Karl Marx and Mosel wine

September 26, 2007

When I visited my hometown Trier recently, I also went to the place where Karl Marx, the most famous of our citizens, was born in 1818 (the Karl Marx Haus). What I did not know about him was his relationship to wine and the Mosel wine industry. From a leaflet collected at the tourist paraphernalia shop I learned that the parents of Karl Marx were vineyard owners along the Ruwer in Mertesdorf where they owned several parcels. It was quite common for bourgeois families of the times to acquire vineyards either for their own wine consumption and/or for investment and old age security reasons. The Marx family vineyard was found in the location “Viertelsberg” a medium quality terroir near the castle ‘Gruenhaus’. Today, the ‘Weingut Erben von Beulwitz’ produces a 2002 Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) wine with a Karl Marx label to commemorate this famous “son” of Trier. The wine is not exactly from the old Marx family vineyard but derived from vineyards nearby. Some time ago I had tasted this wine with some delicious venison (big horn sheep) which my mother had prepared for me.

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The label with Karl Marx

Marx himself was fond of drinking wine and appreciated the value of it. More interesting is the fact that among others the misery of the Mosel wine producers inspired Marx to study and research economic issues in general. In various newspapers Marx reported about the problems of the Mosel vintners. He criticized the Prussian government for its lack of support which in the end brought him into conflict with the authorities in the 1840ies which in the end led to his exile first in Paris, later in Brussels and finally in London.

After Napoleon lost the war and with it the once occupied lands west of the Rhine river, these territories were given to the Kingdom of Prussia after the peace congress of Vienna in 1815 and administered as the Prussian Province of the Lower Rhine. This marked the beginning of a golden age for Mosel wine producers since they benefited from tax-free export of their wines to Prussia. Unfortunately, the phenomenon was short lived when, with the introduction of the German Customs Union (Zollverein) in 1834, vintners from the southern German states were in the position to successfully displace their competitors from the Mosel. This in turn brought wine prices down. An unfavourable Prussian tax policy coupled with bad harvests led to the pauperization of many vintners at the Mosel. Marx was appalled by their suffering, criticized the government, violated press censorship requirement and in the end had to leave into exile.

In 1857 the Marx family sold its vineyards in Mertesdorf. But due to the efforts of the Weiss family (the owners of the Weingut Erben von Beulwitz, www.hotel-weiss.de), we can enjoy today a Pinot Noir depicting the face of Karl Marx on the label. These bottles can also be bought at the aforementioned shop (7.5 €/0.75 l bottle).

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Ruwer vineyards near Mertesdorf in spring

PS: I personally think that it is a pity that the wide adoption of his ideas in Eastern Europe, Vietnam and China for instance brought so much misery to mankind. Less emphasis on the collective and more on individual freedom would have gone a fair bit. Marx should have stayed with drinking and enjoying wine and give up writing in the first place, one is tempted to argue.

In a letter to the father-in-law of his daughter he mentioned that “a man who does not love wine will never achieve anything good for mankind”. Unfortunately, wine drinking is not a guaranty for such deeds as his own life showed.

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Sutherland Estate

September 24, 2007

A place we like to visit when in Victoria is Sutherland Estate, a vineyard in the Yarra Valley, Victorias oldest wine region (with about 3.600 ha of vineyards and a production of about 19.000 tonnes of grapes) on the way to Yea and the Upper Goulburn Wine Region. Sutherland Estate is a family owned boutique vinyard on a beautifully located property with bushland and hills where herds of kangaroos graze peacefully. The views from the cellar door/tasting room are stunning. We love the modern architecture and the setting. There are four vineyard blocks with a total of about 10 acres under vines, mainly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and cabernet Sauvignon. New planting include Tempranillo and Gewuerztraminer. The first Tempranillo was released only recently; however, I had no opportunity as yet to taste the new wine. I particularly like their 2002 Shiraz but also the fresh Chardonnay and the Rose which make great drinking in summer.

The photos below show my family enjoying the tasting while in Australia in July/August this year. If you visit Victoria next spring or summer, I recommend you check out this wonderful place (www.sutherlandestate.com.au).

