Summer Sommelier Class

I’m sitting on a quiet bus, filled to the brim with sleeping sommeliers, on my way from Wiesbaden to Franken. The entire vehicle is filled with a quiet misery. It’s now 9.30 in the morning, and most of us stayed up until 3.00. I went to bed at 4.30 a.m.

The sufferings of a wine-lover aside, these past two days in Rheingau with the German Wine Institute have been more than rewarding. Every year the Institute invites sommeliers from all over the world to a four day seminar on German wine, and who am I to say no to such an event…

After being collected in a very efficient manner from a hotel in Wiesbaden on the first day, we were driven directly to the estate of the Riesling-focused producer Schloss Vollrads.When I say estate I actually mean castle, Schloss Vollrads is among the eldest wineries in the world as well as the heritage of the influential Griffenclau family, whose last member commited suicide in 1997. Upon arrival we were greeted with a glass of wine by the estates winemaker – Ruwold Hepp. He’s been with the company for 15 years, and is responsible for realigning the focus to producing 100% Riesling as well as introducing  innovations in pruning techniques and vineyard work.

A walk in Schloss Vollrads Grosses Gewächs vineyard led us in on the subject of soil. Rheingau is quite different from other German wine regions in that it’s soil is very variable. East of Wiesbaden it’s mostly calcareous, while the soil west of Rüdesheim is dominated by slate. Between the two towns the soil is a mix of both calcare and slate, with an additional 4 minerals adding to the complexity. According to Ruwold the mix of soils is the result of a pre-historic ocean eroding the mountain that is now Rheingau, causing a reverse relayment of the top mountain layers.

Regarding climate the Rheingau area is continually getting warmer. It’s not just that the annual average temperature has risen, the climate change has also led to more extremes; When it’s warm it’s really hot, when it’s cold the buds freeze. When it rains it pours down, and the drought can be devastating to the plants. Thunderstorms and hail are becoming more frequent and it’s become almost impossible to produce icewine.

After a walk back to the castle we were led through a tasting of the estates wines, after which Steffen Schindler – Director of Marketing for the German Wine Institute – held a short lecture dubbed “Facts and Figures on German Wine”. Amongst the hard facts he commented again and again that Germany was not producing nearly as much wine as it should, or could.

“We hope to fill our cellars, we don’t have enough wine anymore.”

Germany drinks around 20 000 hl of wine every year, but only produces 8000 -10 000 hl. This means that Germany exports 4 million liters of wine every year, but imports around 15,2 million liter. In other words – there is a bigger market for both export and national consumption, the german vintners just don’t have the capacity to meet demands…

After the lecture we were led to an outdoor buffé of gargantuan proportions, and then gently shooed of the property as our bus arrived. Being sommeliers we had of course formed new acquaintances in about two minutes time, and the small hours were spent in an local sherrybar in suburban Wiesbaden drinking apfelwein that even a drunk teenager would snub.

Which leads us to day two…

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