Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kruger-Rumpf (Germany) and Dr. Frank (USA) Rieslings – The Wines I Brought to the 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference (#EWBC) Opening BYOB Party

Pictures: 2010 Kruger-Rumpf Riesling, Quarzit, Nahe, Germany and 2008 Dr. Frank Riesling, Finger Lakes, USA and Christian G.E. Schiller with Christian Holthausen, International Communications Director for Charles Heidsick and Piper-Heidsick with the Charles Heidsick Brut 1989 Christian Holthausen brought.

Held in beautiful Brescia, in the northern part of Italy, about an hour east of Milan by car or train, and sponsored by the Franciacorta Producers’ Consortium, the 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) took place on October 14 and 15, with optional pre-conference events on October 13 and wine region excursions from October 17 to 19. Wine bloggers and wine industry professionals joined together to discuss the convergence between the culture of wine and the internet and to taste and enjoy Italian wine and food during 5 days full of lectures, seminars, wine tastings, and vineyard visits. 34 different countries were represented by the 216 participants. Founded and organized by Gabriella and Ryan Opaz of Catavino, and Robert McIntosh of The Wine Conversation, the 2011 EWBC was the fourth European conference, following the 2008 EWBC in La Rioja, Spain, the 2009 EWBC in Lisbon, Portugal and the 2010 EWBC in Vienna, Austria.

This was my second EWBC. I also participated in the EWBC 2010 in Vienna. Here are my 2 overview postings: "The 2010 European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) in Vienna"and: "Blogging, Wining and Dining at the European Wine Bloggers Conference (#EWBC) October 2011 in Brescia, Italy – A Tour D’ Horizont".

Brescia, Monastery of Santa Giulia and Loggia

Brescia is a stately Italian town, tucked away in a quiet corner of Lombardy, at the foot of the Alps, close to Lake Garda and Lake Iseo, untouched by major tourism. Following Schloss Schoenbrunn in Vienna last year, this year’s conference venue was the historic Monastery of Santa Giulia, one of the best examples of High Middle Ages architecture in northern Italy. The Piazza della Loggia eponymous Loggia - the current Town Hall - built in 1492, where the final dinner took place, is is a noteworthy example of Renaissance piazza.

Pictures: Impressions from Brescia

Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) Opening Party

The traditional “Bring Your Own Bottle” (opening) party took place at Hotel Vittoria. This was a very relaxed and informal opportunity to greet fellow participants and network with a bottle of your favorite wine in hand. People brought wine from all over the world. I brought 2 dry Rieslings from Germany and the USA:

Picture: 2010 Kruger-Rumpf Riesling, Quarzit, Nahe, Germany and 2008 Dr. Frank Riesling, Finger Lakes, USA

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Elisabetta Tosi from Italy

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Peer Holm and Thomas Lippert from Germany

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Snooth Editor in Chief Gregory Dal Piaz and EWBC Founder and Organizer Ryan Anderson Opaz

Pictures: Impressions from the BYOB Party

Finger Lakes AVA

The Finger Lakes AVA in upstate New York State encompasses seven glacial lakes, although the majority of plantings are around Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes. Most vineyards are planted on hillsides overlooking the lakes. These deep lakes help to moderate the climate, as stored heat is released from the lakes during the winter, keeping the weather mild (relative to surrounding areas) and preventing early frosts. The reflection of the sun off the lakes during summer extends the growing season. This cool-climate region is often compared to the wine-growing region of Germany, and like Germany, has had special success with Riesling.

Pictures: Maps of Finger Lakes and New York State

The Finger Lakes include 4,452 hectares of vineyards, making it New York State's largest wine growing region. New York State is with Washington State the second largest wine producer in the US, with a bit more than 10.000 hectares. Of this, 400 hectares are accounted for by Riesling.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery and the Vitis Vinifera Revolution

Dr. Konstantin Frank (1897-1985) was a viticulturist and wine maker in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, USA. He was born in Europe, in Odessa, now Ukraine into a Russian-German family. Dr. Konstantin Frank’s achievement is that he was the first to find a way to plant vitis vinifera varietals in the cool northern fringes of the north-eastern US. The struggle to do this goes back many centuries.

In the original charter of the 13 colonies was a royal commission to pursue three luxury items that England was unable to provide for itself: wine, silk, and olive oil. Every colony made attempts to satisfy the requirements of its charter, but made only limited progress. The problem was that on the one hand there were the native American grapes. All these native American grapes were cold tolerant and disease and pest resistant, but not that well suited for wine making, due to their coarseness, high tannins, and foxy flavors. On the other hand, the vitis vinifera which settlers brought from Europe, were well suited for wine making, but uniformly unable to survive long enough to produce a crop.

Despite many years of failure, the early Americans persisted in their efforts. And they had some success. A big step forward was made in 1740 when a natural cross pollination occurred between a native American grape and a European vitis vinifera. Other successful crossings followed.