The Two Hills “tasting crew” visiting Sutherland Estate

Sutherland Estate wines

The breathtaking views from the Cellar Door


Where to buy Two Hills wines?

September 19, 2007

Today I will introduce you to some of the retail outlets where you can buy Two Hills wines. There is first and foremost is The Old England Hotel in Heidelberg, Melbourne, where all our wines have been sold for many years(www.oldenglandhotel.com.au). The Old England Hotel has won many national awards for best hotel in Australia and best bottle shop, among others. If you are in Melbourne, please drop in. The place is definitely worth a visit.

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Stewart of the Old England Hotel and Margit while delivering wines

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The bottle shop of the Old England Hotel in Heidelberg, Melbourne

Then there is the Delatite Hotel in Mansfield where you have been able to buy our reds since last August. Mansfield is about three hours drive north of Melbourne near the snow fields of Mount Buller. It’s a very charming country town and a major hub to reach various tourist destinations in Victoria.

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The Delatite Hotel in Mansfield

In the Mansfield-Alexandra region you can also purchase our wines in the local Foodworks supermarkets chain which has outlets all over the place. Near Healesville and Yarra Glen, you can also buy our wines at the Yarra Valley Wine Hub (www.yarravalleywinehub.com.au). This beautiful location shares the premises with the Yarra Valley Dairy , which means that you can combine your wine selection with your cheese and dairy product purchases. Check it out.

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The Wine Hub at Yarra Valley Dairy near Yarra Glen and Healesville

And if you should happen to be in Germany you can get Two Hills wines from Dr. Ulrich Hillejan in Ramsdorf near Muenster (e-mail to: Ulrich.hillejan@s-h-r.de).


What a degustative experience: Wine tasting in Trier

September 18, 2007

I had the great fortune to spend the most amazing culinary weekend in my hometown Trier. It was organised by my friend Thomas Weber and held at a restaurant called Bagatelle (www.bagatelle-trier.de) in a place called “Zur Lauben” in Trier.

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Thomas while giving us the introduction to the degustation

There were 10 of us, Thomas and Birgit, Peter and Baerbel, Rainer and Brigitte, Uli and Hiltrud, Ulrich and myself (another Rainer). Most of us did not know each other prior to the tasting. See some of the tasters in the picture below. The glasses were not empty for long.

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The meal consisted of three courses: an entree, a seafood platter, a venison main course and a desert. Needless to say that the food was very delicious indeed.

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The seafood platter

Thomas had selected all the wines. He provided us with information about the wine producers and he had translated all the tasting notes into German (I am not translating them back, please visit the webpages of the wine producers for tasting notes). We tasted 9 Sauvignon Blanc and 6 Merlot wines.

The ‘9’ Sauvignon Blanc wines were the following:

– 2004 “Monmousseau”, Sancerre, AC-Loire (France)

– 2006 “Nehrener Roemerberg”, Weingut Theisen, Nehren, Mosel (Germany)

– 2005 “Lands End”, Hidden Valley Wines, Elim Vineyards, Cap Agulhas (South Africa)

– 2002 Two Hills Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc, Upper Goulburn River, Victoria (Australia)

– 2003 Clairault Estate, Margaret River (Western Australia)

– 2006 Clowdy Bay, Marlborough (New Zealand)

– 2003 Johner Estate, Marlborough (New Zealand)

– 2005 Rodney Strong Estate “Charlotte’s Home”, Sonoma County, California (USA)

– the ninth wine was what is called in blind tastings a “pirate”, i.e. a wine which is not a Sauvignon Blanc.

The ‘6’ Merlot wines were:

– 2004 Bimbadgen Estate, Hunter Valley, New South Wales (Australia)

– 2004 Two Hills Vineyard Merlot, Upper Goulburn River, Victoria (Australia)

– 2005 Merlot, Auslese Weingut Guenther Steinmetz, Brauneberg, Mosel (Germany)

– 2001 Domaine Font-Mars, Languedoc (France)

– 2004 Marques de Casa, Concha Peumo Valley (Chile)

In addition and as in the white pannel there was as sixth wine also a “pirate” among the reds.

