Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Visiting Andrea and Stephan Herzer at their Weingut Herzer in Saale Unstrut, Germany

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Andrea and Stephan Herzer, Weingut Herzer, Saale-Unstrut, Germany

During the summer of 2011, my wife Annette and 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. I am infrequently reporting about these visits.

I have already reported about Weingut Pawis, Weingut Luetzkendorf, Weingut Gussek and Weingut Klaus Boehme.

Weingut Pawis in Saale Unstrut, Germany

Weingut Lützkendorf in Saale Unstrut in Germany

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

Weingut Klaus Boehme in Saale Unstrut in Germany

This posting is about our visit of Weingut Herzer, where had a very enjoyable wine tasting led by Andrea Herzer.

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).

Pictures: Andrea Herzer

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.

Picture: Map of German Wine Regions including Saale Unbstrut

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.

Pictures: Stephan Herzer

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 vineyards. 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 Herzer

Weingut Herzer is in Rossbach, close to Naumburg. It was founded in 1992 by Andrea and Stephan Herzer. Andrea is a winemaker daughter from the Saale Unstrut region, who studied business economics. Stephan is a winemaker (Diplomingenieur für Weinbau und Kellerwirtschaft, Viticulture and Enology) from the Pflaz; he studied at Geisenheim College. “Stephan kam hier wegen des Weines, er ist hier geblieben wegen des Weibs” (Stephan came here because of the wine, he stayed here because of the woman) said Andrea. The two of them acquired in 2000 a historic farm in the village of Rossbach, restored it and turned it into a winery. They have 3 children.

Pictures: Weingut Herzer

The vineyard area totals 21 hectares, planted mainly (80%) with the white wine varieties Pinot Blanc, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Chasselas, Kerner and Bacchus, and the rest with the red varieties Dornfelder, Portuguese, Blauer Zweigelt and André. "Pinot Blanc is our most important grape variety" said Andrea. The wines are mainly sold through restaurants in the region and the Berlin area. Weingut Herzer also produces base wine for Rotkaeppchen, the Saale Unstrut Sekt giant.

The Tasting

We did not see much of the winery or the vineyards, but enjoyed a wonderful tasting of Herzer wines in the cosy tasting room of Weingut Herzer, led by the charming Andrea Herzer; she was towards the end of the tasting joined by her husband and winemaker Stephan. We covered most of the Weingut Herzer Portfolio.

Pictures: The Wines we Tasted

The Weingut Herzer wine portfolio contains about 30 wines, grouped under the 4 headings: Weisswein, Rosewein, Rotwein and Specialties.

The white wines were all in the Euro 6 to 8.50 range, with the 2010 Grossjenaer Bluetengrund, Riesling Kabinett trocken for Euro 8.50 among the top wines.

Rose – only one wine: an off-dry Andre Rose QbA

Red wines: 6 wines with the 2009 Zweigelt in the 0.5 liter bottle for Euro 12.00 being the most expensive wine.

The specialty wines were wines aged in wood, noble sweet wines, a Sekt (for Euro 12.50) and 3 homemade brandies/liquors.

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