Sunday, February 14, 2016
Tour and Tasting at Weingut Koehler Ruprecht in Kallstadt, Pfalz, with Franzi Schmitt – Germany-South Tour by ombiasy WineTours (2015)
Koehler-Ruprecht has received quite a bit of press in recent years. For several decades, Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht was associated with the name of owner/ winemaker Bernd Philippi. As Armin Diehl and Joel Payne put it in the 1999 German Wine Guide: “His wines have a perfectly baroque weight, not least because Philippi insists on taking his time making them. Although they can be very puzzling when young, they are very long-lived, developing enormous power and body with age.”
Bernhard Philippi retired recently and sold Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht to the Sauvage brothers, who are very successful wine importers and retailers in the USA. They also own a winery in New Zealand. Bernd Philippi moved out and Dominik Sona took over as General Manager. He is heading the winery today with Franzi Schmitt, who was our host. American (or more general: foreign) -owned wineries in Germany are extremely rare.
Second, the VDP, the association of about 200 elite winemakers in Germany, is in process of introducing a new, terroir-based wine classification, modelled after the wine classification of the Bourgogne region. Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht is one of the founding members of the VDP, but decided to leave the prestigious association last year because of the new VDP approach to classifying German wine.
In the new classification, the predicates Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, etc can only be used for sweet wines. Kabinett trocken, for example, does not exist in the new VDP classification. Also, dry wines are allowed to be chaptalized up to the ultra-premium levels, as all dry wines are marketed as QbA. These and others reasons let Weingut Köhler Ruprecht leave the VDP. Others also left (like Weingut Tesch) or are threatening to leave, but Weingut Köhler Ruprecht is probably the most prominent “casualty” of the new VDP classification.
Weingut Köhler Ruprecht is well represented in the US, with Louis/Dressner being the importer. About half of the production of Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht is sold in the US. This is way out of line with typical German producer, but not unusual. A number of producers from the Mosel region have even higher US/ export ratios. But it is unusual for a producer that is very strong in dry wines.
Franzi Schmitt was our host. Following the tour of the winery, we had a memorable tasting in the house where Bernd Phillippi used to live and where his ailing mother is still living.
Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht: Our winery’s highest priority is preserving our tradition and our great quality. We are one of the oldest, most distinctive wineries in the Palatinate region. Our wines are pressed using only the finest hand-selected grapes, which undergo spontaneous fermentation in wooden barrels. Our motto, “Wine is the poetry of the earth,” (Mario Soldati, 1907-1999) sums up our philosophy. When it comes to wine production, the most important thing for us is the quality that ends up in the glass! This standard creates wines with a perfect balance of strength, elegance and longevity, and many of our wines have garnered attention throughout the world. Our successful development was initiated by Bernd Philippi. He is often able to create wines with amazingly long shelf lives, especially Rieslings, which can sometimes come across as a bit headstrong in their younger days. But over time they undergo an interesting development that is valued by many experts.
Louis Dressner: Koehler-Ruprecht has existed since the 1700's, but Bernd Phillipi's hard work over the last 30 years has solidified the winery's world class reputation. Bernd's biggest inspiration was his grandfather, and the wines reflect an attitude of winemaking more akin to the 1900's than the 2000's. In the vineyard, no irrigation, fertilizers or herbicides are ever used, and systemic treatments against pests or fungal illness are kept to a minimum, only in the rare cases when necessary. In the cellar, long spontaneous fermentations occur in large, old German oak barrels with extended lees contact. Nothing is ever added or subtracted to the wine, and sulfur is only added moderately after alcoholic fermentation and before bottling.
Today, Bernd has moved on to his winemaking projects all over the world (Germany, Portugal, South Africa, consulting in China...), and no longer has any role at Koehler-Ruprecht is now limited to 60 days of consulting throughout the year. Since 2008, viticulture/cellar duties have been passed on to Dominik Sona. Dominik is young but already a seasoned veteran: prior to landing at Koehler-Ruprecht, he's worked at Neiss, Kuhn, Van Volxem, Flowers, Littorai and as estate manager for J.L. Wolf. Already a fan of the winery before getting hired, he has vowed not to a change a thing in the winemaking process.
The estate consists of 10.5 hectares of vines, principally in Riesling (50%) but also in Pinot Noir (20%), Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Scheurebe on three separate terroirs: Saumagen, Steinacker and Annaberg.