Tasting wines without restraint is a most wonderful thing. All of the participants were wine lovers with some considerable experience. The self-introduction showed that most of them were staunch Mosel wine afficionados (some with preference for off-dry Mosel wines) with some of them with likings for Spanish red wines. But generally new world wines were seen as somehow to be not very desirable as far as their taste buds were concerned. Well, we were to be taken all around the world with this blind tasting with considerable effects as I can witness.

I only became aware that two of my own wines were part of the tasting when the paper sheets with the information on producers and the tasting notes were distributed. I was of course scared not to be able to identify my own wines and Thomas teased me with the remark, that most producers do not recognize their own wines in blind tastings that he had attended. Well, these were challenging prospects. Without bragging about how many wines I correctly identfied during the evening, I would like to point out here that I did in fact identify the two Two Hills Wines which came as a relief.

We congregated at 17 h in the afternoon and parted company at about midnight. Needless to say that we had a jolly good time. We had to match the tasting notes with the wines and to make it not to difficult, we worked with a pannel of three wines at the time. The results were given after each pannel. Therefore, the odds were not ‘too big a stew to chew’. Tasting notes are indeed an interesting lead to wine but some of us felt more at ease with their own feelings and taste buds. Needless to say that after the completion of the tasting wine drinking did not stop. The dessert called for a dessert wine. Thomas selected from the restaurant wine list (Bagatelle has a very good wine list indeed). Unfortunately, I am not sure what we drank because my tasting notes became rather confused the longer the evening lasted. Moreover, we did not restrain ourselves to one bottle only but had several instead. One of them might have been a 1997 Maximiner Gruenhaeuser Riesling Auslese from Ruwer. Thomas is of the opinion that the first ‘sweet wine’ was a 2006 Drohner Hofberg from A.J. Adam.

Saying good bye was not an easy thing after these marvellous hours together discussing and enjoying wine and food. Ulrich and I walked back home to the Irminenfreihof (located in a part of town next to the old river harbour called Britannia) where my mothers house is located in an elevated spirit.

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My friend Ulrich in a jolly good mood

PS 1: I love certain aspects of gobalisation and modern technology: while writing this down I am listening to wonderful music from Mozart broadcasted by the ABC Australian classic radio via the internet and of course I am enjoying a glass of 2004 Two Hills Merlot.

PS 2: Ulrich is our non-profit importer of Two Hills wines to Germany.

Address:
BAGATELLE restaurant and bistro
Zurlaubener Ufer 78
54292 Trier
Te.: 0651-29722
http://www.bagatelle-trier.de


Old friends, wine from the Mosel and other culinary delights

September 16, 2007

What a weekend this was. After my delightful tour along the Mosel River I finally reached my destination Trier, the 2,000 years old Roman town which I also call home. Saturday I should meet Thomas Weber, an old school friend from high school times at Hindenburg Gymnasium. It was about 33 years ago that we met last time. We were brought back together by another school friend, Juergen Olk who lives in Eitelsbach near Trier. Juergen told Thomas about our vineyard in Australia and through the shared love for wine we should be reunited. Thomas is a wine aficionado. He has written two wonderful books (wine as a gift) about wine (www.wein-als-geschenk.de). He had promised to organise a wine tasting for me (more about the tasting in my next entry). We met at the Porta Nigra, a Roman city gate and landmark of Trier. He introduced me to Birgit and the three of us had a cappuccino and later a “Viez” (a local variety of an apple and pear cider, very sour normally). It was a lively reunification and Thomas proposed to have dinner together at his parents place.

