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Pfalz
Loosely speaking, the Pfalz is the southern continuation of the Rheinhessen and a northern extension of Alsace in that it lies
in the rain shadow of the Haardt Mountains (the Vosges in France). The Pfalz is large (50 miles from north to south) and the climate
is warm. However, it is not the largest, Rheinhessen is, and it is not the warmest, Baden is, but the Pfalz strives to upstage these two
nearest rivals. It is usually the most productive region in the country, it’s often fertile soils and densely planted, highly mechanized
viticulture collaborating to abundant effect.
As in the Mosel, vinegrowing here dates back thousands of years and these were some of the Romans most trustiest
vineyards. The name Pfalz, and the English equivalent Palatinate, are of Roman origin too; the Palatine hill was the first of Rome’s
seven to be inhabited and the one on which the first imperial palace stood.
The northern part, called the Unterhaardt, stretches from Bockenheim (southwest of Worms) to Bad Dürkheim. From Bad
Dürkheim south to Neustadt is the Mittelhaardt and south of Neustadt to Schweigen is the Oberhaardt which is the largest of the
three sub-regions. The most renowned vineyards are in the Mittelhaardt and up until twenty years ago, there was little reason to
know much about the other sub-regions because they were dominated by mass production and co-ops. But because the climate in
the Pfalz is warmer than any other German region, changes are taking place, especially in the Oberhaardt in the south.
The Haardter mountains in the west of the region protect the area from cold winds and frost. The Mittelhaardt is also the
driest region in Germany and throughout the Pfalz, Riesling is not the predominate grape variety grown. Because of the size of the
region, the soils are varied, ranging from sandy loam, gravel, limestone, loess and basalt. Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Scheurebe,
Rieslaner, Muskateller, Huxelrebe, Ortega, Weissburgunder, Portugieser, Pinot Noir and Dornfelder are all planted in the Pfalz. Coops control 30% of the production in the Pfalz, but there are also some very important private estates.
Unlike the Mittelrhein and Mosel, the Pfalz is growing in size. In the 1920s, the area was about 16,000 ha; now it is nearly
24,000 ha. The Pfalz is the region with the most experimentation and while many strides have been made, there is still a long way to
go. Burgundian varieties are popular in the south, but warm as the region is, there is still a fair amount of acidity left in the wines and
this can make them taste bitter. Nevertheless, the Pfalz, along with Rheinhessen, is one of Germany’s most dynamic regions.
While Riesling is the largest grape variety produced here, nearly every other German grape is also planted in the Pfalz. In fact
there are 45 white and 22 red grape varieties permitted to be cultivated in the Pfalz. Overall the production is split between 61% white
wine and 39% red wine, and for many years the dominant grapes of the region were the Müller-Thurgau, Kerner and Morio Muscat
with Riesling always having a strong foothold in the Mittelhaardt. Toward the end of the 20th century, plantings of Riesling began to
increase in the south as well as an increase in plantings of red wine varieties such as Spätburgunder, Portugieser and Dornfelder.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Müller-Catoir(21ha)
Haardt / Pfalz / Germany
Family owned since 1774 with 9 generations tending the vines, the winery is now run by Philipp David Catoir. Martin Franzen,
hailing from the Mosel, with experience as head of operations at Schlossgut Diel in the Nahe and Gut Nagelsforst in Baden, took over
winemaking responsibility from Hans-Günther Schwarz in 2001. In an effort to showcase terroir and varietal character, Müller-Catoir
has adopted the following philosophy of winegrowing: “Vines were grown by natural methods with organic fertilization, permanent
green cutting that gets more and more radical every summer, and ever-greater selective harvesting with hand-picking of grapes for
even the most “basic” kabinett wine – all these measures cannot help but produce only a small yield of wines with a mineral note, a
filigree acidity structure and exotic fruit aromas.” The estate began an organic conversion in 2007 and completed their first organic
vintage in 2009. The vineyards in Haardt are composed of primary rock (urgestein) and sandstone, with an increasing proportion of
gravel lower on the slopes. Vineyards of Gimmeldingen contain more loess and sand, while the vineyards of Mussbach are the most
gravelly. Müller-Catoir also bottles several “micro parcels”; one of which, the Breumel in den Mauern, is a monopole inside the
Burgergarten which was first planted 700 years ago, and is also one of the oldest vineyards in the Pfalz.
Müller-Catoir was a pioneer of reductive winemaking in Germany. The estate implements a gentle crush, a long skin contact,
slow gentle pressing, and then ferments at warmer than customary fermentation temperatures in stainless steel. The wine is racked
only once and very late. Müller-Catoir produces wines of outstanding transparency and density, and remains emblematic of Riesling
at its most sophisticated.
Breumel In Den Mauren
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
von Winning/Dr. Deinhard (40ha)
Deidesheim / Pfalz / Germany
The fact that this estate is crafting some of the very best dry wines in Germany is no fluke, rather a result of nearly obsessive
winemaker Stefan Attman’s commitment to both dedicated cultivation of Deidesheim and Forst’s best sites and meticulous work in
the cellar. Under the same ownership and winemaking team, the Dr. Deinhard label is designated for fruity styles vinified in stainless
steel while the Von Winning label is reserved for the Grosses Gewächs sites vinified dry and in wood. Von Winning maintains some of
the oldest parcels in Grosses Gewächs vineyards smattered across Forst, Deidesheim, and Ruppertsberg. Attman’s every decision is
informed by great enthusiasm and experiences at estates in the Cote d’Or and abroad. For example, Attman’s newer vines are planted
at a very high vine density- 9500 vines per hectare, as opposed to the more typical less than 5000. This creates competition amongst
the vines, forcing the roots to grow deep, naturally reducing yields. Attman has adopted the single cane trellising system, prevalent in
Burgundy, and Grosses Gewächs wines ferment in 500mL French barrels. Von Winning practices organic and sustainable viticulture.
Attmann describes his winemaking as “not doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.” The estate’s premium wines are treated
with a minimalist approach and with the highest respect in the cellar. Gentle clarification, a natural and spontaneous fermentation
and the abandonment of fining agents create wines with a distinctive indigenous and very elegant style. Pumping the juice or wine is
never necessary in the gravity flow winery, allowing for minimal, and gentle vinification.
Forester Ungeheuer
Deidesheimer Paradiesgarten
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Eugen Müller (15ha)
Forst / Pfalz / Germany
This estate was initially established in 1767 as a cooperage and in 1935 the winery began producing wines of their own. Kurt
Müller and his son Stephan are the 3rd generation to run the estate. Stephan joined the family business in 2000 after completing his
studies in viniculture at Geisenheim.
The specialties of the estate are the racy, aromatic and elegant Riesling wines which prosper in the excellent Forster Grosses
Gewächs sites Kirchenstück, Jesuitengarten, Ungeheuer and Pechstein. The basalt found in the soils around Forst acts as a thermal
reservoir, radiating warmth slowly during the night and thus reducing the daily variations in temperature. In addition, these wellventilated soils which warm up quickly allow the development of fruity wines rich in minerals and extracts. In 1828, the King of Bavaria,
who ruled the Palatinate at the time, conducted a soil survey of all vineyards: top Forst vineyards achieved the highest point scores
between 55 and 65. The Forster Kirchenstück, scored the maximum possible 65 points. At Eugen Müller, vines are a minimum of 15
years for all Pradikät wines, even if ripeness is achieved at a younger age.
The Müllers follow the guidelines of certified environmentally-friendly wine growing. Mechanical soil tillage, environmentally
friendly plant protection and selection of the grapes for harvesting during vintage are all maintained with sustainability in mind.
Vinification is practiced with slow, cooled fermentations and maturing in stainless steel tanks as well as wooden barrels.
Herbert Meßmer (25ha)
Burrweiler / Pfalz / Germany
Messmer was founded in 1960 when Herbert Messmer purchased the historical estate and took over the vineyards and
winery, and in 1984, the winery was taken over by son Gregor Messmer. Nestled in the forested slopes of the Haardt Mountains in
the southern Pfalz, Messmer has so much soil diversity among his grand cru sites that he chooses to label his wines by terroir along
with corresponding vineyard names. These include the erste lage Schäwer, the only slate vineyard south of the Nahe, whose Devonian
slate is similar to the ‘schiefer’ of the Mosel. The erste lage Michelsberg is a rare granite/schist soil that contributes a high mineral
note its wines. Additionally, Messmer has Riesling planted on buntsandstein, the brown sandstone typical to this part of the Pfalz.
