Confronting climate change in Germany – four views

Thomas Haag of Schloss-Lieser, Andreas Adam of A.J. Adam, and Dorothee Zilliken of Zilliken.

Confronting a warming climate was one of the main topics at a panel discussion at the recent Rieslingfeier. Historically, Germany has been at the northern limits of wine production where the grapes struggled for ripeness. Now, warmer vintages are becoming more frequent as 2003, 2006, 2007, and the current releases from 20011 show.

David Schildknecht, perhaps the leading German wine critic in America, led the panel of four producers at Bar Boulud that included Florian Lauer, Dorothee Ziliken (Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken), Andreas Adam (A.J. Adam), and Thomas Haag (Schloss Lieser). Mosel Riesling has historically had a reputation as a light, juicy, drinkable yet filigreed wine. The challenge with global warming is that rather than struggle for ripeness and sugar, the grapes can effortlessly tack on sugar, which can lead to higher alcohol wines, richer wines or elevated residual sugar in the wines–in the worst case, wines that might lose the élan of the cooler times. The producers spoke of different tools in the toolkit of vineyard management and winemaking that they use to adjust to global warming.

Thomas Haag observed that the dry style is very popular in Germany as he poured a crackling dry Riesling, his Schloss Lieber Kabinett Trocken 2011 that he had brought over in his suitcase. He said that making wine today is “completely different” than when his father made the wines in the 60s and 70s yet he has a positive view of climate change. He said the keys to producing delicate wines are to reduce yields and to pick physiologically ripe grapes—not just picking two weeks earlier–which means more careful selection in the vineyard at harvest.

Dorothée Ziliken makes an age-worthy, structured and impressive Grosses Gewachs (dry) from Saarburger Rausch. She said that a strategy they employ to combat climate change is to stagger the harvest, picking only a cross selection of the vineyard. The key for her is picking at the right time and avoiding botrytis.

Florian Lauer of Peter Lauer, who studied viticulture at Montpellier (not Geisenheim), said vine age and different kinds of trellising can help. His 70-year-old older vines in the Ayler Kupp have about 8% lower potential alcohol than the 40-year-old vines. Trellising makes a difference as single pole trellis can also reduce potential alcohol in some sites. Altitude can also matter as lower vineyards can be more humid with higher vineyards cooler so he also harvests different bands of the vineyard at different times.

He told me afterward, “The effect of the vintage is so enormously huge, our tools are only 30% effective.”

Andreas Adam has made wine since the 2000 vintage on the Dhron, a side valley of the Mosel. He said that in the warm 2011, he harvested the Kabinett wines first and pressed whole berries directly and gave the juice a bit of contact with the skins. The resulting wine in his Dhron Hofberg Feinherb has an enticing juiciness and good balance—all the more so after he revealed to a stunned room that the technical analysis had 30g residual sugar. Schildknecht applauded this style of wine, lamenting the fact that fewer producers are making wines in the 10 – 50g RS range, a style that he loves, particularly with food.

Thomas Haag of Schloss Lieser further commented that stainless steel provides better opportunities to capture the freshness, as well as more flexibility in sizing, which is useful for his basic wines that exceed the capacity of old oak foudres and would thus require blending later. Schildknecht noted that harvest selectivity, know-how, and perpetually ripe vintages that reduced “unruly acids” had greatly diminished the need for elevage in neutral oak barrel.

Thomas Haag had the last word on German winemaking today: “It’s complex, it’s complicated, but it’s never boring.”

(L to R clockwise) Florian Lauer, Katharina Prüm, and Stephen Bitterolf, the Rieslingfeier maestro (the last two did not participate on the panel).

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11 Responses to “Confronting climate change in Germany – four views”

  1. Hi, looks like if Germany had finally won the Second World War and the US are just a couple of provinces … Well, I am glad this has not happened and the much respected David Schildknecht whom you describe as “perhaps the leading German wine critic” to my knowledge remains an American wine writer until further notice. Btw, he might be known to some producers but I doubt if he is really known to a larger public.

  2. Nice pick up Eckhard “perhaps the leading German wine critic”.

    There must be money to be made giving writing lessons to bloggers 😉

  3. Hi guys, Yes, David Schilknecht is an American residing in Ohio. He also happens to be perhaps the leading critic of German wine in this country. (Please note that the adjective German here is modifying the noun wine, not critic.)

  4. Great post! I like the discussion and the varying approaches to global warming. One thing that struck me was the quote:
    “…the keys to producing delicate wines are to reduce yields and to pick physiologically ripe grapes—not just picking two weeks earlier…”
    which is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they argue we should be doing to produce more delicate wines here in Friuli: Increase yields and pick earlier!

  5. Wayne,

    It’s like wine and health claims: “experts” have THE answer. Never mind that their answers differ, sometimes based on the same evidence.

    When it’s up to the rest of us to decide which “expert” has the correct answer, trial and error seems the best–and potentially costly–path.

  6. […] that goes down easy” Reviews, recommendations, news, facts and thoughtful posts such as the effects of climate change on wine are just some of what you’ll find on this great […]

  7. Great post. Thank you Tyler. It’s so refreshing to read substantive pieces rather than just words stringing together scores for chest-thumping collectors. I recently had to pick up a copy of you know which life-style publication for business purposes and could not make it through two paragraphs. Ok, enough of the rant. Keep up the great work! It is oxygen.

  8. A bit tangential I know, but in my experience Schloss Lieser is the bomb. They’re making some of the best Riesling worldwide right now, so if they’re talking about climates change then I’m apt to consider seriously anything they’ve got to say on the matter…

  9. Wayne – I’m so glad you found this helpful! Interesting that the advice in Germany differs from what you’ve been discussing in Friuli.

    Wired – Thanks for the ping – and the praise!

    Philippe – Too funny. The internets, keepin’ it real! Thanks!

    Joe Dude – All four of these producers’ wines are excellent. Do try them all, if you haven’t.

  10. […] If you don’t believe in climate change, you may want to go do something else rather than read this post. But if you do, then you should first read this blog by Dr. Vino: Confronting climate change in Germany – four views, […]

  11. Climate change is not so much disputed as the changes in enology has changed (per this article). Perhaps a closer look into winemaking practices should include the addition of sugar water for those wines being exported to the US and other countries. Techniques of winemaking should be examined in light of climate change. This is not to say, German winemaking laws should be changed (they won’t)… but to manipulate enological practices for the pure purpose of making profit is incorrigible. Belief in vintage is fine. So if your wine has too much acid, add sugar and sell it to the Americans? So much for integrity of wine… RS is a given in some circumstances… but we are not talking RS here, we are talking about still making wine palatable in poor vintages because we must make a profit. Unfortunately, those winemakers who choose not to make wine in poor vintages are scoffed at and those who choose to manipulate their wine, are praised. “Unruly acids” are mentioned in this article. Acids are not so much unruly, unless you are exporting these wines to other countries that you believe, based on marketing data, like sweeter wines, then of course they are “unruly acids”. A sad day in the wine industry and all in the name of the almighty Euro (or dollar). Climate change is happening and the German winemakers believe they can manipulate the effects of this phenomenon. Shame on you.


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