And dinner we had, the five of us. It was a culinary tour through many varieties of bread, cheese and olives. The wines were all from the Mosel region. We started with a dry 2005 Riesling from Staatliche Weinbaudomaene Trier, Rotliegender Schiefer (vines planted on red coloured slate), 12 Vol%. Nice and fruity wine, with typical Mosel Riesling character, citrus aromas, crisp and minerally. Then we moved to an off-dry wine from the Saar River, a 2002 Ayler Kupp, Riesling Auslese produced by Weingut Weber, Margarethenhof. The wine has only 8.5 Vol% alcohol; I guess 15 g/l sugar, a wine of great elegance and balance. From here we moved to a kind of new cult wine. The young vintner Andreas J. Adam (not related to my family) who took over some neglected vineyards from his grandfather, has recently become a new star in wine circles along the Mosel. We tasted a 2006 Dhroner Hofberg Riesling, a dry wine of great finesse. This locations is one of the best along the Mosel but was somehow forgotten until recently. The Weingut (winery) Andreas Adam is a boutique vineyard with about 1 ha under vines and a production of about 1500 bottles a year located in the small town of Neumagen. The German wine critics are full of praise for the young vintner and his excellent Riesling wines. German web entries give some idea about the character of the wines. Interesting is also the winerys own webpage which has the following web address: www.aj-adam.com.

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Ayler Kupp in the background, Schoden in the foreground seen from the hights

To an Australian vintner wine prices for these excellent Mosel wines are a shocker. The “Weinbaudomaene” price list shows the dry Riesling (Staatliche Weinbaudomaene Trier, Avelsbacher Hammerstein, 2005 Riesling Kabinet, dry, 11 Vol%) for 3.20 € (!) per 0.75 l bottles. Other Rieslings do not cost more than 5.50 € which corresponds to 5 until 8 A$ cellar door prices. What heaven on earth the Mosel is for wine consumers. Even the Andreas Adam Riesling is available for about 12 € only. In Jakarta the minimum one has to pay for a reasonable Australian Riesling is about 10 €/bottle and these wines are hardly equivalent to the simplest of the Mosel Rieslings. In order to compete with those wines, we Australian vintners have to dig deep and improve wine quality and our cost structures considerably.

The shock of my life should soon follow when we tasted some Mosel reds. Yes, there are more and more red wines from the Mosel to be found, unbelievable. Over the last couple of years the acreage for Pinot Noir and Dornfelder is increasing continuously, reaching almost 10% of the total acreage under vines. We started with a Pinot Noir from Mehring, producer Alfons Sebastiani. Great drop displaying all the varietal characters of a good and earthy Pinot Noir. I remembered the many vineyards in the flats from my trip along the Mosel the other day but did not expect such beautiful wines. The Dornfelder we drank after the Pinot was not to my taste. I was also not impressed by the Acolon, a kind of “hybrid” variety (cross between Helfenstein x Heroldsrebe – Blauer Lemberger and Dornfelder) which produces deep red wines of a rather “tarty” character. But the Pinot was wonderful and so the evening ended with delight. Thanks to the hosts, the Weber family for their great hospitality and the good company.

Furthermore, Thomas informed me that the Mosel used to be a prime producer of red wines (I did not know this and can you believe this!) until the times of Kurfuerst (elector) Clemens Wenzeslaus of Saxonia (1739-1812) who became archbishop of Trier in 1768. Wenzeslaus issued on 30 October 1787 a new ordinance for the improvement of wine quality in his dominion along the Mosel River. The “bad” grape varieties, mainly reds and high acidity whites were to be replaced by “good” varieties, mainly Riesling vines. This ordinance was rigorously enforced by his administration and it was the kiss of death for most red varieties along the Mosel for many decades to come. The recent revival of red wine production is therefore not something completely new but rather a reminiscent of older days. I will have to try more of the Mosel Pinot Noir to see how they compare to Pinot Noirs from the Yarra Valley and the Upper Goulburn Wine Region (www.uppergoulburnwine.org.au) and of course my own.

On Sunday we had our usual lunch at the “Landgasthof Kopp” in Hentern (www.landgasthofkopp.com) near the Saar where we enjoyed good German country style food and local wines. Dinner was scheduled to be had at a gourmet restaurant in Trier called “Bagatelle” in “Zur Lauben”, a famous location in Trier next to the Mosel River with a beautiful view of the river and the red sandstone cliffs at the opposite side. Learn more about this in my next entry.

