Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Germany Wrap Up

Final Thoughts on Germany: At work I keep an audio clip on the computer from Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein. Okay, it’s on all my computers. It’s the one where Gene Wilder and Teri Garr discuss the giant size of Frankenstein and she says, “he would have an enormous schwanstucker.” I have Googled this word, schwanstucker, several times to see if it’s real.  So, while in Germany, I randomly polled local people asking them if they knew the word schwanstucker. Hmmph. Not a single person knew this word. Such are the things that keep me up at night.

Attached is a slide show of nearly 200 photos from the trip.  Just in case you had absolutely nothing to do with your day today.

Leaving Germany, I am in awe.  Boy are those vineyards steep.   The German market clearly enjoys very dry white wines, yet they are convinced that our domestic US market is not ready for these. Even at my insistence, they explain that every time they bring their road show to the US, they include a few dry examples and no one buys. I can’t blame the winemakers, they are trying. German wines have come so far and yet they are still stuck in our retail. We struggle with this daily at work. I recommend a German Riesling to go with a dish, and the customer has a frown followed by, “but I don’t like sweet wines.” Sometimes even at my near begging to trust me, the wine is dry; the customer refuses to try that bottle. Germany is clearly plagued by the self-fulfilling prophecy. A restaurant assumes the Riesling drinker wants a sweet wine, so they put a sweet wine on the list by the glass. A customer hears that Riesling can be dry, so they order the Riesling and wham, sure enough it’s sweet. Rarely do the dry ones make it to the limelight. We are devoted to Riesling at Wine Authorities and almost always feature dry versions.  I often say that if I were on a desert island, a dry riesling would be a good candidate for my only wine.

The “international dry” level means mostly dry. Most of us would taste these wines and say they are pretty much dry vs. sweet. More and more German labels are carrying the term Feinherb for such wines. It’s not quite trocken (dry), but not halb-trocken (off-dry). Derek likes to use the Feinherb translation as “fine dry finish.” You’ll be seeing several Feinherb Rieslings arriving this spring to Wine Authorities.

German red wines are about to explode on the market. Or are they? The quality I was tasting from the red grapes Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Dornfelder, and St. Laurent was outstanding. Whether it’s global warming or better winemaking, the reds are coming on strong. But is the market ready? Again, the consumer assumes Germany makes only white wines. We have had good luck with selling Dr. Heyden’s Pinot Noir and will continue to bring great wines to our customers even if they are less well known from a region or country. 

Frank Heyden told me that the entire EU is banning the use of copper sulfate in vineyards farming organically.  The catalyst was due to some regions, particularly Bordeaux, having used excessive amounts to combat fungal disease and loaded their soils with copper. However, most organic farmers use the bare minimum necessary and are rarely worry about high levels. So, any farmer certified organic within the last two years is not allowed to purchase copper sulfate. Certified farmers for more than two years, have an opportunity to purchase as much as they want before the ban takes place and use up their copper sulfate for as long as it takes and still maintain their status. So, farmers are buying years worth of the stuff in giant drums. Currently there is no alternative option as a fungicide. Frank said some studies using milk spraying were attempted and the farmers lost all their grapes to fungus.

I heard several producers mention a movement away from the glass top, Vinolock. These can get knocked in transit and the seal breaks. Stelvin is still in favor, but many makers are concerned about the age ability of a wine in screw top. The research is still coming. This Diam cork (real cork and plastic combined) may be a solution for those who insist on a cork closure. The absolute best closure is the crown cap, i.e. beer cap, but can you imagine the outrage to that on a $30 bottle of wine?

I want to thank Derek Vinnicombe for being my host and driving me all over Germany to visit his estates and for his patience with my many hundreds of questions. I also want to thank the winemakers I met, often in their private homes sitting at their dinner table, who showed me great hospitality, generosity and wonderful wines. I am very committed to sharing the quality and value German wines have to offer our customers in Durham.

Next stop, Österreich (Austria), specifically Wien (Vienna). Thanks for continuing to read. 


Paul said...

Thanks for the fantastic tour of German wines! I can't wait to read about Austria. The slideshow is beautiful, but -- what's the place with all the skulls?

I'm trying to imagine your schwanstuker conversations:

"Bitte, was bedeuten schwanstuker?"

If it doesn't mean anything, you get a funny look. But if it does mean what Teri Garr implies, you get a really funny look....


Salamanzar and Grand Poobah Wine Swami said...

The skulls are at a monastery in Ockfen. When they resurrected the chambers, they found a mass grave from the days of the plague. All the skulls and bones have been put into one cave as a memorial.

Mr Riesling said...

True, Europe was no fun-place to live hundreds of years ago, but the over-full cemetary was in Oppenheim (St Katharinen Cathedral). 20,000 "resting" beneath the chapel. I don't think that many people have lived since Roman times in Ockfen.... around 850 inhabitants today including Karin Fischer.
PS: great report, Seth!

LMGotts said...

Just an FYI: have read and enjoyed every word from the trip. Good stuff, thanks!

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