Riesling, infinitely versatile, source of wines that are fresh as a daisy to lusciously sticky, and always with a hallmark mouth-watering acidity. This flexibility can be both a blessing and a curse. Wine geeks and sommeliers love these complex, food friendly wines, said to transmit the character of a place, and capable of ageing for decades, but it makes it hard for the everyday drinker to understand and embrace Riesling. In the lead up to Wines of Germany’s annual 31 Days of German Riesling July celebration, we visited three producers, based less than 100km apart in Rheingau and the Mosel Valley, but with distinctly different wines and styles.
It was an early start, isn’t it always on wine trips? But this meant by midday we were motoring along the autobahn towards Weingut Georg Breuer in the village of Rüdesheim on the River Rhein. The estate was founded in 1880 by Peter Breuer, and owns some of the steepest, most well-drained vineyards of the Rheingau communes of Rüdesheim and Rauenthal. After World War II the estate made the decision to focus on winemaking, rather than selling grapes. Peter’s grandson Bernhard was a real ambassador for Riesling, playing an important role in restoring Riesling’s respectability in world markets after the lost Liebfraumilch years. “I wish to produce wines that make the specific characteristics of their origin visible” was his motto. His daughter Theresa, who took over at the age of 18, is continuing that tradition and has converted their vineyards to organics.
Our visit started with a cable car ride, which took us up and over some of the plots which go into Theresa’s village wine (Estate Rüdesheim). From this birds-eye view you really get a feeling for the range of parcels Theresa has at her disposal. In a marginal winegrowing climate this is a huge advantage. Rheingau is around 50˚ north but with many south facing slopes, depending on how warm or cool, wet or dry a vintage is different plots thrive. Theresa and her team therefore vinify and keep each plot separate until they do their final blending. We disembarked the cable car at the imposing Niederwalddenkmal monument and took a walk down through the vineyards back towards the river. Theresa explained that disease pressure has been low so far this vintage so they’ve only needed to spray three times, as they work organically she uses a variety of copper, sulphur and fennel sprays depending on the issue. 2017 was an exceptionally dry year, often the vintage following a dry year produces low yields, but not this year. She is planning to take away the ‘shoulder’ of larger bunches in a couple of weeks time, which creates looser bunches and allows the vine to concentrate all its energy into ripening the remaining grapes. All of this work is carried out by hand in the steeper vineyards.
As we continued down the slope we came to one of the parcels which is sometimes used for Grand Cru Berg Rottland. Plots closer to the river benefit from its moderating influence and tend to be warmer. In recent years grapes from this site have lacked the crystalline purity of fruit to make it into the Grand Cru selection, and instead go to Terra Montosa, a blend of grapes from each of the estate’s single vineyards.
After all the talking about wine it was time to drink some. We stopped for a picnic with an awesome selection of local breads, cheese and sausages, washed down with a fresh, zesty Estate Rüdesheim 2017, bottled just a couple of weeks ago. Theresa also opened Berg Rottland 2016, this was a cool late ripening vintage, which meant the final blend used a percentage of grapes from the riverside plots we had just passed by. It had a delicate mineral nose, Theresa explained “We don’t want to push the fruit to the extreme edge of ripeness, we would rather pick a little earlier when it feels right”.
We headed back into town, to the winery and cellar. Being in the centre of Rüdesheim they don’t have a lot of space. At harvest time they set up their presses in the street, being careful to finish before 10pm and not keep their neighbours awake. Luckily their vineyard structure, a patchwork of small plots, matches the winery. They don’t have cooling facilities so ferment grapes as they come. There’s often fog over the river in the morning, so that’s when they pick their best vineyards when the grapes are cooler and work up to the higher sites later in the day.
“It’s a garage winery”
Theresa unlocked an unassuming looking door in the corner of the courtyard revealing some steep steps heading down into a cool, dark cellar. On the left we passed a cobweb encrusted room, worthy of any Dracula movie, where they keep some over their back-vintages. They ferment each of their plots separately, either in stainless steel or 1,200l oval stück and half stück (typical to the Rheingau area), depending on the quality level of the wine. They use wild yeasts to start the ferment if it’s warm enough, otherwise they’ll use a culture. They rack after fermentation has finished, add a touch of SO2, and leave on fine lees until bottling. They only use battonage in very high acid years, as it’s not their goal to have malo. “We follow the wine in the cellar, we don’t push it in a particular direction”.
Theresa, her cellar and vineyard managers do their first tasting is before Christmas, then they taste every 3-4 weeks following to understand the vintage. Then they each produce a blend and they taste all three. On blending Theresa says: “It’s about the feeling… You know the pieces, but not how the puzzle will look”
“It’s about the feeling… You know the pieces, but not how the puzzle will look”
Last stop was the tasting room. A personal highlight was a sneak preview of the 2014 Berg Roseneck, which will be released in the autumn. It was starting to show some age, petrol and rose petals, but still had lush citrus layers, a creaminess and an incredibly long finish. You can find a full overview of the Georg Breuer wines on our website.
Read part two of our travelogue: Riesling Safari hits the Mosel Valley