Germany: Baden

Earthy and ripe. Some great Pinots.

Bernhard Huber (Malterdingen)

Bernhard Huber is held by many in Germany to be its finest Pinot Noir producer. He took over the family’s 5 hectares of vines in 1986. At that time the entire crop was sold to the local Winzergenossenschaft (Co-op). That gradually stopped in favour of producing and bottling everything himself. He has also gradually built up his vineyard holdings and today has 28 hectares.
He became obsessed with Spatburgunder and its history locally. There is a slope behind the winery in Malterdingen with a spread of vineyards, including his top vineyard, the Wildenstein, which is where the Cistercian monks first planted Pinot Noir in the area. He believed that it should be possible to make world class Pinot Noir here and set about doing just that. Until 2003 his top wine was a Reserve blend from all his best vineyards. We were delighted that Bernhard made some 2001 available to us. It is absolutely delicious. Also the Old Vines 2002. In 2003 he started bottling vineyards individually; Sommerhaide, Bienenberg, Schlossberg and from 2004 he also separated out the “Herzstuck” (the heart piece) and bottles this as Wildenstein Reserve.
June 2014 – We were saddened by the news that Bernhard Huber died on the 11th June. Bernhard achieved an enormous amount in his 55 years. He was held by many to be Germany’s finest red wine producer and was instrumental in putting German Pinot Noir firmly on the world stage. Our thoughts are with his family and colleagues in Baden.

Jurgen von der Mark (Bad Bellingen)

A German MW? A flying winemaker based in Baden? Welcome to the unusual world of Jurgen von der Mark. Stylish, modern, unfiltered Pinot Noir from 40 year-old vines just near Freiburg on the edge of the Black Forest. All his wines are certified organic from 2011. He calls his top two Pinots “song wines” – one is named “Imagine my Frustration”, referencing an Ella Fitzgerald song she performed in Stockholm in 1966, the other “Hey Jude” the Beatles song also performed by Ella in 1968. Why? Next time we see him we will ask.

Schloss Neuweier (Baden-Baden)

It was a tip from Reiner Flick. We were at a VDP tasting at the German Embassy. “Anything new we should taste here?” “Check out Schloss Neuweier. I’m hearing good things – the new guy’s going places.” He wasn’t wrong.

We made a diversion on our next trip to Germany, down to the outskirts of the spa town of Baden-Baden on the edge of the Black Forest. The sun was beginning to set as we arrived. The vineyard behind the Schloss was glowing gold – there’s a reason why one of Neuweier’s top vineyards is called Goldenes Loch (Golden Hole).

Robert Schatzle, complete with curly, almost Afro-style hair and a regional southern Baden accent, had only recently persuaded his family to move from the southern end of Baden, close to the Swiss border, up to the other. Schloss Neuweier has centuries of history. Its Mauerwein (Wall wine – from a terraced vineyard on the hill behind the castle) was another of Queen Victoria’s favourites. It had won an award at the International Exhibition of Philadelphia in 1876 and was on the airship Graf Zeppelin’s maiden flight. After consulting soil guru Claude Bourguignon, Robert went for it and the family moved. 2012 was his first full vintage.

Robert hasn’t appeared out of nowhere. He has put in time at serious wineries over the years – at Fritz Keller and Heger’s in Baden, across the Rhine in Alsace with Zind-Humbrecht and Marc Kreydenweiss, and in Bordeaux at La Tour de By.

Robert clearly knows what he’s doing. The first vintage was a success – the dry Rieslings are open, expressive with plenty of fresh acidity. “The acidity is interesting. The Riesling here is grown on granite soil. That’s very unusual. Other than one or two vineyards of Zind-Humbrecht’s, you rarely come across Riesling on granite.”

He has a couple of other secrets. Deep in the old cellar (and you have to squeeze behind the tanks to see it) is a seriously old rock. Robert had been told that it was a billion years old until a geological expert came down and put him right – it was only 700 million years old!

The other secret is a magic box. “You know sometimes the wine in one tank is troubled, jumbled-up and doesn’t taste right? Well, Tobias (my colleague) or I take a beaker from that tank and put it in this 8-sided box for 45 minutes. Then we pour it back into the difficult tank. Don’t ask me how it works but it tastes much better!”

Maybe there is some magic at play. Maybe it’s the rock, the granite, the magic box or the energy from the Heiligenstein (Holy Stone) at the other end of the village, from which a natural spring gushes. Whatever it is, it’s working!

Shelter (Kenzingen)

High class Pinot Noir just off the Kaiserstuhl, close to the border with Alsace. Hans-Bert Espe and Silke Wolf met at Geisenheim, Germany’s top wine university and, after a stint in Oregon, started making their wine in a former Canadian Air Force bunker. Hence the name, Shelter Winery. Even though their output is miniscule, they quickly outgrew the space and were renting a corner of a friend’s new cellar while their own is being built. Their entry-level Spatburgunder is a big hit at The Winery.

Bercher-Schmidt (Oberrotweil)

Bercher-Schmidt are perched in the dramatic setting of the Kaiserstuhl, the “Emperor’s Throne”, a huge volcanic rock in the Rhine Valley between Alsace and the Black Forest. The bulldozers moved in during the 1970’s, increasing the terracing and more favourable exposure towards the sun – talk about Germanic efficiency! When we called, they said, “oh, we’re at a wedding then. But no problem, we’ll leave the reception for the meeting!” Beate Bercher is also an Artist and rarely rises before midday, unlike her husband Peter Schmidt. Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Muskateller are the specialities here.