Gewurztraminer and Scheurebe are specialties of Gregor’s; the varieties do well in the cooler sites protected by the Altenforst, whose
climate shares similarities with the Mediterranean: chestnuts, figs, lemons, and even kiwis ripen here. Gregor works to preserve the
health and mineral content of his soils. Among other efforts, only organic fertilizers are used in vineyards, and starting in 2011
Messmer began biodynamic viticulture. The same care of preserving terroir and the character of the grape can be seen in his
winemaking techniques.
Due in part to a longstanding friendship between Herbert and Hans-Günter Schwarz, Gregor has adopted many of the
reductive winemaking techniques developed by Schwarz: multiple selections in the vineyard, never de-stemming more than partially,
as well as cool and slow fermentations in stainless in either steel or cask. Gregor explains “we ferment in small parcels, without any
fining, and with the gentlest possible handling. We rack only once between fermentation and bottling. We use no preservatives to
treat it. We never de-acidify.” The resulting wines succeed in providing the true terroir of the vineyards showcased through finely
cut, pure, defined fruit.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Theo Minges (24ha)
Flemingen / Pfalz / Germany
Currently managed by Theo Minges, the winery has been in the Minges family for 6 generations and dates to the 16 th century.
Regina Minges, Theo’s daughter, helps farm the family’s 24 hectares with her father while working to complete her viticultural studies.
In the southern part of the Palatinate, Minges’ diversity of soils includes loess, gravel, red sandstone and limestone. Top sites include
the Gleisweiler Hölle, a hollow site undulated with streams, brooks and vegetation more similar to that of Northern Italy; and,
Flemlinger Zechpeter, an idyllic site of loess-loam and gravel. All of the Riesling vines are Mosel clones planted on chalky, stony soil
almost 40 years ago by Theo’s father. Minges farms with organic practices, and is in the process of transitioning to bio-dynamics;
though he’s most interested in the energy in the life-cycle of bio-dynamic practices, he intends to achieve certification in the near
future.
Minges considers himself more as a cellar master than a winemaker, raising the wines from their birth on the vine as ‘children,’
the grapes need nurturing in the vineyard, then as ‘teenagers’, turbulent in fermentation, they need to be left alone, finally maturing
for as long as possible, undisturbed on their lees, eventually coming into their own character. These philosophies guide his decisions:
meticulous work in the vineyard, spontaneous fermentation in stückfass, an extra long time on gross lees, extremely minimal sulphur
use and only at bottling.
Kurt Darting (25ha)
Bad-Dürkheim / Pfalz / Germany
Though Darting has a history of grape growing dating to 1780, it was not until 1989 that the winery began to sell all of their
grapes as wine under their own label. The family also maintains a highly regarded vine nursery, selling their grafted vines throughout
Germany. Vineyards in the hills around Bad-Dürkheim are prime sites, planted on south facing slopes of marl and chalky limestone.
Current winemaker Helmut Darting is a protégé of famed winemaker Hans-Günter Schwarz, having completed his studies with a
practicum at Müller-Catoir. You can see this influence in the reductive winemaking techniques Helmut employees at the winery. He
believes firmly in minimal-intervention winemaking as he feels that “every time you handle a wine, you diminish it.” These practices
include fermenting as slow as possible at a cold temperature in stainless steel, using only natural yeasts, and avoiding the introduction
of oxygen in the winemaking process. Red wines are fermented on their skins in stainless steel and then transferred to large oak casks.
The only time the wine is handled after the first racking is to finish the wine by bottling. Resulting wines preserve the original grape
character and showcase the outstanding vineyards they hail from.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Rheinhessen
The Rheinhessen is bordered by the Rhine River to the east and north, the Nahe River to the west and the Pfalz region to the
south. More specifically, the vineyards of Rheinhessen are on the left side of the Rhine, scattered throughout the large triangle formed
between Bingen and Mainz in the north and Worms in the south. It is one of Germany’s largest and most traditional wine-growing
regions. The Romans cultivated vines here, and the oldest documented mention of a German vineyard site by name is found in
Rheinhessen: “Glöck” in Nierstein. The document is a deed of gift from Karlmann, Charlemagne’s uncle, who presented a church and
vineyards in Nierstein to the diocese of Würzburg in 742. Charlemagne’s imperial residence in Ingeheim bears witness to his fondness
for the area’s favorable climate. In the 9th century, viticulture in Rheinhessen was documented in 88 communities, and in 1402,
sources in Worms first mentioned the “Rüssling” (Riesling) as a grape variety. Thanks to its geographical location and topography, the
protection afforded by the Donnersberg hill in the west, its proximity to the Rhine, and its stony and fertile loam and loess soils,
Rheinhessen is full of the natural resources associated with high-quality viticulture. Here, in the “land of a thousand hills,” the sun
shines more than 1,500 hours annually and with only 500 mm of precipitation per year, it numbers among the driest regions in
Germany.
However, it is also the region that gave birth to the infamous Liebfraumilch, which still accounts for one-fourth of
Rheinhessen’s production (the Rheinhessen produces one-fourth of all German wine). The Rheinhessen is sometimes the most
maligned wine region in Germany, but it is now one of the most interesting places, as younger producers are trying to make a new
name for their region.
There are great vineyards in the Rheinhessen, but the region also contains huge parcels of vineyards planted on fertile, flat
land. These areas are planted to Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner, and the wine produced there is remarkably unexceptional. Because of
the pejorative image of the Rheinhessen, the quality wines of the region are often underrated. The majority of the best vineyards are
close to the river. Due to the relatively low esteem this region now affords, the towns of Nackenheim, Nierstein, Oppenheim and
Bingen attempted to establish a separate identity for themselves by breaking away from the Rheinhesen, but their efforts failed.
Some of the top sites are along a 3 mile stretch above the villages of Nierstein and Nackenheim. The soils here are a blend
of red clay, slate, iron and sand and they’re known as the red slope. Certainly the iron content of the soil contributes to the red color,
but there is also a theory that red algae were deposited in the area 250 million years ago. The village of Bingen is in the northwest
part of the Rheinhessen, where the Nahe meets the Rhine River. The Scharlachberg vineyard is also very good and the soil there is
much like a combination of Rüdesheim, Nahe and Rheinhessen soils. There are also parcels in Siefersheim were volcanic soils, like
porphyry, are prevalent.
Nierstein
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Strub (15ha)
Nierstein / Rheinhessen / Germany
In a region most recently known for high-yielding, innocuous varieties like Sylvaner and Müller-Thurgau that have tainted the
reputation of German wine as a whole, Walter Strub and his son Sebastian are crafting transparent, pure expressions of Riesling on
slopes along the Rhine River in Nierstein. The Strub family has been making wine in Germany's Rheinhessen region since 1710, Walter
Strub is the 11th generation of his family to produce fine Riesling of international repute from the family vineyards.
In Nierstein, production of quality, vineyard-designate wines sits at less than 20%. The best vineyards in Nierstein, and
arguably all of the Rheinhessen, lie on a steep south and southeast facing slope along the Rhine River called the Roter Hang (Red
Slope), whose Rotliegenden soil produces some of the most terroir specific wines in all of Germany. Rotliegenden soils here are a
composition of Permian red sandstone & slate, dating back some 280 million years. A unique set of Grand Cru vineyards here include
the Oelberg, Orbel, and Pettenthal, along with a limestone rich vineyard called Brückchen located across the village from the steep
red slope. The Strubs generally vinify fruit from the red slope dry, due to the pronounced minerality; while more often producing
wines from the Paterberg and Brückchen in a fruity style due to the limestone soils and higher levels of acidity.
