Monday, September 26, 2011

Visiting Armin and Caroline Diel and their Schlossgut Diel in Burg Layen in Germany

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Armin and Caroline Diel at Schlossgut Diel in Germany

In the US, there are 3 Rieslings that stand out: The Rieslings of the Herrmann J. Wiemer Estate in the Finger Lakes in New York State, the Eroica Rieslings produced - in a joint venture - by Dr. Ernst Loosen (Germany) and Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington State and the Poet’s Leap Riesling produced – also in a joint venture by Armin Diel (Germany) at Long Shadows Vintners, also in Washington State. I recently visited Long Shadows Vintners in Washington State and wrote about it here. The visit was arranged by Armin Diel. Then, over in Germany, Armin invited me to come to Burg Layen in the Nahe region and taste with him and his daughter Caroline his German Rieslings and the other Diel wines.

The Nahe Region

Perhaps lesser known than the Pfalz, Rheinhessen and Rheingau, Nahe nonetheless is home to some of the most famous producers in Germany, Doennhoff, Emrich-Schoenleber, Schaefer-Froehlich, Diel, Kruger-Rumpf, Tesch, to name a few. The region itself is just over 4000 hectares with various soil types which produce outstanding Rieslings. Armin Diel is the President of the VDP Nahe region. He recently published a very interesting article (in German) on the Nahe region: “Die phaenomenale Erfolgsgeschichte des Rieslings von der Nahe”. I am not sure it is available in the internet. Armin said: “Look, the Nahe is a very dynamic wine region. For instance, most VDP members became members only in the past 25 years.”

Schlossgut Diel

Schlossgut Diel is a tower and the walled remnants of castle Burg Layen in the village of Rümmelsheim in the Nahe wine-growing region in Germany. It was built prior to 1200, changed hands numerous times over the centuries but was finally purchased by Johann Peter Diel in 1802.

Pictures: Armin and Caroline Diel at Schlossgut Diel

The vineyard area is 17 hectares and annual production 10,000 cases. Grape Varieties: 65% Riesling, 20% Grauburgunder, 10% Spätburgunder, 5% Weissburgunder. Bottle-fermented (and hand-riddled) sparkling wines are also produced. Schlossgut Diel is a member of the VDP. Armin Diel took over the estate from his father in 1987, and now his daughter Caroline has taken over as winemaker and his son Victor is working on the marketing side, based in Hamburg in the northern part of Germany.

History of Burg Layen

The origins of the Burg Layen date back to the 11th century. Over the course of time, three castle buildings were erected in the location, with different aristocratic owners, and with extensive holdings of vineyards and agricultural land. The Schlossgut in its present form was purchased by a forefather of Armin Diel, in 1802, after the family had already leased the land for several decades. From 1792 to 1796 Napoleons troops conquered German territory on the left bank of the Rhine declaring it French.

Picture: Burg Layen

In the Vineyards with Caroline Diel

The first thing we did after arriving at Schlossgut Diel was to hop into Caoline’s Van and to go with her one year old baby to the famous Diel vineyards. The vineyard area totals 17 hectares, all located in the commune of Dorsheim, with holdings in the top-rated Burgberg, Goldloch and Pittermännchen sites. “The age of the vines are similar in the three sites, the microclimates are similar in the three sites, only a few meters separate them from one another, yet they are entirely different based on terroir,” said Armin.

Picture: Schlossgut Diel's Top Vineyards

Goldloch: In 1756, the top site Goldloch was first officially named “Im Loch”. In 1819, the name “Goldloch” was registered in the land register. The name allows three interpretations: It is said that gold was found here; further the name could refer to the disappointment of miners who came here to dig for gold but only found ore. Or it refers to the vintners who owned parcels of this excellent site making a fortune with wines that are worth their weight in gold.

The soil consists of a layer of clay over a rocky conglomerate of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic slate rock from the first phase of the perm.

