Our senior winemaker Mark Johnson just returned from a trip to Germany and Alsace, France. As the result of exceptional sales by our National Wine and Spirits distributor in 2009, Mark took 3 members of their team on a week long educational vacation. As you may well know, Mark lived, worked and studied in Germany for 10 years. He was the third, and last American to graduate from the prestigious technical university in Geisenheim with an engineering degree in viticulture and enology.
The trip was in large part a stroll down memory lane for Mark and provided a great up close and personal look into the wine industry in Germany and Alsace for the 3 fellows from NWS. In Mark’s own words:
We met in the wine bar at Detroit Metro and after fortifying ourselves a little, boarded the first flight from Detroit to Frankfurt in 6 days. We had a great flight and saw no signs of anything from the volcano. After landing in Frankfurt and picking up the rental car we headed south. First stop was sightseeing at the castle in Heidelberg, overlooking the Neckar flowing into the Rhine.
It was then on to our first wine stop in the village of Ballrechten/Dottingen. After checking into the hotel we were met by Joerg Stuecklin, a Geisenheim colleague of mine and current viticultural advisor for the Markgraefler region of Baden. We spent the evening tasting over 50 wines which had been entered in the “Gutedel Cup” competition. Gutedel, (Chasselas in other areas of the world), is the renowned variety in the Markgraefler Land where it has been at home for over 1000 years.
Friday morning we drove over the border into Alsace to visit the Trimbach winery in Ribeauville. We were met by Hubert Trimbach and tasted through at least 20 (I lost count) of their wines from young (2007) dry styles to older vintages of very late harvested wines from the late 1980’s. After the tour and tasting, Hubert treated us to a 5 course lunch at his favorite restaurant just down the street. We were 2 and a half hours late for our appointment at Domaine Weinbach in Kaysersberg but all was forgiven when we told Catherine Faller that it was Hubert Trimbach’s fault. Catherine runs Domaine Weinbach which been in the family since Napoleonic times with her Mother and sister. We tasted over 30 Rieslings and Gewuerztraminers from the very dry to the sweetest wines they produce. It was a monumental task but after 2 ½ hours we succeeded. It was then back to Germany.
Since I had bragged so much about the Pinot Noirs from Baden, we made a quick stop at the Muellheimer Weinmarkt and tasted thru about 20 from some of the best producers. After that we needed to eat! Every time I’ve visited Southern Germany and with several groups of people, I’ve eaten at my good friend, Berthold Schmid’s family winery and restaurant. All they serve is chicken and it’s the best chicken in the world! 30 years ago, Berthold’s mother and 2 sisters developed a method for coating chicken with a garlic paste and deep frying it without the garlic burning. We ate to our hearts content, had a cellar tour and tasting in between courses and couldn’t stop Berthold from bringing up treasures from the cellar. We staggered back to the hotel at 3:00 a.m. A VERY good time was had by all.
Saturday we drove back into Alsace and visited Strasbourg. I never cease to be moved by that city and especially the cathedral there. We had a wonderful lunch in “Petit France” and continued on our way to Ockfen and the winery of Dr. Fischer on the Saar. We had a bar-b-cue with Karin Fischer, lots of white asparagus and a great Riesling tasting of her wines dating back to 2003 and finished the evening with one of their brandies from 1949!
Sunday we drove leisurely down the Moselle and visited the winery of Bollig-Lehnert in Piesport. We toured the vineyards, had lunch in their cozy, little outdoor restaurant and tasted several of their great wines.
We left after lunch and drove on to Bernkastel-Kues where we met Barbara Rundquist-Mueller. She is the current owner of the Dr. H. Thanisch winery in Bernkastel and a proud owner of a very large part of the Bernkasteler Doktor vineyard, one of Germany’s most famous vineyards.
We tasted in the cellars which are carved into the mountain directly under the vineyard. Fantastic wines and afterward a great dinner looking out over the Moselle.
Monday we drove across the “Hunsrueck” to Mainz where we attended the wine tasting of the Verein Deutscher Praedikatsweingueter (Club of German quality wine producers). We struggled to taste thru the over 3,000 wines presented but we gave it our best shot.
Our last day was spent in the Rheingau region. We first visited Schloss Schoenborn in Hattenheim where we started with a tour in the vineyard and then a look in the cellar. The Estate manager pulled out a bottle of Paffenburger Riesling Spaetlese from 1982 that we tasted in the cellar. Afterwards we tasted thru the Estates current vintages of Rielings followed by some dessert wines from the 1990’s.
From there it was on to Kloster Eberbach and a tour of that famous estate and from there to Schloss Johannisberg.
The estate manager gave us a brief history of the estate and a wonderful tour of the cellars. They have Rieslings from the same estate vineyard from over 300 years! I couldn’t take my eyes off the 1952 but he didn’t offer to open it and I didn’t say anything.
From Johannisberg we drove the 1 mile down to Geisenheim and visited my classmate and current Dean of the University, Hannes Schultz. The amount of research and teaching they have going on there is quite impressive.
We stopped for a late lunch in Ruedesheim, drove a ways down the Rhine to look at castles and very steep vineyards and then back to the hotel.
I think the most impressive thing about the trip for the NWS guys was the versatility and age ability of Rieslings. (I’ve always known that Riesling was the best) They had to agree, that these were among the best food wines they knew and were blown away by how well they held up for 20 and more years. These are the kind of wines we are growing right here in NW Michigan and, if you haven’t had a chance to experience them for yourself, you owe it to yourself to come by and taste these fantastic wines.