Sebastian Strub, fresh from graduating Geisenheim and an apprenticeship at Dönnhoff, has begun making his mark on the
winery, bringing the wines into sleek focus. Sebastian has introduced a small filtration to control oxidation, eliminated süssreserve
(balance, he believes, is best achieved through blending), and accelerated fermentations, preferring a faster, warmer ‘cleaning’ of the
must. Additionally, Sebastian has placed more focus on the family’s vineyard work, including the use of straw coverings between rows
to prevent erosion and aid in water retention – a technique he learned while working at Dönnhoff.
Soil of the Roter Hang
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Weingut Geil (30ha)
Bechtheim / Rheinhessen / Germany
Johannes Geil-Bierschenk, who farms 30 hectares of Riesling and many forgotten varieties in the village of Bechtheim, is an
emblem of the new generation in the Rheinhessen committed to lower yields and higher quality. His ancestors were some of the very
first to cultivate and bottle wine here; indeed, plantings in Bechtheim were recognized as superior in the region in the early tax maps
of 1780. Geil possesses a diversity of grape material while most vineyards in this region are dominated by high yielding müller-thurgau;
Johannes’ plantings include Riesling, Scheurebe, Silvaner, Kerner, Huxelrebe, Muskateller, St. Laurent, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and
Rieslaner. Top sites of the estate include Bechtheimer Geyersberg, sheltered terraces of chalky marl with 35 year-old Riesling vines,
and the Bechtheimer Rosengarten, a site heavier in clay soils. In the vineyard Johannes utilizes aggressive pruning and green harvesting
to reign in his yields, in some cases to as low as 50 hectoliters per hectare. Once the fruit is picked, Johannes believes in immediate
pressing to maintain the liveliness of the juice, and favors ambient yeast fermentations, both utilized to preserve what Johannes
believes is the most important aspect of a wine – its aroma. Minimal skin contact, cold fermentations in steel and oak, gravity
clarification, racking immediately after fermentation, and fine lees contact all contribute to Johannes’ clean and expressive wines. As
he says, “Every year we are trying to make one less mistake… or maybe two.” Johannes Geil was the Gault Millau’s 2004 Discovery of
the Year Award recipient.
Bechtheimer Rosengarten
Gernot Gysler (12ha)
Weinheim / Rheinhessen / Germany
Gysler’s history in Weinheim dates to 1450, with record of winemaking dating to 1750. The windy, cool microclimate of
Weinheim, and its red soil dominated by Rotliegend sandstone, allow Gysler to ply a quite unique expression of Riesling from his 12
hectares, in a region planted to many lesser varieties and hybrids. When Alexander Gysler took the helm from his father abrubtly,
changes were made in the vineyard, including the reversal of the plantings of experimental crossings, instead focusing the estate by
increased plantings of classic varieties such as Riesling and Sylvaner. Next came Biodynamic conversion and certification by Demeter
in 2008, with the intention of helping to reverse the reputation of Rheinhessen wines as high-yielding, overly sweet ‘plonk.’ Fruit is
hand harvested, which is rare in the Rheinhessen, and composting and cover cropping have become integral to the health of the
estate’s vines – every second row is planted with flowers & herbs. In 2005, Gysler began bottling his wines in only 2 quality levels,
estate and S-class, eschewing the pradikät system that portends quality is based predominantly on ripeness. Other changes include
employing whole cluster pressing, spontaneous fermentations in stainless steel, eliminating fining and racking, gross lees contact right
up until bottling, and abandoning the use of süssreserve. “2008 was the first vintage we did absolutely no handling of the juice,” says
Alex Gysler.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Nahe
The Nahe River flows north from the Hunsrück hills to join the Rhine at the town of Bingen. The Nahe region is nestled
between the Mittelrhein and the Rheinhessen, and it produces some of the best wines found in Germany. Despite this, the Nahe,
which wasn’t established administratively until 1930, is not a cohesive winegrowing district and lacks identity. The region was
populated already in Roman times, and the village of Monzingen was mentioned as a wine village already in the year 778, the wine
region of Nahe was defined only with the 1971 German wine law. Up until the 1930s, most of the wine produced in the Nahe was
shipped out of the region to be blended with other regions’ wines and sold as “Rhine wine.”
Most of the vineyards overlook the Nahe River: if flows west to east from Sobernheim to Bad Kreuznach and then makes a
turn north towards Bingen. The section west of Bad Kreuznach is the Upper Nahe, and it includes the towns of Schlossböckelheim,
Niederhausen and Oberhausen. The soils here have slate, as well as sandstone and volcanic soils made up of porphyry, melaphyr,
gneiss and rhyolite. What is amazing about this part of the Upper Nahe is that one can walk fifty feet in a vineyard and cross through
slate, sandstone and volcanic soils: porphyry, melaphyre, gneiss and rhyolite. It is this mix of soils that give Nahe wines their
complexity, structure, elegance and style. As you move downstream to the Rhine, the soils have more loam and clay mixed in, making
the wines broader and fuller-bodied. This is the Lower Nahe, and the best sites are in the side valleys on south-facing slopes where
there is more slate.
The wines of the Nahe are stylistically somewhere between Mosel delicateness and Rheingau exoticness.
Niederhauser Hermannshöhle
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Dönnhoff (25ha)
Oberhäusen / Nahe / Germany
The Dönnhoff family first came to the Nahe region over 200 years ago, and after establishing a modest farm slowly evolved
into a full-fledged wine estate. Helmut Dönnhoff has been making the wine since 1971, and now his son Cornelius works alongside in
the winery and in their 25 hectares of Erste Lage, or grand cru vineyards. Their holdings represent some of the best in the Nahe and
all of Germany. Oberhäuser Leistenberg, the oldest vineyard held by the family, has slate soils and produces fruity wines with elegant
acidity. The Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg is a very old site with porphyry soil. Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle, perhaps the most
famous of all the Nahe vineyards, is a slate vineyard with many conglomerates of volcanic rocks, mostly porphyry and melaphyr. The
Oberhäuser Brücke, the smallest vineyard in the Nahe, is a tiny parcel saddled on the Nahe River that Dönnhoff owns in entirety. The
Brücke has grey slate covered by loess-clay and the vines ripen even later here than in the Hermannshöhle due to large diurnal
temperature swings along the river. The Norheimer Dellchen is a steep terraced vineyard in a rocky hollow with porphyry and slate
soil. Norheimer Kirscheck sits on a steep south slope of slate soil and produces delicately fruity wines with spice and race. The
Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl vineyard has perfect drainage due its topsoil of pebbles over loam soil; characteristic are wines with a
mineralic elegance. Due to the water table that flows beneath the vineyard’s soil the Krötenpfhul has always been farmed organically,
even before it was held by Dönnhoff.
Although the Nahe is a dry region, Dönnhoff does not water their vineyards as to encourage deep rooted vines. The soil is
covered with organic material like straw and compost to preserve water and to avoid evaporation and erosion in heavy rains. The
vines are all grown on wire frames, low to the ground to benefit from the warmth of the stoney topsoil, and at a density of approx.
6000 vines per hectare. The Riesling vines are old clones sourced from the sites in Niederhausen and Schloßböckelheim.
Grapes are always picked by hand at Dönnhoff over 2-3 passes through each vineyard. To preserve laser-like focus and clarity
in the wines, the grapes are pressed as soon as possible – within 3 hours of picking. Wines are fermented in traditional German casks
(1200 L stuck and 2400 L doppelstuck) as well as stainless steel with spontaneous fermentations. Donnhoff’s cellar is unique in its
capacity to hold all of its production entirely in stainless steel or in cask, allowing for the ideal elevage for any wine at any point during
a vintage.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Jakob Schneider (19 ha)
Niederhäusen / Nahe / Germany
The Schneider family has been in the wine trade since 1575. Now the Schneiders cultivate 45 hectares, including 19 of their
own, in some of the very best sites of the geologically diverse village Niederhausen. Over 52 different soil types can be found here,
mostly based on volcanic rock and slate. The Schneider’s 2 hectare parcel in the Niederhauser Hermannshöhle, in the northeastern
corner adjacent to the porphyric Klamm vineyard, was planted in 1939 in an area especially rich in red volcanic soil and grey slate.
