Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Wines of Franz Kuenstler from Hochheim, Rheingau, Germany

Picture: Franz Kuenstler at a Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim Event in 2009

This posting is part of the WeinRallye, a monthly blog event in Germany. Participating wine bloggers - mainly in Germany - are all releasing postings today under the heading "Aged Wine”. Weinrallye is the brainchild of Thomas Lippert, a winemaker and wine blogger based in Heidelberg, Germany. The first wine rally took place in 2007. Thomas Lippert is the author of the wine blog Winzerblog. This month's wine rally is organized by the Drunkenmonday Wein Blog, which brings together a group of 6 wine writers.

I chose to write about a winemaker, who has been very influential in terms of my appreciation of wine, and his wines, the late Franz Kuenstler, founder of the world renowned Weingut Kuenstler in Hochheim, in the Rheingau region of Germany. Franz Kuenstler left us about a year ago, on August 6, 2010.

The Franz Kuenstler Estate

The Franz Kuenstler Estate is one of Germany’s world class wine producers. It has 5 F’s (out of 5) in the Feinschmecker WeinGuide 2011 ranking. The Wine Estate is currently run by Gunter Kuenstler, who took over from his father Franz a number of years ago. Basically, until the late 1980s Franz was in charge and from the early 1990s on, the Kuenstler wines were made by Gunter.

I have Known Franz Kuenstler for Over 30 Years

I met Franz Kuenstler more than 30 years ago, when I used to live in Mainz, Germany. Hochheim is very close to Mainz and my wife and I developed a special relationship with the winemakers of Hochheim. That was boosted by the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim – a wine brotherhood – whose founding members Franz, my wife and I are. Franz was awarded an Honorary Lifetime Membership of the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim just a few months before he died. I remember at this event, there were no signs whatsoever that he might pass away a few months later.

During the many wine tastings and excursions we both attended, I always felt blessed and proud to have such a world class winemaker as Franz among us.

1976 Hochheimer Kirchenstueck, Riesling, Beerenauslese, Weingut Franz Kuenstler, Hochheim, Rheingau, Germany

When my wife and I married in 1976, we bought many cases of Rieslings of this year from Franz. At that time, his winery was still in a regular house in Hochheim, I think it was a row house. When we moved to the US in 1983, all the Kuenstler wine came over here by ship. Most of bottles are gone, but I still have a few 1976 Beerenauslese.

Here are my tasting notes: 1976 was an excellent vintage, dark golden in the glass with thick legs, attack of tropical fruits on the nose, good structure, notes of pear and pineapple on the palate, still good acidity to balance the sweetness, a senior citizen, but still in good health.

Pictures: 1976 Hochheimer Kirchenstueck, Riesling, Beerenauslese, Weingut Franz Kuenstler, Hochheim, Rheingau, Germany

Franz Kuenstler: From Moravia (Maehren) to the Rheingau

The Künstler’s wine tradition goes back to the end of the Thirty Years War when in 1648 they first planted grapes along the river Thaya in South Moravia, an area then in the domain of the Hapsburgs. Franz Künstler, born 1926 in Unter¬ Tannowitz, was forced to take charge of the estate at age 13 while his father was fighting in World War II. After the war, South Moravia reverted back to Czechoslovakia and the Künstlers became refugees in then West Germany.

Pictures: Franz Kuenstler at Events of the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim in 2009 and 2010

Franz completed his formal education at the wine institute in Württemberg and upon graduation went to work in several wineries. In 1951, he was appointed cellar master and administrator at the Domdechant Werner Estate in Hochheim. He stayed at Werner for 11 years and then started to formulate plans to produce his own wine again. In 1965, he started his own winery in Hochheim. In the following years Franz slowly and diligently worked to build the reputation of his estate. I still have his outstanding 1976er in the wine cellar.

Franz and Gunter Kuenstler

After completing his studies, son Gunter joined his father in 1988 and assumed full control of the estate in 1992. After the aquisition of the Aschrott estate, the Künstler estate is currently comprised of about 26 hectares with 85% planted to Riesling and 15% to Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), all in Hochheim. A tiny bit of Chardonnay is planted to be used in the estate sparkling wine. Even though it belongs to the Rheingau, Hochheim is actually situated along the Main river. Its vineyards have amongst the best exposure and climate in all of the Rheingau. It is located in Hochheim, Rheingau, just 30 Minutes away by S-Bahn from Frankfurt am Main central railway station. Coming from Frankfurt, you arrive in vineyards and it is a beautiful walk up the vineyards to the village and the Kuenstler Estate at the village entrance.

Pictures: Joelle Schiller in front of the Franz Kuenstler Estate and Christian G.E. and Annette Schiller with Gunter Kuenstler

Weingut Künstler is a member of the Rheingau Charta group and since April of 1994 a member of the Rheingau V.D.P. Gunter Kuenstler is one of the two winemakers of Hochheim who have ventured out to the American market (the other one is Weingut Domchechant Werner), benefiting from the increasing popularity of Rieslings in the US and in general in the world.


Hochheim is at the eastern edge of the Rheingau, well know around the world for its Riesling wines. Moving from Hochheim to the west, the fairly flat, dimpled landscape evolves into progressively steep slopes. It is a quietly beautiful region, rich in tradition. Queen Victoria's enthusiasm for Hochheim's wines contributed to their popularity in England, where they, and ultimately, Rhine wines in general, were referred to as Hock.

Picture: The Rheingau with Hochheim

The third President of the USA - and notable bon viveur - Thomas Jefferson visited the Rheingau in 1788 and wrote that the wine of the "Abbaye of Johnsberg is the best made on the Rhine without comparison … That of the year 1775 is the best." He also referred to the Rheingau’s Riesling as the "small and delicate Rhysslin which grows only from Hochheim to Rudesheim". Impressed by the quality of the Rheingau Riesling wines, he bought 100 grapevines in Hochheim to take back to his estate in Virginia.

Franz Künstler Estate
Freiherr vom Stein Ring 3 - 65239 Hochheim / Germany
ph +49 (0) 6146-82570

Rudi Wiest Selections by Cellars International
1780 La Costa Meadows Drive, Suite # 100
San Marcos, CA 92078
ph 760.566.0499 - fax 760.566.0533

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1 comment:

  1. Interested in the exact delinations of the Künstler Crus?