Since its beginnings the Diel Estate has owned parcels of this valuable site. Over generations the Diel family managed to acquire more acreage either through exchange or purchase. Today the Estate owns just over 11 acres (4,5 ha) making it the largest owner of this premium single vineyard site.

Pictures: In the Vineyards with Caroline Diel and Anouk

Burgberg: This site was officially mentioned for the first time in 1400. Georg von Leyen was given a hillock called the “Burgberg of Dorsheim”. As this hill had neither a castle nor a fortress at the time the name may refer to the steep cliffs on the eastern side that reach a height of up to 60 feet. However a second interpretation exists: The documents of the year 1400 mention a hill that must have included a larger area than the present-day land register. Accordingly, the vineyard site “Goldloch” must have been part of this area. Supposedly, a part of the Dorsheimer Hill – formerly registered by the name Burgberg – was thus a part of the hill belonging to Burg Layen.

In the period after 1815 the vineyard site Burgberg became property of the Prussian state. The vineyard often exchanged hands. In 1927 the state-owned Domaine Niederhausen purchased the largest portion of the site until it came into possession of Schlossgut Diel in the 1990s. Today the Estate owns 4,5 acres (1,8 ha) of this top site making it the largest owner of this vineyard site.

Pittermännchen: The vineyard Pittermänchen neighbors the site Goldloch and stretches to the Dorsheimer boundaries ending just before Burg Layen. Schlossgut Diel owns 2,5 acres (1 ha) of this prestigious site, making it the smallest member in the exclusive circle of top vinyards of the Estate. The name dates back to the 16th century when a Pittermännchen was a small silver coin and implies that the wines made here were significant value. The soil of the southward aligned site consists of slate with a lots of quartzite and gravel. This combination provides a refreshing mineral note to the subtle racy wines.

Pictures: In the Vineyards with Caroline Diel and Anouk

Caroline explained: “The Trollbach valley is one of the driest and warmest regions in Germany. The mountain range of the Hunsrück Hills keep most of the rain away. The valley is influenced by warmer temperatures from the upper Rhine valley. Spring and fall get most of the rain. In winter, temperatures rarely drop below 32° Fahrenheit (0°C).”

The cliffs of the Trollbach valley offer harsh conditions for plants. However, it produces most interesting microclimates and habitats. Tresses and draught-resistant moss species in particular, produce acidity that contributes to the erosion of the rocks. In addition, the sun plays an important role. On hot summer days, temperatures on the rocks of Goldloch and Eierfelsen sometimes reach 122 to 140 ° Fahrenheit (50 – 60° C). The rocks that heat up quickly during the day, cool down at night. Strong changes in temperatures of up to 104° Fahrenheit (40°C) are common. This microclimate can be compared to Mediterranean, if not North African conditions. Even after heavy rainfall the well-drained soils dry out just a few days later. The diversity of rare plants is enormous, making this valley a most interesting place for the botanist.

Caroline Diel

In the vineyards, Caroline also talked about her background. When wine consumers hear the name Diel they think of Armin. But this will inevitably change. More and more people will also talk about Caroline and her brother Victor.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Caroline Diel with Anouk

Interestingly, Caroline spent the last 2 high school years in a boarding school in California, south of San Francisco. Initially, Caroline wanted to study hotel management but ended up going to the famous Geisenheim college and study winemaking. She also interned quite a bit and at well known wineries, for almost a decade: In 1998 for 3 months at Chateau Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux; then at the German Weingueter Jost (Mittelrhein) and von Winningen (Pfalz); then at the Champagne House Ruinart; in 2004 in South Africa at Vergelegen and at Romanee Conti in the Bourgogne; in 2004, after she got her Diploma at Long Shadow Vintners in Walla Walla in Washington State, where Armin Diel’s Poet’s Leap Riesling is being made; for a whole year at Schloss Halbturn in the Burgenland in Austria and finally at Rippon Vineyard in New Zealand. With this huge experience, she returned home to make wine at Schlossgut Diel from now.

Caroline also got married (to a Frenchman) and is the proud mother of little Anouk.

