Tag Archives: erdener prälat

Some shots from the harvest in Germany

Instead of the usual Sunday read, I want to just show you some photos from the end of the German wine harvest. The harvest is almost over now in Germany. German wineries often go through their vineyards several times during harvest, selecting the grapes for each particular style of wine. The longer the grapes hang, usually the higher the concentration leading up to shrivelled, mostly botrytized grapes that are used for the stars of sweet wines, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese.

Nik Weis, the owner and winemaker of St. Urbanshof, a winery in the Saar valley, posted some photos the other day of their final stages of harvest and I asked him whether I could share them. I hope you find them as interesting as I did. It gives you an idea of how labor intensive just the collection of grapes for these very high end wines is, and how low yields are, which explains their high prices…

I have added some photos from the harvest in the prime Mosel vineyard Erdener Prälat, taken by my friend ManSoo, who harvested there with Dr. Hermann winery.

I am leaving for a few weeks in Germany the coming weekend, and I am excited about trying the 2012 vintage of my beloved Mosel and Sarr Rieslings as well as wine from new places for me: I will visit the Kistenmacher-Hengerer estate, a newly minted member of the elite winemaker association VDP, in Württemberg, a region I hardly know anything about, for example.

Happy Sunday!

Another round of harvesting begins in Erdener Prälat

Another round of harvesting begins in Erdener Prälat

Collecting healthy and slightly shrivelled grapes

Collecting healthy and slightly shrivelled grapes in Erdener Prälat

Healthy Riesling Grape Cluster in Ockfener Bockstein

Healthy Riesling Grape Cluster in Ockfener Bockstein

Further selection taking place...

Further selection taking place… (Erdener Prälat)

Once the grapes get crushed, this "must weight scale" shows the density of the must in degrees Oechsle, which determines what quality category a wine can be listed as.

Once the grapes get crushed, this “must weight scale” shows the density of the must in degrees Oechsle, which determines what quality category a wine can be listed as.

Now that is manual labor.

Now that is manual labor: Highly shrivelled grape harvest on the Saar (St. Urbanshof)

Slowly, slowly piling up...

Slowly, slowly piling up…(St. Urbanshof)

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MWWC #3: Possession

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Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #3

This post is part of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, which is now in its third round. Sally of My Custard Pie wrote the best piece last month around the theme trouble (this is what I could muster) and threw out the next challenge: Possession. Find the full info on the contest here.

I am a lawyer by training. And sometimes, this training, and the way of thinking it teaches you, can be a curse. So, when I read the theme for this month’s wine writing challenge, possession, my head got stuck on the legal meaning of possession. You see, the law distinguishes between ownership and possession. It is an important distinction, but in colloquial language and understanding, it often gets completely blurred. Now, ownership is a much better right to have, because it gives you exclusive rights over something. Possession, in contrast, only gives you a derived right. Derived, because the thing we are talking about belongs to someone else…

Why did my head get stuck on this distinction when we are talking about a wine writing challenge? Because possession, just like ownership, plays a huge part in the German wine growing world. I remembered a video I watched last year, posted by Denise Medrano, in which Ernst Loosen of the fabled Dr. Loosen winery takes a group through their vineyards in Ürzig, the Ürziger Würzgarten. It’s a long video, and rather boring at times, but what struck me was what he talks about from time mark 4:20 or so until minute 6. That part is not boring!

Ernie is talking about who “owns” which part of the vineyard, and as you can see, it is really tricky. In the most remarkable sentence he states that seven single vines (yes, single vines!) are bordered by four different wineries. What he does not mention is that some of those vines are not even owned by the wineries that work them, the wineries merely have legal possession: they leased the vines.

So much better than Hollywood

So much better than Hollywood…yet who owns these vines?

