Our German Wines: Rich History, Steep Slopes & Expressive Soils
Wilhelm Valckenberg, the latest generation of this historic wine family
The following post is brought to you by Georgia Blume. Thanks Georgia!
When compared to the Old World, our history is pretty young, so having the opportunity to learn firsthand the history that led to the development of our Germany vineyards is pretty incredible. With records that date back to the 12th Century, the historic Prum family is currently represented by Johann Josef Prum, whose own estate (see below) was founded in 1911. Likewise, the Cistercian monks founded Baron Knyphausen’s current estate on the Rhine River in 1141, where wine has continuously been made through when his family bought the estate during secularization in 1803. In the 1300s those same monks brought Pinot Noir to Malterdingen, the site of Bernard Huber’s famous Spatburgunder estate, just as they did to Burgundy. But it wasn’t until the fifteenth century that the Capuchin monks from the Liebfrauenstift monastery started cultivating the famous Liebfrauenstift-Kirchenstück single vineyard, which Napolean sold to the Valckenberg family in 1808. This is the rich history that resonated through our tours and lectures when visiting the old estates pictured below.
Left to right: Liebfraunstift Estate–12th Century Abbey; Bernard Huber in his vineyard with castle ruins; Joh. Jos. Prum Estate made with the same slate on which the vines grow; Baron Knypausen Estate and home
Not much to say here…look at the crazy pictures! These vineyards must all be worked by hand, not an easy task…
A friend recently asked me what “minerality” tastes like in a wine, and if she had been on this trip with me she’d have her question answered. In the Mosel we tasted wines from blue slate, grey slate, green slate and red slate…I even tasted the slate itself! (The winemaker insisted…). As to be expected, the wines were all different and expressive of their origins. Joh. Jos. Prum’s famous vines grow largely on dense layers of blue Devonian slate (see below), often with no topsoil! The roots of these tough old vines dig deep into the soil for moisture and nutrients and don’t need any irrigation. The wines are so racy and full of slate-y mineral characteristics–and are even salty–from the soil. Sybille Kuntz’s river-side vineyards in Lieser grow on grey slate (middle pic) and the wines possess a more pronounced, smoky, dry minerality.
The same soil influences were evident in the complex, earthy, mineral-driven Pinots from the red and yellow shale-limestone soils (right pic) of Bernard Huber in Baden; just as they were in the dense, smoky Rieslings of Liebfraunstift, which are grown on heavy, red sandstone-based soils in Rheinhessen; and at the Baron Knyphausen estate, which produces a plethora of diverse Rieslings from their many famed single vineyards with soils that range from granite to loamy loess to limestone to marl to clay.
Left to right: Cross section of blue Devonian slate at JJ Prum; same slate as seen from above; grey slate at Sybille Kuntz’s river-side vineyards; red and yellow shale-limestone soil at Bernard Huber
We hope to bring a few more of these special gems into the NY market soon…stay tuned!