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Wines of Greece, Wines of Chile, Wines of Germany. Three topics that need tackling, which to do first. As the title indicated Wines of Germany is taking priority for the evening. Why you might ask? I am headed to the Riesling Week 2009 tasting event tomorrow afternoon and decided to get into the spirit a day earlier. You see, on my sojourn to Greece we detoured through Germany on the way home to visit my wife’s sister near Dusseldorf. Given that we were in the vicinity and my brother-in-law happens to own a small parcel of vineyards (more on that later) in the Mosel (formerly known as the Mosel-Saar-Ruher, thanks for the name change!) we had to make the trip. The Mosel region is named after the eponymous “Moselle” river. The area is cooler but benefits during a temperate summer from the heat reflected from the river. Even more so, the south facing slopes are in demand as they receive direct sunlight leading to better ripening for the grapes. Mission accomplished we headed back to the winery in hopes of doing some tasting.
So, two hours on the audubon which is fun in its own right to the land of the steep, hillside vineyards. Though the Mosel is only the th largest wine growing region in Germany it is the one that has vaulted them to international acclaim around the world. The primary grape is, of course, Riesling. There are also spatterings of Muller Thurgau, Elbing and tiny amounts of others. On driving in, the region was certainly a site to behold.
On arrival, our first stop was Staffelter Hof. A winery with an immense history; dating back more than a thousand years. This is the winery that tends to my brother-in-laws small parcel among any others. We were scheduled to meet the winemaker but upon arrival he was still out in the fields completing the days work. With some time on our hands we decided to set out in search of my brother-in-law’s parcel of land. I’m glad we did as the experience was very memorable. The air was refreshing as we walked through the vineyards and the views were stunning and watching the winemakers work the land was a sight to behold.
As we roamed about looking for his plot it became clear that there was two ways to cultivate this land. It all depends on how far you want to separate the vines. Looking to get just a bit more yield from the vineyards? Ouch, you have some manual labor on your hands. Make it too narrow to get any power machinery between the rows and you are riding a sled (see picture on the left). This sled has a tow cable that is attached to a tractor on top of the hill. Sit on the sled and the crank starts to pull the tow cable in and the plowing begins. Want it a bit easier? Spread it a bit wider. Ahh, automated bliss. Instead of a sled, think snowmobile. A nice easy ride up the hill. On the flip side, the narrower the rows the more grapes you can get from a parcel. Take your pick, I’m tempted to side with taking a lower yield and making the labor a little easier. Does that make me lazy? Per wikipedia, the Mosel required “nearly seven times more man hours are needed here than in more flatter terrain such as the Médoc”. The main reason here is that you have to work the vines horizontally rather than vertically to prevent yourself from traipsing up and down a hill all day. Couple that with the plowing methods and that renders the modern trellising system useless.
That aside, we continued the search for the family plot. A 40×25 piece of paradise. As we roamed about I learned that in return for letting Staffelter Hof tend to the land and pick the grapes he received some discounted wines… not a bad deal. Wonder if I can get someone to come tend the vines in my backyard, any takers? While walking about I noticed a few things. The first that struck me was the drainage/sewage system that was in place to handle runoff from the storms that make their way to the area. I failed to capture a picture that shows these tiered, liked the vineyards, quickly escorting the water to the river giving it minimal opportunity to run over the land. As you can see from the above slideshow, the terroir here is largely rock and these rains would quickly wipe away whatever nutrients are present. The second thing I noticed was the size of the parcels. No mammoth estates here. Just small parcels of land side by side. Perhaps owned by the same winery, perhaps not. Very neat, except for the difficulty it created in tracking down the one we were in search of. That said, eventually, as you can see from the picture (me left and my brother-in-law Christoph right) we did track it down. Needless to say, I know what to get Christoph come next Christmas!
Are return to the winery was more successful than our initial visit as we were able to find the wife of the winemaker, Gundi (middle), who welcomed us and gave us a tour of the facility and sat us down to so some tasting. The first wine was the 2007 Alte Reben Riesling Spätlese trocken , translates to roughly “old vines”, which retails for £12. An excellent wine, nice fruit on the front of the palate with minerally finish that gave me flashbacks to handfuls of rocks in my hands as we stood in the vineyard. The second wine was the 2006 Barrique Rotweincuvee, a blend of three German reds. The winery has this to say; “The varieties Spätburgunder, Frühburgunder and Regent come together in our cuvée “Drei Farben Rot”; a dry red with fruity aromas. Be prepared for a wonderful suprise.” It retails for £14 and is produced in extremely small quantities, approximately 500 bottles per year.
As we were tasting the 2nd offering Gerd (right) returned from the vineyards. He was clearly spent after a long days labor but was courteous enough to spend some time with us before having dinner and getting on with his evening. During our conversation I learned Staffelter Hof farmed about 8 hectares, equivalent to 20 acres, which placed them squarely on the larger side of wineries in the Mosel. They produced about 75k bottles or 6,000+ cases annually. Of these 90% were white and 75% were Riesling. Another interesting note was around the generational aspect of these family wineries. Gerd’s son, Jan Matthias (left), who I did not meet as decided to continue the family’s legacy in the wine business. After studying in New Zealand and Australia he has returned home and is involved in the wineries operations today. It appears this scenario is becoming less of the norm as Gerd mention he has been unexpectedly acquiring vineyards from local winemakers that are retiring and have no one to carry on the tradition. Lastly, he also mentioned that red was making a comeback in the region. Apparently ages ago the area was predominantly planted with red. In the late 19th century nearly all of these vines were replanted to white wine grapes and just recently has it began to claw back some space in the vineyards. At Staffelter Hof they’ve been working with reds since 1998.
So, will I see some Staffelter Hof wines tomorrow at the Destination Riesling tasting? Stay tuned to find out. In the mean time, what is your favorite wine from the Mosel?