Stop number two on our epic June 16, 2012 Mosel trip was Dr. Hermann winery in Ürzig. Avid readers of this blog know that I have a love affair with that particular village along the Mosel. I seriously think it is one of the most beautiful areas in the world (see also my post here). Almost more importantly, the vineyards Ürziger Würzgarten (Spice Garden), Erdener Treppchen (Little Steps), and Erdener Prälat (Prelate), which are right next to it, rank among my favorite hills. I am convinced (probably falsely) that I can always recognize a Würzgarten just from its nose.
Before we headed to our appointment with Rudi Hermann at 2.30pm, we took a break at the ancient Roman wine presses they found in the Erdener Treppchen. Hannah had baked amazing filo dough pockets and we dug in. Photos and an account of the wine presses will be shared in another blog post (gotta ration myself).
The Dr. Hermann winery will always have a very special place not only in my heart, but also Nina’s. I had my first encounter with Rudi and Christian Hermann, father and son, at a tasting with my friend ManSoo. They took us into their vineyards and their cellars, and let us taste their full collection. It was stunning. It is special for Nina, because we spent her first birthday in Germany there, trying amazing wines and actually getting to taste a sip of their 2009 Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), the whole 20 litres of which Christian was filtering that day. Also, we went to spend an hour with Rudi Hermann before I brought her to the airport when she returned to the U.S. for good in summer 2011.
Christian, who has been in charge of operations in the cellar and vineyards for a couple of years now, is producing highly praised, classically sweet rieslings typical for the area. The wine guide Gault-Millaut calls them “baroque”, and there is something to it: they are oppulent and succulent, full of sweet beauty and body. The contrast to the leaner Weiser-Künstler was tastable, although both go for sweeter wines. Dr. Hermann has been on the up and coming for a while now. All wine guides praise the high level of skill, and the wines, from basic to rare, are sought after worldwide. 90% of their production is sold abroad: in Scandinavia and Hong Kong, in Japan, the United States and notably Ontario and Quebec. They win award after award. The great thing is that they are still as accessible and hospitable as they have always been. Whenever we go visit, Rudi or Christian take their time with us, and we get filled in on the latest developments. If you want to know a bit more about their philosophy, there is a good interview on the Riesling Revolutionary.
Dr. Hermann owns sections of all three vineyards I mentioned above. What makes this area so unique is that within 500 metres you have three different types of soil: the Würzgarten is made mostly of red sandstone and slate; the Treppchen, right next to the Würzgarten, has red and grey slate as well as clay slate; the Prälat, a mere 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres) nestled between the two, combines the red and grey slate in an ideal microclimate. The vast majority of Dr. Hermann’s vines are ungrafted and old, some of them over 100 years.
The challenge for this winery is how to grow further without losing their identity. Their basic riesling, the H, is so sought after that they could already sell double of what they produce! The reassuring thing about Rudi and Christian is their down-to-earthness. They know that the only thing that matters is the quality of their wines. So they will probably expand further by contracting with other winegrowers that they know, using those grapes for the H. But they will never compromise on quality.
We tried a total of 13 wines there (I think) over the course of about 4 hours. As with the other winery reviews, I will write about some of them seperately. If you need clarification about the classification of German wines, check my at a glance sheet.
We began with two of their dry rieslings: the 2011 Riesling QbA dry and the 2011 Erdener Treppchen Riesling QbA dry. All dry wines ripen in wooden barrels. The grapes for the first wine come from vineyards in Kinheim and Lösnich, neighbouring villages. It had a great, fruity nose and confident acidity. The Erdener Treppchen is from 120 year old vines and has the typical creaminess of the Treppchen with lots of fruit.
Next up were the off-dries and sweeter wines. I really liked their 2011 Erdener Treppchen Kabinett, which, again, was creamy with apple notes and good acidity. The corresponding Kabinett from the Ürziger Würzgarten was fresher, had more acidity while retaining the spice notes in the nose.
We then tried the Treppchen Spätlese against the Würzgarten Spätlese and here, too, the differences were striking. While I liked the Treppchen with its nose and taste of stonefruits, I really loved the length and depth in the Würzgarten. It was mild, had the typical floral, herbal nose. Usually, I tend to go with the Treppchen wines, but in the 2011 harvest, it seems like the Würzgarten produced the more interesting ones.
We tried more exceptional Würzgarten and Treppchen and then moved on to the stars of the winery, the Prälat wines. I will also talk about those in a seperate post.
We finished the tasting with a 2008 Erdener Herrenberg Eiswein. The Herrenberg is located above the Erdener Treppchen, high up over the Mosel. This wine was harvested at -10 C. I thought it was just beautiful. It is still very young, and should lay low for quite a while. But given that that was the year that Nina and I met, we decided to get a bottle for us and took one for a friend of ours, who loves eiswein.
We had an awesome time with Rudi, who also took us to the cellar to explain the expansions they are currently planning. His generosity in sharing his wines and his thoughts and stories keep overwhelming me. The wines are exceptional, and the pricing is still quite reasonable. Their best wines are sweet, and I am aware that not everyone is fond of that. But if you want to experience why the Mosel is famous for its wines, one of their wines is probably a good way to find out. Don’t have them on their own, when you try something like them for the first time. Give them a salty companion like cheese and bread to soften that sweetness a bit. I love drinking these on their own, too.
Their wines are among the most easily accessible in the U.S. of all the wineries we visited, so go and try them out. If you are in Germany, it is a bit harder to find them. The easiest is to order from their website directly. This is a winery where you need to make an appointment if you want to visit, because the cellars and tasting room are not connected to the winery. Both Christian and Rudi speak great English.