So, only native American grapes and European American hybrids were grown in the Finger Lakes area, when Dr. Konstantin Frank arrived in the United States in 1951, finding work at a Cornell University experimental station in the Finger Lakes region. Having grown vitis vinifera back home in regions so cold that "spit would freeze before touching the ground" Dr. Frank believed that the lack of proper rootstock, not the cold climate, was the reason for the failure of vitis vinifera in the Finger Lakes region. He thought that European grapes could do well on the rolling, well-drained hills around the Finger Lakes provided they were grafted onto early maturing American rootstock.

With the help of the French champagne maker Charles Fournier, Dr. Frank put his ideas into practice. He developed the right root stock and grafted European vitis vinifera on them. He planted these vitis vinifera in the slate soil around Lake Keuka and he opened a winery, Vinifera Wine Cellars, in 1962. Despite his success, other winemakers still doubted him for many years and he had trouble getting New York distributors to handle his wine.

Today, Dr. Frank is recognized as having led the revolution in wine quality in New York State and the East Coast. With the help of his cousin Eric Volz as vineyard manager, Fred Frank, Konstantin's grandson took over the winery in 1993. Fred’s business degree from Cornell University and his study of viticulture and enology in Germany helped prepare him to take over the family business.

Dr. Frank Wines featured recently at State Luncheon for Chancellor Merkel in Washington, D.C., USA. I have written about the life of Konstantin Frank: German Wine Makers in the World: Dr. Konstantin Frank (USA)

Weingut Kruger Rumpf in the Nahe Region, Germany

“In our family, viniculture has been tradition since 1708 - a tradition that we have been cultivating in our vineyards as well as in our manor house which was built back in 1830” said Georg Rumpf, when I visited Weingut Kruger Rumpf earlier this year and George showed me around. Visiting Georg Rumpf and his VDP Weingut Kruger-Rumpf in the Nahe Region, Germany The estate is located in Münster-Sarmsheim in the Nahe region in Germany.

Stefan Rumpf, Georg’s father, brought Weingut Kruger-Rumpf up to where it is today: After completing his studies in agricultural sciences, including stints in Californian wineries, and conducting research at the Geisenheim research institute, Stefan Rumpf took over the estate from his parents in 1984. Up until then, the wines were sold almost entirely in bulk. Stefan Rumpf changed this and started to bottle his wines and to market the bottles himself. Less than 10 years later, in 1992, Weingut Kruger-Rumpf was invited to join the VDP, the about 200 German elite winemakers, a clear sign of what Stefan Rumpf had achieved over the course of just 8 years.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Georg Rumpf at Weingut Kruger Rumpf

Today, the vineyard area totals 22 hectares and the annual production is 14.000 cases. Georg Rumpf has taken over the winemaking aspect of Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, while his father is now more focusing on sales and general management.

The top sites are: Münsterer Dautenpflänzer (slate with sandy loam); Münsterer Pittersberg (slate); Münsterer Rheinberg (weathered quartzite and sandy loam); Binger Scharlachberg Rheinhessen (Rotliegend and porphyry).

Grape varieties: 65% Riesling, 10% each of Silvaner and Weissburgunder, 5% each of Chardonnay, Grauburgunder and Spätburgunder. In fact, Kruger-Rumpf was the first estate in the Nahe region to plant Chardonnay.

Weingut Kruger-Rumpf has 3 (of) 5 grapes in the Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland. It took 1st place in the DER FEINSCHMECKER Deutscher Riesling Cup 2008.

In the US, Weingut Kruger-Rumpf is imported by Terry Theise.

schiller-wine: Related Postings

Italy's Top Wines - Gambero Rosso's Vini d'Italia 2010

The Wines of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

The 2010 European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) in Vienna

Blogging, Wining and Dining at the European Wine Bloggers Conference (#EWBC) October 2011 in Brescia, Italy – A Tour D’ Horizont

1st International Riesling Symposium, Rheingau, Germany

Impressions from the Riesling & Co World Tour 2010 in New York

When Americans Drink German Wine - What They Choose

German Winemakers in the World: Hermann J. Wiemer

German Wine Makers in the World: Dr. Konstantin Frank (USA)

Celebrating the Rieslings of the Finger Lakes Region, New York State, US East Coast

Dr. Frank Wines from Finger Lakes Featured at State Luncheon for Chancellor Merkel in Washington, D.C., USA

Aging Potential of Riesling – A Wine Tasting at the 1st International Riesling Symposium in Germany Led by Jancis Robinson

Visiting Wilhelm Weil at his Weingut Robert Weil in Kiedrich, Germany

Wrap-Up: 4 Extraordinary Riesling Tastings at the 1. International Riesling Symposium at Schloss Rheinhartshausen in the Rheingau in Germany

Tasting with Wilhelm Weil the 2010 Weingut Weil Wines in Kiedrich, Germany

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

Annual White Wine Presentation of the VDP Wine Makers from the Nahe, Ahr and Rheinhessen Regions in Mainz, Germany

Phil Bernstein’s Third Annual German Riesling Tasting with the German Wine Society, Washington DC Chapter - Rieslings With a Touch of Sweetness

2011: Terry Theise’s Top German Wines of the 2010 Vintage

Visiting Georg Rumpf and his VDP Weingut Kruger-Rumpf in the Nahe Region, Germany

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wining and Blogging in the Soave Region, Italy

