We continued our trip with a gentle ferry ride across the Rhine, and were soon speeding towards Leiwen on the River Mosel for a dinner date with Andreas Bender. Not literally speeding I might add, well Luis may have been in his Golf GTI… We couldn’t resist stopping to admire the view above Leiwen (photo above).
Andreas grew up surrounded by wine, he learned the trade from his father who was a vine propagator, and made his first wine in the family basement aged 13. After studying at Geisenheim, and working in wineries across Europe and the US, he started his own project in 2008. He doesn’t work in the classic German way. Instead of following a model where top single vineyards are vinified and bottled separately, he vinifies each site separately, but then blends according to three different styles. Paulessen is a modern dry Riesling typical to the Mosel; Dajoar means ‘as before’ in the local dialect referring to a more traditional off-dry style; and Hofpäsch has a Spätlese or Auslese character depending on the vintage. He also grows some Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon in warmer Pfalz.
Andreas welcomed us with a chilled glass of his traditional method Riesling Sekt at the semi-building site which will soon be his new tasting room . It’s built on top of his existing cellar and has panoramic views over the surrounding vineyards.
Enjoying a glass of Rosé Sekt at Trittenheim Wein und Taffelhaus
Our eyes lit up when we arrived at our dinner destination – Wein und Tafelhaus in Trittenheim, run by husband and wife team Daniela & Alexander Oos. Let me set the scene: balmy evening, a long table set on the terrace overlooking sunlit vineyards, blackbirds singing, the pop of a cork… The meal more than lived up to the setting. Daniela kept arriving with more plates of delicately cooked local vegetables, smoked fish and meats. Their deconstructed take on ramen, with the stock brought to the table in shiny copper pans, was a hit giving an intensely moreish unami hit. Andreas’ range of Rieslings from dry to sweet, plus his Pinot Noir and Cabernet from the Pfalz covered all bases and really showcased the food matching capabilities of wines from these areas.
Day two and a geology lesson
The next morning Andreas took us to some of his vineyards, he has sites across the middle Mosel. First stop was Leiwener Laurentiuslay, named after the little chapel of St Laurence at the top of the ridge. Andreas owns five parcels within this vertigo inducing south/south-west-facing slope outside Leiwen. The dark, decomposed Devonian slate topsoils store daytime heat and radiate it back at night, assisting ripening.
Our next stop was at Schweicher Annaberg where Andreas owns three hectares. This south facing hillside (pictured below) was classified as first-class terroir on the historical Mosel maps of 1868. It has a complex soil structure of sedimentary rocks combined with red slate and greywacke – a hard, dark sandstone with quartz fragments. In warm dry years this site come into its own as the heavier soils store more moisture, resulting in rich, mineral driven wines. They have to be good to compensate for the huge amount of time and manpower that goes into maintaining these vineyards. As we clung tightly onto the posts we all made a vow that the Mosel was a place we probably wouldn’t be volunteering to do harvest, not without crampons and a harness!
Steep sites on Schweicher Annaberg
The Mosel River forms a meandering spine through the region, constantly changing direction as it flows northeast, covering almost 250 km. It’s this twisting course, and the steep slopes of the river gorge that give the Mosel such as range of vineyards of varying heights, soils and expositions.
“My wines are made by nature in the vineyards”
Having lived and worked in the region all his life Andreas knows each area well, and which sites are likely to thrive under different weather patterns. He describes his choice of vineyard sites as “having a whole piano to play on” when he selects the plots that go into each of his wines. He ferments each day’s harvest, and each plot separately, tasting once or twice a day during fermentation, and again afterwards. Only then he can decide which tanks will become Dajoar and which Paulessen wines. On good years the best cuvées, from single vineyard sites with the most concentrated fruit are bottled as his black label ‘Zenit’. The hillsides that make the grade vary from season to season. You can find a full overview of Andreas’ wines, including his Pinot Noir from Pfalz on our website.
Time to get back on the road and head east for our final visit of the trip to Clemens Busch. Clemens and his wife Rita have gained a cult following over the past three decades for their laser-sharp, terroir defined wines. Most of their production comes from the iconic Pündericher Marienburg, a south-west-facing hillside vineyard just across the river from their house. They inherited two hectares but have since bought adjoining plots and now own 16 of the 25 hectares which make up the Marienburg.
