Wein, Weib und Lebensfreude
If you’d ask the average epicurean for a top 5 of European countries where you can have the best food and drinks, only a handful will put Germany on the list. When we think of German cuisine, our minds tend to wander to sauerkraut, bratwurst or potato salad rather than actual fine dining. But wine aficionados see this differently: they know that Germany is the birthplace of amazing and interesting wines, e.g. made from Riesling and the Burgunder (Pinot) family, to name but a few. Not only do these pair well with traditional, rustic German dishes, they have also earnt their place in refined gastronomy and the wider international cuisine. As a bonus: food and drinks in Germany, in restaurants as well as in the wineries themselves, are surprisingly affordable.
Women and Wine
Last month I went on a wine trip themed ‘Women and Wine’. Eleven of us, all female wine bloggers and journalists from Europe, North America, China and Japan, visited a range of female winemakers in the wine regions of Pfalz, Nahe and Rheinhessen.
Most of these women were remarkably young, which is no surprise, because in the previous generations, wineries tended to be passed on from father to son. Fortunately, that’s changing. Sometimes out of sheer necessity, when there are no male heirs to take over, but also because of several renowned viticulture and oenology study programmes at German universities and colleges.
In addition, there are the efforts and accomplishments of professional associations such as Vinissima, an important network of women in the wider wine business. Since the 1990s they have been supporting their members with consultancy and training, and each year they award a number of study grants to promising female wine students.
But as always, the proof is in the glass…
All these are evolutions I wholeheartedly applaud, but what is even more important: they are making great wines. I am listing the wineries we visited below, and I can happily recommend each and every one of them. They all have an interesting history and personal stories, they welcome visitors warmly (and can do so in English), and their wines have an amazing quality/price ratio. Some of the wines are available outside of Germany, but for the others you’ll have to travel to the regions themselves. While you’re there, enjoy the beautiful scenery and one of the warmest / most favourable climates in Germany. Pfalz, for instance, has received the nickname ‘Germany’s Tuscany’, and for a good reason.
Sabine Mosbacher, Weingut Georg Mosbacher
This family business was founded in 1921 by Sabine’s grandfather, and then handed over to her father. He didn’t have any sons, and of his 3 daughters, only Sabine was interested in winemaking. She obtained her viticulture diploma in Geisenheim as one of only 10 girls in the entire school at that time, and started working in the winery. She now runs it together with her husband Jürgen and they produce around 30 different wines, most of them from the Riesling grape. We got to taste a range of delicious and seductive samples, recognisable within the rich, rounder style we expect in the Pfalz’ warmer climate, yet all with refreshing acidity, vibrant fruit and a marked minerality and finesse.
Anna-Barbara Acham, Weingut Acham-Magin
This is a winery with over 300 years of history. Throughout the centuries it has grown to just over 10 hectares in top locations around Forst and Deidesheim, largely through marriages between vineyard-owning and winemaking families. There’s even a saying in the region: ‘Liebe vergeht, Hektar besteht’ (love fades but hectares persist). The Acham-Magin estate is currently owned by Barbara Acham, 11th generation on the family tree. She works biodynamically, Ecovin certified since 2012, and aims to make high-quality wines, largely dry Rieslings, which reflect their terroir and have great ageing potential. Also worth mentioning is their ‘Gutsausschank’, a historic and quintessentially German tavern with courtyard. There you can order their wines by the glass at very interesting prices and, if you wish, accompanied by typical regional Pfalz dishes.
Yvonne Libelli, Weingut Margarethenhof
The German Vinum Weinguide has named Margarethenhof ‘Discovery of the Year 2019’, and they are certainly in my top 5 of personal discoveries this year. Brother and sister Martin and Yvonne are in their early thirties, and in 2011, as the 4th generation, they took over the family winery from their dad Franz Lucas. Once it became clear their son had an interest in the business, Yvonne was nudged to take on studies that were more fitting for a girl. But she has always wanted to make wine, so she obtained a Bachelor in Viticulture and Oenology from the renowned college in Geisenheim, and took on internships in California, Italy and New Zealand.
Step by step Yvonne and Martin are making their mark on the family winery, and I got to taste a wide selection of lively and charming wines, made from Weissburgunder, Auxerrois, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. But for me the standouts were their very promising single-vineyard Rieslings, their dry Riesling Sekt Brut and a delicious, vinous, food-friendly rosé made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.
