Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A German Woman Winemaker with a Full Plate: A Conversation with Ana Eifel Spohr at Brasserie Beck in Washington DC, USA

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller at Brasserie Beck in Washington DC with Ana Eifel Spohr and Chef Robert Wiedmaier

I spent a couple of hours recently with German winemaker Ana Eifel Spohr at the Bar of Brasserie Beck in Washington DC. Ana also sent me some samples of her wines, which I tasted.

Ana is an amazing and fascinating woman. First, she married a co-student from the University of Geisenheim, where both studied oenology, and is now the mother of 3 children. Second, her husband took over the winery of his parents in the Pfalz region; this is where Ana lives with her family – the center of her live- and where she also helps her husband and her parents-in- law, who continue to work, in the winery. Third, she is the winemaker in the winery of her parents in the Mosel valley. Fourth, her father, Heinz Eifel, in addition to the family winery, owns and runs a “virtual winery”, where he buys wine and grapes on the market and sells the wine under his label all around the world. In short, Ana is a winemaker with a full plate.

Ana Eifel Spohr

Ana was born in Trittenheim in the Mosel valley into a wine producer family. She studied oenology at the Geisenheim College, where she met her husband Christian Spohr, who also comes from a wine producer family, but in the Rheinhessen region. She graduated in 2000 and also interned in New Zealand.

Pictures: Ana Eifel Spohr

Today, she lives with her husband and her 3 children Eva-Lotte, Juli and Henri in Worms-Abenheim in Rheinhessen, but regularly commutes to Trittenheim in the Mosel valley and spends a lot of time there to look after the Mosel wine making and marketing.

Weingut Eifel-Pfeiffer

Eifel-Pfeiffer is a long established wine-estate in Trittenheim in the Mosel valley, where the low-alcohol sweet-style Rieslings that are so popular all over the world, come from. The vineyards have been owned by the Eifel family since 1640. Today, the Weingut Eifel-Pfeiffer vineyards total 7 hectares. The vines range between 50 and 90 years of age. Heinz and Brigitte Eifel are the owners and daughter Anne Eifel-Spohr is the winemaker; Heinz was in charge of winemaking until Anne took over in 2000.

The Estate`s 7 hectares of vineyard sites are located in the renowned Mosel vineyards Trittenheimer Apotheke and Altärchen, Graacher Himmelreich and Domprobst, as well as Wehlener Sonnenuhr and Bernkasteler Badstube. “Due to low alcohol level and therefore high digestibility, our wines meet with highest requirements. Served to meals or on their own, they are ideal and easy-going wines. We are offering wine styles from dry to mild” said Ana. “The steep south-facing slopes lining the Mosel river maximize sunlight interception and also receive reflected light from the river below. The slate soils absorb heat during the day and release it slowly during the night, extending the ripening period. These factors contribute to the special Middle-Mosel terroir, which produces distinctive wines.”

I asked Ana about vinification. “We selectively hand-pick up to three times in each vineyard to ensure good condition and improved ripeness. The grapes are then transported to the winery in small containers to avoid juicing. Depending on the growing season, different processing options such as whole bunch pressing, crushing and skin-contact may be used. The cold-settling and fermentation of musts is temperature controlled. Indigenous yeast fermentation is used as well as commercial yeasts.”

Pictures: Ana Eifel Spohr

Ana on Riesling: “Of all the grapes of Germany, the most noble is the Riesling — a variety that can do well even in stony, dry soil. It is a very dependable bearer of high quality grapes that have an acidity level that gives the wine a racy freshness. To reach its full potential, Riesling needs extra days of sun. Ripening is very late, usually not until the latter half of October. Riesling produces elegant wines of rich character with an incomparable fragrance and taste, often reminiscent of peaches and apples.”

Ana on the Mosel River: “The Mosel River is the sinuous spine of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. Along its serpentine route, the riverbanks rise so sharply that the vineyards carpeting these slopes are among the steepest in the world. On these precipitous inclines, nearly all labor must be done by hand, including tying each vine to its own eight-foot wooden stake and carrying up the slate soil that has washed down with the winter rains.”

The Weingut Eifel-Pfeiffer Wines I Tasted

2009 Gutsriesling trocken, (11% alc)

Weingut Eifel-Pfeiffer is clearly a producer that focuses on sweet-style Mosel wines that are so popular in the US and other countries, while Germany is drinking dry wines. But Ana also has a few dry wines in her portfolio.

A Gutswein – the grapes can come from any of the Weingut Eifel-Pfeiffer vineyards. A dry entry level wine - fresh, crisp, racy.

2010 Trittenheimer Apotheke, Riesling Spaetlese trocken (11,5% alc)

“Trittenheimer Apotheke is one of the best vineyard sites of the Mosel valley. The inclination is up to 65%. The wines are fine, minerally, fruity, full! The soil is devon-slate. Here we vinify one of our best dry Riesling Spätlese” said Ana.

2010 Graacher Himmelreich, Riesling Kabinett, halbtrocken (11% alc)

“The Himmelreich is not as steep in all sections as the Graacher Domprobst site. It produces very racy, crisp Riesling wines with firm body, particularly good when made in dry or off-dry styles. Traditionally, we produce here our Kabinett medium-dry wines with lots of fruity and miner flavors” said Ana.

2010 Trittenheimer Altaerchen, Riesling Kabinett (9,5% alc)

“The vineyard site Trittenheimer Altärchen is on the valley site, on the left river site. The ground varies from stony loam to blue slate, also from flat vineyards up to very steep vineyards. Wines from Trittenheimer Altärchen are suitable to almost all wine style from dry to sweet and from QbA up to Auslese” said Ana.

