The first of our two days in Germany took us from Colmar to Neueweier, just south of Baden Baden. During the 90 minute coach trip we were very much on the flat lands either side of the Rhine, which we crossed south of Strasbourg, but suddenly we were among woods and hills and had arrived at Schloss Neuweier.
Our host was Robert Schätzle, whose family bought the Schloss 11 years ago. Robert had an early career in biotechnology, but followed his passion and retrained in viticulture and winemaking, becoming a consultant across the world, including in Burgundy. He was wonderfully passionate about innovation and precision in his wine growing and making. His family own vineyards in the Kaiserstuhl, but he was intrigued by the soils of Ortenau, and asked his friend (famed agricultural engineer) Claude Bourgignon, to map the site, and liked what he heard.
The Schloss is part of the VDP (Verband Deutscher Pradikätsweingüter) organisation of 200 wine growers who have led a movement in Germany to classify wines by terroir rather than grape ripeness (too big a subject to discuss here).
The Mauerberg vineyard has two Grosse Lage sites (the top classification), Mauerwine (literally wine wall) and Goldenes Loch.
We walked round the back of the Schloss and stood under a tree, though luckily it did not rain, and Robert explained more as we savoured a glass of Blanc de Noir Method Traditional.
The vineyards are 250 years old, though winemaking has happened in the region since Roman times. Mauerwein is so steep it is terraced, and Robert has set up a school to ensure the skills to maintain these nearly dry-stone walls (of which he has 2.5km!). Their nooks and crannies provide a bug hotel, or rather bug/reptile mega city! The vineyards are not organically certified, but are low input, and Robert described how he is now using drones to apply certain inputs in order to reduce risk of injury to people working the steep slopes.
Goldeness Loch to the left of Mauerwein in the photo at the top of the blog has a gentler slope and catches the evening sunlight. Both are mainly planted with Riesling, and we returned to the house next to the Schloss for the tasting.
Robert continued to share his knowledge and philosophy, including his use of screw caps on all his wines except those that he specifically wants to evolve in the bottle, as we tasted six wines that beautifully showed what the Schloss is about.
We started with two dry VDP Gutsweins (estate wine), a rosé, made from Pinot Noir and a Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris). Both had beautiful fresh fruit and rich textures but felt very aromatic. Robert was at pains to describe his approach to acidity, which is to keep it gentle, and this was clear in the two wines.
The four rieslings took us from a VDP Ortswein (village wine) through the VDP Erste Lage Neuweier Schlossberg, the VDP Grosses Gewächs Mauerwein and finally the Neuweier Mauerberg Auslese from 2015. Increasing intensity of flavour, but each wine had beautifully defined fruit, and the same soft acidity that made them a pleasure to drink.
More pleasure was to follow as we transferred to the restaurant in the Schloss for a magnificent lunch, created by Jan Hoffman, the executive chef who Robert lured from his Michelin starred restaurant in Munich. Our five courses comprised cured trout with a potato foam, a beautiful arrangement of black garlic, carrot, redcurrant, celery and lovage caviar over which was poured a vegetable bouillon, a risotto of white garlic and tomato covered with a cheese crisp, a sous vide chicken with asparagus, kohl rabi, morels and blackberries and finally a sous vide rhubarb with three types of dill and ice cream crumble. With which we drank an Alte Reben (old vine) Riesling, a Pinot Noir grown that Robert was at pains to stress was in no way ‘Burgundian’ – grown on granite soils it had beautiful minerality, and finally a Riesling Auslese from the Schlossberg Erste Lage. The meal was stunning and we cheered the chef and his lovely staff enthusiastically.
Robert was itching to change his clothes and get back into the vineyard so he bade us farewell, but encouraged us to return – there are cottages at the Schloss which is only a 40 minute drive from Baden Baden airport. I think it’s very likely that some of us will!