The Wisdom According to Wilhelm Weil
Posted: Sep 17, 2008 3:01pm ET
Wilhelm Weil had a plan.
It’s taken 20 years, but with the 2008 vintage, the manager of the Robert Weil estate in Germany’s Rheingau region will have repositioned and completed an overhaul of the estate’s range of wines.
Weil, the great grandson of founder Dr. Robert Weil, undertook these changes to simplify the lineup for the consumer and to showcase the quality of the hillside vineyards surrounding the village of Kiedrich.
It’s confusing enough for consumers to deal with a vineyard classification that has led to the terms “Erstes Gewächs,” Grosses Gewachs” and “Erste Lage,” but by the late 1980s, Weil was also fed up with the overuse of vineyard names on German wine labels. So with the 1989 vintage, he labeled all the estate’s bottlings without any vineyard designation, except the rare beerenauslese (BA) and trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) from the Kiedrich Gräfenberg site.
With subsequent vintages, he focused on the top site, the Kiedrich Gräfenberg, promoting only this vineyard on the winery’s distinctive baby blue labels. Gräfenberg was acknowledged as a first growth site in the Rheingau’s 1999 classification.
Weil then petitioned the state government of Hesse to reinstate a part of the Kiedrich Wasseros vineyard under the name Turmberg. It was lost in the reorganization of Germany’s vineyards leading up to and after the 1971 Wine Law. The use of the name Turmberg was granted from the 2005 vintage.
The Kiedrich vineyards are in a side valley of the Rhine, close to the Taunus Mountains, therefore cooler than most parts of the region. With the climate warming over the past 20 years, Weil began to set his sights on another local vineyard, the Klosterberg.
“In my father’s time, these vines ripened fully maybe once in 10 years,” he explained. “Now, with the global warming, we are able to harvest these cooler sites every year.”
|The Kiedrich Gräfenberg vineyard in Germany's Rheingau region.
Thus, Weil now has three hillside sites that the estate will promote on the labels. Only the Gräfenberg will carry the Erstes Gewächs designation. The others will simply show Riesling, the name of the vineyard and either the
trocken, kabinette, spätlesen or auslesen designation to indicate the style. Everything else will be an “Estate” bottling.
So how are the 2007 dry wines?
The Riesling QbA Trocken Rheingau ($29) is precise and pure offering peach and slate flavors with orange and grapefruit accents chiming in on the finish.
The Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken Kiedrich Klosterberg, not yet available in the United States, shows greater richness and body but more austerity in its flavor profile. Reticent peach and nectarine flavors are punctuated by bright acidity, and it ends on a savory note. The Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken Kiedrich Turmberg offers more ripeness than the Klosterberg, featuring peach flavor backed by a vivid structure, harmonious texture and finesse. It will be available in the U.S. beginning with the 2008 vintage.
The “big daddy,” if you could call it that, because elegance is the hallmark of all these dry Rieslings, is the Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken Kiedrich Gräfenberg Erstes Gewächs ($90). It presents a different expression of mineral, full of smoke and slate aromas and flavors, with orange and apricot elements in the background. It’s even more elegant and refined than the Turmberg, displaying gracefulness, sophistication and excellent length.
The Klosterberg is fermented and aged completely in stainless steel. The Turmberg is fermented and aged half in stainless steel and half in 1,200-liter, traditional stuck
casks, while the Gräfenberg sees 80 percent wood and only 20 percent stainless steel.
Weil seeks a long hang time for the pure, delicate Riesling flavors to develop. It is crucial that the grapes do not ripen too early and that the sugar levels are never too high. If the grapes are too ripe, the alcohol increases, and the desired elegance and delicate flavors typical of these Rieslings is either diminished or completely lost.
In 2007, everything came together. The flowering and vine growth was early, then slowed during the summer as cool and wet weather set in. Fine, sunny days and cool nights in September and early October kept the natural acidities high, while preventing the sugars from increasing too much. “Personally, there are only five vintages that 2007 reminds me of. That would be 1975, 1971, 1953, 1937 and 1934,” said Weil.
“The century vintages for my father—1911, 1921, 1959 and 1976—where you could make everything from kabinett to TBA, happened maybe five or six times in a century,” he stated. “In my business life, I have made 19 TBAs. To talk about a century vintage today is nonsense.”