Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Excellency and Ecology: Weingut Brueder Dr. Becker, Rheinhessen, Germany

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Hans Müller, Owners of Weingut Brueder Dr. Becker

Weingut Brueder Dr. Becker is one of the few Wine Estates in Germany that is, at the same time, a member of the VDP, the group of elite winemakers, and ECOVIN, a group of winemakers following ecological principles.


The VDP, founded in 1910, is the world’s oldest association of top-quality wine estates. Nearly 200 wine estates from all German wine-growing regions belong to the VDP today. They cultivate about four percent of Germany’s vineyard area. Membership in the VDP requires voluntary adherence to “in-house” quality criteria that exceed the minimums prescribed by the German wine law of 1971.

VDP Classification

One of its major recent undertakings has been the introduction of a new wine classification for its members. The classification of the VDP defines the quality of a wine not only by the sugar content of the grape at the time of harvest, but also by its terroir. It distinguishes 3 quality levels of wine:

The top level: ERSTE LAGE: Wines from the best vineyards of Germany; dry wines are designated Grosses Gewächs and Erstes Gewächs (Rheingau region); sweet wines are denoted by the traditional Prädikats.

Conditions: A site’s absolutely finest, narrowly demarcated parcels with discernible terroir qualities. Designated grape varieties and taste profiles. Maximum yield of 50hl/ha. Selective harvesting by hand. Minimum must weight equivalent to Spätlese.

The second level: KLASSIFIZIERTE LAGE / ORTSWEIN / TERROIRWEIN: Only wines from classified sites of superior quality bear the name of a vineyard.

Conditons: Classified sites compromise a select, small group of traditional vineyards that have a distinctive character. This constitutes a fraction of the multitude of vineyard names permitted by law. Maximum yield of 65hl/ha. Designated grape varieties and minimum must weight are determined by regional VDP associations.

The lowest level: GUTSWEIN: High-quality wines that reflect regional character.

Conditons: At least 80% of an estate’s holdings must be planted with traditional grape varieties typical of their region, as recommended by the VDP. Maximum yield 75hl/ha. Minimum must weight (higher than prescribed by law) is determined by the regional associations.

Further, as a major development, the VDP members have dropped the traditional Praedikats for dry wine. German wine up to Spaetlese and Auslese can be bone-dry or sweet, depending on what the winemaker wants. The terms Spaetlese and Auslese, however, seem to suggest to consumers that this are sweet wines. Yet, they can be bone dry. This has led to a lot of confusion. In view of that, the VDP members have started to market all dry wines as Qualitateswein, QbA, regardless of the sugar level of the fruit at the point of harvest. Only wines that have a noticeable level of sweetness carry the traditional Praedikats like Spaetlese or Auslese. Thus, if you see Spaetlese on the label of a VDP member wine, you can be sure that it is a sweet Spaetlese. The label with “Spaetlese trocken” does not exist anymore among the VDP members. If it is a wine at Spaetlese level and fully fermented to complete dryness, it would be marketed as QbA wine. And the level of quality would be indicated by the terroir definition dicussed above.


ECOVIN is an association of winegrowers in Germany whose nearly 200 members with 1.000 ha vineyards are practicing organic viticulture according. To date about one percent of viticulturists in Germany produce wine according the ECOVIN-guideline. Lotte Pfeiffer-Mueller, co-owner of Weingut Brueder Dr. Becker, is the Chairwoman of the Board of ECONVIN. The following discusses the organic winegrowing and other green concept(s).

Organic: Organic generally means the use of natural as opposed to chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. The key is: no chemicals.

Organic wines are changing the look of vineyards, literally. Whereas vineyards of the past commanded neat rows rid of all insects, rodents and weeds, organic vineyards are now replacing costly and damaging chemical sprays with environmental partnerships. Pesticides are giving way to introducing low-growing plants between vine rows that host beneficial insects that keep the pest insects in check.

Unfortunately, there is no agreement on what organic wine making as opposed to organic wine growing means. The main issue is the use of sulfur in the fermentation process. In the US, organic winemakers are not allowed to add sulfites during winemaking; an organic wine is a wine with basically zero sulfur. In Europe, sulfites are allowed to be added during fermentation and an organic wine typically contains a modest amount of sulfur.

Picture: Weingut Brueder Dr. Becker - Organic - Vineyard

Biodynamic: Biodynamic is similar to organic farming in that both take place without chemicals, but biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an ecosystem, and also accounting for things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles. Biodynamic is an approach following the rules and ideas of Austrian philosopher-scientist Rudolph Steiner. In his 1924 lectures, he viewed the farm as an entire living ecosystem starting with the soil which is treated as a living organism and receives special applications to enhance its health.

