As we drive, I make some small talk and say, “wow, there’s snow on the ground, is this normal?" Derek replies, “We haven’t seen snow here in years.” I reply, “so I guess the eiswein will be great this year.” “Oh, no,” Derek quips, “It’s too cold to make eiswein.” Hmm, I think to myself. Eiswein = Ice wine and it’s too cold. “So Derek, what do you mean too cold and first snow in years?” Derek explains this is the coldest weather Germany has seen in almost 30 years. At this temperature the grapes are like rocks and can’t be squeezed. It actually has to be warmer to make eiswein. I am quickly surveying my suitcase clothing in my head. Jacket, hat, gloves, socks, long underwear.... I hope I will be covered...literally!
Our first stop is in Oppenheim with the young, dynamic rock-star winemaker, Frank Heyden of Dr. Heyden vineyards. These wines are a favorite of ours and Frank has recently taken over the winemaking from his father to completely re-invent the estate. His passion, enthusiasm and energy are boundless and we truly appreciate all that he is doing to make changes. Not too long ago the Rheinhessen region was a dying wine region. The old wine producers were stuck in their ways and the wines were decent, but not stand-outs. Then along comes the new guard, people like Frank, and suddenly the Rheinhessen is the talk of Germany. Frank has traveled the world to see how other regions make wine. He brings back ideas, concepts and new techniques to improve the family wines and takes the wines in new directions. Very exciting stuff, and he always has that sort of devilish grin when I ask questions like, “you aren’t planning on making a sekt (German “champagne”) too are you Frank?” And he disappears into the winery only to come skipping back with a bottle of Brut Prestige Riesling Sekt which is dry, fizzy and simply fantastic to drink. And I was only joking. And Frank is younger than me. I hate when that happens.
Frank takes me through no less than 13 wines before lunch. I taste current vintages, and tank samples of 2008 not yet in the bottle. His Dornfelder (red wine) is a blockbuster! I have never had such powerful, intense and beautiful Dornfelder, or German red wine for that matter. This stuff is deep reddish, purple in the glass and I immediately think of zinfandel sans high alcohol or oak. Spicy, peppery, juicy and totally dry, Frank has that grin and explains for years Dornfelder was the bulk, grocery red, junk wine produced by many large wineries. It’s the sort of “white zin” of Germany (my words, not his). But Frank sees potential after visiting Burgundy and Romanée-Conti, and how they train the vines on single canes. So Frank being Frank comes back to Germany to take a vine that normally produces 200+ hl/ha of juice and crops it down to 85 hl/ha or less. [A vineyard will boast about taking less fruit, but higher quality fruit from their vines. The amount of fruit the vines are producing is measured in how many hectoliters of juice per every hectare (2.47 acres) is pressed. The lower the volume of juice, the lower the yield and theoretically the higher the quality] And that’s just one example of his innovation.
Frank is also a serious red wine maker and makes outstanding Pinot Noir; the new 2006 Pinot is marvelous. The price is holding thanks to the Euro weakening so we hope to have some 2006 in Wine Authorities soon. We have sold two shipments of his 2005 in our first year of business. The 2008 rosé is this tank sample state is very pale and almost whitish-pink. Frank says that Blanc de Noir (white wine from a red grape) is fashionable in Germany right now, and what do I think about keeping the wine light? I love the flavor and aromas, but explain that we have a tough enough time teaching that not all pink wine is sweet and we stock the dry pink ones. Now you want me to sell a white Pinot Noir blend to people? And in about 2 minutes we all agree to make the wine pink like last year. Frank will be bottling the 2008 rosé for us in two weeks. Expect to see it late spring at Wine Authorities. And the morning carries on to whites until we have to break for lunch.
Frank’s mom is very kind to us and has prepared a deliciously sweet/savory/spicy carrot and hot pepper soup, perfect with Riesling. We move on to locally farm raised and smoked trout which Frank ordered and they smoked for us the day before, along with a variety of German sausages/cold cuts. We sit in the family dining room with a giant bay window looking lieterally out his backyard at the famous Sacktrager and Kreuz vineyards. Frank likes to mountain bike through them. I have to pinch myself as I am eating lunch with Bono, er I mean Frank, and his mom and Derek while looking at Red Rocks Stadium, err I mean, at his backyard. And this is why I suffer through these things...
It’s around 1:30 PM and we have to head to Ockfen to visit Karen Fischer at Dr. Fischer’s Estate. The jet lag is setting in and my head is bobbing like a bobble-Seth doll. To be continued... - Salamanzar