Beautiful Bavaria

June 14, 2008

I had the great chance to spend a weekend in Munich, the capital city of the state of Bavaria. The weather was splendid; it was the first weekend of June. Of course I had some to work but fortunately there were a couple of hours which I used to explore the surroundings. I just walked through the city and enjoyed the cheerful atmosphere. Of course I had also food and drinks in mind.

People over people in the English garden in Munich

I ended up in the “English garden”, as it is called, a large park in the heart of the city where everybody seemed to converge on a Sunday afternoon. I asked two nice ladies for the way to the next beer garden (show me the way to the next whiskey bar) and they pointed me to the beer garden at the Chinese pagoda.

The Chinese pagoda beer garden

Unfortunately my small camera could not capture the atmosphere there. There were lots of people as well. Numerous stalls sold all kinds of Bavarian food and drinks, mostly beer in big and super big mugs or beer based mixed drinks. For instance one could order a “Russian” which is a mix of wheat beer with white lemonade, a nice drink to quench your thirst and thats what I did. There were horse carts, people on bicycles, and children on skate boards. There were street musicians along the wayside, larger and smaller groups of tourist and day visitors from all over the world. Here and there one could spot the odd local Bavarian, men dressed in the traditional ‘Lederhosen’ (leather pants) and women were dressed in elaborate ‘Dirndl’ outfits.

Bavarian folk music presented by a brass band in traditional leather pants

Munich is not exactly known as a wine growing region. Helas, there was also a part of the garden where a vintner from Franconia offered his wares, in this case delicious wines from this northerly part of Bavaria. “My heart jumped in my chest”, as we Germans say. here I had the opportunity to be regaled by the very wine of my mothers homeland.

The vintner was Roman Sauer and his family from Nordheim in Franconia. They were very friendly and cheerful. For my next visit to Franconia I should schedule a tasting!

I first tried a Sylvaner (fresh and dry), then I moved on to a Riesling (crisp, citrus and apple aromas) and the last wine I tasted was a red wine (see the picture). Well, and now I face a memory lapse. Moreover, I cannot find my notes. I do not remember what it was. The colour is a deep and beautiful red. It should be a Pinot Noir but it could have been something more “exotic”. Needless to say the wines were all well made and delicious.

I would have tasted the rest of Roman Sauer’s wines on offer but that was just too difficult in the heat. The sun was shining on me and the three large glasses of wine had their own effect. The Bavarian music was entertaining, the beer garden visitors were loud and cheerful, and somehow I made my way back to the small hotel in Munich-Riem.

Below the flyer I collected which depicts Roman Sauer and his family. There was not much opportunity for a chat because the garden was so buy, guests coming and going. Unfortunately, I could not find a webpage of the Sauer Estate and learn more about his vineyard, wine making, etc.

Weingut Roman Sauer
Raiffeisenstrasse 11
D-97334 Nordheim
Tel.: +49-9381-9691

Drowning in wine?

June 14, 2008

In todays Daily Wine news“, I found an article describing the recent changes in the Australian wine industry.

It starts with saying that “between 1997 and 1999 an unprecedented 40,000 hectares of grapevines were thrust into the soil across the nation”. Uff, I am one of those lunatics who put in vines during that time. Only a little, though, 3.5 ha to be precise. Now it (the land, our land) contributes as Two Hills Vineyard to the grape heap and/or wine lake. The increase in area under vines led to a 40% increase in output. Such growth was never seen in the history of the Australian wine industry before.

Two Hills Vineyard with the two hills in the background

Well, but I am actually exaggerating. There is no wine glut any more one could argue. Although it was not easy to find a market for our fruit, the very fact that there was fruit in abundance forced us to add value to the operation, e.i. make wine and sell it in Germany. We have survived so far. Of the last 8 vintages, two were to our full satisfaction, and the trend is positive. There is reason for optimism.

We are mainly growers and sell most of our fruit. The remaining part is turned into wine, mostly our Merlot grapes fall into this category. It allows me breathing space. I do not need to sell as fast as possible but rather on a pace we can stomach.

In the good old days growers had long-term contracts with wineries. Paradise has been lost ever since and the “spot market” is a true hassle. Some wineries are not relay reliable partners and it takes a while to sort out the ‘jewels’ from the ‘chaff’. That is costly for small vineyards. To run after small amounts of money and unpaid bills can be a hazard and it is a hassle. But some wineries treat their growers well. I know it from our friend Steve Sadlier, viticulturist (who tends our small property) and supplier of prime fruit to Yering Station in the Yarra Valley/Victoria.

Good to learn from the Daily Wine News article that the grower-producer relationship is about to change in response to the international market place and the flexibility required there. If that relationship, one of asymmetry in the past, would be more balanced, what a good news. Last vintage we had many cases of wineries retracting from earlier price offers. When they realised that the expected shortage of grapes was not to come and that they got sufficient fruit, they lowered fruit prices.

Another trend the Daily Wine News detected is that big companies shift away from developing their own vineyards. Well in the mid 1990s when the growers had no problem with selling any amount of fruit, wineries wanted to be on the save side and therefore invested in the establishments of their own vineyards. This is not only expensive, it also prevents the wineries from investing in other aspects of their business, for instance cellar technology, etc.. Some large wineries, it is said, rely on about 25-30% of their own vineyards, the bulk of their fruit intake is bought from growers.

Another welcome trend is that the industry is moving away from cheap fruit from warm and irrigated wine regions. That sounds nice to a small vintner from a cool climate region (the Upper Goulburn Wine Region). The rising water costs have hit growers hard and the change of demand does the rest: turn this land to other crops, maybe water saving food crops. The rising worldwide demand for food might be the incentive needed for that tectonic shift.

However, for small vineyards the development of boutique style wines and their own labels is a sine qua non for survival. And survive we will. Cheers