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).