Niederhauser Klamm is a tiny, concave gorge 500 meters east of the Hermannshöhle and composed of porphyry rich in ore, with a
limited number of owners. Niederhauser Felsensteyer, composed of melaphyr, benefits from the heat emitted by the surrounding
mass of rock. Working as closely as possible to nature in the vineyards, the Schneiders use humus in their very steep vineyards to help
absorb and retain water, as well as straw and hay to prevent erosion. The winery is seeing modernization as a result of son Jakob
Scheider joining the winery following his studies at Geisenheim and a practicum at Knoll in Austria’s Wachau. Such innovations have
included the purchase of a new tank press and installation of air-conditioning in the cellar. 2400 and 1200 liter casks of oak from the
Hunsrück forests around Stromberg are employed in the cellar in combination with stainless steel tanks. 50% of the wines
spontaneously ferment with natural yeast, whose must is then used to inoculate any juice slow to begin fermentation. Schneider’s
wines maintain an old world charm while showcasing a stalwart minerality only derived from the amazing terroirs from which they
hale.
Weingut Hexamer (18.5 ha)
Meddersheim / Nahe / Germany
Harald Hexamer’s dedication is seen both his work in the vineyards and in the cellars. Hexamer holds 7.5 hectares in the
Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg, a steep south-east facing slope of red sandstone with deposits of quartzite, which is known for
producing especially small berries. Hexamer often harvests riper grapes from another site (Marbach) but the wines of Rheingrafenberg
grapes are “more filigree and better-structured.” Schlossböckelheimer In den Felsen (“In the Rocks”) is a small vineyard at 6.5 hectares,
of which the Hexamer’s own 4.5. The vineyard is markedly steep (70º) with south facing slopes composed of rocky porphyry and
produces wines characterized by softer acidity and a subtle smokiness.
Hexamer’s meticulous work in the vineyard is marked by pruning to control yields (“often six to eight bunches per wine”) and
hand-harvesting. The grapes are picked exclusively by hand and fermented very cold (below 12 degrees celsius) with cooling utilized
only when necessary – “but we often pick so late we bring naturally cold fruit — below 10 degrees — back to the winery.” Hexamer
handles the wine as little as possible: no dosage is used, inoculations are made only with native yeasts, and all wines are whole-cluster
pressed. 95% of all Rieslings at Hexamer are made in stainless steel and racked only once, three to six weeks after fermentation is
complete. The wines are bottled early to preserve their vigor. For the Burgundian varieties, Harald constructed his own barrels in
Meddersheim using oak from the Hunsrück forest seasoned for 5 years. When tasting the wines, one sees the purity of the vineyards,
the intensity of minerality and remarkable clarity. Hexamer’s wines are balanced in the ultraviolet spectrum; they’re steely, aciddriven, clean and transparent.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Schlossgut Diel (22 ha)
Burg Layen / Nahe / Germany
The Schlossgut Diel vineyards, castle and winery are of great historical significance. The winery was purchased by the Diel
family in 1802 from the Baron Dalberg, who had managed to prevent its confiscation by Napoleon’s troops in 1789. Today the winery
is owned by prominent gourmand and wine aficionado Armin Diel, well regarded for his work to promote German wine, and whose
daughter Caroline now oversees winemaking. Diel’s offerings are a study in both terroir and differences in intensity achieved at various
levels of ripeness. Diel is one of few who still vinifies each Grosses Gewächs site at each Pradikät.
Located in the lower Nahe on a steep south-facing slope, the 3 vineyards Goldloch, Burgberg and Pittermännchen comprise
Diel’s esteemed holdings and were documented as early as 1901 as producing wines of exceptional quality. With nearly thirteen acres,
Schlossgut Diel is by far the largest landowner within the steep Goldloch vineyard, a vineyard of clay over bedrock, and whose name
evokes miners’ search for gold here in the 17th century. This site is known for producing deep, powerful wines while still maintaining
elegance and finesse. Diel holds approximately half of the steep slopes of the Burgberg vineyard, named for the castle Burg Layen Its
clay soil accented by slate and gravel is known for making elegant Riesling that is capable of aging. The smallest of Diel’s holdings (1
hectare) are within the Pittermännchen vineyard which benefits from south-facing slopes and mineral soils of slate, quartz and gravel.
The complexity of the soil lends itself to racy wines that express great minerality. Organic viticulture is practiced as much as the steep
slopes permit. Fruit is either whole-cluster pressed or, if vintage necessitates, destemmed by hand so as not to break skins and warrant
oxidation. Fermentation is carried out spontaneously in stuckfass, doppelstuck, and cement tanks, with small barrels used for the red
wines.
The combination of great vineyard sites, dedicated vineyard management and meticulous winemaking has led the winery to
receive continued acclaim. The wines scrupulously define themselves: the style changes as the vintage dictates but the wines are
always clear, sophisticated, and balanced.
Dorsheimer Goldloch
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Kruger-Rumpf (15ha)
Münster Sarmsheim / Nahe / Germany
The Kruger-Rumpf winery was founded in 1790 and nearly 200 years later Stefan Rumpf took over the estate in 1984. Stefan
Rumpf began producing his own, estate wines rather than selling the juice off in bulk, as had been customary. Now, son Georg has
joined Stefan, after graduating from Geisenheim’s esteemed winemaking school.
Münster lies in a narrow valley between the Nahe and the Rheinhessen where the Nahe river meets the Rhein. Two Grosses
Gewächs sites are the jewels of the estate: the slate vineyard Münsterer Pittersberg and the Münsterer Dautenpflänzer, a tiny parcel
within Kapellenberg containing quartzite and loess-clay soils. The 2 hectare Dautenpflänzer is rarely affected by frost and the top layer
of soil is rather nutrient rich, both factors important in cultivating young vines. Other important vineyard sites include the Münsterer
Rheinberg, made mostly of quartzite with sandy loam, and Binger Scharlachberg, composed of porphyr and red sandstone soils – a
site that actually lies across the mighty Nahe in Rheinhessen. Vineyards are farmed sustainably at Kruger-Rumpf, and care is taken
during the hand harvesting to ensure that only optimally ripe grapes are picked, as Georg does not favor any botrytis.
Stefan believes “You can’t improve wine in the cellar, only make it worse.” A short fermentation is preferred, as the Rumpfs
believe a long fermentation will remove fruit and freshness of character in the wines. Fermentations occur spontaneously with natural
yeast for the fruity wines, and though ambient yeast strains inhabitat the 10+ year old stuck used for the Grosses Gewächs, sometimes
a neutral strain of cultured yeast is required to complete its fermentation. Often the wines stay on their gross lees well into spring.
The wines produced show the best of his renowned vineyard sites, with haunting brilliance, concentration and extract.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Rheingau
The Rheingau is often cited as the noblest area in Germany for Riesling. It is also the most homogeneous region. Coming
north, the Rhine River makes a bend toward the west at Mainz because the river has never been able to penetrate the Quartzite
mountains to the north. The Rhine then flows westward for 19 miles to Rüdesheim and then turns northwest towards
Assmannshausen and Lorch. The vineyards that rise up on the north side of the Rhine constitute the Rheingau and beyond Lorch is
the Mittelrhein. Like the Mosel, the Rhine River plays a crucial role here. Without its moderating influence, viticulture at such northern
latitudes would be impossible.
Riesling yields in the Rheingau are lower than in the Mosel, however, but vine density is also less. Here, the average is 5000
vines/ha, whereas it is not uncommon to have 8000 vines/ha in the Mosel. Vines are also trellised in a double cordon or single cordon
system here.
