Monday, October 31, 2011

A New Fixture in the Reemerging Red Slope of Nierstein - Visiting Kai Schaetzel and his Weingut Schaetzel in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, Germany

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Kai Schaetzel in Nierstein, Germany

In the prestigious Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland 2011, Weingut Schaetzel moved from 1 to 2 grapes (with 5 grapes being the maximum). “A new fixture in the reemerging Red Slope of Nierstein”, noted the Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland. I enjoyed very much a cellar tour and garden tasting with Kai in Nierstein a few weeks ago.


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. Kai Schaetzel is one of them.

Rheinterrasse, Nierstein and the Red Slope (Roter Hang)

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.

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.

Weingut Schaetzel

Weingut Schaetzel is located in Nierstein in Rheinhessen. The winery was established in 1850 by Jakob Schlamp. His son moved the winery to the place where it is located when I visited it, the General von Zastrow Estate. Today, the winery is owned and managed by Kai Schaetzel. The Schaetzel family has been making wine for 650 years, for 5 generations at the General von Zastrow Estate.

Picture: Weingut Schaetzel

Kai Schaetzel: A New Beginning

Kai started to work early at the winery – in 1996, even before he got his “Abitur” (highschool degree) in 1998. He fully took over Weingut Schaetzel from his parents in 2007. In the meantime, he studied business economics in Hamburg graduating with the Diplom Kaufmann degree, served in the army, and interned at wineries, including in the US.

Picture: Kai Schaetzel

When he became fully responsible, he decided to change course at Weingut Schaetzel and to aim at becoming a nationally and internationally recognized premium wine producer. Of course, with his business degree, he had many other options. But he went for the wine option – making premium wines at a small boutique winery, suggesting, as Kai explained to me, that his decision was driven by a lot of passion for making good wine.

We talked a lot about renaissance at Weingut Schaetzel - renaissance of the steep slope vineyards, of manual harvesting and oak barrel fermentation. “You have to give space to Mother Nature” said Kai and “manual work in the Red Slope of Nierstein, small yields, selective manual harvesting, spontaneous fermentation with natural yeast in a barrel and long sur lie aging are the principles I adhere to.”

In the Wine Cellar with Kai

The first thing we did after I arrived was to visit the impressive, very old vaulted underground wine cellar.

“The fermentation takes place in this 800 years old cellar” explained Kai. “After manually and selectively harvesting the grapes, the grapes are transported to the winery in small boxes.Here the g rapes are crushed and remain up to 24 hours on the skins. Through the so-called maceration, aromas are released from the skin and the wines become more complex.”

Pictures: Kai Schaetzel in the Wine Cellar

Then the grapes are pressed. Throughout the whole mash treatment, no pumps are used. The grapes are always tilted gently. “So we avoid injuries on stems and seeds.” The fresh juice is clarified by sedimentation. “That means, we wait until cloudy sediment settles on the ground. What remains above the sediment is then a clear liquid in the tank. Through this natural process we avoid the use of filters. The clear juice flows into the oak barrels in the wine cellar.”

For the fermentation, each wine gets its own oak barrel. Most of the barrels are 600 or 1,200 liters in size and up to 50 years old. There are about 50 oak barrels in Schaetzel’s vaulted underground cellar. Approximately 70% of the wines fermented with wild yeasts. “The so-called spontaneous fermentation requires permanent control and is somewhat risky. The ancient and natural method gives each wine a chance to find itself and to develop its own character. Again, we stay as much as possible in the background and follow the process. That means in practical terms that we have to control each barrel several times a day. If all goes well, the young wines ferment for about 2 to 3 months and then have most of their natural sugar converted into alcohol. If we feel that the fermentation in the wooden barrels is too rough, we can cool each barrel individually and thus curb the yeasts” explained Kai.

Pictures: The Weingut Schaetzel Wine Cellar

After fermentation, the yeast settles gradually at the bottom of the barrel. “Our single vineyard wines mature until May sur lie and are bottled directly from there with only one pump and filter process. Again, it goes without saying that our aim is to stress the sensitive wine as little as possible and treat the very gently.” Kai said.

He continued: “In a way, we are actually quite old-fashioned. We use the old methods of our grandfathers. The continuous monitoring and adaptation of the strategy, if necessary, is very time consuming and complex. Overall, each individual wine is the sum of a lot of what Mother Nature did and many small human decisions. Sometimes the progress is in looking back. A prudent combination of old methods with modern processes guide our way of making our wines.”

The white wines are slowly fermented, almost exclusively with natural yeast and age for a long time sur lie. Following the traditional mash fermentation the red wines age sur lie for up to 36 months in large oak barrels (600 liter), with frequent manual batonnage (stirring the lees back up into the wine). The primary reasons for sur lie aging are to enhance the structure and mouth feel of a wine, give it extra body and increase the aromatic complexity, flavor/aroma depth and length.