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The red sandstone cliff “Weisshaus” from the “Zur Lauben” side of the Mosel River


Along the Mosel River

September 12, 2007

I have often traveled along the Mosel River by train. Last weekend I decided to abolish the train and drive by car from Kobern-Gondorf to Trier. Unfortunately, the sun did not shine. But despite this handicap it was one of the most marvelous trips I have recently made.

The Mosel River valley was buzzing with visitors and tourists. Groups of cyclists, tour buses, camper vans as well as people on foot, motorcyclists and others were cruising along the river and swarming the small towns and villages. Almost every settlement advertised its ongoing or imminent wine festival and vintners’ fair. Everywhere one could buy wines, have a meal or stay overnight. Vintage was in full swing in many places and the young fermented grape juice, in German called “Federweisser” was everywhere on offer.

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Barges and a ferry on the river and a castle in the background

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Steep slopes and a narrow valley, vines on “Graywacke” slate plates

The appelation of the wine region “Mosel-Saar-Ruwer” is the result of the Wine Act of 1909. From 1936 onwards wine labels could show this designation. In 2006 the German Parliament passed a new law abolishing “Mosel-Saar-Ruwer” and simply replacing it with “Mosel” and since August 1st, 2007 the region is officially called “Mosel” only.

The region consists of six sub-regions with 19 locations (Grosslagen) and 524 individual locations (Einzellagen). 5,500 wineries and vineyards are spread over 125 settlements, villages and towns. The total area under vines is about 9,000 ha, which produce annually about 850,000 hectoliters of wine (including 75,000 hectoliters of red wine). The largest wine producing acreages can be found in the settlements of Piesport, Zell (Mosel), Leiwen, Konz, Neumagen-Drohn, Mehring, Bernkastel-Kues and Trittenheim. I passed through some very famous vineyard locations such as “Bremmer Calmont”, “Wehlener Sonnenuhr”, “Erdener Treppchen”, “Ürziger Würzgarten”, “Piesporter Goldtröpfchen”, “Bernkasteler Doctor” and many others.

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The elevator “sledge”

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The “rail” for the “elevator”

The region has the largest extent of vineyards on steep slopes (inclinations range from 30% till 60%) in Germany. The Mosel region is also the biggest Riesling producer in the world (with about 5.000 ha acreage). Recently some of the more extreme locations have fallen fallow. Traditionally vines were planted on the steep slopes using single posts. In recent times they have been gradually replaced by modern trellis systems. For transport purposes, elevator systems were installed in some locations, as shown on the photos below. I was very surprised to find a lot of red grapes planted in the flat lands near the river. Most of them are Pinot Noir and Dornfelder grapes. There is an increasing trend to extend the acreage for red varieties and the Mosel has once again become a superb producer of red wines, especially Pinot Noir.

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At Yering Farm

September 7, 2007

As in previous years, our 2006 Merlot was made by Alan Johns, owner and winemaker of Yering Farm Wines. We were there to do some tastings before bottling started. From 18 old-French oak-barrique barrels we took samples of the young wine. It showed all the varietal character of Merlot, had a deep red colour, a bouquet of ripe red forest fruit, good structure and a long finish. We were very satisfied with the quality of the new drop from Two Hills Vineyard. The wine from the barrels was pumped into a steel tank, blended and then filtered. It is in bottles now and we will release it in December.

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2006 Two Hills Merlot in old oak

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Alan getting ready for the Merlot tasting

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The Adam family tasting crew

Yering Farm Wines is a great place to visit in the Yarra Valley. I love the rustic tasting shed. It has a great atmosphere, not the rather sleek and sterile type foften preferred by urbanites, but one which reminds any visitor that grapes are grown on a real farm, in a real vineyard, in earth and soil and have not fallen fully pressed into bottles out of nowhere. Alan Johns Yering Farm series wines are delicious and brilliant for easy drinking especially in warm summer. For advanced drinkers, he has various award-winning wines at hand, for instance Yering Farm Chardonnay (see the various awards at http://www.yeringfarm.com.au). In 2007 the late frost wiped out all of Alan’s fruit. If you are in the Yarra Valley don’t forget to drive by for a tasting.

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Yering Farm Vineyard