Archaeological research suggests that viticulture was practiced here in Roman times, and there is documented evidence of
vines planted in Walluf by 770. Charlemagne ordered that vines be planted on the Rüdesheimer Berg, and by 850 the Johannisberg
hill was already being referred to as the Bischofsberg. The Church was heavily involved in the viticulture during the Middle Ages and
they did the work to classify the great sites (as they had done in Burgundy and Lower Austria), and added terraces in the vineyards
(incidentally, Flurbereinigung started in the 1960s, and almost all of the terraces in the Rheingau are now gone). Napoleon secularized
the area in 1803, and the vineyards became the property of the Dukes of Nassau. They later lost it all in 1866 when they backed the
wrong side in the Austro-Prussian war. The Prussians sold many vineyards to wealthy merchants from Mainz and Frankfurt and some
vineyards went back to church control. At this time, in the late nineteenth century, records from the Schloss Johannisberg claim that
one liter of Johannisberg wine cost on average 2 florins. At the time, this amount equated to what would have been paid for 15
pounds of beef. The Weil estate displays a price list from 1893 for a Gräfenberg Auslesen which is three-times more expensive than
Château Lafite from the same vintage.
The region has gone into decline since the World Wars, however. This is due to the fact that the majority of the large
aristocratic and ecclesiastical domains were run by administrators. Their aim was to keep the estates solvent, not necessarily to focus
on the quality of the wines. One-quarter of all of the Rheingau’s production comes from Schloss Schönborn, Johannisberg, Prinz von
Hessen, Schloss Reinhartshausen and the state domaine in Eltville. They dominate the market commercially, but they don’t necessarily
make the best wine. Many consumers have cooled to Rheingau wines because the prices paid for a bottle didn’t necessarily guarantee
quality wine. In some ways, the Rheingau is the opposite of the Rheinhessen: whereas the Rheinhessen has a terrible reputation and
the best producers make great wines which are undervalued, the Rheingau has a great historical reputation but the best known
producers make middling wine at high prices. In the 1990s, many large estates went under in the Rheingau and many small producers
sold off their land. This development has been a windfall for quality-oriented, small producers like Leitz who has been able to purchase
great vineyards for below market costs. Today, more of the smaller producers are setting the benchmark for quality in the Rheingau,
not the large estates; they are Leitz, Kunstler, Land, Becker, Kuhn and Spreitzer.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Spreitzer (17 ha)
Oestrich / Rheingau / Germany
The Spreitzer estate, founded in 1641 and one of the oldest in the Rheingau, benefits from a long tradition in winemaking as
well as the recent modern winemaking innovations of sons Andreas and Bernd Spreitzer who have controlled the estate since 1997.
Bernd and Andreas were the Gault Millau’s Discovery of the Year Award recipients in 2001.
All of the classified Erste Gewächs parcels that Spreitzer owns lie within the original boundaries of the named vineyard; the
1971 consolidation grouped vineyards smaller than 5 hectares together. The Lenchen vineyard in Oestrich is composed mostly of loam
and loess soils. Numerous underground streams here ensure that even in dry seasons the vines are guaranteed a natural source of
water. Within the Lenchen rests the two smaller parcels, Rosengarten and Eisenberg. Rosengarten, the ‘filet piece’ of the Lenchen, is
a tiny parcel on lower elevation between the Rhein River and the Spreitzer’s home, and typically expresses characteristics of full fruit.
Eisenberg sits in the most northeastern corner of Lenchen and maintains very old vines planted amongst red, iron-rich stones.
Eisenberg was categorized by the Prussians in the 1860’s as being amongst the highest in quality, and due to its exposition and rich
loess-loam soils it produces fruit of sufficient ripeness. The Oestricher Doosberg vineyard is also composed mostly loam and loess soils,
with the addition of quartzite, and sits at an elevation of 600 meters. Other vineyards include the Winkeler Jesuitgarten, an early
ripening site alongside the Rhein with a south to southwest exposure, and Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen, an Erste Gewächs site located
due west of Oestrich.
Viticulture practices are as natural as possible at Spreitzer, and include alternating cover crops of herbs, greens, and lentils in
the summer with grains in the winter. The Spreitzers strive to maintain fruit and finesse by cleaning the must by gravity for 24 hours
after whole-cluster pressing, then allowing the wines to rest on their gross lees and only filtering once. The Spreitzers employ a long
fermentation, and extended lees ageing to protect the juice from oxidation. Mostly ambient yeasts are employed for fermentation in
both temperature controlled stainless steel and 1200 liter casks of German wood, called stückfass. The resulting wines show great
pedigree. The Spreitzer’s flagship Riesling, <<303>>, is so named due to a record breaking ripeness of 303 degrees oechsle achieved
in 1920 within the Eiserberg vineyard – a record that stood until the 2003 heat wave that swept over Europe. The 303 today still comes
from the Eisenberg, but rarely hits must weights above Spätlese level.
Oestricher Lenchen ‘Rosengarten’
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Künstler (37 ha)
Hochheim / Rheingau / Germany
Gunter Künstler comes to us from the famous village of Hochheim am Main; in 17 th century Britain the term ‘Hock’ was
used to describe all Rhinegau wines. At that time, these wines were much more famous than Mosel wines and were more expensive
than some of the finest Bordeaux. Thomas Jefferson visited the region in 1788 and described Rheingau Riesling as "small and
delicate Rhysslin which grows only from Hochheim to Rudesheim". He was so impressed with the quality that he found here, he took
100 cuttings of Rheingau Riesling back to Monticello. Hochheim was quite famous long before this and the region was known for
producing quality wines in the Shakespearean era. Both ‘Hock’ and ‘Rhenish’ can be found in Shakespearean texts. Hochheim am
Main is on the banks of the Main river, which flows west from Frankfurt, meeting the Rhein at Mainz, on the other side of the river
from Hochheim. Essentially the vineyards in this village are at the cross of these two rivers, which certainly influences the wines
produced here.
Weingut Künstler has a history dating back to 1648. Until the end of World War II, the family grew grapes on their estate 80
km north of Vienna, in Untertannowitz in the South Moravian Region in the Czech Republic. After expropriation and expulsion, Franz
Künstler was forced to leave the homeland of his family and in 1965 he re-established the Weingut Künstler in Hochheim
Main/Rheingau. In 1992 his son Gunter took over the estate, and in 1994 the estate was admitted to the VDP. Generally soils here
are loess, clay, sand, loam, marl and limestone. The greatest sites in the village are Domdechaney (pronounced Dom-Dey-Sha-Nay),
Kirchenstück and Hölle while you could consider Herrnberg and Stielweg 1er Crus.
Because of the proximity to two rivers, the climate in Hochheim is rather more humid than its environs. This complicates
Gunter’s urge to move in an organic direction, though he says “Generally we are working without any herbicides since 1992 and we
grow on 11 hectares organically. Here we have three blocks of about 3.5 hectares. In the future we will move step by step to 100%
organic, but this, in our warm and humid microclimate, is not easy. Finally, I have to make ends meet and to pay my employees. In
order to produce dry Rieslings we have to protect against botrytis in every production step.” Cellar work is generally in line with the
norms among elite producers. Musts settle by gravity and are pressed clear. He ferments with cultured yeast, because it’s often still
warm when grapes are being picked and to work sponti would mean a greater risk of volatile acidity. The cellar orients toward cask
as opposed to steel, though each is used. Wood gives the ideal low-tech micro-oxygenation. The overriding goal is to produce wines
with “heart and soul”.
The wines are very pure, clean and precise, without tasting as though they’ve been sanitized and had the character stripped
out of them. They are detailed and meticulous, but also delicious and satisfying.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Mittelrhein
In the northeast part of the Mosel River is the town of Koblenz, and it marks the end of the Lower Mosel region. Here the
Mosel joins the Rhine River, and from this point to the south, upstream along the Rhine towards the Rheingau is the Mittlerhein region.
The Mittelrhein is probably the most picturesque of all of Germany’s wine regions. Around every bend of the Rhine is a castle high up
in the hills. The riverscape includes walled towns, cliffs and vineyards. It’s in the Mittelrhein where the famous Loreley is found. The
Loreley is a large rock formation around which the Rhine bends. In Germany’s past, it served much in the same manner as the ancient
Oracle at Delphi: people came to it to ask questions, to seek guidance. It also has a reputation of reeking havoc on passing boats, like
the sirens from Homer. All of the Mittelrhein is steeped in these mythical roots and some real historical events: Siegfried slew the
dragon at Drachenfels in Köningswinter, and the vineyards there produce a Spätburgunder called Drachenblut or “dragon’s blood.” It
was also from the Mittelrhein that the Celts spread out across Europe.
