringen enjoys the highest average temperature in Germany. While some fine Riesling and Silvaner gets made here, it is really Pinot country. The wines are rich, very well-structured, compact, but nevertheless elegant and subtle.

11:55 am Lunch at restaurant Holzöfele in Ihringen, just across the street from Dr. Heger winery.

01:30 pm Cellar tour and tasting at winery Karl H. Johner in Bischoffingen, Kaiserstuhl, Baden. We were hosted by Karl-Heinz and Patrick Johner.

By German standards this is a very young winery. Karl-Heinz Johner, a graduate of the famous Geisenheim university of oenology and viticulture, founded the winery in 1985 after having worked for 12 years as a winemaker in England where he was one of the first to produce English sparklers. The soil and other conditions in the Kaiserstuhl area of the Baden wine region are conducive to the classic Burgundy grapes.

Karl H. Johner had the knowledge and experience with these grape varietals and building on this fundament he was able to produce high quality Pinot Noirs. Will Lyons of the WSJ said of the Johner 2010 Pinot Noir, “wonderful bright dark Burgundy color…..this is a perfumed complex wine”. Son Patrick is now co-owner and manager/winemaker in Baden. Karl H. Johner’s curiosity drove him to start a new winery in New Zealand, where he spends the better part of the year.

04:15 pm Cellar tour and tasting at winery Maison Trimbach, Alsace, France. Hubert Trimbach greeted us.

It will be very interesting to taste the Trimbach wines and compare them with the German wines. Even wines of the same grape variety are distinctively different. This is due to different terroir but in a large part to the different philosophy of winemaking in Germany and Alsace. In a nutshell: the modern German winemaking aims at elegant, fruity, crisp, perfectly balanced wines whereas the Alsatian winemaker wants body, boldness and strength for the wines to accompany the hearty Alsatian food.

Maison Trimbach is a family run winery and its winemaking history goes back to 1626. “All French 3 star Michelin Restaurants carry Trimbach wine” says Jean Trimbach. This says it all: Maison Trimbach produces wine of the highest quality!

07:00 pm Arrival at Hotel de la Tour in Ribeauvillé, Alsace.

We explore the small, picture-perfect, medieval Alsatian village and had a memorable dinner at a local brasserie, eating typical Alsatian food and drinking Alsatian wines.

DAY 4: Wednesday, September 17

We continue our journey north on the left side of the Rhine River and stayed on the French side to cross into the Pfalz region of Germany in Wissembourg.

10:00 am Tasting at winery Friedrich Becker (VDP) in Schweigen, Pfalz. Friedrich Becker and Friedrich Becker jun. greeted us.

This winery is unique. The vineyards are in two countries - Germany and France- due to the winery’s location right on the German/French border. In this area the Rhine rift created many different soil types which presented favorable conditions for planting a wide variety of grapes. 60% of the vineyards are planted with the Burgundy grapes and Chardonnay; 22 % with Riesling and the rest with Silvaner, Muskateller, Traminer, Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau, and Portugieser.

Friedrich Becker sees the wealth of nature as being the basis for his work, but more importantly, for him nature is an inspiration. He was the first of his family to distance himself from delivering the grapes to the local co-operative and decided to make his own wine. Right from the start he has been one of the best producers in the Pfalz and one of the best Pinot Noir producers in Germany. The Gault Millau 2010 Best Red Wine of the Year is a Friedrich Becker Pinot Noir. The same instincts seem to have been transferred to his son Friedrich jun., who has taken over more and more responsibilities.

12:00 pm Winery tour and wine pairing lunch at winery and wine tavern Jülg in Schweigen. We were hosted by Johannes Jülg, who is now in charge of winemaking. His father Werner and his 2 brothers also joined us.

Just down the street from winery Becker you find the winery Jülg. Like Becker their vineyards are also in Germany as well as in France. Karin Jülg runs the wine tavern which is known for outstanding traditional Pfälzer cuisine.

In the mid 80s Werner Jülg converted the family winery from a low-end mass producing winery -so typical for the Pfalz in those days-, into a wine estate that produces outstanding wines of the highest quality. He is also known for his excellent Sekt making: the Blanc de Noir produced in the Method Champenoise with traditional Champagner grapes is absolutely delicious.

Winery Jülg produces only dry wines mostly with traditional Burgundy grapes. After finishing his studies in oenology son Johannes is now also working in the winery to continue with the family tradition.

03:15 pm We took a short walk to the Deutsches Weintor (German Wine Gate), a landmark built in 1936 which greets the traveller when coming from France. It also marks the beginning of the German Wine Trail. We climbed 18 meters to the top and enjoyed the view over the breathtakingly beautiful landscape south towards the Alsace and north towards the Pfalz.

04:00 pm Tasting at winery Ökonomierat Rebholz (VDP) in Siebeldingen, Pfalz.

