Wine is nothing without people. It is people who make wine. It is the company of the right people that makes for a great evening with wine. And it is people's stories that make for engaging wine writing. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a man who not only makes excellent wine but who also talks about it in such an engaging way that there is only my writing to blame if you don't walk away from this article at least a little inspired.
I certainly left inspired after my encounter with Nik Weiss, the owner of the St. Urbans-Hof estate in the Mosel wine region of Germany. It made me think about the magic that happens when you fall in love with a piece of land and the produce you bring forth from it. It is a magic that over thousands of years has transformed the land but it also transforms the people who work it. This is a story about how the Mosel transformed a man and how he in turn set out to transform his part of the Mosel - and about a little magic that happened when I spent an evening with him and his Riesling.
Even sensible people shy away from dentists. I have never quite understood this, after all the pain will only get worse if you don't go, but it is a fact of life I have learned to accept. So I am aware that my next sentence risks damaging the reputation of a respected German winemaker, but the truth has to come out: Georg Rumpf wanted nothing more than to become a dentist. I wasn't aware of this when I visited the Kruger-Rumpf winery last October, but it provided an important piece of the puzzle for understanding the role of family in winemaking as part of my investigation into death, dreams and destiny.
Luckily, neither death nor dentists will feature in the following story, but lots of good Riesling, great food and a little something on the philosophy of winemaking. It won't hurt a bit. Promise!
We all have our dreams. The Wine Ramblers sometimes imagine casually telling a guest who has just praised the marvellous Riesling we served them that it came from our own vineyard. While many have this dream (different varietal perhaps), only media celebrities ever seem to realise it. After all, you cannot just grow vines in your back garden. Or so I thought. Until I came across Steve Race. Steve has done exactly that - planting vines in an allotment in Yorkshire, of all places, and making his own wine.
In this guest ramble, Steve shares some of his experiences with home wine growing and making, first in England, now in Spain. Enjoy, and learn.
There is not much I have in common with Cato the Elder. I am not a politician, I never gave a banquet in honour of Jupiter, my Latin is mediocre and I never supported a ban on women riding in carriages. I don't even drink much Italian wine. And yet at moments I have sympathy for the old grump, and that is when I end statements on German wine with: ceterum censeo you have to try Silvaner! In the UK, where knowledge on German wine beyond sweet Riesling is rather limited, this sometimes makes me feel like a lonely preacher, repeating the same mantra like a bumbling (rambling?) fool. Now imagine my joy when I finally met a man who showed me what real Silvaner obsession is.
Or Sylvaner obsession, as wine grower and maker Michael Teschke prefers to spell it. Michael's dedication to Sylvaner has turned him into a figurehead for the grape variety, so much so that some call him the "Sylvaner God". Interestingly, others refer to Micheal as "Arse Teschke" - and if you want to know how that actually relates to Sylvaner quality you will just have to read on.
Wine, you would think, is the common theme for a wine trip. At least that's what I thought when a few weeks ago I set out on a press trip to the German wine region west of Mainz. Yet while there was wine, and plenty of it, I soon realised that there was another theme to this trip. It was about family, about death, destiny and the dreams of winemakers - and there was a bit about rock 'n' roll and obsession too.
German winemaking is very much about family. Not only have many wineries been in the same family for generations, they also tend to be small enough so that a family can run them without a lot of staff. Whatever happens in the family has real impact on the whole business. A serious argument, the only child turning their back on winemaking or a father dying unexpectedly - such events can be make or brake for an estate. This means that German winemaking is also a story about family. A story about love and death, a story about children following tradition or breaking with it, a story about getting old and growing up. In the end, winemaking is a story about life.
One Saturday in early may, the regular 08.50 to Ochsenbach left Sachsenheim Station after having waited for the regional train from Stuttgart. The contents of that bus as it wound its way through what in a larger town one would call the outskirts, on to Hohenhaslach, past Spielberg and through increasingly picturesque beech forests, half-timbered villages and sun-streaked fields of flowers: 17 chatty, hiking-gear-attired senior citizens off to a walking tour, one insufferably precocious 13 year old boy giving a lecture on the importance of sunscreen to nobody in particular, and one Wine Rambler from Munich.
I had begun the ride somewhat under the weather due to an impossibly early start, but as we got under way, a feeling of deep provincial calm was beginning to settle over me. I was going for a strolling visit of a recultivated historical vineyard all by myself, and then the tasting room of the winery that made this happen. Shuffling into a more comfortable position in my Swabian-made bus seat, I was loving this already. Little did I expect to also learn the lesson that not all in wine making is sunlight and prosperity.
Do we really need another book on "wine myths"? After all, the internet is full of websites debunking the top ten (or other) wine myths, and I have lost count of the number of tiny paperbacks that promise to make you a wine expert or at least save you from the most common misconceptions or myths. Looking at its title you may mistake Benjamin Lewin's latest venture for yet another manifestation of such, in every sense of the word, light reading.
However, just a quick glance into Wine Myths and Reality will tell you it is a rather different animal. Not only is it a, in every sense of the word, substantial book, but also one that actually makes an argument.
'How much alcohol do you think this one has?' With a cheeky smile David hides the label from us, just having poured an intensely coloured red wine. We swirl. We sniff. We taste. Towards 14%, we guess. David turns the bottle around and triumphantly declares '15.4%. But it does not feel that heavy, because of the acidity.' He reconsiders. 'You will still feel it the next morning though.'
While I take a second sip of the lovely Cabernet, I look back over a line of open bottles. Just a few minutes earlier David Page had mentioned that he had once been told: 'You can't make red wine on Long Island.' I swirl another wine around the glass, smell the blackberry and earthy aromas of 87% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec, and I do not even need to look up to see David smile, and to know he has reason to. For the wines he makes together with his wife Barbara Shinn are proof that you can - make red wine on Long Island.
And that is not the only thing we discovered during our visit to Shinn Estate Vineyards, a visit that turned into a study on local winemaking in a global world. And a bit with a dog...
We have enjoyed his wines. We adore his website. We follow his tweets. And we are now proud to present palatine wine grower, hat fashion model and Silvaner advocate Lukas Krauß as a very special Wine Rambler guest blogger. Without further ado, enjoy what he has to say on a grape close to his, and our, heart. Enjoy, and learn.
A little while ago a friend opened a New Zealand fruit explosion for me, a bottle of Astrolabe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. This was quite unusual as my friend has been a self declared beer drinking proletarian for a long time, so I was curious to taste the wine that got him so excited.
Posting the wine review here on the Wine Rambler led to something else that was unusual: Jason Yank, the general manager of Astrolabe Wines, contacted us – but not so much to applaud or critique the review, but to comment on a detail: my friend had mentioned to me that he saw helicopters used in winemaking in NZ to press down warm air in order to control the ripening of the grapes. However, this was not entirely correct: 'The use of choppers in NZ is purely to help bring down the inversion layer of air', Jason explained, 'during, what would otherwise be, quite catastrophic frost events. Nothing to do with ripening....' Jason also foolishly offered to provide more information, should the Wine Rambler be interested – which of course we are!