Despite the Mittelrhein’s storied past, the viticultural region has struggled to make a name for itself, and the size of the region
is dropping quickly. 100 years ago, the Mittelrhein had 2000 hectares of vines; today there are only 550 hectares planted. Several old
vineyard sites are completely abandoned because they have become too difficult to work. Many of the vintners in the Mittelrhein
have chosen to give up winemaking altogether since they can find higher wages and easier work in Germany’s industrial cities. Of the
vineyards left, nearly all have been flurbereinigt: the old terraces, which were built around 1000, have been removed and roads have
been added to make access to the vineyards easier. The vineyards here are steeper than in the Mosel and the ones which have not
undergone Flurbereinigung will cease to be cultivated. Kauber Rosstein is one such vineyard, a great site, but there are no roads or
paths up the vineyard and the terraces are too steep for machinery. The only way to get to the grapes off the vineyard is to carry
them down on your back, cross a busy highway, cross the railway line and then get into a boat and cross the Rhine. Simply, the
vineyard is too costly to work, and so it has gone fallow with no signs of recovery.
The steep slopes of the river gorge form the topography of this region. The vines grown there benefit from their steep spacing
since the sun can penetrate deep into the leaf canopy; furthermore, the Rhine acts as a heat reservoir, tempering the low night and
winter temperatures. The soil, like the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, is Devonian slate and quartzite on a clay base with a mix of rock, pebbles
and sand. It’s like a blend of the soils in the Mosel and in the Rheingau. The wines produced in the Mittelrhein have more acidity than
Rheingau wines and are similar to those of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, but they can be fuller in body and a little more exotic.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Weingart (6.5 ha)
Boppard- Spay / Mittelrhein / Germany
The steep formidable slopes of the Mittelrhein are dotted with abandoned vineyards, the hazard and cost of viticulture here
has pressed the Mittelrhein’s production into decline – the region itself only maintains 430 planted hectares today. Florian Weingart’s
basic philosophy to vineyard approach is “based on selection of grapes in the best sites, and extremely low yields, sometimes well
below 50 hectoliters per hectare.” He also believes in high density planting to force the vines to grow extremely deep roots. His 6.5
hectares are divided between 3 sites on the Bopparder Hamm, a south facing stretch with an incline of 50-70% along the Rhein where
a kink forces the river to flow west to east. Here slate is layered with various sedimentations and volcanic ash spattered during
eruptions of Eifel Mountain over 10,000 years ago. The Engelstein vineyard sits on old terraces that Weingart and his cousin own, in
the easternmost corner of the Hamm. Here Weingart has completely converted his vines to post-training, a training system that
requires substantially more work than most and is common on steep slopes in the Mosel. Other parcels that Florian cultivates are
the Feuerlay, which many consider the best exposure in the middle of the Hamm with layers of weathered slate, loess and quartzite;
and, the Ohlenberg, with its layers of shale and quartz rich sandstone. The wines are fermented utilizing ambient yeasts and are kept
on their lees for an extended period of time in stainless steel tanks. Ensuing wines show characteristics of the combination of slate
and volcanic material that they are grown on.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Mosel, Saar and Ruwer
The Lower Mosel is the more northerly area and the Upper Mosel is between Trier and Luxembourg in the southwest. The
best soils are in the Mittel Mosel and in many parts of the Lower Mosel toward the Mittelrhein. Devonian blue and gray slates
dominate here, and there are pockets of red Devonian slate around Ürzig and Erden. All the slate here comes from the same Devonian
Era, but the blue is un-weathered, gray is weathered and red has deposits of iron and clay within it. Slate not only gives the wine a
mineral quality, but it enables drainage, which is essential in a rainy climate, and it retains heat from the sun which helps the grapes
to ripen.
What also marks the Mosel Valley is the steepness of the hills. To cultivate a single Mosel hectare (2.5 acres) requires between
2500 and 3600 hours of labor; the same hectare in the Pfalz requires 800 labor hours.
The Mosel area has recently rebounded slightly in size only slightly after 20 years of decline. In 1988 a total of 12,760 ha
were planted and the low reached in 2006 with 8,975. In this time, plantings of Müller-Thurgau decreased by 55% and Ebling by 49%.
Riesling plantings increased from 55% to 60% of the total area under vine.
Unlike the Pfalz or Rheingau, Mosel producers still adhere closely to the hierarchy of quality levels laid out by the 1971
German Wine Law. The best producers’ range of wines take you through Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese and what changes is not so
much the sense of the wines getting sweeter, but of the wines becoming more intense. This is not the case in the Pfalz or Rheingau
where the wines take on more weight and sweetness as you progress up the quality levels.
The Saar and Ruwer Rivers flow into the Mosel on either side of Trier in the Upper Mosel Valley. The river acts as a heating
agent to the microclimate and this is not the case in these smaller river valleys. The nights are colder in the Saar and Ruwer and this
gives the wines more finesse if the grapes ripen fully. With these cooler nights there is an added risk of frost. The Ruwer has gray and
red slate but the Saar has mostly the blue slate that is found in the Mosel. Historically, both the Saar and Ruwer were more highly
prized than Mosel wines.
Piesporter Goldtröpfchen
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Selbach-Oster (21 ha)
Zeltingen / Mosel / Germany
Today, Johannes Selbach and his wife Barbara, with the increasing help of son Sebastian, manage their vineyards and winery
with passion and respect for the estate’s long held traditions. 50% of their 21 hectares of vines are on their original rootstocks, in
Zeltinger Himmelreich, Schlossberg, and Sonnenuhr; Wehlener Sonnenuhr; and, Graacher Himmelreich and Domprobst. These
vineyards of weathered Devonian slate are on a steep, contiguous slope facing south-south west and represent some of the most
prestigious sites in all of the Middle Mosel. In fact, the wines from these sites were valued not only by having the highest ratings on
the Prussian tax maps of 1868, but also by Thomas Jefferson, who visited and praised their high quality in the 1780’s. The SelbachOster’s heritage in the area dates to the 1660’s: Selbach’s ancestors shipped their estate wines along the Mosel in their steamship,
the wine carried in oak barrels made by cooper Matthias Oster, the great-grandfather on the paternal side of the family. Thus, the
winery developed as both a top estate producing some of the region’s best wine, and also as a négociant and brokerage firm,
consolidating the production of smaller growers.
Johannes has slowly been reviving the use of traditional oak fuder in his cellar, bringing in new large casks every few years.
Vinification is carried out in a combination of fuder and stainless steel, and predominantly with wild yeasts. “Selbach aims for a typical
modern Mosel style, which reflects the minerality of the rocky Devonian slate soils, as well as the elegance and finesse of the Riesling
fruit in clear, crisp, elegant, low-alcohol, yet full-flavored handcrafted wines,” says Stephan Reinhardt, in The Finest Wines of Germany.
The hallmark of the estate are 3 old parcels that Selbach-Oster harvests en-bloc; or, as single pickings, with no selections
pulled from the vineyard prior to harvesting. The Rotlay (in the Zeltingen Sonnenuhr, rich in iron ore), the Schmitt (in the Zeltingen
Schlossberg), and the Anrecht (in the Zeltingen Himmelreich) are all old parcels high on their respective slopes and post trained on
their original rootstock. Typically, Auslese is selected by successive passes through the vineyard—picking fruit for Kabinett and
Spätlese first and leaving the healthiest berries on the vine to concentrate. For the en-bloc wines selection of this type is avoided, in
order to maintain a holistic flavor profile that contains that of ultra-ripe grapes, optimally ripe, and of lesser-ripe ones which has the
ability to reflect a complete terroir of both place and moment. Because his approach in winemaking is minimal, Johannes Selbach will
allow his wines to ferment naturally, as slow or as complete as manifest, resulting in dry wines in some vintages and fruity in others.
