Monday, February 8, 2010

Germany’s Winemakers and Twitter

Picture: Twitter-Logo

The German wine industry consists of many small wine producers, totaling about 70.000. If you exclude the about 40.000 operators of less than 0.5 hectare who should probably be classified as hobby winemakers, you are down to 30.000 wine makers. Then, it gets a bit complicated. Many smaller winemakers do not pursue wine making as a full-time occupation, but rather as a supplement to other agriculture or to hospitality. It is not uncommon that a small family-owned tavern or restaurant has its own wine. If we move up to a minimum of 5 hectares, we get down to about 6.000 wineries, accounting for about 60 percent of Germany's total vineyard surface, and it is in this category that the full-time winemakers are primarily found. However, truly large wineries, in terms of their own vineyard holdings, are rare in Germany. Hardly any German wineries reach the size of New World wine making companies.

About 100 of these winemakers have signed up with Twitter. Mario Scheuermann published on his Blog a list of tweeting German winemakers, ranked by followers. Of these, there are currently five German winemakers who have more than 1000 followers (as of end-January 2010).

These are:

1. @Johner (Weingut Johner, Baden)
2.132 Follower, 1.379 Tweets, 105 Listen

2. @Wuertz (Königsmühle, Würtz/Weinmann, Rheinhessen)
1.878 follower, 4.669Tweets, 90 Listen

3. @Drloosenwines (Weingut Dr.Loosen, Mosel)
1.547 follower, 364 Tweets, 125 Listen

4. @Weinperle (Weingut Otto Pfaffmann, Pfalz)
1.327 follower, 21 Tweets, 37 Listens

5. @Stantonywinery (Weingut St. Antony, Rheinhessen)
1.074 follower, 906 Tweets, 32 Listen

Who are these winemakers?

Johner Estate in Baden

15 hectares - 3 Gault Millau Grapes

The Johner Estate is a family owned winery in Baden, run by the father and son couple Johner. They also own a winery in New Zealand.

The founder, Karl Heinz Johner is a winemaker of exceptional talent. Having spent many years in England making wines at the Lamberhurst vineyard in Kent, he returned to his native Germany in 1985 to set up his own winery in his home village of Bischoffingen in the Kaiserstuhl. With 3 Gault Millau grapes, the Johner Estate is among Germany's top wineries. In 2001, Karl Heinz and son Patrick, who is also a wine maker, branched out and purchased land in New Zealand to create a second Johner winery.

The driving force behind the twitter activities is Patrick Johner. He also organizes twitter wine tastings. He is somebody with the heart in wine and in the web. Obviously, with a wine making operation also in New Zealand, the web site is both in German and English. The twitter operations and other web activities are low cost and clearly driven by the enthusiasm of Patrick for the internet.

Wuertz – Weinmann in Rheinhessen

8 hectares - 2 Gault Millau Grapes

Dirk Würtz, the cellar master, is an enigmatic young wine producer from Rheinhessen in Germany. Rheinhessen is the largest viticulture region in Germany. Every fourth bottle of German wine comes from Rheinhessen and many of these bottles are just or below average wines. 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, ambitious and dynamic winemakers who want to produce and indeed do produce outstanding high quality wines and not wines in large quantities. Dirk Wuertz is one of them. The internationally best known wine makers are the Keller and Wittmann Estates.

Dirk Wuertz is focused on quality wine and sustainable agriculture. All the vineyards are farmed naturally and his yields are significantly lower than many of his neighbors. The wine making philosophy is one of minimal intervention by means of fermentation with natural yeasts and limited pumping, fining, or filtration. Wuertz – Weinmann export a large part of their production to the US. Inter alia, their wine is served at the New York City top wine bar “Ten Bells” in lower Manhattan. I have reported about this here.

Dirk Wuertz is also one of the leading figures in Germany’s wine blogger scene. He maintains a very active wine blog and has just started his own internet TV wine show “100 Oechsle”, the first one in Germany. This is essentially, like Johner, a one man show. Although the Wuertz Wittmann Estate exports a large amount of its wine to the US, the web site is only in German.

Dr. Loosen in the Mosel Valley

18 hectares - 4 Gault Millau Grapes

For many people around the world, Ernst Loosen, the owner of the Weingut Dr. Loosen, located just outside Bernkastel in the Mosel wine region is the synonym for German Riesling. Dr. Loosen has been one of the dozen or so world class wine makers in Germany for many years, although has lost a Gault and Millau Grape recently. At the same time, he is very active in the US. He exports German wines to the US and makes wine in the US.

The Weingut Dr. Loosen in Germany, with a 130,000 annual bottle production, is one of the larger producers in the Mosel region. It is particularly known for the quality of the Rieslings and won the "Riesling of the Year" of the German wine magazine Der Feinschmecker in 1989. In 2001, the Gault Millau wine guide named Ernst Loosen as the German winemaker of the year.

In the US, Ernst Loosen is a rising star. Only two German wines made it this year to the Top 100 wines of the Wine Spectator. One of them is Dr. Loosen’s Dr. L, a wine that is a big success in the US, but unheard off in Germany. On the three Top 100 lists of the Wine Enthusiast, Dr. Loosen appears twice, with an Auslese from Mosel and with the joint venture wine Eroica from Washington State. For more on Loosen wines in German and the US see here.

I doubt that Ernst Loosen himself tweets. The Loosen twitter account is part of the marketing strategy of Dr. Loosen Estate, which is clearly at the forefront of German wine makers penetrating the global wine market. The web site in English appears to be on the fore, with the German version only being an add-on. Dr. Loosen is a very globally oriented Estate, very well established in the US market, where Twitter is much more advanced than in Germany.

Otto Pfaffmann in the Pfalz

9 hectares - No Gault Millau Grape

A small family owned Estate that is only limited exposure in the domestic and no exposure in the international market.

Things changed when son Steffen Pfaffmann graduated from the Geisenheim Wine School in 2004. In 2007, their 2005 Dornfelder Barrique dry got an Award (2nd place Deutscher Rotwein Preis.). The Pfaffmann Estate is not an active tweeter, but surprisingly is in the top league when it comes to followers.

St. Antony in Rheinhessen

26 hectares - 3 Gault Millau Grapes

St. Antony is a wine estate in the Rheinhessen wine-growing region in Germany, that has been making wine since the end of the First World War. The small-scale winery is located in Nierstein on the Rhine. In 1912 the steel company Gutehoffnungshütte purchased a lime pit in the south of Nierstein including the neighboring vineyards. The limestone is needed as raw material for the production in the ironworks of Oberhausen (Ruhr Area). After the First World War the demand for limestone decreased drastically and the management decided to use the purchased area for viticulture. In 1920 the first vintage is vinified. The wines of the estate „Gutehoffnungshütte“ were consumed only within the company or donated, later sold, to key customers. In the 1980s the corporate structure was changed and the Gutehoffnungshütte run under the MAN.

In 2005 Detlev Meyer, a private investor who is a textile merchant, acquired the estate. Since July 2008 another top Nierstein winery „Heyl zu Herrnsheim“, with another 13 hectares, was long time rented by Meyer and merged with St. Antony. The winemaking of both is located now in the former Gustav Adolf Schmitt winery.

A top wine producer with great, probably also international, ambitions. The twitter account is clearly part of the company’s marketing strategy. Surprisingly, there is no English version of the web site.

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

In the Glass: 2007 Wuertz Rheinhessen trocken with Oysters at the Ten Bells in Manhattan

Ernst Loosen Wines: Up and Down

Wine Tasting: Twitter wine tasting

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