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Fellow Blogger and Tour Organizer/Guide Elisabetta Tosi in Soave

When I used to live in Zagreb, Croatia, we basically had two options for going back to Germany to visit the family and friends: via Austria or via Italy. We would alternate and take advantage of getting to know different regions that lie between Zagreb in Croatia and Frankfurt am Main in Germany. On the Italian route, Venice was always a place high on the list for possible stops. And this was the region, where, among other wines, a Soave was often served, when you had lunch or dinner at a Trattoria, a Pizzeria or an Osteria. I was therefore very happy, when I heard of the option of a 1-day trip to the Soave region in the context of the European Wine Bloggers Conference 2011 in Brescia in northern Italy and immediately booked the trip: Blogging, Wining and Dining at the European Wine Bloggers Conference (#EWBC) October 2011 in Brescia, Italy – A Tour D’ Horizont

This time, it was 1-day trip guided by Elisabetta Tosi . We visited 3 wineries – Balestri Valda, Coffele and Cantina Sociale di Soave and met a group of winemaker – Soavecru - in the Palazzo Vescovile in Monteforte d’Alpone, where we had lunch with them and tasted their wines.

The Soave Zone

Soave is a white wine produced in the surrounding area of the fascinating middle age villages of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone, between the picturesque cities of Venice and Verona in the eastern part of the province of Verona in Italy’s Veneto region.

The majority of the vineyards are in the hills. Beautiful centuries-old castles, churches, bell towers, and aristocratic villas are all part of the rich history and traditions of this area, and indicative of the region’s principal product, Soave wines. There are about 3000 growers and 120 wineries, ranging from boutique producers making wine from tiny plots to a few large cooperatives, which make credible wine at attractive prices.

Pictures: Images of Soave

Many of the vineyards are comprised of basalt rock or volcanic stone, which explains the minerality in the wines, while other sites are more dominated by calcaire (limestone). Given the excellent drainage of hillside vineyards, yields are naturally low, which provides more deeply concentrated wines which can age for many years.

Soave has developed a reputation of producing simple, crisp wines which pair very well with Italian but also other food. Soave wines tend to have low acid. It is one of the top selling wines in Italy, exported all over the world.

The prevailing grape is the Garganega, the fifth most planted white grape in Italy. Soave must contain at least 70 percent of Garganega, and the rest can be Trebbiano, but Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco are also allowed.

Classification of Soave Wines

All Soave wines – as all Italian wines – belong to one of the following 4 quality levels.

(1) Vino da Tavola (VDT): A very basic wine, made for local consumption; the bottle label does not indicate the region or grape variety. This is the wine you typically get served in a Pizzeria or Trattoria in Italy, when you ask for the “house wine”. Simple, cheap and decent. I can tell, sitting late in the evening at a Piazza in Soave and eating Pizza with a Vino da Tavola, served in a 1 liter jug, is just great.

(2) Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT): Wines that are considered to be of higher quality than simple table wines, but which do not conform to DOC and DOCG regulations. In the case of Soave, the label would only indicate the region, Veneto. So, you would not recognize it as a Soave. Sometimes, these are premium wines of winemakers who dropped the DOC/DOCG designation and instead carry the broader Veneto IGT designation, allowing them to try to improve quality by using nontraditional grapes, blends, viticultural practices or vinification techniques that are not allowed under the DOC and DOCG standards.

Pictures: The Towns of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone

(3) Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). Soave is currently the largest DOC appellation in Italy, with 15,500 acres of vines.

(4) Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). DOCG wines are a tick higher in terms of quality requirements than DOC wines (maximum yield for example), which is the highest category in Italy's wine-classification system. About 13,000 acres of vine of the 15,500 acres of the DOC appellation also qualify for DOCG. In the Soave zone, there are 2 DOCG appellations: The Soave Superiore DOCG and Recioto di Soave DOCG.

The Soave Superiore DOCG production zone is in the hillside sites, outside of the communes of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone. If they are aged for a minimum of 2 years, they are labeled as riserva. The Soave DOC is a more basic wine, whereas the Soave Classico DOC can only come from the Soave Classico DOC can only come from Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone communes. The Soave zone produces approximately 40 million bottles of Soave DOC wine every year and 15 million Soave Classico DOC wine.

Second, there is Recioto di Soave DOCG, which can come as Bianco (normale), Classico (from the classical zone) and Spumante. These are sweet-style straw wines, where the grapes are dried indoors in open plastic containers for from four to six months, during which they loose over 50% of their moisture, followed by a long, slow fermentation, often in small barrels.

Straw wines are typically sweet wines, capable of long life, but do not have to be sweet. For example, the straw wines from the blend of red wine grapes typical of Valpolicella can come as dry or sweet: If fermentation is complete, the result is a (dry) Amarone della Valpolicella; if fermentation is incomplete, the result is a (sweet) Recioto della Valpolicella. Fermentation may stop for several reasons including high alcohol.

