Bernhard Breuer, co-proprietor and winemaker of Weingut Georg Breuer in Germany's Rheingau region, died Wednesday. He was 57. The official cause of death has not been determined.
Breuer was one of Germany's most respected growers. The estate dates from 1880, when it was founded by the wine-shipping company Scholl and Hillebrand. In the early 1900s, Peter Breuer took over the company; his son, Georg, later expanded the business and became the sole owner. When he died in 1978, the business passed on to his sons Bernhard and Heinrich. Under Bernhard's guidance, it grew from 20 acres to its current 60 acres, including parcels in the top-quality steep sites of Berg Schlossberg and Berg Rottland in Rüdesheim and Nonnenberg in Rauenthal.
Committed to quality, Breuer was a tireless promoter of his wines and a defender of Germany's traditional heritage. He was instrumental in trying to restore Germany's reputation for making dry and semi-dry Rieslings, said his brother, Heinrich; that was the popular style 100 years ago, when Rheingau wines fetched higher prices than Bordeaux. Bernhard was one of the founding members in 1984 of CHARTA, an association of Rheingau estates committed to promoting top-quality dry Riesling. CHARTA eventually merged with the larger, more established VDP-Rheingau association in 1999.
Breuer also sought to simplify German labels for the consumer, using only the names of the best sites, and introduced the notion of terroir as a basis for quality in the country. The last idea resulted in the classification of the best vineyards in the Rheingau. "Bernhard was the right man to bring these ideas together," Heinrich said. "He moved ahead of the existing rules and regulations."
Over the past decade, Breuer expanded his horizons, becoming involved in projects first in South Africa and then Portugal. In 1996, he and colleague Bernd Philippi, winemaker for Koehler-Ruprecht in the Pfalz, began consulting for Mont du Toit, a red-wine producer in South Africa. Since 1997, he had also consulted for the von Othegraven estate in Germany's Saar region.
In 2000, Breuer, Philippi and a third German partner, Werner Näkel of Weingut Meyer-Näkel, purchased 20 acres of vineyards in Portugal's Douro region. Campo Ardosa, the flagship wine released under the Quinta da Carvalhosa label, received outstanding ratings from Wine Spectator in both the debut 2000 and 2001 vintages.
The Breuer family, with the assistance of longtime cellarmaster Hermann Schmoranz, will continue to manage the estate, said Heinrich, who runs a hotel in Rüdesheim that the brothers owned along with the winery. "We'll continue to pursue the quality and innovations implemented by Bernhard," he said. "My son has decided to become a winegrower, so we expect it will go on, not for the next few years, but for the next generation."
Breuer is survived by his wife, Marlena; two daughters, Marcia and Theresa; his brother, Heinrich; and his mother, Rita -- all of Rüdesheim.