Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Bertram Verch, President of the Mainzer Weingilde in the Niersteiner Hipping Vineyard of the Roter Hang
The Wines of the Roter Hang (Red Slope) in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, Germany
Once a year the winemakers of the Roter Hang (Red Slope), a very steep vineyard south of Mainz in the Rheinhessen area, invite for a wine tasting in the middle of the vineyard. This year, I was around at the time of the event and participated. And I had the pleasure to taste the wines with Bertram Verch, President of the Mainzer Weingilde, a true lover and expert of Rheinhessen wines.
Rheinhessen is an area that used to be known for winemakers often focusing on quantity and not quality. Rheinhessen is the largest viticultural region in Germany. Every fourth bottle of German wine comes from Rheinhessen. The high-yielder Mueller-Thurgau accounts for about 1/5 of the vineyards. Unlike in other German wine regions, where monoculture of the vine is the norm, here the many rolling hills are host to a wide variety of crops grown alongside the grape. Rheinhessen also has the rather dubious honor of being considered the birthplace of Liebfraumilch. At the same time, Rheinhessen is among Germany’s most interesting wine regions. A lot is happening there. This is not because of the terroir, but because of the people. There is an increasing group of mostly young and ambitious winemakers who want to produce and indeed do produce outstanding wine and not wines in large quantities.
One region of Rheinhessen, the Rheinterrasse, had always been in a somewhat different league, the stretch of vineyards which runs from Bodenheim, south of Mainz, in the north to Mettenheim in the south, often referred to as the Rheinterrasse.
The vineyards of the Rheinterrasse have a favoured mesoclimate in comparison with others in the region. The Rheinterrasse accounts for one-third of the region's Riesling wines. The wines from the Rheinterrasse were at some point even more expensive than Bordeaux wines.
The Red Slope and Nierstein
The Roter Hang (Red Slope) is at the center of the Rheinterrasse. This steep slope extends for some five kilometers (three miles) with a total of 180 ha (445 acres) around Nierstein on the left bank of the Rhine.
The Roter Hang has a very special terroir, resulting from the drop of the Rheinhessen plateau before human life started. As a consequence of these movements the Roter Hang has a mineral-rich soil, a mixture of iron and clayish slate, which is at least 250 million years old (Permian Period). Further, the slope faces south to southeast, which helps in terms of the solar radiation. The red slate retains warmth, and additional warmth comes from the sunlight reflected from the surface of the Rhine.
The Winemakers of the Roter Hang
Two wine producers stand out: St. Antony with Heyl zu Herrnsheim and Gunderloch
St. Antony with Heyl zu Herrnsheim
St. Antony has been making wine since the First World War, but under a different name and not for sale. The Estate was part of an industrial conglomerate. Its wines were consumed within the company or given to customers as presents. In 1995, the Estate was renamed Weingut St. Antony. In 2005, Detlev Meyer, who also has interests in the textile industry, acquired St. Antony. In 2006, the Heyl zu Herrnsheim Estate was long time leased by Meyer and merged with St. Antony. Both estates have moved into the renovated buildings of the former Gustav Adolf Schmitt wine estate, but remain completely separate in administrative and production terms.
The history of the Heyl zu Herrnsheim Estate dates from the 1500. The Heyl zu Herrnsheim Estate is a pioneer in ecological viticulture in Germany. The Estate shifted from conventional to ecological viticulture back in the 70s already. In 1833 it was the first to produce Sekt (sparkling wine) in Germany.
The vineyard area of st. Antony cum Heyl zu Herrnsheim now totals 26,5 hectares, with holdings in the top-rated Nierstein sites Hipping, Ölberg, Orbel and Pettental.Varieties planted here are Riesling (80%), as well as Pinot Noir (8%), Pinot Blanc (8%) and Silvaner (4%). Annual production is around 160.000 bottles of wine. St. Antony is a member of the VDP association.
Heyl zu Herrnsheim
Picture: Roter Hang
In 1890, the banker Carl Gunderloch purchased the Gunderloch manor house in Nackenheim. As the story goes, he used to trek from Gundersblum, his place of birth, to his bank in Mainz. On these journeys he carefully observed how the sun played off the hills along the Rhein Terrace. Based on these observations he purchased vineyard property that appeared to collect sunlight most efficiently and founded the Gunderloch Estate. Today, the Estate is stillin the hands of the Gunderloch family, with Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger, a descendent of Carl Gunderloch, and her winemaker husband Fritz Hasselbach in charge. In 2002, the Winespectator carried an article about Fritz Hasselbach as the only winemaker to have received a perfect 100 points score for not only one, but three of his wines. The 1992, 1996 and 2001 Riesling TBA, Nackenheimer Rothenberg were each awarded 100 points.
The Gunderloch Estate also has an interesting tie to the German dramatist Carl Zuckmaier. Zuckmaier, who became a Hollywood screenwriter, was born in Nackenheim and a friend of Carl Gunderloch. Zuckmaier not only wrote the screenplay for the film "The Blue Angel", but also the plays "The Captain from Koepenick" and "The Devils General". He also used the Gunderloch estate for the setting, and Carl Gunderloch as the main character for his very first play "Der froehliche Weinberg" (the jolly vineyard). In this play Zuckmaier renamed Carl Gunderloch "Jean Baptiste" which is where the brand name used on the Gunderloch "Jean Baptiste" Kabinett is borrowed from.
The Estate has over 14 hectares of vineyards. In Nackenheim, it owns land in the Rothenberg (Riesling), the Engelsberg (Riesling, Silvaner, Ruländer and Gewürztraminer) and the Schmitts Kapellchen (Scheurebe and Müller-Thurgau). In Nierstein, there are holdings in the Pettenthal and Hipping both planted with Riesling and the Paterberg with Ruländer and Müller-Thurgau.
Gunderloch is very export-oriented and well known in the US, with more than 50%t of the production sold abroad.
My wife and I used to go by bike from Mainz to the Gunderloch Tavern on Sunday afternoon to eat a "Spundekaes" (a regional speciality) with a couple of glasses delicious Gunderloch wines. Unfortunately, they closed the Tavern a few years ago.
Picture: Roter Hang
6 Runners Up
Georg Albrecht Schneider
A 2 Gault Millau Grapes producer with 14 hectares of vineyard area. 50% is Riesling and 25% Mueller Thurgau.
J. & H.A. Strub
A 2 Gault Millau Grapes producer with 15 hectares of vineyard area. Winemaking in the family for 11 generations. 85% is Riesling.
A 2 Gault Millau Grapes producer with 13 hectares of vineyard area. Most of this area is located in the Roter Hang.
Georg Gustav Huff
A 2 Gault Millau Grapes producer with 17 hectares of vineyard area. With 24% only, the share of Riesling is rather low; 15% is accounted for by Spaetburgunder and 12% by Dornfleder.
A 1 Gault Millau Grapes producer. The Tuscany inspired winery outside of Nierstein is beautiful and the food at the Italian restaurant there outstanding.
A 1 Gault Millau Grape producer, who exports 70 percent , a lot of it to the US.
Other Top Producers
A 1 Gault Millau Grape producer; son Stefan just took over and is producing promising wines.
A 1 Gault Millau Grape producer with a long tradition and innovative wines.
Weingut Fritz Ekkehard Huff
A promising producer who was just awarded the first Gault Millau Grape.
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