Balestri Valda

Our first stop was at Balestri Valda, just over the hill from Soave, a small family estate, founded and managed by Guido Rizzotto. The total production is about 50,000 bottles. We were received by Guido’s daughter, Laura Rizzotto. Balestri Valda has 20 hectares of land planted mainly with Garganega (70%) and Trebbiano di Soave.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Laura Rizzotto from Balestri Valda


Our next stop was Coffele, a 30 hectares producer. In 1971 Giovanna Visco and her husband Giuseppe decided to retire from teaching to resuscitate her family’s estate, a property that had been dormant for over 30 years. Their vineyards are at high elevation (200-350m above sea level) on a hillside near Castelcerino in the heart of the traditional Soave zone. Today, Coffele is run by Albert Coffele (winemaking) and his sister Chiara (marketing).

Picture: Coffele

At Coffele, we had chance to observe very closely, how the Recioto di Soave, the great dessert wine of this region, is made and to taste a variety of wines from all over the Soave region.

Recioto di Soave of Coffele

Recioto di Soave, the great dessert wine of this region produced solely from Garganega grapes that have been dried for several months before fermentation. As explained above, the grapes loose over 50% of their moisture during the drying period; this is then followed by a long, slow fermentation, often in small barrels. Straw wines are typically sweet wines, capable of long life, but do not have to be sweet. Recioto di Soave are redolent of apricot and honey flavors and often have a light nuttiness to them.

Pictures: How Recioto di Soave of Coffele is Being Made

Palazzo Vescovile in Monteforte d’Alpone: Tasting with an Association of Small Producers - Soavecru

We then stopped in Monteforte d’Alpone for lunch with the Soavecru members and a tasting of their wines. Soavecru is an association of 16 small producers. We had a chance to meet them, and taste their wines. I talked a bit with Allessandro Danese from Corte Moschina. Corte Moshina produces about 80.000 bottles of wine annually, of which about 50% is exported to the US.

Pictures: At the Palazzo Vescovile in Monteforte d’Alpone with the Soavecru Winemakers, including Allessandro Danese from Corte Moschina.

The time we spent with the Soavecru producers was exceptionally memorable, but several things stick out. First, when we entered the amazing Palazzo Vescovile in Monteforte d’Alpone, we were greeted by fantastic piano music. Second, I had several plates of risotto, which was of a taste that at least I do not get often.

Cantina di Soave

We finished our tour in Soave in a most beautiful winery: Borgo Rocca Sveva, owned by the big cooperative Cantina di Soave. Here, visited the botanical garden and tasted other Soave wines. Soave is a cute little town with a beautiful castello – a postcard picture, when you arrive from the Autostrada.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with winemakers Giancarlo Piubelli and Luigino Bertolazzi

schiller-wine: Related Postings

The Wines of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Italy's Top Wines - 2011 Gambero Rosso's Vini d'Italia Wine Guide

Meeting Winemaker and Owner Massimo “Max” di Lenardo from Friuli, Italy and Tasting His di Lenardo Vineyards Wines

In the Glass: 3 Easy Drinking Wines from the Soave Region in Italy

The Wines of casa 236 in Italy – Peter Schiller

In the Glass: 2010 Pinot Grigio, Venezia Giulia IGT, Attems, Italy

Kobrand’s Impressive Tour d'Italia 2011 in Washington DC, USA

The 2010 European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) in Vienna

Blogging, Wining and Dining at the European Wine Bloggers Conference (#EWBC) October 2011 in Brescia, Italy – A Tour D’ Horizont

Friday, November 25, 2011

Clos Nomena: Taking the Wine of Madagascar to New Heights

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Jean Allimant with Marie Nomena Allimant and their Clos Nomena Wines in Antananarivo

My wife Annette and I have known Pâquerette and Jean Allimant for many years through joint Betsileo friends, including Tantely Andrianarivo and Patrick Rajoanary. When I heard that Pâquerette and Jean had launched a wine project in the Betsileo region in Madagascar – Clos Nomena - I got very excited and even more so, when the first vintage was put on the market a few months ago. I was thus very pleased when I was invited recently by Jean and his daughter Marie Nomena to a private tasting of his new wines at his residence in Antanarivo.

Clos Nomena is different from any other wine that has been produced in Madagascar so far in that the grapes used to make the wine are the grapes that we know from the European and the international market, while the traditional winemaking in Madagascar is based on so-called French-American hybrid grapes. Generally speaking, French-American hybrid grapes have the advantage of being robust, but do not match the so-called European grapes in terms of elegance and refinement. The European grapes are the best when it comes to fine wines. “We only use the noble grapes of Europe” Jean said.

Picture: Jean Allimant

Moreover, Clos Nomena is using the modern wine technology available to the winemakers around the world, while the other winemakers in Madagascar do not do this, at least not to the extent Clos Nomena does.

Finally, Clos Nomena has teamed up with a professional winemaker from the Bordeaux area, who brings his experience and expertise in fine winemaking to the job.

Food and Wine in Madagascar

Off the eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar in the Indian Ocean is the 4th largest island in the world. Long known for vanilla beans and peppers, you can dine in its capital Antananarivo like in France, but at much, much lower prices and you can drink imported wines, mainly from France and South Africa, as well as – and this comes as a surprise to most visitors - good table wine produced locally.