Kai: “Each wine has its own oak barrel, gets its own treatment and has its own schedule. There is no one-fits-all treatment of my wines. We only have five acres and cultivate them almost completely by hand. This size allows us to have a good overview of each barrel in the cellar. In fact, every barrel tastes differently, even if they share the noble character is the Red Slope. This is of course very far from conventional economic thinking, but it works well because our Riesling and Sylvaner wines are very much appreciated by the young audience and young TV Chefs.”

And Kai added that he does not plan to expand production. He wants to stay small in terms of quantity, but wants to go as far as possible in terms quality.

The Vineyards

The vineyard area is small, just 5 hectares, with the single vineyards Heiligenbaum, Hipping, Ölberg and Pettenthal in the Red Slope. Riesling accounts for 70%, with the remainder made up by Silvaner and Spätburgunder. In the vineyard, Kai follows ecological principles.

Pictures: The red slate at the Red Slope in Nierstein

“Great wines are grown in the vineyard” said Kai. “And because we know this we're trying to interfere with what is happening during the year in the vineyard as little as possible. During harvest time, we watching very carefully what is going on in the vineyard and gradually pick out only the best grapes. So it happens that between September and mid November we are up to 5 times in a vineyard to selectively harvest, of course, by hand.”

In the Garden

We then moved to the lovely garden and tasted some of the Schaetzel wines.

The Schaetzel white wines are marketed in 5 different groups.

First, the Literweine (basic table wines) come with the suffix “ReinEins” in a dry and an off-dry style.

Second, Gutsweine (estate wines) come with the suffix “ReinWeiss”. They can come from any vineyard of the estate.

Pictures: In the Garden of Weingut Schaetzel

Third, the Ortsweine (local wines) come as “ReinSchiefer” and “ReinLoess” (2 different soil types - slate and loess).

Fourth, the dry Lagenweine (single vineyard wines) carry the suffix “General von Zastrow” (former owner of the estate).

Fifth, the sweet-style Praedikatsweine (predicate wines) carry the suffix “Heinrich Schlamp” (Great- Great- Grandfather of Kai).

The white wine portfolio is complemented by red wines and sparklers.

What Kai Poured

Here is what Kai poured: 2 wines from the Ortsweine group and 2 wines from the Lagenweine group.


2010 Reinloess Guntersblum Riesling
2010 Reinschiefer Nierstein Riesling

Kai’s 2 Ortsweine – same treatment in the cellar, but one wine comes from a vineyard with loess and the other one from a vineyard with slate. They had been bottled just a week ago. Both wines very fresh and crisp. The Reinloess was a bit smoother, softer on the palate than the Reinschiefer. Both lovely wines.


2010 Heiligenbaum Riesling

Pale lemon color, notes of pear and wet stone on the nose, good structure, medium-bodied, the palate is not as dry as I expected (indeed, the wine got stuck has 12 gr. remaining sugar), emerging herbal and mineral notes, good length.

2010 Pettenthal Riesling

This is Kai Schaetzel’s premium Riesling from the Red Slope of Nierstein. Pale lemon color, very mineral notes on the nose, coupled with pineapple and ripe pear aromas, medium-bodied, good mouth feel, again mineral and a light floral notes on the palate, all very pleasing.

The Schaetzel Wine Portfolio

Here is the most recent price list. “ausverkauft” means sold out.

2009 ReinEins trocken 1,0 l 4,50 €
2009 ReinEins halbtrocken 1,0 l 4,50 €

Gutsweine trocken
2009 ReinWeiß Silvaner 0,75 l 5,50 €
2009 ReinWeiß Riesling 0,75 l 5,80 €

Ortsweine trocken
2009 ReinLöß Riesling 0,75 l 7,50 €
2009 ReinSchiefer Riesling 0,75 l 9,50 € ausverkauft

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Kai Schaetzel

Lagenweine trocken | General von Zastrow
2009 Hipping Silvaner 0,75 l 14,00 €
2009 Heiligenbaum Riesling 0,75 l 14,00 € ausverkauft
2009 Pettenthal Riesling 0,75 l 18,00 € ausverkauft

Prädikatsweine fruchtig | Heinrich Schlamp
2009 KabiNett Riesling 0,75 l 9,50 € ausverkauft
2009 SpätLese Oelberg Riesling 0,75 l 18,00 € ausverkauft

Rosé & Rotwein trocken
2010 ReinRosé Rosé 0,75 l 5,50 €
2009 ReinRot Rotwein 0,75 l 6,50 €
2007 Spätburgunder Rotwein 0,75 l 14,00 €

Sekt Scheurebe 0,75 l 10,00 €
Sekt Riesling 0,75 l 12,00 €

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1 comment:

  1. Great one and very detailed indeed! I very much enjoy Kai's wines as well and it's always a great pleasure to visit him at his winery! Cheers