December 8th, 2016/ BY Tim Pawsey

A new breed of winemaker is taking over Germany

Cast your mind back, maybe a decade or so, and you’ll probably agree: for all its Riesling and other delights, Germany used to seem just a tad staid, or even frustratingly complicated, often tightly bound by tradition.

Fast-forward to the present and you might be surprised. Because — even if the monopolies have not yet quite latched on — there’s now a whole new era unfolding in German wine. And it’s being very much driven by a group of dynamic young players, determined to quickly make their mark on what has been for many years a somewhat predictable scene.

Even more interesting is that, for the first time ever, many of these movers and shakers are women, eager to put to good use newly gained knowledge from the likes of Geisenheim University and travels elsewhere.

There’s much more here than meets the eye. Maybe it’s not solely a German thing. But I can’t help but think that in many countries, such as Canada, it’s not so easy or usual for parents to let go of their life’s work at a still relatively young age. Yet in present-day Germany, an older generation appears truly supportive in handing over the reins – in some cases, probably earlier than they expected.

All these factors and more are helping to shape the new world of German wine.

Meet Juliane Eller, the brains behind Rheinhessen’s JuWel Weine. Raised in a grape-growing family, she says, “I knew very much that I wanted to make my own wine.”

She finished her Geisenheim studies in 2013, when she was just 23.

“Two days after I came home, I said to my mum and dad: ‘Let’s change everything! Are you with me?’ And they said: ‘Yes. Let’s do it!’ And now we are growing together.”

Today, with an air of quiet confidence well beyond her 26 years, Eller has three vintages under her belt. She works closely with her sister, who handles the tasting room and marketing, as they reshape the family’s 25-year-old commercial vineyard into a 21st-century winery, complete with a refreshing, updated look she herself conceived.

JuWel is both a contraction of her name and a play on words, with a clean-lined diamond logo that’s a nod to the process. “Grapes are the rough diamonds of what I’m doing,” she says, “And that’s the idea behind the logo.”

Eller has narrowed production down to five varieties that make sense from both viticultural and commercial standpoints: Riesling, Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, Silvaner and Spätburgunder. The winery’s 120,000-bottle-and-growing annual production is now entirely hand-picked. Plus, “even though it’s not easy,” JuWel is transitioning from conventional to organic farming.

Although her parents agreed to help Eller follow her own ideas, there was still plenty of pressure in those first couple of years, she says. Now, however, “People are really interested,” so much so that the winery is selling out its production.

Eller says she’s far from alone in transforming what came before. Her Geisenheim class included nine young women, from wine regions around Germany. “At one point,” she recalls, “our professor asked what we were going to do after we finished our studies. Nine girls raised their hands and said they were going to start their own business, or go home and work in the family business.”

“The change is working very positively,” she suggests, “especially as there’s a new spirit of collaboration in the younger generation. It’s not only the young winemakers who are transforming Germany but also the young wine drinkers. So many young people are interested in Riesling but they’re also interested in exploring Grauburgunder and other varieties.”

Eller says there’s no question her younger clientele has a handle on what she’s doing. Also, just as important, “They’re prepared to pay for it. ‘Because,’ they say, ‘We know what it’s worth.'”

“Two days after I came home, I said to my mum and dad: ‘Let’s change everything! Are you with me?’ And they said: ‘Yes. Let’s do it!’ And now we are growing together.”

~ Juliane Eller



Sometimes the next generation is propelled to the fore by unexpected events. Dorothee and Karoline Gaul of Weingut Gaul always intended to enter the family business; both studied oenology and are qualified winemakers. As kids, they worked with their father, Karl-Heinz Gaul, who even gave them a small parcel from which they produced their own “K-D” wine. However, their commitment was hastened by his sudden illness in 2008, which precluded him from ever working again, and which ultimately took his life three years later.

Both women are fully involved in the 100-year-old, 18-hectare estate, along with their mother, Rosemarie. What struck me were the changes that have taken place since I last visited, some eight years ago, when their father was still alive.

The original, traditional tile and wood-trimmed winery building remains, complete with its life-sized statue of a stallion, which used to be prominent in the winery’s identity and name, Gaul, which means “horse.”