As a young winemaker in the 70s Clemens was already questioning the use of herbicides and reducing the sulphur levels in his wines. When he and Rita inherited his parents’ winery and vineyards in 1984, they had the chance to put these ideas into practice.
Our visit started with a tasting which proved a masterclass in both VDP classification and a clear illustration of the impact of vineyard site and geology on the final wine. Clemens vinifies and bottles each plot separately. In the winery he works with wild yeasts, and ferments mostly in very old 1000-litre barrels. Nothing is added to the wines at any stage, apart from a touch of sulphur at bottling.
Tasting at Clemens Busch
The VDP Grosses Gewächs classification isn’t part of official German wine law. It was conceived by a group of top producers in the early 2000s and defines wines according to terroir. At the base of the pyramid is Gutswein, literal translation ‘good’ wine which is a regional classification. Clemens’ zesty, grapefruit Riesling Trocken, from their secondary sites and fruit declassified from their Grand Crus, sets the bar very high for their entry level wine.
Next comes Ortswein which are village wines, ort means ‘place’; then Erste Lage (First Growth) and Grosse Lage (Great Growth) which denotes top parcels, with expressive site-specific characteristics and aging potential. The GG classification is specific to dry wines (with less than 9 g/l residual sugar), and like the Grands Crus of Burgundy, take the name of the vineyard and not the village.
We tasted two of Clemens’ village wines. Clean, floral 2016 Riesling “Vom grauen Schiefer” grown on grey slate which brings a fresh minerality and almost salty tang to the wines. And earthy, spicier and more textured 2016 Riesling “Vom roten Schiefer” from grapes grown on the iron-rich red slate sectors of Nonnengarten and Marienburg. The 2016s are generally showing a steeliness and vibrancy in contrast to the riper fruit of the 2015s.
Then we moved to some of the Grosse Lage single vineyard wines. Rothenpfad, an area of red slate above the Pünderich viaduct, has historically been recognised as a top site. 2016 Marienburg “Rothenpfad” GG had generous rounded fruit, and a long spicy herbal finish.
Fahrlay in contrast is a stony, terraced south-facing slope with blue slate soils. 2015 Marienburg “Fahrlay Reserve” GG Reserve wines spend 24 months on gross lees before bottling. Fahrlay Reserve had a minerality mixed with jasmine, and a creaminess wrapping around the acidity.
A slightly contemplative silence had descended on the group as we mulled over the exceptional wines we’d just tasted, just a small snapshot of the range Clemens produces. Our reverie didn’t last long, it was time to cross the river and see the vineyards with their patchwork of slates and verdant ground cover for ourselves. The recent warm, humid weather has caused a surge of growth and you could see Clemens mentally calculating what pruning needed to be done. He tucked in tendrils and broke off the odd shoot as he explained each site to us. After a picnic lunch at the top of the Marienburg hillside we reluctantly headed back to our cars and on to Frankfurt airport.
In the trade we like to understand the facts about a wine, note the methods a winemaker uses, put them neatly on a tech sheet. It helps us ‘understand’ a particular producer or region. If one thing became clear on this trip, it was that if you work in a region like the Mosel or Rheingau at the northern tip of the winemaking 28-50 rule of thumb, you need a phlegmatic temperament and an adaptable approach. All of the winemakers spoke about the necessity of having vineyards in a range of locations, and all vinified plots separately. As Theresa Breuer summed it up: “we work with what we get” and I think we’d all agree they do an incredible job of it.
If you’d like more information on any of the producers mentioned you can find details on our website or contact your sales rep. Clemens will be in London on 25-27th July for visits and tastings. Please get in touch if you’d like to meet him.
Vineyards opposite Clemens and Rita’s house: on the far right is Pündericher Marienburg, in the middle Fahrlay Terrassen, and on the left Falkenlay. Sketch and the real thing!
Clemens in Farlhay Terrassen with the famous blue slate.
Click here if you missed part 1 of our Riesling safari.