Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Future of the Rheingau Wine Region - Brainstorming at Weingut Balthasar Ress in Hattenheim, Rheingau, Germany

Pictures: Discussion at Weingut Balthasar Ress, Hattenheim

Wine Maker (at Weingut Balthasar Ress in the Rheingau as well as at his own Weingut Wuertz Weinmann in Rheinhessen) and Wine Blogger Dirk Wuertz had put together an interesting list of guests and wines to brainstorm about the question: Quo vadis Rheingau?

The Rheingau

It is remarkable: For its entire length of nearly 560 miles, the Rhine flows north with one exception – a 28-mile stretch where the river changes its course. Here, it flows to the west, thereby enabling both the river and the vineyards facing it to bask in the warmth of the sun all day long. This is the Rheingau, one of the medium-size German wine regions. It is a quietly beautiful region, rich in tradition. Queen Victoria's enthusiasm for Hochheim's wines contributed to their popularity in England, where they, and ultimately, Rhine wines in general, were referred to as Hock.

Pictures: Some of the Wines

The third President of the USA - and notable bon viveur - Thomas Jefferson visited the Rheingau in 1788 and wrote that the wine of the "Abbaye of Johnsberg is the best made on the Rhine without comparison … That of the year 1775 is the best." He also referred to the Rheingau’s Riesling as the "small and delicate Rhysslin which grows only from Hochheim to Rudesheim". Impressed by the quality of the Rheingau Riesling wines, he bought 100 grapevines to take back to his estate in Virginia.

Although the Rheingau is one of Germany’s smaller wine-growing regions, its 3,100 ha (7,660 acres) of vineyards are vastly diverse in their geological makeup. The soil varies from stony slate at the western part near the villages of Assmannshausen and Rudesheim to loess, sand and marl in the lower central villages of Geisenheim, Johannisberg, Winkel, Oestrich and Hattenheim. Soil reverts to stony phyllite in the higher central and eastern villages of Hallgarten, Kiedrich and Hochheim. Generally, wines from the lower slopes where the soil is heavier—sandy loam and loess—produce fuller wines, while at the higher slopes where it is more stony and slatey, the wines reflect more minerality, elegance and concentration.

The Rheingau enjoys a distinctly continental climate with cold winters and warm, but not hot, summers. The Rheingau is dominated by Riesling, accounting for 4/5 of the vineyard area. Pinot Noir accounts for 1/10 and is concentrated around Assmannshausen.

The Rheingau – with its rich history and many wine estates with a world wide reputation - is by many perceived as a wine region that is falling behind from a position where it was leading German wine.

The Participants


Stefan Ress, Weingut Balthasar Ress
Christian Ress, Weingut Balthasar Ress
Dirk Wuertz, Director of Operations, Weingut Balthasar Ress
Christine Scharrer, Marketing Chef Germany, Weingut Balthasar Ress



Desiree Eser, Weingut August Eser
Alexander Jung, Weingut Jakob Jung
Hansi Bausch, Weingut Bausch
Ralf Kaiser, Weinkaiser, Blogger
Helmuth O. Knall, Wine Times
Christin Jordan, Journalist
Lars Dalgaard, Journalist
Guiseppe Lauria, Gault and Millau
Kristine Baeder, Sommelier Magazin
Guenael Revel, Journalist, Canada
Thomas Guenther, Weinverkostungen, Blogger
Joachim Kaiser, Wine Consultant
Christian Schiller, schiller-wine, Blogger

The Discussion

Dirk Wuertz opened the afternoon with a “12dry” by Josi Leitz, “an extremely successful wine from the Rheingau sold in the whole world” as he said. The other very popular wine, I mentioned, was Dr. L from Ernst Loosen, a medium-dry wine from the Mosel. Furthermore, the most popular German wine in New York is Gunderloch’s Jean Baptiste, also a medium dry wine for about US$ 15.

Joachim Kaiser had prepared a little “discussion paper” to get the discussion starting. He stated that outside of Germany, German wine was perceived as a sweet wine. Indeed many people outside of Germany equate wine from Germany wine (fruity sweet) wine from the Mosel. He demanded that the Rheingau holds against that and suggested to promote a particularly dry image in the Rheingau. He also stated: What Bordeaux is for red wine in France, the Rheingau should become for white wine in Germany. One thing that was also missing in his view was a lead winemaker, an icon, and a leading Rheingau wine, as Rheinhessen has it with Klaus Peter Keller and his G-Max, which sells at a 3 digit price.

