Friday, November 13, 2009

German Winemakers in the World: Christian Woelffer and Roman Roth

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller at the Woelffer Estate in Long Island/USA

Christian Woelffer and Roman Roth

The Woelffer Wine Estate, one of the top wine estates on Long Island, New York State, would not be what it is today without the two Germans Christian Woelffer, its founder, and Roman Roth, its wine maker.

Christian Wölffer was born in Hamburg, Germany. He made a successful career in investment banking, real estate, venture capital and agriculture in different countries, before moving into wine and establishing the critically acclaimed Woelffer Estate.

Wine making in Long Island began in the late 1970s. Since then, in little over a quarter of a century, the Long Island wine industry has grown to 3,000 acres of vines and over thirty wineries producing outstanding wines. Located in New York State, on the East Coast of the United States, Long Island extends some 120 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Its maritime climate, geography and soil characteristics provide ideal conditions for producing wines of exceptional quality.

Christian Wölffer purchased land on Long Island in 1978. He joined the wine movement in 1987, when he started to grow wine, and became a driving force of wine making in the Long Island in the following years until his untimely death in 2008. In 1997, Christian Wölffer completed work on his state-of-the-art winery, unquestionably the most stylish on Long Island. The rustic, Tuscan-style building, with its warm ochre walls, is set on a rise overlooking the vineyards to the east and the gently rolling Hamptons landscape to the west. Christian Woelffer died last year, shortly after New Year, in a sport accident at the age of 70 on vacation in Brazil.

The other driving force behind the Wölffer Estate is the German winemaker Roman Roth. Born in Rottweil, Germany, Roth was a choirboy in his youth. In 1982, at age 16, he began a three-year apprenticeship at the Kaiserstuhl Wine Cooperative in Oberrotweil. Turning 20, Roman Roth traveled to California, where he worked at the Saintsbury Estate and Australia, where he worked at the Rosemount Estate. Back in Germany, for further study, Roth worked at the Winzerkeller Wiesloch in Baden.

The year 1992 became a turning point for Roman Roth for two reasons: first, he earned his Master Winemaker and Cellar Master degree from the College for Oenology and Viticulture in Weinsberg. And second, he accepted Christian Wölffer’s invitation to join him in New York to be the winemaker at what was then the mere start-up of a winery, at that time known as Sagpond Vineyards in Sagaponack.

Arriving at Sagaponack, Roth found 28 acres of vineyards and rudimentary winemaking facilities. In quick order, he established a temporary winery and a tasting room and began the exacting task of bringing forth the Sagpond Vineyards’ first vintage, a Chardonnay.

Over the next several years, Roth managed the cultivation and expansion of the vineyards, which today number 50 acres, and the vinification, ultimately producing wines that embody the essence of the Hamptons appellation—ripe fruit and natural acidity born of a unique terroir, a lush combination of soil, sun, moisture and the ever-present maritime breezes from the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

Under Roth’s meticulous direction, the wines possess three distinctive characteristics. First, the wines embody a classic European style yet are also authentic to the Hamptons region; second, the wines are made for longevity, with a depth and elegance that improves with age; and third, the wines are closely linked with gastronomy, the ideal companions for a wide range of foods and cuisines.

This is part of the series German Winemakers in the World.

Christian Woelffer and Roman Roth, USA, November 12, 2009
Robert Anton Schlumberger, Austria, November 7, 2009
Robert Stemmler, USA, November 3, 2009
Eduard Werle, France, October 29, 2009

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