When you think of wine estates, many imagine the large, sprawling wine estates in the New World, where one winery owns hundreds and hundreds of acres of vines, all in neat rows, belonging to that one winery. The situation in a lot of Germany is different (and not just Germany, I think it is similar in other European wine growing countries): Wine has been grown for 2,000 years. Families have split, and with them ownership over land was split. The Catholic Church had huge holdings, which were later dismantled. But quite a bit of that land is actually still owned by the Church. But most bishoprics have given up making wine themselves.  Add to that the decline of active wineries in Germany because many cannot make a living, and there is a sizable amount of land under vine that is owned by persons that don’t even make wine.

What do you do with these tracts of land? Most of the land is in steep hills, or in areas that cannot be developed in another way for legal or geographical reasons. But the land might actually be quite valuable. And some people are not interested in a full payment to transfer ownership, they rather get a yearly rent (in money or even wine) and retain ownership. According to statistics by the German statistics office, over 60% of agricultural land under production is leased, not owned! In Rhineland-Palatinate, home to the large wine regions Rheinhessen, Palatinate (Pfalz) and the Mosel, 66% of all agricultural land is leased (I couldn’t find data just on wine).

This leads to a lot of possessive relationships in the vineyards. These are regulated by contracts which stipulate the exact duties (how does the possessor need to take care of the vines? Who is responsible for replanting when the vines grow old and tired? etc.) of lessee and land owner. A short research on Google revealed contract forms by two bishoprics leasing out land under vine. These contracts are many pages long. The contracts run for a set number of years, and it is common that after the end of the lease, the vines are rented to another wine maker…so the one who tended them for, let’s say, 20 years from one day to the other loses the right to use to these vines…

Roter Hang viewed from Nackenheim southwards to Nierstein

Roter Hang viewed from Nackenheim southwards to Nierstein

These relationships are beneficial for both parties, though. Take my friend Stefan Erbes of Karl Erbes. His family has been making wine in Ürzig since the 1960s, yet the most fabled of vineyards in the neighborhood was out of reach: Erdener Prälat. That tiny little parcel of land actually has seven or eight wineries tending to the vines in it, although ownership might be more obscure. Last year, Stefan was able to lease a teeny tiny bit of vines in the Prälat, and since the vines are already in place, he will be able to make wine from this top trophy vineyard for the first time this year already. On the other hand, the current owner does not lose his or her stake in this piece of land which, very likely, will continue to grow in value.

Well, this got us on quite the tangent, and is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when speaking of possession. But I just thought it was an important piece of information about German wineries. That the land they produce their wines from might never have actually been owned by them. Some of them are just possessors…

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The Vereinigte Hospitien tasting in June 2012

The line up

Finally, here are the tasting notes for our awesome tasting at Vereinigte Hospitien in June. As you might remember (if not, here is the initial report), we were sitting in Germany’s oldest wine cellar (the walls dating back to the 300s A.D.), soaking in the awesome atmosphere as our host Marc was picking up some bottles to try. And he did not let us down!

Here is the wine list:

1) 1987 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese

2) 1987 Erdener Prälat Riesling Spätlese

3) 1990 Kanzemer Altenberg Riesling Auslese

4) 2011 Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett

5) 2003 Piesporter Schubertslay Riesling Spätlese

6) 2011 Trierer Augenscheiner Riesling Spätlese

We began with a tasting of two 1987 wines from two of our favorite vineyards: Ürziger Würzgarten and Erdener Prälat. It is Nina’s birth year and Marc had learned that from the blog. We had tried the Erdener Treppchen Spätlese before, so now we were able to compliment this tasting experience that I described here.  Just think about that: we were able to try three similar quality wines from three connected vineyards of a 25 year old vintage. Maybe it is just me, but I get pretty excited about that!!

Both wines were spätlesen and they had remarkably similar profiles. The Ürziger Würzgarten had 10.4 grams of acidity per liter, with 41 grams of residual sugar; the Erdener Prälat was slightly higher in acidity at 10.5 grams and sweeter with 45 grams of residual sugar. At 84 degree Oechsle (a scale to measure the sugar in the harvested grape), it had the highest Oechsle for any of their spätlese in that year.