Before becoming a sovereign country again in 1960, Madagascar was a French colony for over 60 years. The food in Madagascar is thus French-Malagasy. French food in Madagascar ranges from basic bistro food to one star michelin food. The traditional Malagasy food is rice three times a day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a bit of meat or fish and bok choy type greens. The Malagasy eat this with a spoon and a folk - no knife. I have written on Malagasy food and restaurants: Wining and Dining in Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar – Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo, Madagascar and Schiller’s List of Restaurants in Antananarivo that Serve Malagasy Wine - Madagascar on schiller-wine.

Picture: Map of Madagascar

Not well known in the rest of the world, Madagascar produces wine. Malagasy wine tends to be of good table wine quality, not more. I always try to have a bottle of Malagasy wine, when I dine in Madagascar. Traditionally, the main grape varities are Petit Bouchet, Villardin, Chambourcin and Varousset for vins rouge and the Couderc Blanc for vins blanc. I have written on the wines of Madagascar: The Wines of Madagascar - Good and Interesting Table Wines

For imported wines, practically nothing was available in the 1980s, when I first set foot on the red island. That changed in the following years and French wines started to show up in supermarkets and restaurants. The most recent development is the influx of South African wine, which began perhaps a decade ago, reflecting both the opening up of the Malagasy economy and the export drive of the South African wine industry following the collapse of apartheid.

I lived in Antananarivo from 1989 to 1992 and visited Antananarivo since then on average every other year.

Vitis Vinifera, Vitis Aestivalis, Vitis Labrusac and Other Grape Varieties

When I am in a wine store in Washington DC or Frankfurt am Main, I never see any Petit Bouchet, Villardin, Chambourcin, Varousset or Couderc Blanc, the grape varieties traditionally planted in Madagascar. It is always Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, to name a few. This should not come as a surprise because the latter are all vitis vinifera or so-called European grapes, indigenous in the Eurasian area. Vitis vinifera grapes are without any doubt the best in the world for fine wine. But there are other grape varities in the world, although the world wine market is dominated by European grapes, accounting for 90% of the market: Vitis aestivalis, native to eastern North America, Vitis rupestris, native to North America, Vitis riparia, native to northeastern North America, Vitis amurensis, the Asiatic grape variety, native to Siberia and China, Vitis rotundifolia, native to the southern half of the United States and Vitis labrusca, native to northeastern North America.

French American Hybrid Grapes and Madagascar

But Petit Bouchet, Villardin, Chambourcin, Varousset or Couderc Blanc Villard Blanc, Syval Blanc and Chardonel – the grape varieties prevalent in Madagascar - do not belong to the non-vinifera grape varities. What are they? They are French American hybrid grapes.

Hybrid grapes are grape varieties that are the product of a crossing of two or more vitis species. This is in contrast to intra vitis species crossings, typically between vitis vinifera grapes. French American hybrid grapes are crossings with both European and American vitis species involved. Importantly, the French American hybrid grapes have stronger winter hardiness and are more resistant to fungal diseases.

Pictures: Impressions from Antananarivo

When the phylloxera crisis (grape root louse) hit Europe in the 1860s, biologists fought to rescue European winemaking. One route they went was crossing the European grapes with American grapes. They developed what is now called French American hybrid grapes. These try to combine the elegance of the European grapes with the robustness of the American grapes. Eventually, Europe went the way of grafting European grape vines on American rootstocks, which solved its problem, but at the same time these French American hybrid grapes came into existence.

French American hybrids have also become a renewed focus in the context of the organic/biodynamic/natural wine movement in Europe, as chemical plant protection treatments can be cut back considerably. The recently developed varieties Rondo and Regent are examples of newer hybrid grape varieties for European viticulturalists. Regent now accounts for 2 percent of Germany wine production. I have written on French American hybrid grapes: French American Hybrid Grapes - Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Others on schiller-wine.

Traditional Wine Making in Madagascar

Winemaking in Madagascar started with French colonization. But it really took off only in the 1970s in the framework of Swiss development aid. When the Swiss withdrew a few years ago, however, the wine industry suffered, and it is struggling now to regain its previous strength.

Pictures: Impressions from Antananarivo

Madagascar’s vineyards are in the highlands, in the area where the Betsileo people live, around the city of Fianarantsoa. The vineyard area now totals 800 hectares. Typically, the vineyards are on steep-terraced slopes and interplanted with pineapples and bananas, alongside with rice paddies and sugar-cane fields.

The winemaking calendar is the one of the southern Hemisphere. Harvest thus takes place in February during the rainy season, which often sees severe tropical cyclones in Madagascar.

Everything – grape growing, pressing, fermentation and aging – is very basic and unsophisticated in Madagascar, with manual work dominating the whole process. Typically, when to harvest the grapes is not decided by using a refractometor and other tools, but just by eating and tasting the grapes. Fermentation takes place in large concrete vats. The grapes are pressed in a mechanical press; the juice is then put into the concrete vats, along with sugar and some chemical, but no yeast, for six months; red wine gets some of the skins left in; no oak-aging here, just concrete vats; hand bottling, hand labeling and hand corking; old bottles are typically reused and you can observe women delabeling and cleaning old wine bottles, thus one wine from one winery can come in all bottle shapes.

