Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ecologically Minded Winemakers Pour their Wines at Bio Wine Store Rebgarten in Berlin

Picture: Bio Wine Store Rebgarten in Berlin, Germany

Rebgarten is a wine store in Berlin that sells only bio-wines. This year, it celebrated its 25 Anniversary. My wife and I swung by the tasting on the occasion of the Anniversary and were happy to bump into two winemakers, Lotte Mueller-Pfeffer from Weingut Brueder Dr. Becker (and current President of Ecovin) and Paulin Koepfer from Weingut Zaehringer, we know well.

Rebgarten in Berlin

Rebgarten is the leading wine store for bio-wines in Berlin. It all started 25 years ago with a few boxes of bio- wine from the Pfalz and the wine cellar in the Bergmann Strasse in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Since then, Rebgarten has transformed from a little wine cellar to a well established wine store. Over time, the German wine portfolio has been deepened and broadened and complemented with imports from France, Italy, Spain and Austria. Today the wine portfolio comprises approximately 400 wines from all major growing areas of Europe. A special focus however remains on German wines.

Mehringdamm 69
Eingang Bergmannstr.
10961 Berlin
Montag-Freitag 12.00 - 20.00 Uhr
Sonnabend 12.00 - 20.00 Uhr


What are bio-wines? Generally speaking, wines made with an ecological concept in mind. However, there are many different approaches in terms of what that implies in reality. I addition, there are winemaking concepts that belong to the larger family of “green” wines.

1. 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: Traditional and Organic Vineyard

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Vegan

Vegan refers to the process of "fining" 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.

6. 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.

7. 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 of a Bordeaux send to New York City by ship is lower than that of a California wine transported on the road.

8. Water Footprint

A new thing is water footprint, reflecting the concern that the planet is moving into a period where water becomes more and more scarce.

Lotte Mueller-Pfeffer from 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.

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 Ecovin.

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Lotte Mueller-Pfeffer from Weingut Brueder Dr. Becker in Berlin and at the Winery in Ludwigshöhe in the Nierstein area Rheinhessen

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.

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 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.

Paulin Koepfer from Weingut Zaehringer

Weingut Zaehringer was the only German exhibitor at last year’s Millesime Bio, on which Annette Schiller has reported here. The Millésime Bio in Montpellier is the only wine trade show worldwide exclusively consecrated to the organic winegrowing sector. Over the years, the Millésime Bio has grown from a small local trade show, organized by organic winegrowers of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, to a powerful demonstration of wines stemming from environmentally friendly, health-focused winegrowing with an all time high number of 489 exhibitors and 2700 visitors in 2010. Although about eighty percent of exhibitors were winemakers from France, the international exhibitors comprised thirteen countries, with Spain and Italy in the lead.

Picture: Annette and Christian G.E.Schiller with Paulin Koepfer from Weingut Zaehringer in Berlin

Paulin Koepfer is also President of the Baden chapter of Ecovin. Since 1844 the Weingut Zaehringer makes wine in the Markgraeflerland, in southern Germany right across the Rhine River from the Alsace region. This region benefits from lots of sunshine, a good terroir, and a mild climate that favors varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinots. Annette had been very impressed by the Zaehringer wines at the Millesime Bio 2010, where she had tasted the entire portfolio of the Zaehringer wine, a beautiful sparkling wine, the Chardonnay, the 2008 Gutedel, and of course the Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Fruehburgunder (there is not really a translation for this varietal, one could call it a Premature Pinot Noir). At the time, Annette felt that the Zaehringer wines showed the earthiness, boldness, terroir, and elegance only detectable in natural, handcrafted wines. This impression was confirmed at the Rebgarten in Berlin.

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The Millesime Bio 2010 in Montpellier, France: A Discovery of Organic and Biodynamic Wines at the one of a Kind Wine Trade Show

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