In the Schlossgarten with Armin Diel and his Family

Armin then took us to the Schlossgarten to have our first tasting, an extraordinary German Sekt. It was lovely in the Schlossgarten. We were joined by Armin’s charming wife. Armin and his wife met in Muenster, a town in the Muensterland, where they also got married. My wife Annette is from the same region and we also got married in Muenster. We had a lot to chat about Muenster, the horses of Warendorf, the Westphalia food and the Restaurant Zum Engel in Warendorf, which has one of the best wine cellars in this part of Germany. It was all unrelated to why we had come to visit the Diels, their extraordinary wines.

Pictures: Christian G.E. and Annette Schiller in the Schlossgarten with Monika and Armin Diel

While chatting, Armin opened the first bottle of wine.

2005 Cuvee Mo Sekt Brut Nature Euro 45: An extraordinary sparkler. Last year, the 2004 version was the Gault Millau WeinGuide Sparkler of the Year with 92 points. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay- based and fermented in barrique, like Bollinger does it in the Champagne. Armin explained that the sparkler is named after his wife Monika; he calls her “Mo”. Initially, Monika did not like the idea of a sparkler being named after her but agreed under the condition that she will get a glass of every Cuvee Mo that is opened at Schlossgut Diel. And indeed, she joined us for a glass in the garden (as well as for the tasting in the Tasting Room).

Picture: 2005 Cuvee Mo

The Wine Writer Armin Diel

Armin talked a bit about his other hats. First, he is VDP President of the Nahe region. Second, Germany’s leading wine guide is the Gault Millau WeinGuide. It rates the wines and provides a description of the about 1000 best wineries in the country, using the 100 points scale for the wines and the 5 grapes scale for the wineries. It is kind of the Robert Parker of Germany. Until a year ago, the Gault Millau WeinGuide was edited by Joel B. Payne and Armin Diel. Third, more generally, Armin Diel has built up a reputation as gastronomic and wine journalist since the early 1980’s, and is a member of numerous national and international tasting panels. He has moderated gastronomic TV series, written accompanying books and accompanied culinary wine tours.

Poet’s Leap Riesling from Washington State

The Poet’s Leap Riesling is one of the best American Rieslings currently on the market produced in a joint venture by Armin Diel at Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla in Washington State. I recently visited Long Shadows Vintners in Washington State and wrote about it here. Long Shadows in Walla Walla has become, in a short time, one of the premier wineries in Washington State. It is an unusual set up: Former Simson-Lane CEO Allen Shoup works with renowned winemakers from around the world for this venture. Each winemaker produces a single wine using Washington State fruit and resident winemaker Gilles Nicault assists them to shepherd all of the wines along at Long Shadows in Walla Walla.

Pictures: Christian G.E. and Armin Diel in front of a White House State Dinner Invitation, where Poet's Leap Riesling was served; Poet's Leap Riesling; and Long Shadows in Walla Walla, Washington State

Allan Shoup brought some of the world’s finest vintners to this place: Randy Dunn, legendary winemaker of the eponymous winery on Napa’s Howell Mountain; John Duval, renowned for his 28 years of winemaking at Penfolds in Australia’s Barossa Valley; Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, the father-son team now crafting artisanal Chiantis in Italy; Agustin Huneeus Sr., founder of Napa’s Quintessa and Chile’s Veramonte; Philippe Melka, who began his career at such iconic places as Châteaux Haut-Brion and Pétrus and is now becoming increasingly celebrated for his accomplishments in Napa Valley; and globetrotting super-consultant Michel Rolland, and of course, Armin Diel.

What Armin Diel Poured in the Tasting Room

2010 Dorsheim Riesling Euro 13.20

This is one of Diel’s “Gutsweine”, an entry level wine, which however, costs Euro 13,20 ex winery. At the prices of the entry-level wines you could immediately see that you were in a top-echelon winery.

