While visiting Germany back in November, Delta’s weird flight scheduling and pricing made it so that flying into Stuttgart instead of Frankfurt made my flight $400 cheaper. Stuttgart is about 2 1/2 hours from my hometown, and a train ride is about $30, so this was a no-brainer. A good friend of mine lives in Heilbronn, about 45 minutes from Stuttgart, and I decided to visit him for a weekend as well. While making those plans, I figured it could also be worthwhile to expand my scope and palate and go try some wines at a winery in Württemberg, an area I had never visited. A quick Google search made it clear that Kistenmacher & Hengerer should be the place to visit in Heilbronn: They were admitted to the elite winemaker association VDP in January 2013, are part of the Slow Food movement, and have garnered great reviews for their wines. In other words: Another no-brainer. I contacted the winery and after some very friendly back and forth we agreed on meeting on a Sunday morning to have some quiet time with each other.
Let me give you some background on the German wine region of Württemberg first (you can find more info on this website): Württemberg is Germany’s fourth largest wine region (only topped by Rheinhessen, Palatinate, and Baden) with 11,359 hectares (approximately 28,000 acres) under vine according to the German Wine Institute’s 2012 statistics. It’s located in Southern Germany, roughly in the area along the river Neckar between Stuttgart and Heilbronn. Unlike many other wine regions in Germany, the focus in this region is not on white grapes but rather red grapes. Again citing the German Wine Institute’s 2012 numbers the most prevalent grapes are: Trollinger (red) with 20.4% of the total area under vine, Riesling with 18.5% of total area, Lemberger (red) with 14.6%, Schwarzriesling (red) with 13.8%, and Spätburgunder (aka Pinot noir) with 11.4%. You probably have not heard of some of these grapes, and that is the other great news about this area: It’s bursting with indigenous grapes which are rather unique for this area and make distinct and interesting wines. And can boost your Wine Century Club application if you need more grapes…
When the day of the visit came, it was pouring cats and dogs, but only after I had decided to walk the 30 minutes to the winery…and on a Sunday morning in Heilbronn, no cabs could me made out…the greater my joy when I arrived at Kistenmacher & Hengerer, where Sabine Hengerer greeted me with warmth and a smile, and some hearty breakfast foods. How better to start a wine tasting? Plus: There were some pretty excited dogs to be greeted! Still, I was quite nervous. I felt a bit out of my comfort zone, which in Germany is the Mosel and some of Rheinhessen regions. This was going to be different, wine-wise, people-wise. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of someone I had never met, and the list of wines and unknown grapes was long…
When Hans Hengerer first came down the stairs, he initially seemed the quiet type. There is a calm about him that struck me: He knows what he wants, and he knows how to achieve that. He is sincere about his wine philosophy and work, and not prone to long introductions to his wines. He likes to let them speak for themselves, and gave me plenty of time to assess them on my own, before we would talk about them. I really liked that. But let’s take a look at the winery:
Kistenmacher & Hengerer is the result of a “merger” between the Hengerer and Kistenmacher families that happened in the 1950s, and Hans Hengerer took over operations in the mid-1990s. Yet, the two families have a long history, with winemaking dating back to the 1400s and 1500s. But that does not really seem to matter all that much to winemaker Hans Hengerer. When I asked him about the long history, he was rather dismissive as if he saw it as potentially inhibiting. We talked about the differences to his parents’ generation when it comes to winemaking and it is clear that he has respect for what they did, but is finding his own ways. They took him to South Africa, and upon his return led him to explore the older and at times forgotten local grapes Muskateller and Samtrot, and Clevner, grapes many (including me) are, if even, only dimly aware of. All the while, he also produces Riesling and Spätburgunder (Germany’s Pinot noir). Hengerer strongly believes in intensive vineyard work and low yields: he produces between 70,000 and 80,000 bottles per year. Terroir matters to him, the soils he works on can be challenging, and he wants every wine to be the result of its climate and soil. Uniformity is as far from his idea of wines as you can imagine. Most of his wines are made in the dry style (90% of his Riesling is dry).
Hengerer is also a founding member of the group “Junges Schwaben” (aka “Young Swabia”), a group of five winemakers from the Württemberg growing region that began cooperating in 2002, and in which every one of the quintet makes one particular wine that is marketed particularly as a Junges Schwaben wine (in Hengerer’s case a Spätburgunder). Hans Hengerer’s sense of humor, a quiet, witty humor, shone through when he insisted with a wink that the group was called Young Swabia, and not Young Swabian”s” because none of the winemakers should qualify as “young” anymore (he was born in 1967). They wanted to highlight the awakening of the region, which is indeed moving rapidly from Trollinger-dominated vineyards to broader and more experimental wine making.
The tasting at the winery took around three hours, as I said, the Hengerers were generous with their time. I got to try 16 of their wines, beginning with the Rieslings from estate wine to late harvest, with a Gelber Muskateller and a cuvee of Riesling and Kerner thrown in, and then on to the reds, from lighter Trollinger to Samtrot to Clevner and his outstanding Spätburgunder. I will go into more detail about some of the wines in the next post, but let me say this: I loved the variety of grapes, and the variety of wines within single grapes. None of his wines were “easy”, they all had character. It really was like every wine was telling its own story. Hengerer insists that his wines take time, that they need to continue developing in the bottle and I can see what he means.
I wasn’t able to take many wines with me, but I decided to take some of the more unusual ones that I wanted Nina to try: the Muskateller, the Samtrot, a Lemberger and some cuvees. Most of them, and I am sure Hans Hengerer would like that, will still be waiting for a while until we open them…you can find more detailed reviews of the wines I tried in my notes here.
You can visit Kistenmacher & Hengerer Monday through Friday from 4pm until 6.30pm, Saturdays from 9am until 11am and from 1pm until 4pm or make an appointment via email or telephone. The winery is located at Eugen-Nägele-Str. 23-25, Heilbronn. Heilbronn is about a 45 minutes drive from Stuttgart.