Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Visiting Agnes and Fritz Hasselbach at their Weingut Gunderloch in Nackenheim, Rheinhessen, Germany

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Fritz and Agnes Hasselbach

Weingut Gunderloch is one of the top producers of Rheinhessen. It is among the two dozens of wineries that have earned 3 to 5 grapes in the Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland 2011. I had the pleasure to meet the owners and winemakers of Weingut Gunderloch at their winery in Nackenheim .

Rheinhessen, Rheinterrasse, Red Slope and Nackenheim

Weingut Gunderloch is located in the small village of Nackenheim in Rheinhessen. This town is situated on the banks of the Rhein Rhine in the Rheinterrasse area at the foot of the Rothenberg. This is the famed hillside vineyardsite which Nackenheim is known for.Weingut Gunderloch also owns vineyards in the nearby Nierstein in the Red Slope (Roter Hang).

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. 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. There is an increasing group of mostly young and ambitious winemakers – led by Klaus Peter Keller and Philipp Wittmann - 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 favored 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.

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Mainzer Weingilde President Bertram Verch at the Red Slope

The Roter Hang 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).

Weingut Gunderloch

It all started in 1890, when 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 still in the hands of the Gunderloch family, with Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger, a descendent of Carl Gunderloch, and her winemaker husband Fritz Hasselbach in charge.

Picture: Weingut Gunderloch in Nackenheim

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.

Vine growing, Wine Making and Selling

The Estate has over 18 hectares of vineyards. In Nackenheim, there are holdings 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.

Overall the vines on the estate have an average age of 25 years, and Riesling predominates as all but 20% of Gunderloch's vines are of this variety. The remainder is mainly Pinot Blanc (5%) and Pinot Gris (5%).

Vineyard practices include hand cultivation, hand harvesting and low yields with an average of 50 hl/ha for the estate as a whole. Once the fruit reaches the winery it is crushed gently without destemming, and then fed by gravity to the vats where it sees a slow, temperature-controlled fermentation to preserve the fruit character of the wines.

Weingut Gunderloch is very export-oriented and well known in the US, with more than 50%t of the production sold abroad. “The US was our strongest customer; now it is Canada. I am almost every month in Northern America” says Fritz Hasselbach. Canada’s Wine Diva, a Vancouver based wine writer and publisher, just issued her annual TOP 100 Best Buy List. Five German wines are on the Wine Diva’s 2010 Top 100 Best Buy List, including Gunderloch Fritz's Riesling, Rheinhessen Germany, 2009.

I saw a lot of screw caps and asked about them. “We use screw caps now from ordinary table wine to super premium noble sweet wines” says Fritz Hasselbach. The Gunderloch Estate is a member of the Rheinhessen VDP.

The Gunderloch Family

The property and vineyards have remained in family ownership since the days of Carl Gunderloch, who died in 1935, the estate passing first to Gunderloch's granddaughter Elizabeth Usinger and her husband. They remained at the helm until 1965, when their son Carl Otto took on the management of the estate. Today it is his eldest daughter, Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger and her husband, Fritz Hasselbach that are in charge. Fritz Hasselbach is a highly accredited winemaker and responsible for the wine.

Pictures: Grandmother Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger with Son-in-Law Burkhard Bordiehn and Granddaughter Anna (above); Winemaker Joachim Janss-Schaad with Daughter Emilia

But there are already the next 2 Gunderloch generations waiting: (1) Daughter Kathrin Hasselbach-Bordiehn with Son in Law Burkhard Bordiehn and Granddaughter Anna; Kathrin Hasselbach-Bordiehn is mainly in sales and administration. (2) Johannes Hasselbach, sales and administration and (3) Stefanie Hasselbach, vineyard management and winemaking.

Fritz Hasselbach

Fritz Hasselbach is a highly accredited winemaker. In 2002 the Winespectator Magazine celebrated him as the only winemaker ever 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 with 100 points.

Friedrich Hasselbach is also consulting at Mission Hill Family Estate in Canada. Mission Hill Family Estate situated in the heart of British Columbia's breathtaking Okanagan Valley.

The Wine Portfolio of Weingut Gunderloch

Fritz Hasselbach took me through the wine portfolio of Weingut Gunderloch. There were basically 6 groups of wines. The exchange rate is currently Euro 1 to US$ 1.38

First, the dry entry-level wines. These included the famous “Fritz’s Riesling, which was also available in a bag-in-box. These wines were in the Euro 6.50 to Euro 12.00 range ex-winery.

Second, the premium dry wines. These included the 2009 Pettenthal Grosses Gewaechs and the 2009 Rothenberg Grosses Gewaechs. Great stuff, in the Euro 20 to 28 price range.

Third, the 2009 Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett feinherb. This is an off-dry entry level wine at Euro 7.50. The Jean Baptiste is wine is very popular in the US and reportedly the most popular Geman wine in New York City.

Fourth, the 2006 and 2007 Gunderloch Riesling Auslese *** feinherb for Euro 27. In terms of remaining sugar, the wine is at the same level as the Jean Baptiste, but this is a much more powerful wine, a premium wine. Repordely, Kevin Costner likes the Auslese*** very much (and Madonna the Gunderloch Spaetlese wines).

Fifth, lusciously sweet premium wines. These are all Spaetlese and Auslese wines from the best vineyard of Nackenheim, the Rothenberg. Weingut Gunderloch is currently offering at its winery in Nackenheim these wines from the 2006 to 2009 vintages, in the Euro 20 to 40 price range.

Sixth, two 2007 Spaetburgunder Rotwein dry, one without and one with barrique aging, in the Euro 8 to 10 range.

Carl-Gunderloch-Platz 1 - 55299 Nackenheim,Germany
ph +49 (06135) 2341 - fax +49 (06135) 2431

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