2010 Pinot Gris Euro 21.50

2009 Pittermaennchen Riesling GG Euro 29.50
2009 Goldloch Riesling GG Euro 32.00
2009 Burgberg Riesling GG Euro 35.00

Pictures: Christian G.E. and Schiller and Armin and Monika Diel in the Tasting Room with the GG Wines

Let me quote Armin Diel’s importer and German wine expert Terry Theise: “The Burgberg seemed the most complex and profound of the trio; ample yet sinewy, and a real epic of rocks and charred ore-like terroir. There’s a love of sorts in it; stern yet ultimately tender. It reminds me of Gaisberg or of the Grand Crus from Ribeauvillé. Pittermännchen is slimmer but just as rock-dusty, and even more arch and mischievous; quite piquant and slinky and salty; the slatiness grows sweeter-seeming on the middle and finish. Burgberg is earnest and professorial, but Pittermännchen’s the wine with jokes and puns. Finally Goldloch is potentially the best of the three, but it’s still smoldering and nowhere near unfolding its mighty baroque stuff."

2009 Pinot Noir Caroline Euro 48.00

Diel ‘Cuvee Caroline’ Pinot Noir, 2006 is named after Armin’s daughter and the vineyards are 20-30 years old. This was one of the best Pinot Noir I tasted on my German wine tour (I also visited red wine star August Kesseler in Assmannshausen) – it shows beautiful layered aromatics of bright red berries and cherries, sweet tobacco and fragrant purple flowers. Elegant and Burgundian-like with a silky texture, spiced fruit, cedar box and peppery flavors and fine youthful tannins.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Caroline Diel with 2009 Pinot Noir Caroline

Again Terry Theise: “A wonderful and sophisticated Pinot, with clear suave fruit and the sweetest most subtle oak tones; silky body, berries and flowers and stock. You could wonder for a second about the oak but it’s quickly overwhelmed by cool marrowy fruit. A deft refined Old World Pinot Noir.”

2010 Scheurebe Spaetlese

With Weingut Müller-Catoir's trocken version, this is Terry Theise’s Scheurebe of the Vintage. Here is what he has to say: “The best sweet Scheu in this (or anyone’s) portfolio of ‘09s! Impeccable grapefruit and sage; a cool spicy Scheu, a bit on the sweet side but it really stalks your palate like a lynx on the hunt; satiny and gingery with a roasted pineapple finish. But use it as you would an Auslese.”

Picture: 2010 Scheurebe Spaetlese


My wife Annette and I enjoyed the afternoon with Armin, Monika and Caroline very much. We went on and on talking about the wines and other things. In the end, Armin had to rush, because his mother needed a ride home and she was getting nervous. Also, there was a soccer game on TV, which Armin did not want to miss. In fact, he himself still plays soccer; he is a midfielder in the “German Winemakers Team”. He also told me that he likes to play cards (Skat) and is member of a quire.

The Schlossgut Diel Wine Portfolio

Let me finish with a quick overview of the current wine portfolio of Schlossgut Diel:

Trockene Gutsweine: Five dry entry-level wines in the Euro 10 to 17,80 range.

Trockene Burgunderweine: Seven Pinots – Blanc, Gris, Noir – including the 2009 Pinot Noir Caroline for Euro 48.

Grosses Gewaechs Riesling: Four dry ultra-premium Grand Cru wines from Euro 24 to 35.

Fruchtiger Riesling: Five sweet-style Kabinett and Spaetlese wines in the Euro 12,80 to Euro 25,30 range. Armin said:” I produce these wines mainly for our export markets. Even the German north now drinks dry”.

Edelsuesser Riesling: Five Auslese and Eiswein wines, up to Euro 150 for a 2003 Pittermaennchen Riesling Eiswein.

Handgeruettelter Sekt: Three hand-riddled vintage sparklers, including all brut or brut nature.

Sanfte Destillate: Three grappa-style brandies.

In terms of where are the markets of Schlossgut Diel Armin said: “ ¼ private clients, ¼ fine restaurants, ¼ German trade and ¼ exports.

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