An update from the Rheingau

13May Posted by Jo Lory
Theresa vineyards

Theresa Breuer is a dynamo, she took the reins at her family estate in 2004 aged 18, when her father passed away. She has continued to build on his legacy for quality converting their vineyards – some of the top crus in the Rheingau – to organics. I caught up with Theresa to discuss recent developments at the estate, and the eagerly anticipated 2019 vintage releases.

New projects

While for many of us the past year has meant a change of rhythm, for winemakers the seasons and the work in the vineyard continued as normal. Theresa Breuer and her team have used this year, when she couldn’t do her usual travelling, to focus a bit more at home. She explained that they have been reconfigured their winery in Rudesheim to give more bottle storage and make the layout more efficient. But more exciting still, they’ve working with new vineyards around the village of Lorch. Theresa explained the background:

“Lorch is the furthest village in the area, 16km from Rudesheim, more Mittelrhein than Rheingau. It’s on it’s own, a little fairy-tale area with castles. Everything is remote and calm, but that focusses you when you’re there. We took over 7.5ha of vineyards in 2019, from a family where the next generation didn’t want to continue winemaking. It’s a once in a generation opportunity [to purchase new vineyards] so you say yes!

“The vineyards are on steep slopes spread across five different sites, they’re intense to work but beautiful. Three are going into a new Village Riesling, and we do one Grand Cru. [We have a limited quantity of Lorch Pfaffenwies Grand Cru available] We’re still trying to understand the new area and how we bring this particular unique terroir into the bottle in the best way. It’s different to Rudesheim, in a segment where the river curves again, so the vineyards are south-east facing which prolongs the nights. This is especially interesting during harvest, as we keep a higher acidity level and the ripening is stretched out a little bit longer. But then we also have very intense afternoon sun which brings a lot of fruit intensity and flavour ripeness into the grapes.

“We have a sweet-sour touch there, which you don’t get anywhere else in Rheingau, it’s typical for Mittelrhein”.

“So we’re adding a unique Riesling to our portfolio, from the same soils, but its own area. As we get to know the area we’re already changing a bit the picking time, what we vinify in… It’s a cool time, not everything is set into a frame already, we can be different with things”.

A sense of place

Vineyards at Rheingau. Map of the parcels Breuer own.

Riesling is renowned for expressing the region and soils on which it’s grown. Theresa was asked to be part of a project called Wurzelwerk (wurzel means roots in German). It’s a collaboration of Riesling makers in Rheingau, Rheinhessen, and Kamptal in Austria. Three wineries make a wine from the others’ grapes, to see the influence of the cellar on the final wines. I asked Theresa how she became involved and what she’s learned from the project.

“It started, when we were all studying together. We’d talk about terroir – we love our sites and are big supporters of Cru wines – but what influence does the cellar and the winemaker play? I take part with our Nonnenberg Cru, a monopole which only we make wine from, so we didn’t know how much is the influence of the vineyard and of the producer. [For Wurzelwerk] the only decision we make is when to pick the grapes, we keep a third and send the rest to the other producers; we all follow the same low intervention ‘recipe’ for the winemaking; everything is the same but at the end we have three different wines.

“We have discovered, the younger the wines are the louder the cellar is”.

“The wines we had all felt like our wines, I wouldn’t have guessed they were from other sites.  But after a while the vineyard is really stepping up, it develops a uniqueness. You can see a Heiligenstein from Austria is not Breuer, but it needs time. Terroir is perhaps something you should talk about after three-four years, because what you experience in an early stage is a huge influence of the cellar”.

2019 – vintage of the century?

The 2019 vintage was challenging in the vineyard, but has received amazing reviews. James Suckling asked: is 2019 Germany’s 100 point vintage? Calling it: “The best vintage I have ever tasted for German Riesling in my four-decade career“. We’re delighted to have a small allocation, does Theresa think 2019 lives up to the hype?

“It was another dry warm year [like 2018], so the vines didn’t have water resources left, it was dry, dry, dry! And we had heat peaks, over 40 degrees at times. We could see parts of the grapes were burned, even though we tried used canopy management to cover them, it was tough, hard to see our vines fighting. In the end the grapes were tiny and extremely concentrated. We had very intense flavours in the grapes, and harvest was later so it was a nice balance of acidity which you keep better with later, cooler harvests. We had high acidity with a lot of concentration, but low yields, half of what we picked in 2018. It was great to see that even though it was a tough year for the vines, the fermentations went smoothly. The wines have a lot of structure, intensity, they’re probably great for ageing.

“It’s a classic Riesling year for flavour and intensity and acidity in the wines. It’s a vintage for Riesling lovers. 2018 is a great door opener if you’re just stating to get to know Riesling, it’s more gentle. But 2019 is the vintage to follow”.

When I visited Theresa in 2018 she explained about the patchwork of parcels of vines they own. Depending on how warm or cool, wet or dry a vintage is different plots thrive. Theresa and her team vinify and keep each plot separately, giving them a palette for their final blending. Had any of the Crus performed particularly well in 2019?

“There’s not one star in 2019. They’re all so concentrated, they all carry their character and typicity very well this year. Berg Rottland is more fruit driven and opens up a little earlier. Schlossberg is the warmest plot and develops an intense ripeness, it’s a little more creamy and rounder, but extremely mineral. 2019 is a year that points out the nerve and soul of the different sites”.

So there you have it a classic Riesling year, but small quantities, grab it while you can!