Cellarhand: Dominik was born and bred in the Pfalz region. His grandfather cultivated vines there and his parents, a nursery teacher and civil engineer, kept them on. Dominik always suspected that his commitment to wine would run deeper, acknowledging from a very early age that a desk job wasn’t for him. Towards the end of his high-school studies he decided to dedicate his working life to wine.
In 2010, at just 29 years of age, he was working at a winery in California when he heard that the Koehler-Ruprecht estate was changing hands. He had a chat with new owners, the Sauvage family, who ended up asking him to run the estate. He said yes, and got to work immediately following that vintage in the US.
Since then, Sona has been working alongside the great Bernd Philippi, learning the methods established by the latter’s grandfather 100 years ago. Continuing these traditions following Philippi’s departure is of the essence, though Sona and the team are looking to add new lines of wine in the typical Koehler-Ruprecht style. Dominik enjoys the tranquillity of Kallstadt and likes to swim and cycle in his spare time. But he admits he doesn’t find a lot of that – at this stage in his life, he’s too enamoured of all aspects of winegrowing to take much time off.
2013 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Scheurebe Kabinett trocken
Franzi Schmitt: Scheurebe is a white-wine grape, one of Germany’s most successful new grape breeds. It is a cross between Riesling and Silvaner, and was cultivated at the Kallstadter Annaberg winery, among others, right from the start. Scheurebe wines are often aged to create sweet or dessert wines.
2012 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Muskateller Kabinett trocken
2013 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Weisser Burgunder Kabinett trocken
2013 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Kallstadter Annaberg Weisser Burgunder Spätlese trocken
Franzi Schmitt: at 120 years old, Annaberg is the youngest vineyard site and characterized by a high proportion of sandstone. The western part of the region features a chalk substrate where the Chardonnay grows. All grapes are hand harvested, with the team doing up to five passes each vintage to pick at optimal maturity.
2012 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Grauer Burgunder Spätlese trocken
2011 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Chardonnay trocken
2012 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Kallstadter Riesling Kabinett trocken
2012 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling Kabinett trocken
2012 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling Spätlese trocken
2012 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling Auslese trocken
Franzi Schmitt: Saumagen, which translates to pig's stomach, is named after the shape of the vineyard and also happens to be the region's most famous local dish. Established as a vineyard in 1810, this area used to be a limestone quarry in Roman times. The soils here are heavy in chalky marl and full of tiny individual limestones that reflect heat onto the grapes. Because of a government expansion in the 80's, 46 h are designated as Saumagen- including a conversion of north-facing orchards into vineyard sites- but Koehler-Ruprecht's 4 h are on the original South-East facing slope. A small part of the Saumagen is designated as Terra Rossa, with the limestone taking a red hue due to a heavy presence of iron oxide.
2012 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken
2013 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Kallstadter Steinacker Riesling Kabinett
2009 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Kallstadter Steinacker Gewürztraminer Spätlese
Franzi Schmitt: Steinacker is wine-growing region characterized by chalk and sandstone. The Rieslings, Gewürztraminer and Scheurebe grown here tend have residual sweetness.
2012 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Spätburgunder Kabinett trocken
2012 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Pinot Noir
2006 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Pinot Noir
2004 Weingut Koehler Ruprecht Pinot Noir
Stuart Pigott's Recent Assessment
Earier this year, there was a tasting of Weingut Koehler-Ruprecht wines at the home of Berlin Cup Organizer Martin Zwick with Dominik Sona and Franzi Schmitt, in which Stuart Pigott participated. He issued an interesting account of the evening on his blog: (...) Since then this estate has changed hands, and changed winemaker too. Some people in the German wine scene didn’t like these changes and there was some talk of a stylistic sell-out or less professional winemaking. However, on the basis of the vertical tasting this afternoon at Martin Zwick’s wine salon in Berlin that spanned the vintages 2014 – 1996 I have to say that this producer has not wavered at all, rather, under the direction of Dominik Sona and Franziska Schmitt, it has remained true to it’s unique wine style yet also moved an important step in the direction of more elegant wines.
What makes these wines so special? It is a combination of weight and delicacy, liveliness and mellowness, plus a properly dry balance. When most dry white wines reach the age of five to seven years they start to head downhill rather fast, but that is the age that the Koehler-Ruprecht Saumagen Rieslings start to become really enjoyable to drink (assuming you like the taste of mature wines), and begin standing out from the crowd of self-important, but interchangeable wines that dominate the market. That’s why this tasting that looked backwards in time in order to look forward to the pleasure of drinking the wines of the vintages Dominik Sona has made (he has been the winemaker since 2008) when they have had even more time to show their hand.(...)
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