Thursday, August 18, 2011

Visiting Andre Gussek and his Weingut Winzerhof Gussek in Saale Unstrut, Germany

Picture: Christian Schiller with Andre Gussek

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 Gussek was one of wineries. I have already reported about Weingut Pawis and Weingut Luetzkendorf.

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).

Picture: The Wine Regions of Germany

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. In a way, Saale Unstrut is an emerging wine region in an old world wine country. It is pretty much an emerging market situation there, but without any foreign investors.

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. Saale Unstrut is located in a region that was the intellectual and cultural center of Germany (Heiliges Roemisches Reich Deutscher Nationen) for many centuries. The second German university (after Prague) was the University of Leipzig, which is just 50 km away from Saale Unstrut. Schiller and Goethe, to name just 2, lived here. 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.

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.

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 Winzerhof Gussek

Weingut Winzerhof Gussek is in Naumburg, the gateway to the Saale-Unstrut. You can see the famous St. Peter and Paul Naumburg Cathedral from far away.

Pictures: Weingut Winzerhof Gussek in Naumburg

Weingut Gussek was founded by Andre Gussek in 1993. In the beginning, he owned only the 2.8 hectares of vineyard land surrounding the winery in the Kösener Straße (Kaatschener Dachsberg and Naumburger Steinmeister) and made his own wine on the side. But in 2002, he became a full-time winemaker at Weingut Wnzerhof Gussek. Over the following years, he expanded the vineyard land to 8 hectars and has 3 full -time employees today. Andre was the cellar master at the government-owned Weingut Kloster Pforta between 1982 and 2002.

Pictures: Weingut Winzerhof Gussek

70% of the area is planted with white varieties, including Müller-Thurgau (27%) and Riesling (11%). The remaining 30% is planted with the red varieties Zweigelt, Pinot Noir and Portugieser. Typically, wines are fermented dry. The red wines are matured in barriques. Weingut Winzerhof Gussek also produces noble sweet wines. Annual production is 50.000 bottles.

The walls of the tasting room are filled with art, including art with an erotic touch. His father, Andre explained, takes a special interest in that kind of art.

Picture: Art Work at Winzerhof Gussek

The Gussek Wine Portfolio

The Gussek wine list comprises 35 wines grouped as follows. The wine list provides information on the alcohol content, the acidity level, the remaining sugar level and the Oechsle level at which the grapes were harvested.

Gutsweine (entry level wines) – starting a t Euro 5.70 for a Mueller-Thurgau trocken.

Weine aus Kaatschen und vom Kaatschener Dachsberg (Wines from the village of Kaatschen and the Kaatschener Dachsberg) – both red and white wines, mostly around 90 degrees Oechsle. The Portugieser and the Zweigelt benefitted from 6 months aging in barrique.

Weine aus Naumburg und vom Steinmeister, Sonneck and Goettersitz (Wines from the town of Naumburg and its single vineyards Steinmeister, Sonneck and Goettersitz) – both red and white wines, with somewhat lower Ochsle degrees than the wines from Kaatschen.

Edelsuesse Weine (Noble-sweet wines) – Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines. A 0.375 bottle of Silvaner Trockenbeerenauslese, harvested at 201 degrees Oechsle sells for Euro 75.

What Andre Poured

The Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim had agreed with Andre Gussek to taste only red wines.

2010 Blauer Zweigelt, Naumburg, trocken
2008 Blauer Zweigelt, Dachsberg, trocken, barrique
2005 Blauer Zweigelt, Naumburg, trocken, barrique

Pictures: The Red Wines we Tasted

2009 Spaetburgunder, Goettersitz, trocken, large barrel
2009 Spaetburgunder, Goettersitz, trocken, barrique
2003 Spaetburgunder, Dachsberg, trocken, barrique

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