The biggest change is front and centre across the courtyard at the vineyard’s edge. Here, in truly dramatic contrast, the sisters have had constructed a weathered, steel-clad, cuboid building, housing the cellar, a main-floor tasting room and an upstairs apartment. Reinforced glass floor panels offer glimpses of the cellar below, while an expanse of wrap-around glass makes the most of the vineyard vista. The structure is a brave and bold statement: its clean edges speak to the house style and now much more daring, modern character.

In the glass, the wines are impressive and very focused, with interesting comparisons between soils and vineyards. Along with impressive citrus- and mineral-themed Riesling in varying styles, the sisters also make a Muskateller Sekt Brut, Grauburgunder, Weissburgunder, Spätburgunder, Gewürztraminer and more.

At 25, Thomas Hörner, his formal wine studies completed (along with stints in Burgundy and Austria), is making his own mark at Hörner Hainbachhof, which he runs with his father, Reinhold Hörner. The family comes from generations of wine growers, who have followed the traditional norms, including a major emphasis on large wooden vats, although that’s shifted increasingly to bottled wines in recent times. Other changes include a move to more sustainable practices — with no use of herbicides or insecticides —more precise vineyard management and hand work.

Even in his teens, while pursuing his studies, Thomas worked in the family business. Since 2011, he has managed the cellar, as well as worked in the vineyard. The father-and-son team has forged an agreement to make all major decisions together.

The most visible evidence of Thomas’ involvement manifests itself in a new label design. It’s a fun play on the family name, using the horns of different animals (bull, ibex and mountain sheep) to represent the winery’s tiers. More than a marketing strategy, the rebranding underscores changes made in the vineyard relating to yields and quality, and a focus on a fresher, drier style, with a more moderate alcohol content for the Burgundian varieties, as well as Sauvignon blanc and Muskateller.

The label is both ingenious and eye-catching, arguably one of the freshest designs I’ve encountered anywhere. The bull’s horns are used for everyday drinking wines, the ibex horns for more “serious,” varietally driven (and possibly higher acidity) wines, and the ram’s horns reserved for select parcels, oak-fermented wines and those intended for aging.

Particularly fun is a departure for the die-cut (bull horn) rosé label, which — of course — is just plain “Horny.” Not surprisingly, Hörner won a 2016 German Design Award for corporate identity, excellent communications in design and packaging.

Riesling guru Stuart Piggott (author of Planet Wine) says he first noticed things changing in about 2002. He suggests that, with the new generation, the traditional suspicion and mistrust that often existed among wine growers has all but evaporated.

Wine in Germany, says Piggott, is now being driven by the fact that it’s now part of pop culture; and points to get-togethers featuring “serious tastings” that might last for a couple of hours before giving way to “party wines.”

More importantly, he points to the emergence since 1999 of numerous associations, such as Wine Changes or Die Junge Südpfalz, which have blossomed in the last few years. Their proliferation has been fuelled in great part by the success of Generation Riesling, the now 10-year-old program that not only celebrates young winemakers but even “retires” them from the club once they turn 35.

“Within these groups, there’s a free exchange of information and a swapping of experiences from working in other regions, such as Burgundy, Marlborough or Sonoma,” says Piggott. “Driving the whole thing is a conviction that ‘we’ is stronger than ‘I’ can ever be. Where else can you see that in the wine world?” He asks.

Even though these are just a few examples, the youthful change rapidly sweeping the country is widespread and multi-regional. Germany is finally on a roll, thanks to a community of young women and men winemakers, who are terroir and quality driven like never before.



Juliane Eller JuWel Weissburgunder Trocken 2015, Rheinhessen ($23)

From 35 year old vines on limestone, a clean modern style, as lifted tropical, lychee and stone fruit precede a fresh and fruity palate of grapefruit and zesty notes.

Juliane Eller JuWel Grauburgunder Trocken 2015, Rheinhessen ($23)

Lifted apple and orchard fruits before a bright, fruit -riven and quite creamy, mouth-filling palate, with good length and vibrant acidity before a clean end.

