Thursday, August 11, 2011

Weingut Lützkendorf in Saale Unstrut in Germany

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller and Uwe Luetzkendorf

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 Luetzkendorf was one of wineries. It is one of 2 Saale Unstrut wineries that have been admitted to the club of German elite winemakers, the VDP. The other one is Weingut Pawis. I have reported about Weingut Pawis here.

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: Germany's 13 Wine Regions

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.

Pictures: Saale Unstrut

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 Luetzkendorf

Weingut Luetzkendorf is in Bad Kösen on the Saale river; administratively, Bad Koesen is part of the town of Naumburg. The state-run winery Kloser Pforta is also in Bad Koesen. Uwe Luetzkendorf is the winemaker and owner.

Until its operation was merged into a state-owned agricultural co-operative during the communist period in 1959, the Luetzenkendorfs had a small winery with 2 hectares of vineyard land. Udo Luetzkendorf, the father of Uwe, was the Director and Cellarmaster from 1972 to 1992 in what was then the state-owned, and now again state-owned Kloster Pforta Estate.

Pictures: Uwe Luetzkendorf and his Mother at Weingut Luetzkendorf

The vineyards were handed back to the family in 1991 and the Luetzkendorfs made their own wine again with the 1991 vintage. What then followed was a major re-launch, including replanting the vineyards, buying and leasing new vineyards and building a winery, including a Gutsausschank (winery tavern).

Today, the vineyard area totals eleven hectares, with holdings in the Edelacker (Freyburg), Hohe Gräte (Karsdorf) and Köppelberg (Schulpforte). The area is planted with Silvaner (35%), Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Traminer, Müller-Thurgau and Kerner, as well as with Pinot Noir, Portugieser and Blauer Zweigelt.

In terms of the winemaking philosophy, Uwe said that he follows sustainable vineyard practices. The wines are matured very reductively in either stainless steel tanks or in oak vats. With very few exceptions, the wines are fermented dry. “I never use Suessreserve (sterilized juice)” Uwe said.

The Wine Portfolio

With about 60 different wines, Uwe has a sizable wine portfolio. “40 percent of our wines are sold to top restaurants, largely in the eastern part of Germany. The same amount is sold directly to private customesd and the remaining 2o % in the winery’s wine tavern.” Uwe was the only winemaker I met in the Saale Unstrut region who said that he would export a bit. He even won a contest in Singapore recently. Here are his wines:

Weissweine aus klassifizierten Lagen (white wines from single vineyards): perhaps two dozens of wines, mostly Silvaner, Riesling and Weisburgunder, up to Auslese, starting at Euro 8.50.

Grosse Gewaechse (Grand Cru): 4 wines from the Karsdorfer Hohe Graete for Euro 17 to 20. On a steep inclination of as much as 45%, the Karsdorfer High Crest is Uwe Luetzkendorf’s best vineyard (1. Lage).

Pictures: Luetzkendorf Grand Cru Wines we Tasted

Schatzkammer – Begrenzte Verfuegbarkeit (limited availability): These are wines from earlier vintages; when I visited the winery, this section of the wine list included 2 wines from 1999.

Rotweine aus klassifizierten Lagen (red wines from single vineyards): Uwe Luetzkendorf’s red wines – Portugieser, Zweigelt, Dunkelfelder and even Spaetburgunder. The Karsdorfer Hoehe Graete Spaetburgunder Spaetlese 2006 costs Euro 16 ex-winery.

Picture: Luetzkendorf Red Wines we Tasted

Edelsuesse Weine (noble-sweet wines): Eiswein, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese – the 2002 Weissburgunder Eiswein costs Euro 64 in the 0.375 bottle.

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