2010 Trittenheimer Apotheke, Riesling Spaetlese (8,5% alc)

The sweet-style version of the first wine, with considerably less alcohol and more remaining sugar.

2010 Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Spaetlese (8,0% alc)

“This world-famous top vineyard site borders on the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr. However, it is much larger and thus more variable in terms of quality. The soil is also very stony” said Ana. “There is ample richness, yet this remains sleek, courtesy of its vibrant structure. Peach, lime and flecks of mineral and anise play out from start to finish.”

2010 Graacher Domprobst, Riesling Spaetlese, - Der Wurzelechte – (11,5% alc)

Graacher Domprobst is one of the top sites of Graach, relatively small and facing south-west. “Here we own some very steep parcels of vineyard, planted with ungrafted vines. They have a fine, stony slate soil that is not too dry, and indeed is close to perfection. The wines are dominated by a slate character, with lots of extract and full of character” said Ana.

2010 Trittenheimer Apotheke, Riesling Auslese (7,5% alc)

Intense and smooth, with apricot, honey, spice and citrus notes on the nose, good structure, mineral notes on the palate, a refined, delicate Auslese.

Weinhaus Eiffel-Pfeiffer

In addition to Weingut Eiffel-Pfeiffer, there is also a Weinhaus Eiffel-Pfeiffer. The Weinhaus Eiffel-Pfeiffer produces 2 entry-level wines with grapes purchased on the market – R Riesling, Mosel Riesling Kabinett and Cultus, Mosel Riesling QbA dry.


Römerhof was founded 1979 and was taken over in 1988 by Ana’s father Heinz Eifel. While Weingut and Weinhaus Eiffel-Pfeiffer are niche producers, Roemerhof is a large scale producer and an important exporter of German wines to all over the world.

Over the past 20 years, Roemerhof has become a major supplier of German wines throughout the world. “As market leaders of German wines in Brasil with the brand name Roemerhof we have achieved there a market share of about 35% of German wines” said Ana. The annual output is about 6 million bottles, with wines from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Pfalz, Nahe and Rheinhessen regions. “We have contracts with different vintners and they are all advised by us to cultivate their vineyards under our standards. The wines are blended by a committee of oenologists” said Ana.

Ana explained that the Roemerhof Portfolio comprises 3 lines of products: (1) Hans Pfeiffer, (2) Fritz Zimmer and (3) Heinz Eifel. Hans Pfeiffer: Liebfraumilch, Zeller Schwarze Katz, Piesporter Michelsberg and Piesporter Goldtröpfchen. Fritz Zimmer: Piesporter Michelsberg QbA, Piesporter Michelsberg Kabinett, Piesporter Michelsberg Spätlese, Piesporter Michelsberg Auslese, Bernkasteler Kurfürstlay Spätlese, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Kabinett, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese, Oppenheimer Krötenbrunnen Kabinett, Oppenheimer Krötenbrunnen Spätlese and Rheinhessen Eiswein.

Heinz Eifel Wines

Ana makes the Heinz Eifel wines. In contrast to the Weingut Eifel-Pfeffer wines, they are made from grapes bought on the market from anywhere in the Mosel region and Rheinhessen region (Eiswein). The Heinz Eifel wine bottles, except for the Eiswein, have screwcaps. The Eiswein is a non-vintage wine.

Pictures: Ana Eifel Spohr

These are good value wines at reasonable prices. Heinz Eifel wines are not wines for the sophisticated connoisseur of German wine, but wines for consumers who like the taste of German sweet-style, low alcohol Rieslings and who do not want to spend the fortune that these wines can cost. The wines of JJ Pruem, for example, which are similar in terms of style and taste, are in a very different price (as well as quality) category; they cost the double or triple amount.

The Heinz Eifel Wines I Tasted

2010 Riesling Kabinett Mosel (8,5% alc)

Kabinett is the entry-level in the German predicate quality ladder. Unlike QbA wines, predicate wines are not allowed to be capitalized. But the sweetness in the wine can be increased by adding sterilized juice to the finished wine (within limits). The grapes of the 2010 Riesling Kabinett Mosel can come from anywhere in the Mosel region.

A good, typical sweet-style, low-alcohol Mosel Kabinett.

2010 Riesling Spaetlese Mosel (8% alc)

Spätlese is the next level in the German predicate quality ladder. Sweeter than the Kabinett, with pear and peach notes on the nose and notes of citrus and apricot on the palate.

2010 Riesling Auslese Mosel (8% alc)

Auslese is the highest level in the German predicate quality level, except for the noble sweet wines (Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein). This Auslese is rich with notes of honey, lime and mango.

N.V. Eiswein Rheinhessen (9% alc)

This Heinz Eifel Eiswein is a German specialty made from hand-picked frozen grapes. The frozen grapes produce only a small amount of highly concentrated juice. Eiswein is a noble-sweet wine. Eiswein can age for many years.

Weingut Spohr

Finally, a couple of sentences on Weingut Heinz Spohr in Worms Abenheim (range Wonnegau) in the Rheinhessen region, where Ana lives with her husband and her 3 children. Ana’s father-in-law Heinz Spohr is the Managing Director of Weingut Spohr. Ana’s husband Christian Spohr is in charge of winemaking (with Ana).

The vineyard area totals 26 hectares, including the famous single-vineyard Liebfrauenstift Kirchenstück (Worms). The white varieties include Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sylvaner, Gewürztraminer and Morio Muskat and the red varieties Pinot Noir, Dornfelder, Portuguese, St. Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon and Trollinger. Weingut Spohr also produces Winzersekt.

Christian Spohr is a member of Message in a Bottle, a group of young, dynamic and innovative winemakers from Rheinhessen.

I did not taste any wines of Weingut Spohr.

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