A tip for those of you who love travelling with a camper van: the estate has a few dedicated spots where you can park for 10 euros per day.
Fumiko Tokuoka, Weingut Josef Biffar
The Josef Biffar winery was for me the absolute highlight of this trip. It is no secret that I adore good-quality champagnes and sparkling wines that spent a long time ‘sur lie’, and this is exactly what the Japanese Fumiko does here. She leaves her standard Sekt wines on the lees for a minimum of 6 years, and her premiums even for 10 years. We tasted amazing vintage Sekts made from Riesling (2012), Spätburgunder (2012) and Weissburgunder (2009). Without exception they were interesting, inspiring wines with finesse, depth and complexity – perfect pairing partners for the flavoursome Japanese dishes served in the on-site restaurant. And it was an absolute delight to get to know one more wine professional who doesn’t just pay lip service to food and wine pairing, but who actually takes it seriously.
When it comes to making wine, Fumiko had already earnt her stripes before taking over Josef Biffar. She too studied oenology at the famous college in Geisenheim, continued to work there as a researcher, and until 2013 she managed the iconic winery Reichsrat von Buhl in Deidesheim.
Gesine Roll, Weingut Weedenbornhof
At the highest point of Rheinhessen, Germany’s largest wine region, we find the family winery Weedenborn, since 2008 managed by the charming and characterful Gesine. She really loves champagne, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, so she decided to turn this grape into (among others) a zero dosage ‘brut nature’ sparkling wine. About half of the wines she produces are made from Sauvignon Blanc, including a number of prime examples in the higher quality categories Ortswein and Lagenwein, which is quite unique in the region. The other half of her range is made up of more classic grape varieties such as Riesling and the Pinots. She doesn’t use herbicides or pesticides and aims for a refined, elegant wine style, which strikes a lovely balance between the mineral and restrained Loire Sauvignon Blancs and the more exuberant New Zealand styles.
Caroline Diel, Schlossgut Diel
Just like the previous winemaker ánd yours truly, Caroline Diel and her French husband Sylvain are crazy about champagne, which shows in the exquisite sparkling wines they produce in the Nahe wine region. Caroline has been the winemaker at this picturesque medieval castle since 2006, and earlier in 2019 the full transfer of ownership from father to daughter was completed. She can fall back on an impressive resumé, listing an oenology diploma from Geisenheim and winemaking placements in Germany, Austria, South Africa, New Zealand and France, where she worked i.a. at Champagne Ruinart, at Pichon Lalande in Bordeaux ánd at Domaine Romanée-Conti in Burgundy.
Caroline now cultivates the family’s 25 hectares in sustainable viticulture, and makes around 30 different wines. I tasted 11 of them and they were all excellent, with as absolute highlights the phenomenal 2008 Brut Nature Goldloch Riesling Sekt and the 2009 Cuvée Mo (also Brut Nature) made from Weissburgunder and Spätburgunder. My favourites among her still wines were the oak-fermented 2015 Pinot Blanc Reserve, the 2017 Burg Layer Schlossberg Riesling and the 2012 Burgberg Riesling GG.
Eva Vollmer, Weingut Eva Vollmer
Our trip ended at an authentic German vineyard festival organised by the lively, unconventional and creative farmer-cum-doctor-of-oenology Eva Vollmer. ‘Without make up, just like her wines,’ she’s been described, and I can only confirm. Her parents were farmers who also grew grapes, which they sold to a local cooperative. With only 2 daughters, they feared this would be the end of their farming business, until Eva decided to take over the enterprise and focus on viticulture. Together with her husband, she built a wine cellar and wine bar/tasting room, converted to organic farming, obtained a PhD in oenology, moonlighted as a snow plower at Frankfurt Airport and participated in a TV quiz to win the money to buy a grape-sorting machine. Since 2007 she’s been producing wine under her own label, which makes her the first woman in Rheinhessen who dared to put her own name on the bottles. It didn’t take long before her efforts paid off: in 2010 the German Gault&Millau Wein-Guide named her ‘Discovery of the Year’.
Her wines are fun, authentic and characterful, interesting and a bit quirky, just like the winemaker herself. As an aside: from 2020 onwards Eva will be starring on the big screen, as one of the main characters in Wein Weiblich. This is a documentary film, in which 5 German female winemakers and 1 world famous British wine critic have taken on the challenge to create a new Riesling wine from the 2018 harvest. A blind tasting at the end will show who of them did the best job…