Hansjörg and Birgit Rebholz, the third generation of the Rebholz family continue what the founder, the Ökonomierat Eduard Rebholz began: producing highly individualistic wines by working as close as possible with nature. The Rebholz wines do not undergo any chaptalization, fining, or deacidifying nor will sweet reserve be added to underscore the individuality of the terroir, the climate, and the grape.

75% of the 47 acres under vine are planted with Riesling and the Burgundy grapes, 10% with Chardonnay and the rest with Silvaner, Sauvignon Blanc, Muskateller and Gewürztraminer. Due to the purity the wines have an enormous ageing potential. Hansjörg Rebholz was nominated as winemaker of the year 2013 by the Austrian lifestyle magazine Falstaff.

06:45 pm Arrival at Hotel Ritter von Böhl in Deidesheim, Pfalz.

We explored Deidesheim, a small, picturesque village with half-timbered houses and rustic wine taverns. The former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, who lives close by, made Deidesheim famous, as he took his powerful guests, such as Margaret Thatcher, the King and Queen of Spain, Michail Gorbatschow, to Deidesheim to try the Saumagen, his favorite dish.

DAY 5: Thursday, September 18

09:40 am Cellar tour and tasting at winery Geheimer Rat Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan (VDP) in Deidesheim, Pfalz. We were hosted by General Manager Gunther Hauck.

The Geheimer Rat Dr. von Bassermann Jordan estate was founded in 1718 by Andreas Jordan, who immigrated to the Pfalz from the Savoy region. In his footsteps came a long series of respected men: Ludwig Andreas Jordan (1811-1883), Representative of the Frankfurt Parliament and the Federal Parliament; Dr. Ludwig Bassermann-Jordan (1869 - 1914), who greatly influenced the first German wine regulations and who co-founded the Association of Natural Wine Producers (later VDP); Dr. Friedrich von Bassermann-Jordan (1872 - 1959) author of one of the most fundamental works on the history of wine; finally Dr. Ludwig von Bassermann-Jordan (1924-1995), who secured a firm position at the pinnacle of the international wine market for the Bassermann-Jordan wines.

The estate produces a broad range of wines that are rich in nuance and style with 85% stemming from Riesling grapes. These are terroir-based, spontaneously fermented Rieslings with mineral characteristics as well as crystal-clear, delicately fruity, vibrant and highly aromatic wines, which are modern and expressive.

02:20 pm Cellar tour and tasting at winery A. Christmann (VDP) in Gimmeldingen, Pfalz. Steffen Christmann joined us in the cellar and discussed with us the new VDP classification. His father greeted us at the tasting.

Weingut A. Christmann is owned and run in the 7th generation by Steffen Christmann, who is the current President of the VDP. Since its founding in 1845 the estate has produced Riesling and Pinot Noir. Devotion to soil vitality and the preservation and individuality of the terroir has lead Steffen Christmann to practice organic agriculture, strict vineyard management, and severe yield reduction.

In the cellar, he employs long and gentle pressing with low pressure, clarification through natural sedimentation, and a slow, not too cool fermentation sometimes until as late as June with only one filtration. All of the wines are vinified in the dry style, because he feels that the conditions in his vineyards are ideal for producing dry wines.

04:30 pm Tasting at winery Weegmüller in Neustadt-Haardt, Pfalz. We were hosted by Stefanie and Gabriele Weegmüller.

The Weegmüller family can look back on more than 300 years of winemaking in the Pfalz. The origins of the Weegmüller family, an old dynasty of council members of the free town of Zürich, lies in Switzerland. In 1657 they came to the village of Haardt, today a part of the city of Neustadt and started to make wine in 1685. One of first women in the field, winemaker Stefanie Weegmüller-Scherr is at the helm of the estate assisted by her sister Gabriele, who takes care of sales, marketing and hospitality services.

They cultivate 35 acres of vineyards which are farmed organically to ensure sustainability and harmony with nature. Dominated by Riesling, the winery also grows Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, Scheurebe, Gewürztraminer and Rieslander. The portfolio is complemented by the red grape varieties Pinot Noir, Merlot and Dornfelder.

06:30 pm Dinner at Netts Restaurant in Gimmeldingen.

The Pfalz has long been known for it's culinary tradition. During the last years a generation of young, ambitious chefs has brought the culinary scene in the Pfalz to a new level. One of those restaurants is the "Netts" of Susanne and Daniel Nett.

DAY 6: Friday, September 19

09:30 am Cellar tour, visit of the construction site of the winery extension and tasting at winery Markus Schneider in Ellerstadt, Pfalz. We were hosted by owner and winemaker Markus Schneider.