Sustainable: Sustainability refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property; they may also focus on energy and water conservation, use of renewable resources and other issues.

Natural: The idea behind natural wine is non-intervention and a respect for nature. For example, only natural yeasts are used, the fermentation is slow, there is little or no use of new oak barrels; and there are no filtrations or cold stabilization. Natural wines are minimalist wines produced with as little intervention as possible.

Vegan: Vegan refers to the process of "finning" the wine. Proteins, spent yeasts and small organic matter in wines are sometimes eliminated from wines with fining agents made from animal products. Fish bladders, egg whites, milk proteins and even bull’s blood (not allowed in the US or France) are all used as fining agents. As an alternative, Bentonite, a specific type of clay, is used for clarification in vegan wines. It’s important to note that vegan or vegetarian wines may or may not be made from organic grapes.

Fair trade: Fair trade wines first came onto the market the US in 2007, following trends in coffee, tea and produce. Fair trade refers to the conditions and wages paid to employees of the winery; it guarantees employees a fair and "livable" wage for their product. Fair Trade certification of wine has been around since 2003 in Europe. The certification means that wineries met certain standards for living wages, environmental sustainability and community improvement. Oakland's TransFair USA just announced that it has begun certifying Fair Trade wines from Argentina, Chile and South Africa for the American market.

Carbon footprint: The carbon neutral label comes from a different angle: global warming. All economic activites have a carbon footprint, including wine making. Carbon neutral wineries are trying to make a contribution to the general efforts of reducing the emission of carbon dioxide.

A major aspect of carbon neutrality however is outside the control of wineries. It is the transport of the wine from the winery to the consumer. For example, the carbon dioxide emission would have been less if the guests at the White House Correspondents Dinner had decided to drink wine from Europe that came over to the US via ship rather than wine from California that was transported on the road. In Washington DC, the carbon footprint of the Benzinger wine was not negligible, though Benzinger wines are among the leaders in the green wine movement in the US.

Weingut Brueder Dr. Becker

The Estate is located in Ludwigshöhe in the Nierstein area Rheinhessen. It was founded in the early 20th century by the two brothers Dr. Johann and Dr. Jakob Becker. Today, it is run by Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Hans Müller, the third generation of the family. The vineyard area totals 11 hectares and is planted with Riesling (4 hectares), Silvaner, Scheurebe, Pinot Noir, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Regent and Gewürztraminer.

Pictures: Weingut Brueder Dr. Becker

Organic viticulture has been practiced since the mid 1980’s. An own weather station was installed in the vineyards to assist in determining the optimum time for picking. Wines are matured either in stainless steel or in traditional oak barrels, and in the case of the Pinot Noir also in barriques. Bottle-fermented sparkling wine is also produced.

The Brueder Dr. Becker Wine Portfolio

The Muellers have about 40 wines on their wine list. 3 of the 4 Liter wines are dry and the Scheurebe Liter wine is medium-sweet. The Riesling Liter wine costs Euro 6.
There is the whole range of Scheurebe wines from the medium-sweet Liter wine to an amazing 1999 Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese for Euro 45. In addition, I found a delicious Scheurebe Sekt on the list for Euro 9.80, also medium-sweet.

About half of the wines are dry. The overwhelming majority of the wines is white, with Riesling dominating.

3 Grosses Gewaechs wines from the vineyards Tafelstein and Falkenberg stand out, for Euro 18 to 19. The wine list also includes 3 noble sweet wines, including the already mentioned Scheurebe Torckenbeerenauslese, and 4 sweet Auslese wines.

This is a very impressive wine portfolio. Among the wines, I liked best, let me mention the following:

Brüder Dr. Becker, 2009, Dienheim vom Kalk, Riesling, fresh and bright, good minerality; interestingly, it is from a Erste Lage vineyard, which also produced a Grosses Gewaechs wine, but was harvested 4 weeks before; the Grosses Gewaechs is not yet released, Euro 11

Brüder Dr. Becker 2007, Dienheim, Scheurebe, Spaetlese, notes of apple, peach and honey on the nose, a medium-bodied wine, lime and grapefruit on the palate, very floral, good balance, Euro 9.

Brüder Dr. Becker, 2007, Tafelstein Riesling, Grosses Gewächs, very pure and intense, a full-bodied wine, profound minerality, good acidity, Euro 18



Weingut Brueder Dr. Becker, Rheinhessen

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