Due south (Rheinhessen, Germany)

As mentioned in a previous post, the Rhineland-Pfalz region has a lot of regions that are all a stones throw away from each other. This means that even though I had already been through the Rheinhessen region on my way to the Rheingau, it isn’t difficult to backtrack a little. Thus I was able to visit a few wineries here after all, who were kind enough to make some time for me at such short notice. The Rheinhessen is the largest viticultural area in Germany, stretching from the Nahe in the west to the Rhine in the east, from Worms in the south to Bingen in the north. In an area of roughly 26,000 hectares of land, you are undoubtedly going to get some variation in soil type, exposition and climate. Thus I was glad to visit two wineries at each end of the region, to see if the difference was discernible.

Vineyard in the Northern Rheinhessen

The Gunderloch winery was founded in Nackenheim in 1890 by Carl Gunderloch, who was a wealthy banker in Mainz. Part of the estate he acquired included vineyards in some of the most sought after locations, the Nackenheim Rothenberg. The red slate soils they have under their steeply planted vines produce the most unique wines from the Rheinhessen, both in their minerality and their longevity. The estate is run today by the great-granddaughter of Carl, Agnes Hasselbach-Usinger and her husband, Fritz Hasselbach, with great care and attention. The total vineyard holdings only amount to 12.5 hectares, of which they make a range wine of which 80% are rieslings.

2011 Gunderloch trockenbeerenauslese bubbling away

One of the first things that Agnes and Fritz did when taking the reins was to modernise the winery, by introducing stainless steel fermentation tanks. As the focus is on dry wines, the desire was to capture the fruity aromatics of the wine by fermenting cool and limiting skin and air contact with the juice. The winery has been moving back to more traditional methods recently, such as using old barrels to ferment the top dry wines, in an effort to capture the minerality of the soils in the more recent warmer vintages. The really modern thing the winery does that sets them apart from other German producers, is that every wine in their range in every market is sealed under a screw-cap. In Fritz’s words, “if they don’t like the wine under the new seal, then I am sorry, but not one bottle has been faulty due to cork since making the change.” The winery also produces a wine that is made from contract Rheinhessen fruit, called the Fritzs Riesling, which is a larger volume consumer/price friendly wine. Fritz was nice enough to show me around the winery and cellars before we sat down to taste some wines. Click here to read the tasting notes.

Liquid gold, with Fritz looking on

The vineyards of Westhofen in the south of the Rheinhessen, lie in a fertile glacial valley of the Rhine, and this is where you find Weingut Wittmann. The family have cultivated wine grapes in the valley for almost 350 years, but for much of this time the wine they produced was sold in casks to wine merchants. Thus the family has had a bond with the land for a long time, and understand their unique terroir and the quality of fruit they grow. Since they began producing their own wines from the estate, they have developed a reputation for producing very elegant yet full-flavoured wines from a number of varieties. Over 50% of the estate is naturally dedicated to riesling, with the balance in different proportions of sylvaner, weissburgunder, grauburgunder and spatburgunder. Since 1990 they have been utilising organic viticulture for which they are certified, and have also implemented biodynamic practices for which they feel certification is unnecessary. I would have to agree, as I feel quite cynical about certification for marketing purposes. Interestingly the estate has been using the traditional technique of fermenting and maturing the dry wines in large barrels from the beginning in the 1960s, and persevered through the ’80s and ’90s when it was more common to use stainless steel exclusively. Benjamin Marshall who is the jack-of-all-trades at the estate showed me a few of the wines. Click here to read my notes.

Weingut Wittmann cellars

Click here to see more photos from the Rheinhessen, Germany.

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