Then, we had a discussion. Here are some important points.

Pictures: Brainstorming in the Garden

Hellmuth Knall argued that a number of things have gone wrong in the Rheingau. Why does the Rheingau call their absolutely finest dry wines Erstes Geweachs and not Grosses Gewaechs as everybody else does in Germany? Why is a Erstes Gewaechs wine not really dry? Generally, he felt dry Rheingau wines tend to have a sweet finish that he does not really like. As for the lead figure, this was of course Bernhard Breuer until he passed away.

Ralf Kaiser (Weinkaiser) contended that when he worked as a wine store people would come in and ask for a dry wine but then choose an off-dry dry wine.

I reported from the US, where at the monthly tasting of the German wine society there is an overwhelming majority for fruity sweet wines. Middle Mosel Kabinett wines with say 15 gram sugar are the favorites. Dirk Wuertz argued that might be true for the German wine society but  the New York trendy wine bars you will not find fruity weet wines. Dry wines sell very well there.

Then, the wine makers entered the discussion.

Christian Ress saw 2 trends. One trend was to the classic grape varieties. That favors Riesling producers and in particular the Rheingau. Second, he saw a trend to cool climate wines with low alcohol. That also spielt ihm in die Haende. Weingut Balthasar Ress exports more than half of its production. We were honored by the presence of a group of sommeliers from the Maldives, where Ress is becoming active.

Desiree Eser argued that her situation was very different. She exports almost nothing. She sells all the wines to direct clients of the Weingut August Eser. They all want dry wines and she therefore makes her wines in a dry style. "But not bone-dry, as Riesling benefits from that little hint of sweertness" she concluded.

Kristine Baeder, editor in chief of the Sommelier Magazine, made an interesting point at the end of the discussion. Rheinhessen has seen an amazing emergence of young, dynamic winemakers. But Rheinhessen did not have the reputation the Rheingau has and consumers never had any expectations. That gave the yong winemakers of Rheinhessen all the freedom of the world to experiment and come up with whatever they wanted to come up with. The young generation of Rheingau winemakers is much more operating within tight historical constraints.

Barbeque, Dinner and more Wine

After the formal part of the discussion, we proceeded to the table and ate eat dinner. Dirk was in charge of the barbecue. We had more wonderful wines and discussion over dinner, in a much larger group, as we were joint by Stefan Ress and another group of people Stefan Ress brought along, as well as a group of sommeliers from the Maldives.

Pictures: Dinner, more Brainstorming and more Wine

For more on this afternoon and evening, see: Hanging out with Rheingau Winemakers: Dirk Wuertz, Desiree Eser, Alexander Jakob Jung, Hansi Bausch and Christian Ress in Hattenheim, Rheingau, Germany

For more on Weingut August Eser, see: Meeting Winemaker/Owner Desiree Eser, Weingut August Eser, at the Banks of the Rhein River in the Rheingau in Germany

For more on the Rheinhessen wines of Dirk Wuertz, see:

Dirk Wuertz and His Bag-in-a-box Rieslings

In the Glass: 2007 Rheinhessen with Oysters at the Ten Bells in the Lower East Side in Manhattan

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

When Americans Drink German Wine - What They Choose

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

Best German Wines – Gault Millau WeinGuide Deutschland 2012

German Spaetlese Wines Can Come in Different Versions. I Have Counted Five.

Visiting Weingut Josef Leitz in Ruedesheim – Johannes Leitz is Germany’s Winemaker of the Year, Gault Millau WeinGuide 2011

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

The Wines of Franz Kuenstler from Hochheim, Rheingau, Germany

Hanging out with Rheingau Winemakers: Dirk Wuertz, Desiree Eser, Alexander Jakob Jung, Hansi Bausch and Christian Ress in Hattenheim, Rheingau, Germany

Headwind (Gegenwind) – A Protest Wine against the Unbridled Exploitation of Culture and Nature

Meeting Winemaker/Owner Desiree Eser, Weingut August Eser, at the Banks of the Rhein River in the Rheingau in Germany

A Pinot Noir Star: Visiting August Kesseler and his Weingut August Kesseler in Assmannshausen, Germany

A Combination of Extraordinary Wine and Art: Peter Winter's Georg Mueller Stiftung in the Rheingau

Dirk Wuertz and His Bag-in-a-box Rieslings

In the Glass: 2007 Rheinhessen with Oysters at the Ten Bells in the Lower East Side in Manhattan


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