Most winemakers produce one or several brands and these brands typically come as vin rouge, vin gris, vin rose and vin blanc. In addition, you find vin blanc moelleux, a white wine with noticable remaining sweetness. Finally, vins d'aperitif (parfume au coco, l'orange, l'ananas) and eau de vie de raisin are produced. I have not yet seen any single-variety wine or specific-vineyard wine.

The Story of Clos Nomena

Clos Nomena is radically different from traditional winemaking in Madagascar. It is using modern winemaking technologies that are now available to winemakers in France and elsewhere. Most importantly, its vineyards are planted exclusively with noble European grape varieties and not with French American hybrids.

Clos Nomena is the dream of Pâquerette and Jean Allimant that started to become reality about 10 years ago. Pâquerette and Jean Allimant are a French-Malagasy couple that lives in France, but also in Madagascar, where Pâquerette comes from.

In 2001, with the help of French experts, Pâquerette and Jean set up an experimental vineyard in Ambalavao in the Betsileo region with the view of creating a wine that would combine Malagasy terroir and French grapes. They planted about 25 different vitis vinifera grape varieties on family land. After five years, four grape varieties showed the most promising results, and these were then selected to be grown on a commercial basis. Jean was a bit reluctant to share with me, which grape varities performed best, but “Riesling did not do well” Jean said.

Pâquerette and Jean are wine aficionados, but no experts in winemaking. In order to make quality wine that could be marketed at Antananarivo’s top restaurants and elsewhere, they needed to team up with someone from the wine industry. They found this expert in a winemaker from Saint Emilion, who was in love with Madagascar, was willing to move to Ambalavao, and they joined forces to produce a premium Malagasy wine.

Initially, 1 hectare was planted. The first vintage (2011) is now bottled and available in a number of top restaurants in Antananarivo. I recently saw it at the Café de la Gare, where it sells for Ariary 56.000.

The name: Clos Nomena? Well, Marie Nomena is the name of Pâquerette and Jean’s daughter, who is also very involved in the winery. “I spent the last 2 years in Madagascar at the winery and was involved in all aspects of it, starting from growing the grapes in the vineyard, fermenting and aging the wine in the cellar and putting it on the market” said Marie Nomena.

Picture: Marie Nomena Allimant

The current output is 7000 bottles. Looking into the future, “we are now planting another 4/5 hectares and plan to do the same size planting again in a couple of years. This will eventually push our output to 60.000 to 70.000 bottles per year” said Jean.

Modern Winemaking Techniques at Clos Nomena

Jean, Marie Nomena and I talked a bit about how their wines are made. We did not have enough time to go into all the questions I had, but I got a good idea of how Clos Nomena is produced and how different it was from the other, more traditional wine producers in Madagascar. Overall, the Clos Nomean approach is a very modern one, using the methods and techniques that are available today to winemakers in France and elsewhere. All the equipment was imported from France. In terms of vineyard management, I saw from the pictures Jean and Marie Nomena showed us that the vineyards are neatly maintained, reminding me of those I know from Europe and other advanced wine countries. Fermentation is temperature-controlled. Barrique-aging is not yet an issue, but may become in the future.

Jean made clear that Clos Nomena is not a static project but a process. “We are learning by doing” said Jean. The future will definitely see further advancements.

Tasting the Clos Nomena Rouge, Blanc and Rose

Jean and Marie Nomena had invited a bunch of friends to showcase their wines, accompanied by delicious charcuterie and cheese. Here are my tasting notes.

Pictures: Charcuterie, Cheese and Clos Nomena Wines


Straw yellow in the glass, a bit grassy, notes of pear and apricot on the nose, dry, fruity and crisp on the palate with noticeable acidity, reminding me a bit of Alsatian Riesling, long finish. I am looking forward to having this wine with oysters from Fort Dauphin.


Shiny pale in color, the nose is full with cassis and some raspberry notes, the mouth-feel is crisp and austere, vibrant finish. A rosé which I like in the summer months for lunch.


Bright ruby in the glass, attack of dark berries on the nose, coupled with some notes of wet wood, good structure, elegant, velvety feel in the mouth, supple tannins frame a lingering and silky finish. A wine ready for drinking now, worked very well with the charcuterie and cheese offered by Jean and Marie Nomena.


The fourth wine of Clos Nomena (which we did not taste).

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Riesling Lounge Goes Lomo, Germany

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Johannes Hasselbach (Weingut Gunderloch), Kai Schaetzel (Weingut Schaetzel) and Philipp Wedekind with Esther Werkshage (Weingut Wedekind) at the Riesling Lounge in Mainz, Germany

Once a year, the winemakers from the Roter Hang (Red Slope) Vineyards in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, Germany, organize a wine presentation right in the middle of the Roter Hang. It is one of the best wine festivals in Germany, because of the wines, the location right in the middle of the vineyards and the spectacular view, if the weather is good. I participated in the Roter Hang wine festival a year ago and wrote about it on schiller-wine: The Wines of the Roter Hang (Red Slope) in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, Germany

Riesling Lounge in the Roter Hang

At the Roter Hang Wine Festival you can - but you do not have to - follow a course from one tasting booth to another. The tasting booths are all located in different vineyards and offer wines only from the particular vineyard they are located in. The trail ends at the Fockenberghütte at the top of the Roter Hang, which turns that day into the Riesling Lounge, starting at 18:00. There, in the evening, the sons and daughters of the Roter Hang winemakers – more generally, the young winemakers of the Red Slope - throw a party for the younger (and older) crowd, with DJ Chappi’s Lounge music and dance classics. In addition, over the course of the evening, they each introduce one wine of their winery to the partying crowd.