Villages and ‘En Bloc’ locations
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Meulenhof / Erben Justen Ehlen (7ha)
Erden / Mosel / Germany
Since 1337 the property at Meulenhof has shifted between royalty and Cistercian monks, following Napoleonic secularization,
and since 1919 has been led by the Justen family, with Stephan Justen at the helm since 1990. Located in the Middel Mosel village of
Erden, one can see why the estate vineyards were most attractive to both the Counts of Sponheim and the Cistercian Convent- holdings
in the steep, terraced Erdener Treppchen and prestigious Prälat have long been revered for their superior wines, and upstream the
Devonian blue slate of the Wehlener Sonnenuhr produce wines of intense minerality and elegance. The Prälat may be one of the most
iconic terroirs in the Middle Mosel. A tiny 2.2 hectare site sandwiched between the Treppchen and the Ürziger Würzgarten, entirely
south-facing, with pure red slate soils, the site is naturally enclosed by cliffs and outcroppings which shelter the vines and make the
Prälat one of the warmest sites in the entire valley. If there were a Mosel vineyard pre-destined for Auslese, it would have to be the
Prälat. There are only a handful of owners in the Prälat and Meulenhof is one of them. Meulenhof’s vines in both the Prälat and the
Treppchen are mostly ungrafted; Stephan is one of the last few vine growers with original rootstocks in this area. Vines on the steep
slopes are post-trained, which requires a significantly higher amount of labor, with the cuttings from pruning shredded to provide
compost for the vines. Fruit is hand harvested, each parcel is vinified separately in cask, and the must is clarified before indigenous
yeast fermentation, both essential at Meulenhof. “Full-throttle fruit and serious stature characterize these ripe Mosel wines,” says
Terry. “Prices have remained moderate for impeccable quality. In general Justen’s wines are more lush and peachy than, say,
Merkelbach; not as stern as, say, Christoffel.”
Alfred Merkelbach (1.9 ha)
Ürzig / Mosel / Germany
Many people remark that visiting with Alfred and Rolf Merkelbach at their home in Ürzig is like travelling into the past; not
much has changed here in 50 years, including the brother’s approach to winemaking. Well into their seventies, Alfred and Rolf still
tend the vines and make the wines with little help: heading into the steep Würzgarten and Treppchen to tie the posts, harvest, and
then even racking off the large fuders they use for fermentation and blending. The vineyard holdings of this tiny, 1.9 hectare estate
are divided between the Ürziger Würzgarten, Erdener Treppchen, and Kinheimer Rosengarten. Wine cultivation is ancient on these
sites, lying just off the Mosel between Ürzig and Erden is the excavation of a Roman press house. When most of the Ürziger Würzgarten
vineyards were replanted during the re-alignment of the vineyards (flurbereinigung), Merkelbach’s vines remained on original
rootstock, with an average vine age of 45 years. The Merkelbachs are firm believers in tradition, and while changes in climate and style
preferences have pushed up must weights and produced profoundly riper wines, the brothers craft wines of a style more typical to an
era long forgotten. Kabinetten are still refreshing, Spätlesen taste like Spätlesen, and oechsle levels rarely exceed the Pradikät range.
The Merkelbachs vinify each parcel separately, each fuder representing a different parcel. Because of their tiny cellar, their
pradikät wines will never be a blend of any more than 2 parcels together, indicated by the fuder numbers on the label’s AP code.
Ürziger Würzgarten
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Joh. Jos. Christoffel (4 ha)
Ürzig / Mosel / Germany
The Christoffel family of Ürzig has been involved in wine production dating back to the 17th century. In 2001 Hans Leo
Christoffel leased the management of his vineyards and winemaking to Robert Eymael of the Mönchhof estate. All of Christoffel’s 4
hectares comprise the Ürziger Würzgarten and Erdener Treppchen, including a very special parcel directly above (and contiguous with)
the 2.2 hectare Erdener Prälat. Cultivation in these sites has been recorded as early as the 7th century, and has for centuries been
prized because of its southern exposure, deep Devonian slate, and steep gradients. The Ürziger Würzgarten, or ‘sprice garden,’ is so
named because its iron rich slate is red, and produces notably spicy wines. With its gradient of 70 degrees the Würzgarten is incredibly
difficult to farm, as is the Erdener Treppchen, immediately adjacent to the Würzgarten. Because of the sheer steepness of these sites,
the majority of Christoffel’s plantings are over 100 years old and on their original rootstock. The star system on Christoffel’s labels
represents specific parcels, which are vinified separately.
Eymael continues the legacy of winemaking that drove the estate to prestige under Hans Leo, in a style that maximizes clarity:
whole cluster pressing, slow and cool fermentation in fuder, racking immediately off the gross lees followed by a short time on fine
lees and early bottling to preserve the freshest of fruit characters indicative to Mosel typicity.
Willi Schaefer (4ha)
Graach / Mosel / Germany
The Schaefer family has a history in winemaking since 1590. Willi Schafer has been recently joined at the winery by his son
Christoph. The estate is comprised solely of Riesling that is grown only on steep slopes. Grapes are gently pressed and fermented only
with natural yeasts in 1000 liter oak barrels. Aging is done in the same barrels. These efforts produce wines acclaimed for great finesse
and balance of fruit and acidity.
A.J. Adam (3.7ha)
Dhron / Mosel / Germany
Just south of Piesport in a small side valley lies the steep, south-facing vineyards of Dhron, named for a tributary of the Mosel
and virtually unknown. The long-time growers in Dhron have aged and the younger generation seems unwilling to farm the extremely
steep, weathered slate slopes here. Not so with Andreas Adam, who in 2000, after completing school in Geisenheim and after a stint
at Heymann-Löwenstein, resurrected his family’s estate and now farms 3.8 hectares in Dhron as well as Piesport. In the Hofberg
vineyard, Dhron’s lone Erste Lage of gray-blue slate and iron oxide, land is a fraction of the cost of lesser sights nearby, where müllerthurgau is planted extensively on fertile ground and growers much prefer to use the highly profitable grosslage name ‘Michelsberg.’
Adam’s plots in the Hofberg are spread along the hillside, with 2 parcels planted in the early 1950’s. These wines might more resemble
Saar wines rather than nearby Piesport, as they are extremely steep, high in altitude, and kept perpetually cool from the air descending
from the Hunsrück Mts along the Dhron river. Andreas also has several parcels in the Goldtröpfchen, including a plot on ancient
terraces called the Layschen, meaning ‘small slate’ for its crumbling, decomposing stones.
Due to his estate’s tiny size, it is virtually impossible to farm organically, though Andreas farms as close to nature as possible.
Vines are trained using the single post system, traditional in the Mosel for training on steep inclines, and compost is used from his
relatives’ farm in the Hunsrück Mountains to fertilize the vineyards.
Andreas hand sorts after harvest, utilizes indigenous yeasts and a combination of different sized stainless steel, fuder, and
halbfuder casks for fermentation. There are no additions of any kind: no cultured yeast, no süssreserve. All wines are bottled under
cork, and though Andreas is not a member of the VDP, he designates his Erste Lagen bottlings of Goldtröpfchen and Hofberg with a
GG on the label and ferments these dry when vintages allow. His collection also includes ‘village’ wines: labeled Dhroner Riesling and
all sourced from the Hofberg, as well as Piesporter which is sourced entirely from his red slate parcel in the Goldtröpfchen; as well,
pradikät designate wines are produced . Andreas says of his philosophy: “I sustain my vineyards by intensive soil work to bring out the
essential nutrients up from the primary rock, the natural compost of a vineyard. This completion of the bond between elemental soil
and the work of the vintner is another piece in the puzzle of terroir… I think in Germany we see terroir as a unity of grape, climate,
soil, and the mentality of the person who works the vineyard. But the essence of that mentality is a knowledge that the geology of
his terrain indeed creates the flavors in the grapes which grow there.”
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Reuscher-Haart (6 ha)
Piesport / Mosel / Germany
The Reuscher-Haart wine estate is still located in the Haart family’s ancestral home in Piesport, where the estate was founded
in 1337. Hugo Schwang took over management of the wine estate from his grandparents, the Reuscher-Haarts, in 1968, and has
worked consistently to base the estate on organic principles. In 1984 he received the first national honorary award for the consistently
high quality of his wines. Since completing his studies at Geisenheim, Mario Schwang took over winemaking from his father Hugo in
2006.
