Thursday, November 24, 2011

Riesling Lounge Goes Lomo, Germany

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Johannes Hasselbach (Weingut Gunderloch), Kai Schaetzel (Weingut Schaetzel) and Philipp Wedekind with Esther Werkshage (Weingut Wedekind) at the Riesling Lounge in Mainz, Germany

Once a year, the winemakers from the Roter Hang (Red Slope) Vineyards in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, Germany, organize a wine presentation right in the middle of the Roter Hang. It is one of the best wine festivals in Germany, because of the wines, the location right in the middle of the vineyards and the spectacular view, if the weather is good. I participated in the Roter Hang wine festival a year ago and wrote about it on schiller-wine: The Wines of the Roter Hang (Red Slope) in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, Germany

Riesling Lounge in the Roter Hang

At the Roter Hang Wine Festival you can - but you do not have to - follow a course from one tasting booth to another. The tasting booths are all located in different vineyards and offer wines only from the particular vineyard they are located in. The trail ends at the Fockenberghütte at the top of the Roter Hang, which turns that day into the Riesling Lounge, starting at 18:00. There, in the evening, the sons and daughters of the Roter Hang winemakers – more generally, the young winemakers of the Red Slope - throw a party for the younger (and older) crowd, with DJ Chappi’s Lounge music and dance classics. In addition, over the course of the evening, they each introduce one wine of their winery to the partying crowd.

Riesling Lounge Goes Lomo

Lomo is a popular place in Mainz; it advertises itself as Buchbar (Book Bar), Lounge and Restaurant. It is open every day from 10:00 in the morning to 1:00 after midnight.

During the winter months, every second Tuesday in the month, the Riesling Lounge of the Roter Hang in Nierstein is kind of recreated at Lomo in Mainz, with 3 young winemakers presenting their wines.

I went to the last event (in November), where Johannes Hasselbach (Weingut Gunderloch), Kai Schaetzel (Weingut Schaetzel) and Philipp Wedekind with Esther Werkshage (Weingut Wedekind) were present. Each of them brought 2 wines, which were sold by the glass (Euro 2,50). DJ Chappi was also there with his lounge music and dance classics. And at 8:00, the 3 winemakers each presented one of their 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.

Pictures: Johannes Hasselbach (Weingut Gunderloch), Kai Schaetzel (Weingut Schaetzel) and Philipp Wedekind with Esther Werkshage (Weingut Wedekind)at the Riesling Lounge in Mainz, Germany

Rheinterrasse, the Red Slope and Nierstein

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.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Bertram Verch from the Mainzer Weingilde in the Roter Hang

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.

Johannes Hasselbach and Weingut Gunderloch

Johannes Hasselbach is the son of the famous winemaker Fritz Hasselbach of Weingut Gunderloch, one of the top producers of Rheinhessen. In fact, Weingut Gunderloch is among the two dozens of wineries or so that have earned 3 or more grapes in the Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland 2012.

I had the pleasure to meet Johannes' parents, Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger and Fritz Hasselbach, at their winery in Nackenheim last year; I wrote about my visit on schiller-wine: Visiting Agnes and Fritz Hasselbach at their Weingut Gunderloch in Nackenheim, Rheinhessen, Germany

Picture: Johannes Hasselbach at the Riesling Lounge in Mainz

The history of Weingut Gunderloch is quite interesting: 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 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. 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.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger, a descendent of Carl Gunderloch, and her winemaker husband Fritz Hasselbach in Nackenheim

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.

Weingut Gunderloch is very export-oriented and well known in the US, with more than 50%t of the production sold abroad. The Gunderloch Estate is a member of the Rheinhessen VDP.

Kai Schaetzel and Weingut Schaetzel

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

Picture: Kai Schaetzel at the Riesling lounge

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.

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.

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.

When I visited Weingut Schaetzel earlier this year, we talked a lot about the 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.”

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Kai Schaetzel at Weingut Schaetzel in Nierstein

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. “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.”

Philipp Wedekind and Weingut Wedekind

I did not know Weingut Wedekind before the party, but Weingut Wedekind looks very interesting and promising. It was represented by its owner and winemaker Philipp Wedekind, with Esther Werkshage. It is a small winery with a vineyard area of 3.5 hectares. Interestingly, Weingut Wedekind has been a member of ECOVIN since 2008 and follows organic principles in the vineyard.

Picture: Philipp Wedekind at the Riesling Lounge

What Philipp, Kai and Johannes Poured

Here are the 3 wines they poured.

Picture: The Wines Philipp, Kai and Johannes Poured

2010 Weingut Wedekind, Riesling Spaetlese halbtrocken
2010 Weingut Schaetzel, ReinSchiefer Nierstein Riesling trocken
2010 Weingut Gunderloch, Nackenheim Riesling trocken

You could buy these wines for Euro 25 for the 3 bottles. Philipp, Kai and Johannes explained that the Wedekind wine costs about Euro 5, the Schaetzel wine about Euro 10 and Gunderloch wine about Euro 15 and invited the audience to taste and assess these 3 wines with this price information in mind.

The Wedekind wine, labeled as a Spaetlese, had some sweetness, was fresh, fruity, a very good deal. The Schaetzel wine, costing about the double amount, was clearly a step above, crisp and dense, with floral and mineral notes. Finally, the Gunderloch wine was the most concentrated wine, another step up on the quality ladder, also with floral and mineral notes.

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