Riesling Lounge Goes Lomo

Lomo is a popular place in Mainz; it advertises itself as Buchbar (Book Bar), Lounge and Restaurant. It is open every day from 10:00 in the morning to 1:00 after midnight.

During the winter months, every second Tuesday in the month, the Riesling Lounge of the Roter Hang in Nierstein is kind of recreated at Lomo in Mainz, with 3 young winemakers presenting their wines.

I went to the last event (in November), where Johannes Hasselbach (Weingut Gunderloch), Kai Schaetzel (Weingut Schaetzel) and Philipp Wedekind with Esther Werkshage (Weingut Wedekind) were present. Each of them brought 2 wines, which were sold by the glass (Euro 2,50). DJ Chappi was also there with his lounge music and dance classics. And at 8:00, the 3 winemakers each presented one of their wines.


Rheinhessen is an area that used to be known for winemakers often focusing on quantity and not quality. Rheinhessen is 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. Unlike in other German wine regions, where monoculture of the vine is the norm, here the many rolling hills are host to a wide variety of crops grown alongside the grape. 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. This is not because of the terroir, but because of the people. There is an increasing group of mostly young and ambitious winemakers who want to produce and indeed do produce outstanding wine and not wines in large quantities.

Pictures: Johannes Hasselbach (Weingut Gunderloch), Kai Schaetzel (Weingut Schaetzel) and Philipp Wedekind with Esther Werkshage (Weingut Wedekind)at the Riesling Lounge in Mainz, Germany

Rheinterrasse, the Red Slope and Nierstein

One region of Rheinhessen, the Rheinterrasse, had always been in a somewhat different league, the stretch of vineyards which runs from Bodenheim, south of Mainz, in the north to Mettenheim in the south, often referred to as the Rheinterrasse.

The vineyards of the Rheinterrasse have a favoured mesoclimate in comparison with others in the region. The Rheinterrasse accounts for one-third of the region's Riesling wines. The wines from the Rheinterrasse were at some point even more expensive than Bordeaux wines.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Bertram Verch from the Mainzer Weingilde in the Roter Hang

The Roter Hang (Red Slope) is at the center of the Rheinterrasse. This steep slope extends for some five kilometers (three miles) with a total of 180 ha (445 acres) around Nierstein on the left bank of the Rhine. The Roter Hang has a very special terroir, resulting from the drop of the Rheinhessen plateau before human life started. As a consequence of these movements the Roter Hang has a mineral-rich soil, a mixture of iron and clayish slate, which is at least 250 million years old (Permian Period). Further, the slope faces south to southeast, which helps in terms of the solar radiation. The red slate retains warmth, and additional warmth comes from the sunlight reflected from the surface of the Rhine.

Johannes Hasselbach and Weingut Gunderloch

Johannes Hasselbach is the son of the famous winemaker Fritz Hasselbach of Weingut Gunderloch, one of the top producers of Rheinhessen. In fact, Weingut Gunderloch is among the two dozens of wineries or so that have earned 3 or more grapes in the Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland 2012.

I had the pleasure to meet Johannes' parents, Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger and Fritz Hasselbach, at their winery in Nackenheim last year; I wrote about my visit on schiller-wine: Visiting Agnes and Fritz Hasselbach at their Weingut Gunderloch in Nackenheim, Rheinhessen, Germany

Picture: Johannes Hasselbach at the Riesling Lounge in Mainz

The history of Weingut Gunderloch is quite interesting: In 1890, the banker Carl Gunderloch purchased the Gunderloch manor house in Nackenheim. As the story goes, he used to trek from Gundersblum, his place of birth, to his bank in Mainz. On these journeys he carefully observed how the sun played off the hills along the Rhein Terrace. Based on these observations he purchased vineyard property that appeared to collect sunlight most efficiently and founded the Gunderloch Estate. Today, the Estate is still in the hands of the Gunderloch family, with Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger, a descendent of Carl Gunderloch, and her winemaker husband Fritz Hasselbach in charge. In 2002, the Winespectator carried an article about Fritz Hasselbach as the only winemaker to have received a perfect 100 points score for not only one, but three of his wines. The 1992, 1996 and 2001 Riesling TBA, Nackenheimer Rothenberg were each awarded 100 points.