For centuries the Schneider family has been living in Ellerstadt and owned vineyards, but did not produce wine and instead sold the grapes. Markus Schneider founded the winery in 1994 and has made himself a name within a short period of time with innovative, non-traditional wines. He increasingly shifted to making blends, based on international grape varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Merlot, which were a novelty for Germany. At the same time, the wines were marketed with non-traditional, modern labels and wine names; these wines became increasingly appealing for young consumers and the hip crowd.

Markus Schneider markets all his wines as QbA, without any reference to the predicate level (that have been dominating the German wine classification for decades) and without any reference to the vineyard(s) were the grapes come from (moving away from the terroir principle that has become increasingly important for traditional German wine producers). In 2003, Markus Schneider was voted Newcomer of the Year by the Feinschmecker (the top German gourmet magazine), and in 2006, as Discovery of the Year. Within only a few years, Markus Schneider has shot to the upper echelons of the German wine world and established a solid position among the top. President Obama already savored Schneider wines at the luncheon given by Chancellor Merkel during Obama’s visit to Berlin last year.

12:15 pm Lunch at restaurant Landgasthaus zur Linde in Westhofen, Rheinhessen.

02:15 pm Cellar tour and tasting at winery Wittmann (VDP) in Westhofen, Rheinhessen. Eva Clüsserath-Wittmann showed us the winery and Philipp Wittmann joined us for part of the tasting.

This winery in Westhofen has been in the hands of the Wittmann family since 1663. Attachment to the native soil runs deep and in order to leave a legacy of healthy soil and vines the vineyards are farmed biodynamically. The old vaulted underground cellar with its consistent temperature provides the perfect conditions for the wine to ferment spontaneously with its own natural yeast in wooden casks.

The 62 acres of vineyards are planted primarily with Riesling. Because of the almost mediterranean climate in southern Rheinhessen, the Burgundy grapes also have a long tradition in viticulture. Philipp Wittmann, the current owner, regularly gets awards for his wines.

04:30 pm Tasting at winery Wechsler in Westhofen, Rheinhessen. We were hosted by Katharina Wechsler.

Winemaker Katharina Wechsler belongs to the group of the “young and wild” new generation of ambitious winemakers in Rheinhessen. To understand her vision, I just quote her: ”When I packed by bags and left Berlin in the summer of 2009 after 11 years of living a very different life in the big, wide world to go home to my family’s winery in the tiny village of Westhofen, I only knew this: I want to make wine and I want to make a top quality wine in Rheinhessen.

For 2 years I trained with two outstanding winemakers (one of them was Klaus Peter Keller) who understood my passion and enforced my love for winemaking. To be a winemaker has a lot to do with intuition and trust: Directing the grape’s development throughout the year until harvest, deciding on the optimal picking time, then slowly taking your hands off to let nature run its course in the cellar to finally look forward to the moment when the perfect result is in the glass”.

07:15 pm Arrival at Hotel Merian in Oppenheim, Rheinhessen.

DAY 7: Saturday, September 20

09:30 am Guided sightseeing tour of labyrinth I in Oppenheim.

This small town with a population of about 7000 is a gem, and undiscovered by foreign tourists, despite its proximity to the airport in Frankfurt. First documented in 765, it survived wars and destruction and is beautifully preserved.

The Gothic Cathedral is the most important Gothic church between Cologne and Strassburg. In the ossuarium next to the church, the bones of more than 20,000 Oppenheim citizens are stacked from floor to ceiling. Extraordinary is the around 40 km long underground labyrinth, well preserved in its historical state.

10:45 am Tasting at winery Gunderloch (VDP) in Nackenheim, Rheinhessen. We were hosted by Agnes and Fritz Hasselbach.

It all started in 1890, when the banker Carl Gunderloch purchased the Gunderloch manor house and vineyards in Nackenheim. Today, the Estate is still in the hands of the Gunderloch family, with Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger, the great-great granddaughter of Carl Gunderloch, and her husband Fritz Hasselbach, a renowned winemaker, in charge. The Gunderloch Estate also has an interesting tie to Hollywood.

The German writer Carl Zuckmaier, who became a Hollywood screenwriter, was born in Nackenheim and a friend of Carl Gunderloch. Zuckmaier not only wrote the screenplay for the film "The Blue Angel", but also the plays "The Captain from Koepenick" and "The Devils General". He used the Gunderloch estate for the setting, and Carl Gunderloch as the main character for his very first play "Der froehliche Weinberg" (The Jolly Vineyard). In this play Zuckmaier renamed Carl Gunderloch "Jean Baptiste", which is where the brand name used on the Gunderloch "Jean Baptiste" Kabinett is borrowed from. Unusual for a German winery, the Gunderloch estate exports 50% of its wines. The “Jean Baptiste” is reportedly the bestselling German wine in New York City.

12:45 pm Lunch at Bootshaus in Mainz.

03:00 pm Arrival at Frankfurt airport.

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