The Schwangs have an impressive collection of parcels in the original, pre-1971 consolidated Piesporter Goldtröpfchen.
Located directly behind their house with direct southern exposure, these parcel holdings include the ancient, steep parcel in the
‘Domherr’ (cathedral) directly in the middle of the Goldtröpfchen. The blue slate of the Goldtröpfchen is extremely soft and weathered,
and because the vineyard is shaped like an amphitheater, the middle section receives ample direct sunlight but is protected on all
sides by cool winds from the Mosel river. The Piesporters from Reuscher- Haart are charming and succulent, with persistent, spicy
minerality. The Piesporter village wine comes from their parcels in the Grafenberg a steep south-east facing strip just west of the
Goldtröpfchen, as well as Günterslay, which lies across the Mosel River from the village.
1987 marks the beginning of sustainable farming for the estate: pesticides and insecticides are avoided, healthy cover crops
prevent erosion and contribute to vine health, and wide row spacing is implemented to ensure optimum sun exposure. Selective hand
harvesting is done to limit yields between 6,000 and 7,000 liters per hectare. The Schwangs ferment exclusively with ambient yeast
in stainless steel, 1000 liter tanks, and finish bottle under vinolock, as they believe this closure best mimics the reductive style of
winemaking they employ.
Weingut Carl Loewen (12ha)
Leiwen / Mosel / Germany
Carl Loewen’s estate dates back to 1803 with the Maximiner Klosterlay site being acquired during the secularization of the
Mosel. Additionally, Carl added to his holdings in the 1980s and 1990s by purchasing the Leiwenter Laurentiuslay and Thörnicher Ritch
sites. All of these sites are erste lagen. Grey slate can be found in the Leiwener Laurentiuslay and Thörnicher Ritsch sites, producing
dense wines offering exotic fruit aromas. Blue Slate is found primarily in the Detzemer Maximiner Klosterlay vineyards giving the
wines mineral notes and aromas reminiscent of citrus fruits. With its diverse mix of soils composed of blue slate, grey slate and some
plots with underlying gravel sub-soil, the Leiwener Klostergarten produces wines the most diverse in aromatics.
Carl Loewen prides himself on locating and resurrecting vineyards that have been long forgotten or overlooked. Carl’s ideal
of Mosel Riesling is: “a wine with playful elegance and beguiling aromas. It is just a joy to drink such wines. But it is also a joy for me
to produce them!” Carl is a traditionalist in all his practices, including use of a pitchfork instead of a pump to transfer the grapes into
the crusher. Loewen’s delicate winemaking techniques, traditional Roman pole training (training each vine to its own pole), limited
organic fertilizing lending to small yet mature berries, gravity flow winemaking, fermentation with wild yeast and extended lees
contact results in aromatic wines of light filigree.
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
Carl Schmitt-Wagner (3.7ha)
Leiwen / Mosel / Germany
In 1804 the Schmitt-Wagner family purchased vineyards in the village of Longuich located in the Trier-Saarburg district in the
Mosel from the Benedictine Convent and previously owned by Napoleon. A member of the Schmitt-Wagner family went to great
lengths to make the purchase, travelling a considerable distance carrying a hotte (normally used to carry grapes) loaded and heavy
with gold coins. Two centuries later, the Schmitt-Wagner family continues to value that purchase, making a miniscule 3,000 cases
from extremely old plantings in the Longuicher Herrenberg, and the smaller Maximiner Herrenberg. They believe that a top quality
vineyard is the foundation for a top quality wine. Currently Schmitt-Wagner’s holdings are 3.7 ha with around 6,000 pre-phylloxera
vines planted in 1896, arguably the oldest vines in the Mosel.
The wines undergo cool, slow fermentations by spontaneous yeasts in large old oak casks with minimal handling and only a
single racking, prior to bottling. The winery is old fashioned in everything that they do and quality is not only a commitment but a duty
at Schmitt-Wagner.Winemaking at the estate is now handled by their neighbor Carl Loewen, but Carl Schmitt remains active at the
estate. They both share the philosophy that purity in winemaking clarifies the spiciness of this terroir: Old-fashioned in the best sense,
the penultimate of elegance. Says Terry Theise: “ From 105-year old ungrafted vines—some SIX THOUSAND OF THEM, makes among
the two or three best Kabinetts along the Mosel.”
von Othegraven (16ha)
Kanzem / Saar / Germany
Located on the Saar in the village of Kanzem, von Othegraven dates to the 2 nd century, and the estates heritage reads like a
history of Western Europe. Its owner Emmerich Grach (who also issued Karl Marx’s birth certificate) offered wine from his vineyard
in St. Maximin to Napoleon in 1805; his ancestors helped found the Grosser Ring of the Mosel and joined the VDP in its beginnings.
The estate received heavy damage at the end of World War II but was restored to its previous glory by 1956. von Othegraven is in
its seventh generation of family-ownership: today’s owner Günther Jauch is a famous TV personality in Germany and was named by
Stern Magazine as the most famous German in the world.
There are three great sites under this estate: Wiltinger Kupp, on highly weathered gray slate with lots of crumbled earth,
making compact brilliant wines with typical notes of heirloom apples. Ockfener Bockstein is composed of blue-ish silvery slate, a tue
Saar archetype. Finally, the Kanzemer Altenberg, of which Von Othegraven owns 7.5 hectares, rests on pure Devonian slate with
rusty flecks from weathered iron oxide, making the most primordially concentrated wines, almost meaty, with such depth as to be
almost inscrutable when young. The wines are all fermented spontaneously (sponti), and have been produced in tank with very long
aging on the fine lees since the 2005 vintage, and are only racked once during fermentation, and not again. Musts clarify simply by
settling.
von Othegraven has recently gained a lot of notoriety by winning the “Greatest Wine of the Year” (2008 Von Othegraven
Kanzemer Altenberg Riesling Kabinett Erste Lage) by Fine Wines International who said it was “The most incredible expression of
German Riesling we have tasted in over 30 years.”
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections
VOLS (6ha)
Ayl / Saar / Germany
After years of successfully managing the Bischoflichen Weinguter in Trier, Helmut Plunien returned to his hometown of
Wiltingen to work with the vineyards that have belonged to his family for generations. In 2009, he jumped at the opportunity to buy
a neighboring estate, the Altenhofen of Ayl, bringing his holdings to 6 hectares in the Saar’s most elite sites: Ayler Kupp, Wiltinger
Kupp, Schonfels, and Vols, a tiny parcel in the Wiltinger Braunfels adjacent to the Scharzhofberg and from which the Estate takes its
name. His holdings comprise some of the most impressive in Ayl and Wiltingen and include a large number of ungrafted vines on steep,
south facing slopes composed of a diversity of slate soils. The Wiltinger Kupp holdings, planted in the 1960’s, are sandwiched between
those of von Othegraven and Von Volxem; the Shlangengraben, planted with ungrafted vines of 90 years, produces often one of the
most concentrated wines in the Saar.
Helmut Plunien is not a fan of farming for overt ripeness, rather he aims to make his wines “to be like Saar wines should be:
racy, juicy and utterly drinkable.” He often prunes late in the spring and does not defoliate in the summer, forcing the vines to fight
for their energy. His yields are often much lower than average: as low as 20 hectoliters per hectare for his oldest vines. Though difficult
on steep slopes Plunien practices organic viticulture, though not certified.
Plunien describes his winemaking as a “concentrated doing nothing.” He employs a mixture of stainless steel and fuder,
ranging from 2500L to 5000L, for ambient yeast fermentations, which rarely finish trocken because of his extremely cold cellar. He
does not fine or filter. Fruit for the estate wines are often harvested at low Oechsle (85-88 degrees) allowing Plunien to craft lovely,
refreshing wines that are best described as “off dry.” VOLS’ philosophy of winemaking is simple: the world’s best wines can be
produced only from the best fruit from the best vineyard sites with utter dedication. These wines are old-school, not-sweet/not-dry
Rieslings, with structure and terroir.
A view atop Ayler Kupp
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Michael Skurnik Wines and Terry Theise Estate Selections

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