Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Vineyard Tour, Cellar Tour and Tasting at Weingut Leitz in Rüdesheim, with Johannes Leitz – Germany-North Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
The visit of Weingut Leitz was one of the highlights of the Germany-North Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours. Johannes (Josi) Leitz was our host. He gave us an outstanding vineyard tour by car. We went to all his famous vineyards. We had spectacular views.
After the vineyard tour, Josi Leitz showed us his production facilities. The visit ended with a tasting led by New Managing Director Markus Röll.
The Leitz Family’s viticulture history goes back to 1744 and has been passed on from one generation to the next for almost four centuries. Johannes Leitz took charge of the estate in 1985, when he was in his early 20s. At that time, the winery had 3 hectares of vineyards and was unknown among German wine connoisseurs. Under the leadership of Johannes Leitz, the winery grew in size to 60 vineyards. Johannes Leitz owns 40 hectares and buys the fruit of 20 hectares. Overwhelmingly his vineyards are planted with Riesling.
Johannes Leitz spends many months of the year traveling the world. He exports a large part of his output, with Sweden recently have taken over the #1 spot from the US. Johannes visited the US for the first time in 2000 and has been back about 50 times, 3 to 4 times per year.
Rüdesheim in the Rheingau
It is remarkable: For its entire length of nearly 560 miles, the Rhine flows north with one exception – a 28-mile stretch where the river changes its course. Here, it flows to the west, thereby enabling both the river and the vineyards facing it to bask in the warmth of the sun all day long. This is the Rheingau, one of the medium-size German wine regions.
Rüdesheim lies at the western corner, when the Rhine turns to the north again. In fact, it sits at the beginning of the famous Rhine Gorge and is thereby part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Coming from Frankfurt (in the east), we had to pass through the whole Rheingau region, which, however, took us just half an hour.
Johannes Leitz Winemaker of the Year
The Gault Millau Weinguide Germany 2011 named Johannes Leitz Winemaker of the Year. In accepting the prize, Johannes Leitz pointed out that he would like to share the honor with his home town Rüdesheim as well as his close collaborators (at the time Eva Fricke and Toni Climenti). “In the beginning not even people in Rüdesheim knew him. Now, his Riesling wines are regarded as examples of outstanding Rheingau Rieslings not only in his home town, but also in London and New” says the editor of the 2011 WeinGuide Gault Millau Deutschland, the American-born Joel Payne.
Pictures: Johannes Leitz, Winemaker of the Year 2011, see also: Visiting Weingut Josef Leitz in Ruedesheim – Johannes Leitz is Germany’s Winemaker of the Year, Gault Millau WeinGuide 2011
Johannes Leitz and Schatzi Wines
The wines of Johannes Leitz are sold in the US by Schatzi Wines, a relatively new importer. Kevin Pike is the CEO of Schatzi Wines. Before creating Schatzi Wines, Kevin Pike was for many years the National Director of the Terry Theise portfolio (Michael Skurnik). Early one, Johannes Leitz connected with Terry Theise and accounted during the peak period for 25% of the Terry Theise Germany portfolio, which comprises about 20 German producers, including such heavyweights as Dönnhoff, Selbach-Oster, von Winning, Diel, to name a few.
Rieslingfeier 2016, USA
The German portfolio of Schatzi Wines comprises Leitz (Rheingau), Dreissigacker (Rheinhessen), Dr. Heger (Baden) von Hövel (Mosel) and Heinrich Spindler (Pfalz).
Schatzi Wines: Under the direction of Johannes Leitz, Weingut Josef Leitz has earned the reputation of being one of Rheingau’s top growers and moreover, one of the finest producers in Germany. Since taking over his family estate in 1985, Johannes has grown his holdings from 2.6 hectares to over 40, most of which are Grand Cru sites on the slopes of the Rüdesheimer Berg. Once the home of some of the world’s most sought after and expensive wines, the region fell to mediocrity in the years following the Second World War. Josi has made it his life’s work to reclaim the intrinsic quality of his native terroir and introduce the world to the true potential of the Rheingau.
Johannes Leitz and his Wife at Kloster Eberbach, Germany
The Rheingau is a small region, stretching only 20 miles from east to west. It is marked by a course change in the Rhein River’s flow to the North Sea from its origins in the Swiss Alps. As the Rhein flows north along the eastern edge of the Pfalz and Rheinhessen, it runs directly into the Taunus Mountain range which has a subsoil comprised of pure crystalline quartzite. Rivers, no matter how mighty, are lazy and the Rhine has yet to break through the quartz infrastructure surrounding the town of Mainz. At Mainz, the Rhein turns west and the 30 km stretch between Mainz and Rüdesheim makes up the majority of the Rheingau. Even though the region is further north than the middle Mosel, its south facing slopes get hotter than the narrow Mosel Valley which therefore provides important diurnal temperature variation.
Leitz’s estate vineyards lie entirely on the westernmost part of the Rheingau on the Rüdesheimer Berg—a steep, south-facing hillside of extremely old slate and quartzite—planted entirely to riesling, encompassing the Grand Crus of Schlossberg, Rottland, and Roseneck. Leitz trains his vines in a single-cane, cordon system to improve the quality and character of the fruit, differing from the majority of Rheingau growers where the practice has long been to prioritize yield via a double-cane system. Johannes is a firm believer that the crucial work of the vigneron takes place in the vineyards. Focused on farming as sustainably as possible and working by hand, the grueling hours of labor on the ultra-steep slopes allow these ancient vineyards to reach their maximum potential.
After harvest, Josi is equally focused on working gently in the press house and ageing the wines on their gross lees. Johannes selects bottle closures to reflect, and more crucially serve, the individual cellar practices employed for each wine; Stelvin closures are used for wines raised in stainless steel to preserve freshness while wines raised in cask are bottled under cork to allow for a long development in the cellar.