The Ürziger Würzgarten’s nose was flowery and fresh, one could say a typical nose for this vineyard. On the tongue, it had a sizeable amount of acidity, which gave it an incredibly fresh taste. The acidity persisted throughout the tasting. It was hard for me to discern what fruits I tasted.

The Erdener Prälat was remarkably well preserved. The nose was full of peach and once the wine reached our mouths, it broadened out, fully taking command of our taste buds with peach and apricot. The acidity only appeared more towards the end. It had a long finish.

It was interesting to see how different these two wines tasted. You could definitely tell the terroir in them, but the higher residual sugar in the Prälat probably helps explain why the acidity was less pronounced in it.

Two beauties

Another interesting thing we learned was that Vereinigte Hospitien did a chemical analysis of the Würzgarten and it produced a fascinating result. One thing that you hear over and over again when tasting older rieslings is that they tend to be more balanced, because the sweetness goes down and the acidity stays, so the wines become less fruit-pronounced. However, the chemical analysis showed that the amount of sugar in the wine had not gone down – at all. There was still the same amount of sugar in the wine! We just do not taste it anymore. Apparently, there is no real explanation for that. One guess is that the sugar transforms into longer-chained molecules that our taste buds cannot taste…crazy, right?

We then went for a 1990 Kanzemer Altenberg Auslese. Kanzem is at the river Saar, a small contribuary that meets the Mosel just south of Trier. Saar wines are usually more mineralic and have higher acidity levels than the Mosel, which makes for very interesting wines. Kanzemer Altenberg is one of the top vineyards along that river. The bottle had been recorked. The wine has 52 grams of residual sugar, harvested from fully ripe grapes.

Upon opening and pouring, we saw a dark orange wine, with a salty and sherry like nose. On the tongue it was weirdly metallic, some hints of passion fruit. It then fell flat fast. We decided the bottle was flawed (actually, Marc, who knew how it should taste decided…but it did taste odd). The second bottle we opened was very different: lighter in color, the nose full of gooseberry. On the tongue, it had a fabulous acidity, lively fruit notes and just gave us a great mouth-full of wine. The texture was wonderful. A great wine!

We then tried a 2011 Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett. The Scharzhofberg is the Saar’s most famous vineyard and its wines rank among my favorite. It has a hard to describe terroir note to it that I just find incredibly endearing and comforting. This one did not let us down. At 88 degree Oechsle, this Kabinett is actually a wine that could have been labelled as an Auslese, two spots higher. It has 9.8% ABV. The nose was fruity and flowery. On the tongue I tasted banana and apricot, with a looooong finish. Just a very decent, yummy wine.

Nina’s highlight, and I was pretty impressed, too, was the 2003 Piesporter Schubertslay Riesling Spätlese. Initially a single-owned vineyard by Vereinigte Hospitien, they are now leasing some out to other winemakers. The color was light and fresh. The nose full of strawberry and cream, with vanilla thrown in. On the tongue, the same tastes prevail. The sweetness is wonderfully balanced by a fresh acidity. Later on, we tasted caramel notes creeping in. Long finish, too. It was such a fun wine. We have had another bottle since, and that was just as good. A great wine at a great price ($15).

We finished the tasting with a 2011 Trierer Augenscheiner Riesling Spätlese, a vineyard completely owned by Vereinigte Hospitien. At 72 grams of residual sugar and 92 degree Oechsle, the first thing we noticed was sweet peach in the nose, complimented by perfumy and flowery notes. The taste was floral as well (I am bad with discerning different floral notes), the texture silky. The wine seemed incredibly concentrated, and definitely not yet ready for consumption. I bought a couple of bottles to see where this one is headed to…

As you can see, it was quite the outstanding tasting: old and new, Saar and Mosel. The full variety, even of just the sweeter rieslings, came out beautifully. I am looking forward to many more tastings there…

Bliss…

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