Juliane Eller JuWel Riesling Trocken 2015, Rheinhessen ($23)

Up front lemon lime proclaims a well balanced palate with clean citrus and orchard fruits underpinned by fresh, structured acidity.

Weingut Schätzel Hipping Riesling 2012, Nierstein ($40)

Aromas of slate and citrus over emerging petrol notes, followed by more rounded, generous mouthfeel with layers of citrus and mineral supported by well-balanced but firm acidity with a lingering end.

Weingut Schätzel Pettenthal Riesling 2012, Nierstein ($30)

Quite evolved with distinct petrol nose, superbly balanced and nuanced with understated floral, diesel and intense zest notes wrapped in vibrant acidity with a mineral backbone.

Weingut Schätzel Pettenthal Riesling GG 2014, Nierstein ($60)

Still very much developing: Lifted citrus notes of lime oil and intense citrus, with a zesty, very clean palate with a bright, lingering end.

Weingut Schätzel Reinscheifer Riesling 2013, Nierstein ($24)

Already well developed with pronounced petrol up front followed by a focused palate of taughtly balanced fruit and acidity with classic, citrus and hints of mineral to close.

Weingut Hörner Horny Rosé 2015 ($20)

Multi-red blend includes Spatburgunder, Cabernet Dorsa and Merlot for an easy drinking, dry-ish rosé capped by a fun tongue in cheek package.

Weingut Hörner Weissburgunder Steinbock 2015 ($30)

Upfront stone fruit and pear notes precede a luscious mouthfeel with good structure and a solid close.

Weingut Hörner Grauburgunder Widder 2015 ($30)

Flinty notes and hints of citrus before well-balanced fruit and acidity, with orchard and stone fruit underpinned by good structure and decent acidity.

Weingut Winterling Sekt Fleur de Rosé, Pfalz ($25)

Susanne Winterling (29) enjoys a well-earned reputation for her sparkling wines. This rosé delivers bright floral and fruity notes up front, with Pinot and Chardonnay made in a crémant style supported by fresh acidity.

Weingut Margarethenhof Riesling Trocken Forster Jesuitengarten 2014, Pfalz ($35)

Benchmark Riesling made by Yvonne Lucas (29) and her brother Martin (28) from one of several celebrated vineyards. Her work experience includes stages in California, Central Otago, Alto Adige and elsewhere. Pronounced  apple and mineral notes with shiste element on a keenly focused palate defined by great length and spiciness.

Weingut Karl-Heinz Gaul Muskateller Brut 2014, Pfalz ($27)

Fun, fresh and lively sparkling muscat defined by up front floral, peach and stone fruit with excellent mouthfeel and good weight.

Weingut Karl-Heinz Gaul Riesling Trocken Gutswein 2015, Pfalz ($20)

Solid ‘every day’ Riesling yields zesty lime and mineral with structured acidiity, good length and some stone hints.

Weingut Karl-Heinz Gaul Sausenheimer Hutt Riesling 2015, Pfalz ($50)

From the oldest Gaul vineyard, briliant green gold in the glass with mineral and slate notes wrapped in lime notes and racy acidity with distinct stony and gentle spice finish.

Weingut Karl-Heinz Gaul Sausenheimer Grauer Burgunder Trocken 2015, Pfalz ($23)

Karoline and Dorothee Gaul offer proof that Pinot Gris is also on the rise. Lifted orchard notes with vanilla hints precede a fresh, luscious but elegant palate with added weight from 30 percent in well managed used oak.

Weingut Karl-Heinz Gaul Asselheimer Spätburgunder Trocken 2014, Pfalz ($35)

Forward red berries precede a palate of cranberry and medium cherry with definite, clean stony undertones supported by fresh acidity, with good cellaring potential.

Werther Windisch 8° Grad 14’ E Minuten Silvaner TBA Trocken 2011, Rheinhessen ($35)

Jens Windisch, who started working more sustainably with his viticulturist father ten years ago, offers an extraordinary, elevated take on Silvaner with this “village wine” now perfectly aged: developed, honeyed aromas before a layered and juicy, broad palate defined by clean apple, citrus and mineral hints.



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