With the 2011 vintage, Leitz began to designate the pre-1971 parcel names on select bottlings, reviving the individual voices of “Hinterhaus” (Rottland), “Ehrenfels” (Schlossberg), and “Katerloch” (Roseneck). He has also resurrected the once neglected site of Kaisersteinfels, which has become one of the most sought-after wines of the Rheingau. “Der Kaiser” sits high, just beneath the forest line of the Rüdesheimer-Berg, with a spectacular view overlooking the confluence of the Nahe and Rhein Rivers. The singular terroir on the westernmost point of the Rheingau is composed of quartzite, very old grey slate, as well as some iron-rich red slate and produces wines with incredible complexity and length.
In 2011 Johannes was recognized by the esteemed Gault Millau as “Winemaker of the Year.” We could not be more excited to be a small part of the Leitz project. We believe that these are some of the finest white wines in the world.
What we Tasted
2015 Weingut Leitz Rüdesheimer Magic Mountain
Schatzi Wines: This wine was always made for the German market but is now part of our US offering. Whereas Eins Zwei Dry is the “estate dry” riesling, the Rüdesheimer is the “village-level” wine for Leitz. It is a blend of the four top Grosses Lagen sites: Schlossberg, Roseneck, Rottland and Kaisersteinfels. Any fruit that Leitz deems unsuitable for the single vineyard bottlings is declassified and co-fermented in this blend. Rüdesheimer trocken runs the gamut in terms of soil composition—red slate, grey slate, quartzite, loess and loam. This wine is dynamic and graceful—the perfect bridge between the Eins Zwei Dry and the single vineyard selections. A smashing deal for Grand Cru fruit.
2014 Weingut Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland “Hinterhaus” GG Trocken
Schatzi Wines: Hinterhaus, another pre-1971 single vineyard designation, translates to “back yard,” as it is situated directly behind the heart of the village. This slope is composed of soft, grey slate pre-dating the Devonian period. Whereas Mosel slate is brittle, the ancient slate in the Rheingau (and Nahe) is more porous and soft. This is always the first of the Rüdesheimer Berg sites to ripen because it is at the base of the mountain, catches the reflection off the Rhine and is comprised of slate soil, known for it's ability to retain heat. The style of this wine has changed dramatically since it was first produced. Originally, Leitz wanted to mimic the Wachau style of dry riesling by harvesting with a good percentage of botrytis; this produced a thick and brawny dry wine with higher alcohol. Since the 2008 vintage, Josi has changed the style to reflect a leaner, more classically Rheingau, expression of Hinterhaus. True, it is a warm site with the potential for good botrytis, but with careful canopy management and selective harvesting, Hinterhaus Grosses Gewächs maintains its signature exotic yellow fruit and distinctive mineral structure, while hovering around 12.5% alcohol. Regardless, Hinterhaus is Leitz’s most full-bodied riesling of the dry range.
2014 Weingut Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck “Katerloch” Trocken
Schatzi Wines: For years, Leitz has been bottling dry, single-vineyard wines from Roseneck, Rottland and Schlossberg. Disappointed in the inconsistencies in Charta and later Erstes Gewachs classifications, which allowed wines made in the “lesser,” sandy-loam soils to take these seemingly prestigious labels, Leitz began to designate his top tier wines as "Alte Reben", or old vines. Many colleagues in the region followed suit. In 2011, after being named “Winemaker of the Year", Josi decided to re-name all of his top dry wines with their original, pre-1971 parcel names. The Roseneck, in this case, took the name “Katerloch” which translates to “Devil’s Hole." The first records of this site-name reach back to the Middle Ages. The Katerloch is the amphitheater portion of the mountain that appears as though it was carved out of the slope of the Rüdesheimer Berg. What makes this site utterly unique are the underground springs that work their way down the mountain, dividing the large Taunus quartzite veins of subsoil. These are some of Leitz’s steepest holdings, alongside Schlossberg, with up to 65° inclines. The 2013 vintage marks the first time that Leitz will use the Grosses Gewächs designation for his top dry wines. Katerloch is always the coolest and leanest of the GG’s, typically expressing aromas of lime citrus, fennel and wintergreen alongside firm acid structure.
2014 Weingut Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Kaisersteinfels “Terrassen” Trocken
Schatzi Wines: The Kaisersteinfels (1.2 ha) is the last terraced vineyard in the Rheingau, except for a .3 ha portion of Rottland. The vineyard never underwent Flurbereinigung in the 1960s—a legal rectification of vineyard holdings meant to reunite parcels that were splintered as a result of the Napoleonic Code inheritance law. This site was basically abandoned as a result of the aforementioned, coupled by it's location; Kaisersteinfels lies just beneath the tree line at the top of the mountain, overlooking the confluence of the Nahe and Rhine Rivers. Being at a higher altitude, the fruit ripens exceptionally late and is often the last vineyard to be picked. The soil is nearly an equal mix of quartzite and red slate and the oldest vines exceed 70 years of age. While technically considered a halbtrocken or feinherb, the balanced acidity makes the wine appear drier than its measurable sugars would imply; a normal vintage has a residual sugar of around 11-12 grams/liter. The VDP stipulates that in order to fall within the category of GG, the wine must not exceed 9 grams/liter; Kaisersteinfels is therefore labeled as an Erste Lage.
Thanks Josi for an unforgettable visit of Weingut Leitz.
Postings: Germany-North Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours: Quintessential German Riesling and the Northernmost Pinot Noir (Posted and Forthcoming)
Germany-North Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours: Quintessential German Riesling and the Northernmost Pinot Noir
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