Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Weingut Schätzel in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, Joins the VDP, Germany’s Association of Elite Winemakers, Germany

Picture: Christian Schiller Tasting with Kai Schätzel at Weingut Schätzel, see: A New Fixture in the Reemerging Red Slope of Nierstein - Visiting Kai Schaetzel and his Weingut Schaetzel in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, Germany

The VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter e.V.), Germany’s Association, of about 200 Elite Winemakers announced that Weingut Schätzel in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, joined the group, effective January 1, 2016. This is well deserved. Congratulations to owner and winemaker Kai Schätzel.

Since Kai took over the winery from his parents in 2007, we have seen a remarkable upswing in the past 8 years. I was very lucky to be able to follow this amazing development closely. Inter alia, I celebrated by 60th birthday at Weingut Schätzel and 2 of the recent Germany Tours by ombiasy WineTours, owned and run by my wife Annette Schiller, included a visit of this up-and-coming estate.

Picture: Kai Schätzel and Annette Schiller in Mainz, see: Rheinhessen Cru Wines (Lagenweine) 2014 Tasting in Mainz, Germany

In the following, I am re-issuing the VDP press release (in German), followed by my write-up about Kai Schätzel and Weingut Schätzel, after my first intensive tasting with Kai in 2011. I start the posting with a short description of the VDP.


The VDP is the world’s oldest association of wine estates in the world. In fact, it is the only one of its kind worldwide. No other country has a national organization of the top wine makers of the entire country.

In 1910, four regional wine-growers’ associations joined forces to form the Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer (i.e. estates that sold their “natural” [unchaptalized] wines at auction). These organizations – from the Rheingau and Rheinhessen, founded in 1897 and 1900, respectively, and their counterparts in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Pfalz regions, both founded in 1908 – were the forerunners of today’s VDP. At this time, fine German wines enjoyed a heyday. They were among the most expensive wines, on the tables of imperial houses as well as leading hotels and restaurants.

Picture: Gesine Roll, Weingut Weedenbornhof, Kai Schätzel, Weingut Schätzel and Philipp Wittmann, VDP President Rheinhessen and Weingut Wittmann in Mainz

Throughout the past century, the quality-driven goals and strict standards of the VDP have played no small part in shaping the viticultural and winemaking practices in Germany. With their stringent statutes and their establishment of a German vineyard classification, the 200 members of the VDP have served as role models and justifiably can be viewed as the vanguard of the nation’s producers of top-quality wines.

Pictures: Lunch cum Tasting with Nanne Schätzel, see: Tour, Tasting, and Lunch at Weingut Schätzel in Nierstein, Rheinhessen – Germany-North Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2014)

Der VDP.Traubenadler Bekommt Zuwachs in Rheinhessen

Weingut Schätzel aus Nierstein wird ab 1. Januar 2016 neues Mitglied im VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter e.V.). Mit dieser Neuaufnahme zählt der VDP.Rheinhessen 16 Mitglieder von 200 bundesweit.

Die Familie Schätzel betreibt bereits seit 650 Jahren Weinbau am Rhein. Das Ziel war es stets einzigartige Weine zu erzeugen, die zeigen, wo sie herkommen. Beste Hang- und Steillagen am Rhein, darunter Spitzenlagen wie Pettenthal, Ölberg oder Hipping, sind die gute Kinderstube der Weine. Der rote Tonschieferboden verleiht ihnen eine ausgeprägte mineralische Note und filigrane Struktur. Im 800 Jahre alten Kellergewölbe bekommen die Weine dann viel Zeit und behutsame Führung von Kai Schätzel.

„Kai Schätzel ist es gelungen, sein Weingut optimal aufzustellen und mit viel Akribie und Herzblut den Herkunftsgedanken umzusetzen“, so Philipp Wittmann, Vorsitzender des VDP.Rheinhessen. „Entscheidend für die Aufnahme in den VDP.Rheinhessen war die in den letzten Jahren zu beobachtende stetig steigende Weinqualität, aber auch das Engagement für die Weinkulturlandschaft Rheinhessens und den Erhalt aufwändig zu bewirtschaftender Lagen, wie die Steillagen des Roten Hangs in Nierstein.“

Picture: Ralf Kaiser, Kai Schätzel, Katharina Wechsler, Justin Christoph (New York City) and Christian Schiller at Weinhaus Bluhm in Mainz, see: Weinhaus Bluhm in Mainz: A Cosy and Basic Wine Tavern Serving World Class Wines from Germany

„Für mich ist es eine tolle Bestätigung unserer kontinuierlichen Qualitätsarbeit“, freut sich Kai Schätzel. Seit seiner Betriebsübernahme 2008 setzt er sich für einen kühleren Stil der Weine ein. „Die Entschleunigung der Reben ist uns sehr wichtig, wir setzen auf puristische, ehrliche Weine mit viel Tiefgang und Mineralität.“

Auf der Prowein (13.- 15. März 2016) in Düsseldorf wird sich das Neumitglied erstmals mit den Kollegen des VDP.Rheinhessen am VDP.Gemeinschaftsstand in Halle 14 vorstellen.

Die Aufnahme von Neumitgliedern in den VDP erfolgt nach einem strengen Prüfreglement, um ein kontinuierlich hohes Niveau für Spitzenweine und Güter zu garantieren. Seit Einführung der VDP.Betriebsprüfung im Jahr 1991 wurden 124 Mitglieder neu aufgenommen und sind 86 Mitglieder ausgeschieden.

A New Fixture in the Reemerging Red Slope of Nierstein - Visiting Kai Schätzel and his Weingut Schätzel in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, Germany (Initially Posted on November 1, 2011)

In the prestigious Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland 2011, Weingut Schätzel 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 Schätzel 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.

Pictures: The Red Slate at the Red Slope in 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.

Weingut Schätzel

Weingut Schätzel 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 Schätzel family has been making wine for 650 years, for 5 generations at the General von Zastrow Estate.

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

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 Schätzel’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: In the Cellar with Nanne Schätzel, see: German Wine and Culture Tour by ombiasy, 2013

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.

Picture: Christian Schiller and Kai Schätzel at the Roter Hang Festival, see: Tasting the Wines of the Roter Hang (Red Slope), Nierstein, Rheinhessen, in the Roter Hang, Germany – Schiller’s Favorites

“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.”

schiller-wine - Related Postings

Tasting the Wines of the Roter Hang (Red Slope), Nierstein, Rheinhessen, in the Roter Hang, Germany – Schiller’s Favorites

Celebrating Riesling and my Birthday at Weingut Schaetzel in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, Germany

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

Riesling Lounge Goes Lomo, Germany

Rheinhessen Cru Wines (Lagenweine) 2014 Tasting in Mainz, Germany

Tour, Tasting, and Lunch at Weingut Schätzel in Nierstein, Rheinhessen – Germany-North Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2014)

German Wine and Culture Tour by ombiasy, 2013

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