Friday, July 29, 2011

Weingut Pawis in Saale Unstrut, Germany

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Bernhard Pawis

A few weeks ago I visited with the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim the Saale Unstrut wine region in the eastern part of Germany. We visited 7 wineries during a period of 4 days. Weingut Pawis was one of wineries. What Bernhard Pawis has created in the past 12 years is remarkable.

The Saale Unstrut Wine Region

The Saale Unstrut wine region is Germany’s most northern wine region, in the valleys of the Saale and Unstrut rivers, around Freyburg and Naumburg. With 730 hectares of vineyard area, it is one of the smaller wine regions in Germany. The oldest record of viticulture dates back to the year 998 during the reign of Emperor Otto III.

Located in the area of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), Saale-Unstrut has become a thriving emerging wine region after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 (as Sachsen, the other wine region in the area of the former GDR; Sachsen is half of the size of Saale Unstrut). Basically, all of the wineries we visited have experienced rapid growth and large investments over the past years, following 50 years of communism that did not allow for private initiative.

Picture: Germany's Wine Regions, including Saale Unstrut

Most of the region's vineyards are situated in the State of Saxony-Anhalt, with the remainder in the State of Thuringia and in the State of Brandenburg (the "Werderaner Wachtelberg" near Potsdam). The vineyards are located on the hillsides lining the Saale and Unstrut rivers. It all looks very attractive, with steep terraces, dry stone walls and century-old vineyard cottages, interspersed with meadows, floodplains. High above, are defiant castles and palaces. Culture, history, nature and wine are combined here perfectly.

Saale-Unstrut exports almost no wine and sells very little in the western part of Germany. Most of it is consumed in East Germany. The quality price ratio is not very favorable, so Saale Unstrut wines have a hard time to compete with the wines in West Germany. But the Saale Unstrut wine makers have no problems at all to sell their wine, as the Saale Unstrut wine is very popular with the locals and the tourists visiting East Germany, including the Baltic Sea. Of course, when you visit Weimar, Erfurth or Leipzig, to name a few of the many very historic towns of the eastern part of Germany, you want to drink local – either Saale Unstrut or Sachsen wines.

Picture: Cathedral of Naumburg

Saale-Unstrut is the northernmost of Germany's wine regions, and is therefore one of Europe's northernmost traditional wine regions. It lies to the north of the 51st degree of latitude, which was considered to be the limit for viticulture before global warming. Also, the weather is more variable than in the regions to the west. All the winemakers we met were concerned about the danger of late and winter frosts.

Picture: View of Freyberg

White grape varieties make up 75% of Saale-Unstrut's plantations. The most common grape varieties are the white varieties Müller-Thurgau and Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc). The wines tend to be vinified dry and have a refreshing acidity. In addition to the white classics of the region, we also had one fantastic tasting with red wines only (at Winzerhof Gussek) and got the chance to taste varieties like Holder and Andre that were new to me.

Weingut Pawis

Weingut Pawis – owned and run by Bernhard Pawis - is located in the historic Zscheiplitz Estate, close to Freyburg. It is a gorgeous set-up, but as Bernhard Pawis told us, the renovation of the Estate was a major undertaking.

Bernhard Pawis is a trained winemaker, who got his education in the former German Democratic Republic. Shortly after the Berlin Wall came down in 1990, Bernhard’s parents - Herbert and Irene Pawis– bought 0.5 hectares of vineyard land and founded a small winery cum wine tavern (Strausswirtschaft). They sold the wine they produced in tavern on their premise. Bernhard had a day job, but helped his parents after work. Business was good, so when his father died in 1998, Bernhard decided to quit his job take over his parents’ winery. He constructed a modern winery in the center of Freyburg and enlarged the winery’s vineyard land through purchases and long-term lease arrangements. In 1995, Weingut Pawis produced 5.000 bottles, five years later 2000 50.000 bottles. Not only quantity improved, but also the quality of the Weingut Pawis wines and in 2001, Weingut Pawis was invited to join the VDP, Germany’s association of elite winemakers.

Pictures: Weingut Pawis

The VDP membership put Weingut Pawis on Germany’s wine map and the winery Bernhard had constructed 8 years ago reached capacity limits. Bernard moved again, this time to something grand, the historic Estate Zscheiplitz. The former feudal Estate Zscheiplitz was completely run-down and required a major renovation effort. Bernhard pushed ahead with it, overcoming many obstacles. Since May 2007, the Weingut Pawis is based at the Zscheiplitz Estate in Freyburg-Zscheiplitz.

Pictures: Bernhard and Kerstin Pawis

The vineyard area totals 11 hectares, with holdings in the Edelacker, a 1. Lage (Grand Cru), Mühlberg (Freyburg) and Sonneneck (Naumburg). The area is planted with the white varieties Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Bacchus and Kerner, and with the red varieties Dornfelder, Portugieser, Pinot Noir and Regent. The white varieties account for 80% of the portfolio.

In terms of winemaking philosophy, Bernhard explained that he is following sustainable vineyard practices. The wines are made primarily in a dry style, using temperature-controlled fermentation. The premium wines are matured in barriques made from the Trias oak found in the region. When vintage conditions permit, noble sweet wines are also made. The estate also produces bottle-fermented sparkling wines and grappa-style spirits.

Pictures: Tasting Room and Art Gallery

Weingut Pawis sells about 1/3 of its production in the western part of Germany. This is unusually large, but having met Bernhard Pawis, seen the hip tasting room and tasted his wines, I can see why Bernhard Pawis is much more successful in the western part of Germany than his colleagues. But he does not export anything “and this will remain so” said Bernhard.

The tasting room and the garden serve on weekends as a wine tavern during parts of the year (Strausswirtschaft). Also, winemaker dinners take place here. Bernhard is very much into modern art and the Estate also houses a gallery with monthly changing modern art exhibitions.

The Wine Portfolio

Bernhard Pawis has about 30 wines in his portfolio.

Picture: The Wines we Tasted

The Pawis wines are grouped as follows.

Gutswein – weiss (white): Half a dozen entry-level white wines, in the Euro 7 to Euro 9 range.

Gutswein – rot (red): Half a dozen entry-level red wines, a tick more expensive than the white wines, starting at Euro 8.50.

Lagenwein – weiss: Single vineyard, white all around Euro 10.
Erste Lage Edelacker: Wines from the Edelacker, which is a steep sloped grand cru vineyard, between Euro 14 and Euro 20.

Edelsuess (noble-sweet wines) Weingut Pawis currently offers a 2008 Weisser Burgunder Beerenauslese for Euro 26 and a 2008 Gruener Silvaner Eiswein for Euro 41.

Holzfassgereift – rot: There are 3 red wines aged in barrique in the portfolio, a Dornfelder, a Blauer Zeigelt and even a Spaetburgunder, in the Euro 18 to 20 range.

Edition Weinhaus Pawis: Entry level wines made from fruit bought from “collegues” as he puts it.

Sekt-Flaschengaerung: Bernhard also produces a Sekt, brut nature, made in the méthode traditionnelle.

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