The bright 2011 wine vintage in Germany celebrates the crystalline beauty and contrasting styles of Riesling. This vintage is brought about by an early harvest and relatively low acidities, which across Austria and Germany has contributed to well-balanced, sunny whites that in many cases can be enjoyed relatively young.
Notably we’re introducing some excellent new producers. From Germany this year we feature four Mosel estates, Selbach-Oster, Merkelbach, JJ Prüm and a new face from Bernkastel, Willi Schaefer. Van Volxem represents the Saar, new girl Eva Fricke offers us a tiny glimpse of what fine Rheingau Riesling should really taste like, while yet again the Nahe’s Dönnhoff family maintain an incredibly high standard; as you would expect from arguably the country’s finest producer of Riesling. Germany’s new ‘wunderkind’, Pinot Noir, is recommended this year, as grown in Baden and Franconia by Herrs Becher, Heger, and Fürst.
The growing season got off to a precocious start with an April that was one of the hottest and driest on record. One of the disadvantages of the vegetative cycle being brought on so quickly by warm, dry weather is the increased potential for early flowering, which can be punished by the advent of Spring frosts. At Schaefer the vines did bud incredibly early and they were fortunate to be spared any frost (in many regions across Germany the first week of May saw the night time temperatures drop below zero and losses were very severe in some areas). However, with the Mosel spared, by the end of May in the vineyards of Domprobst and Himmelreich the vines were blossoming and the clusters starting to develop beautifully. Christoph Schaefer noted that this was the earliest flowering that they had ever had and that the vegetation was at least two weeks ahead of itself by the time they reached June.
At this point a continuation of the predominantly dry weather of April and May would not have been viewed as a blessing. Fortunately, Mother Nature continued to be benevolent and June saw the arrival of rain and some respite from the heat of the previous two months. July and August were a mixed bag, but the Schaefers reported that the grapes we developing nicely and the crop was likely to be good.
The problem with Nature is that it has its own agenda and on 26th August any seeds of optimism that were starting to grow were banished as hail struck the Mosel. Everyone knows the damage that hail can cause, but this storm with hailstones bigger than golf balls and, in some cases, as big as tennis balls was something more akin to the weather fronts seen in the Southern States of America. It wreaked havoc up and down the Mosel and in the space of fifteen short minutes it had succeeded in damaging buildings and cars, smashing windows and frontages and ripping holes in roofs. When we visited in April the damage was still clearly visible on many properties. Understandably, the Schaefers feared the worst and were initially relieved to find only around 15% of their crop on the ground. Rain followed then cool, dry weather helped to dry out the damaged grapes, while the healthy fruit remained intact and unaffected. In essence, the incident provided them with a natural green harvest.
The rest of the growing season continued without any further drama, with the harvest starting on 1st October, after a warm spell at the end of September. The drop in temperature at the beginning of October, coupled with clear, sunny days and cool nights resulted in a steady and unrushed harvest, allowing parcels to be picked at the optimum time. This period also benefited fruit that required a longer hang time to reach physiological ripeness.
The nature of the vintage has resulted in Christoph making fewer Estate level wines, with slightly better volumes of Kabinett and Spätlese – he puts this down to the good start to the vintage in April and the absence of rain in October. Although they did harvest fine quality shrivelled and botrytised fruit that has produced a fairly decent quantity of Auslese, this was not a vintage with much botrytis; the lack of rain later in the growing season prevented the spread of noble rot. Overall, Christoph comments that the acidities are lower than usual, but are still evident in the wine working alongside the innate minerality and ripe fruit. He feels that the overall character is elegant, promising complexity as they develop in bottle. Katherine Dart, MW - FMV Buyer