Monday, July 11, 2011

Weinfest im Kirchenstueck: Meeting the Winemakers of Mainz-Hechtsheim and Tasting Their Wines, Germany

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Michael Fleischer from Fleischer and Weingut der Stadt Mainz in Mainz-Hechtsheim and the Mainz Cathedral, which is more than 1000 years old.

Mainz in Germany is one of the 8 wine capitals of the world, along with: Bordeaux (France), Bilbao-Rioja (Spain), Cape Town (South Africa), Florence (Italy), Mendoza (Argentina), Porto (Portugal) and San Francisco-Napa Valley (USA).

Wine has been made in Mainz since Roman times. The Haus des Deutschen Weines (House of German Wine) is located in Mainz and Mainz is the seat of the German Wine Academy, the German Wine Institute (DWI) and the German Wine Fund (DWF).

There are 3 suburbs of Mainz, where wine is being made: Mainz-Laubenheim, Mainz-Ebersheim and Mainz-Hechtsheim. The winemakers of the latter organize once a year a wine festival in the vineyard Kirchenstueck that is a lot of fun to attend and that provides an excellent opportunity to taste and assess the wines of the winemakers of Mainz-Hechtsheim. This year’s festival took place during the week-end of July 1 to 4.

The Wines of Mainz-Hechtsheim

Mainz belongs to Rheinhessen, which is with 27.000 hectares the largest viticultural region in Germany. Every fourth bottle of German wine comes from Rheinhessen. The high-yielder Mueller-Thurgau accounts for about 1/5 of the vineyards. Rheinhessen also has the rather dubious honor of being considered the birthplace of Liebfraumilch. At the same time, Rheinhessen is among Germany’s most interesting wine regions. A lot is happening there. There is an increasing group of mostly young and ambitious winemakers – led by Klaus Peter Keller and Philipp Wittmann - who want to produce and indeed do produce outstanding wine and not wines in large quantities. Some of them – Mirjam Schneider, Eva Vollmer and Michael Fleischer, to name 3 of them - I met over the weekend in Mainz-Hechtsheim.

Traditionally, white grape varieties dominate (3/4), such as Silvaner and Mueller-Thurgau, although Riesling is increasingly being planted, and, recently, Chardonnay. As for red grape varieties (1/4), Dornfelder and Portugieser are the most popular grapes, but winemakers have started to experiment with international grape varieties like Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Pictures: Weinfest im Kirchenstueck

Mainz-Hechtsheim comprises about a dozen wine producers. The total vineyard area is 150 hectares, of which a larger part is located outside of the boundaries of Mainz-Hechtsheim. Mainz-Hechtsheim is the most important suburb of Mainz, both in terms of the quantity of wine produced and in terms of quality. Apart from Eva Vollmer (Mainz-Ebersheim), the elite of the Mainz wine producers seems to be located in Mainz-Hechtsheim.

Here are my impressions from the wine festival.

Fleischer und Weingut der Stadt Mainz (2 Grapes Gault Millau)

Fleischer and Weingut der Stadt Mainz is clearly the top wine producer of Mainz. The history of winemaking in the Fleischer family dates back to a deed from 1742. In 1968 a new cellar was built outside of Mainz-Hechtsheim to bring the whole winemaking process under one roof. Since 1994 the Fleischer family also operates the Weingut der Stadt Mainz.

Hans W. Fleischer has been joined by son Michael and daughter Sabine to grow vines on 20 hectares of the best locations around the city of Mainz. The south facing slopes of the side valleys of the Rhine river provide ideal conditions for vine growing. The cool climate and the variety from heavy loess to sandy soils enable white and red grapes to ripen slowly and produce intense fruit flavors and expressive varietal aromas.

Pictures: Michael Fleischer and the booth of Fleischer and Weingut der Stadt Mainz

Fleischer and Weingut der Stadt Mainz was awarded a second Gault Millau grape in 2010 as a reward for their powerful red wines. The 2003 Merlot Barrel 2 made it to 1st place in the category “International Classics” of the VINUM magazine, November 2007. Vinum wrote: One can see that winemaker Michael Fleischer already has a couple of years of experience with Merlot: herbs in the bouquet, enormously spicy, dense and multi-layered, still ripening potential and lots of power. And again in 2008, a 2005 Syrah won in the category “International Classics. The premium red wines are the baby of Michael Fleischer.

Weingut Lothar Schneider und Tochter (1 Grape Gault Millau)

The Schneider Estate in Hechtsheim at the outskirts of Mainz looks back to a long winemaking tradition. Already since 1715 the Schneider family has grown and made wine. Mirjam Schneider, a young lady in her 20s is the 6th generation. She has split up the work with her father, Lothar Schneider, who looks after agriculture, while she is responsible for the viticulture and the wine making in the cellar. In the farm shop of the Schneiders, you will find both fresh fruits and vegetables and wines from Mirjam's cellar.

Mirjam Schneider says that she always wanted to become a winemaker. She did her formal education, went to New Zealand to get an international perspective and took over the winery in 2005. As many other winemakers, she is trying to push nature to the fore and chemistry to the back: “The focus of my work is dealing with nature - because wine is for me a valuable natural product. I therefore attach great importance not only to keeping the wine in the process as natural as possible, but to bring this understanding to the vineyard as well.”

Pictures: Mirjam Schneider and the booth of Weingut Lothar Schneider und Tochter

Mirjam also makes impressive Merlots; I have reviewed Mirjam Schneider's 2007 Merlot No.2 here.

Weingut Zehe-Clauss (Mentioned Gault Millau)

Weingut Zehe-Clauss is managed by Birgit Zehe-Clauss and her husband Marcus Clauss. The most interesting wines are the special edition MC wines, the signature wines of Marcus Clauss. Marcus grew up in Esslingen in the Neckar valley and met his wife while studying winemaking at the Geisenheim College. Birgit was the Rheinhessen Winequeen in 1996/97. Weingut Zehe-Clauss has a very interesting wine portfolio, which I did not have the time to fully appreciate during the event. I have to go back!

Pictures: Birgit Zehe-Clauss and her husband Marcus Clauss

Weingut Christophorus-Hof

Simone Schmitt-Rieth manages the Christophorus-Hof, the Schmitt family estate located right in the center of Mainz-Hechtsheim and makes the Christophorus wines. Her husband is a dentist and helps out from time to time. The Schmitt family has been making wine since the 1600s. The vineyard area totals 7.5 hectares. The Silvaner trocken sells for Euro 3 in the liter bottle – a steel. I also like the 2010 Grauburgunder trocken, which sells for Euro 4.80 in the ¾ bottle.

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller and Simone Schmitt-Rieth

Guest at the Weinfest: Eva Vollmer from Mainz-Ebersheim

Eva Vollmer is the 2010 Gault Millau Germany Wine Guide Discovery of the Year. She owns and operates Weingut Eva Vollmer in Mainz-Ebersheim, the other important wine suburb of Mainz. I spotted her at the Weinfest.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Eva Vollmer in Mainz downtown

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