The Gunderloch Estate also has an interesting tie to the German dramatist Carl Zuckmaier. Zuckmaier, who became a Hollywood screenwriter, was born in Nackenheim and a friend of Carl Gunderloch. Zuckmaier not only wrote the screenplay for the film "The Blue Angel", but also the plays "The Captain from Koepenick" and "The Devils General". He also used the Gunderloch estate for the setting, and Carl Gunderloch as the main character for his very first play "Der froehliche Weinberg" (the jolly vineyard). In this play Zuckmaier renamed Carl Gunderloch "Jean Baptiste" which is where the brand name used on the Gunderloch "Jean Baptiste" Kabinett is borrowed from.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger, a descendent of Carl Gunderloch, and her winemaker husband Fritz Hasselbach in Nackenheim

The Estate has over 14 hectares of vineyards. In Nackenheim, it owns land in the Rothenberg (Riesling), the Engelsberg (Riesling, Silvaner, Ruländer and Gewürztraminer) and the Schmitts Kapellchen (Scheurebe and Müller-Thurgau). In Nierstein, there are holdings in the Pettenthal and Hipping both planted with Riesling and the Paterberg with Ruländer and Müller-Thurgau.

Weingut Gunderloch is very export-oriented and well known in the US, with more than 50%t of the production sold abroad. The Gunderloch Estate is a member of the Rheinhessen VDP.

Kai Schaetzel and Weingut Schaetzel

In the prestigious Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland 2011, Weingut Schaetzel moved from 1 to 2 grapes (with 5 grapes being the maximum). “A new fixture in the reemerging Red Slope of Nierstein”, noted the Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland.

I enjoyed very much a cellar tour and garden tasting with Kai in Nierstein a few months ago: A New Fixture in the Reemerging Red Slope of Nierstein - Visiting Kai Schaetzel and his Weingut Schaetzel in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, Germany

Picture: Kai Schaetzel at the Riesling lounge

Weingut Schaetzel is located in Nierstein in Rheinhessen. The winery was established in 1850 by Jakob Schlamp. His son moved the winery to the place where it is located when I visited it, the General von Zastrow Estate.

Today, the winery is owned and managed by Kai Schaetzel. The Schaetzel family has been making wine for 650 years, for 5 generations at the General von Zastrow Estate.

Kai started to work early at the winery – in 1996, even before he got his “Abitur” (highschool degree) in 1998. He fully took over Weingut Schaetzel from his parents in 2007. In the meantime, he studied business economics in Hamburg graduating with the Diplom Kaufmann degree, served in the army, and interned at wineries, including in the US.

When he became fully responsible, he decided to change course at Weingut Schaetzel and to aim at becoming a nationally and internationally recognized premium wine producer. Of course, with his business degree, he had many other options. But he went for the wine option – making premium wines at a small boutique winery, suggesting, as Kai explained to me, that his decision was driven by a lot of passion for making good wine.

When I visited Weingut Schaetzel earlier this year, we talked a lot about the renaissance at Weingut Schaetzel - renaissance of the steep slope vineyards, of manual harvesting and oak barrel fermentation. “You have to give space to Mother Nature” said Kai and “manual work in the Red Slope of Nierstein, small yields, selective manual harvesting, spontaneous fermentation with natural yeast in a barrel and long sur lie aging are the principles I adhere to.”

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Kai Schaetzel at Weingut Schaetzel in Nierstein

The vineyard area is small, just 5 hectares, with the single vineyards Heiligenbaum, Hipping, Ölberg and Pettenthal in the Red Slope. Riesling accounts for 70%, with the remainder made up by Silvaner and Spätburgunder. In the vineyard, Kai follows ecological principles. “Great wines are grown in the vineyard” said Kai. “And because we know this we're trying to interfere with what is happening during the year in the vineyard as little as possible. During harvest time, we watching very carefully what is going on in the vineyard and gradually pick out only the best grapes. So it happens that between September and mid November we are up to 5 times in a vineyard to selectively harvest, of course, by hand.”

Philipp Wedekind and Weingut Wedekind

I did not know Weingut Wedekind before the party, but Weingut Wedekind looks very interesting and promising. It was represented by its owner and winemaker Philipp Wedekind, with Esther Werkshage. It is a small winery with a vineyard area of 3.5 hectares. Interestingly, Weingut Wedekind has been a member of ECOVIN since 2008 and follows organic principles in the vineyard.

Picture: Philipp Wedekind at the Riesling Lounge

What Philipp, Kai and Johannes Poured

Here are the 3 wines they poured.

Picture: The Wines Philipp, Kai and Johannes Poured

2010 Weingut Wedekind, Riesling Spaetlese halbtrocken
2010 Weingut Schaetzel, ReinSchiefer Nierstein Riesling trocken
2010 Weingut Gunderloch, Nackenheim Riesling trocken

You could buy these wines for Euro 25 for the 3 bottles. Philipp, Kai and Johannes explained that the Wedekind wine costs about Euro 5, the Schaetzel wine about Euro 10 and Gunderloch wine about Euro 15 and invited the audience to taste and assess these 3 wines with this price information in mind.

The Wedekind wine, labeled as a Spaetlese, had some sweetness, was fresh, fruity, a very good deal. The Schaetzel wine, costing about the double amount, was clearly a step above, crisp and dense, with floral and mineral notes. Finally, the Gunderloch wine was the most concentrated wine, another step up on the quality ladder, also with floral and mineral notes.

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