Ulli Stein and his forbidden wine

stein_pailleUlli Stein has made a forbidden wine for decades. The Mosel winemaker still makes the wine, but it’s now allowed by law. In fact, he’s the only person in Germany with the right to make it.

The wine in question is a so-called vin de paille, or straw wine, made in miniature quantities. This sweet wine has its origins in the Jura, the Alpine region of France, and gets its name from the straw mats that the grapes are dried upon for months after harvest and before a long fermentation (Stein said his takes 12 months). Germany has many sweet wines, of course, but the sweetest wine of all, the Trockenbeerenauslese, gets its sweetness from the distinctive botrytis rot.

ulli_steinThe lanky, hirsute Stein told me yesterday that covertly made his vin de paille for decades and labeled it as a Trockenbeerenauslese, as you can see in the picture. But he wanted to make it legally and brought the issue to a German judge, who turned down his request based on the 1971 German wine law, which claimed that grapes in the vin de paille were not fresh enough. Stein appealed. The next court turned him down. Eventually he appealed to the European courts and won the right to make vin de paille from the 2007 vintage. He added the court granted him the exclusive right in Germany to make vin de paille.

The 2003 that I tasted is a lovely, rich dessert wine. If I were a judge, I wouldn’t ban it.

As to the other Rieslings in his portfolio, they are all very good and interesting. But the standout for me was the Stein Bremmer Calmont Riesling Spatlese Trocken 2007. The delicate, slight sweetness (7.5 grams of residual sugar–all natural) embraces a vital core of acidity and minerality. Very nice.

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5 Responses to “Ulli Stein and his forbidden wine”

  1. It is crazy to think that such an amazing wine would be banned because the grapes aren’t considered “fresh enough”. Very interesting.

  2. Question is, if they’re infected with botrytis how could they possibly be considered “fresh” anyway? They’re rotting for christ’s sake! Isn’t that the point?

  3. Great post Tyler. Ulli Stein is seriously one of the most intriguing, passionate and thoughtful people in the Mosel – which is saying something b/c there are a lot of damn wise people in that valley. Aside from his “straw wine,” Ulli has also fought to re-cultivate Pinot Noir in the Mosel. This may be a curious thought for most of us, but the grape actually has a long history there. Ulli has also done tremendous amounts to cultivate many of the forgotten sites in the Mosel. The Bremmer Calmont, which you mention Tyler, is but one of the more extreme examples. This is one of the steepest vineyards in Europe – quite literally a wall of vines and because it has never had a commanding owner, the wines have never (till Ulli) shown the potential of the site. It’s a vicious circle, as the reputation of the wines stagnate, the price of the fruit drops, so too does the economic viability of the site and growers slowly abandon their parcels. This is how vineyards die. Ulli has truly breathed life back into this vineyard – in fact, I believe Ulli pays his growers *more* than the going rate for their fruit, just to encourage them to return to the vineyard, and to work it more sustainably.

    If your curious, the website of the importer is very well written and worth a visit: http://www.moselwinemerchant.com I’d add, just for the record, that while I consider Ulli a friend and proudly sell his wines at Crush, I don’t have any serious financial stake in this. I just think Ulli’s a great guy with wines that deserve more attention.

  4. I’m impressed by his relentless spirit. He didn’t take no for an answer and kept pushing for what he believed was right. Although, I’m surprised at the turn it took from him being unable to take the name, to him having exclusive ownership for it. Quite the twist.

  5. Hi all of you !! You are absolutely right !! Actually before this wine law of 1971 it was allowed to produce a “Strohwein” – so the german word for it ! And, believe it or not – in Austria it is still allowed – up to date … The 1971 german wine law is today seen by the majority of producers and critics as a law which is no longer contemporary! But, as allways, the germans cannot come to grips on how to change it.. The discussion has been going on since the first days of this law … The main complaint is that it focuses on the density of the must and not on the quality of the heritage ( as in the most other european wine laws ) … but now – with the climate change on one side and the force from the european parliament on the other side it looks like – before too long – we will receive a new law, …finally !! Mr Stein might however then loose his right to be the only one to produce Strohwein in Germany !!


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