At Max Ferdinand Richter, They Don't "Make" Wine. They Grow It.

Posted November 17, 2016

Stacy Brody


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And 2015 was a great year to grow wine in Germany. 

As we've said several times, we are absolutely bonkers for 2015 German Riesling, head over heels with the vintage. Earlier this month, in preparation for the rapidly advancing holiday season, we asked importer Mike Shaw to show off those Rieslings to Wine Library shoppers. Back in August, we had the honor of meeting Dirk Richter, the 9th generation to run the Mosel estate Max Ferdinand Richter. 

Dirk, with his son alongside him, is the winegrower for the estate. At his August visit, Dirk made it a point to say winegrower, not "winemaker, as they put it in this country." Wine is grown in the vineyard, and the growing conditions of the 2015 vintage made for great grapes. All Dirk had to do was watch them. Dry conditions forced them to water the youngest vines. For most of their vineyards, however, they had little to no work to do. The vines are all well-established, with average ages from 30 to 75 years.

The history of the estate, however, dates back much further. The family started an export company in the 1600s, purchasing vineyards later that century. 

They gained some of their most prestigious parcels in the 1800s. Napoleon was sweeping across the continent. One Richter family member, then the town's mayor, saved his village from being ransacked with a bribe that, in today's money, would be approximately $3 million. The town was so thankful that they granted him the Veldenzer Elisenberg site one year later, in 1814. 

Veldenzer Elisenberg was planted the next year, 1815. How better to celebrate a 200th anniversary of its planting than with an EPIC vintage?! In this site, vines enjoy a long, cool growing season and a hang-time of 140-150 days. This vineyard, being farther from the Mosel River, is cooler than other Richter sites and is always last to be picked. Harvest doesn't begin until November! The Rieslings are lively, elegant, with crystalline minerality from the slate and quartz-dominant terroir. The soils here are in distinct contrast to the iron-rich soils of one of Richter's other famed sites: Brauneberger Juffer.

Brauneberger translates to Brown Mountain, so named for the color of the iron-rich soils. Juffer refers to the former ownership of this land by a convent. This vineyard lies closer to the river, which moderates the climate. Plus, the grapes not only enjoy the maximum sunshine of south-facing slopes, they also benefit from a double dose shimmering off the water. As a result of the combination of ample sunlight and rich iron deposits, these Rieslings are concentrated, weighty, more "masucline" than their Veldenzer counterparts. Thomas Jefferson was a huge fan when, as ambassador to France, he visited in the 1780s. 

All the Richter grapes are handpicked - there's no machine that can navigate those Mosel slopes. At the head of Brauneberger Juffer, there is a super-steep parcel called Sonnenuhr, "Sundial." Pickers for this site must be specially trained. In addition to careful hand picking, bunch by bunch selection is key for the quality of Richter wines. As Dirk said, precision is necessary. It shows in the lively, electric feel of the Rieslings.

Also evident in these Rieslings is the impact of terroir. How different the Veldenzer Kabinett Riesling from the Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett. And why? Is it the soil type, the former being slate and quartz-dominant, the latter iron-rich? Is it the proximity to the river, with Veldenzer farther away and Brauneberger nearer? Or is it the microbiology of the site, for Richter uses only native, or indigenous yeasts to ferment his wines? It is a combination of all those things moderated by the winegrower.  

The two Kabinett Rieslings are decidedly different and delicious. Either (or both) would be perfect Thanksgiving selections - think of how that bit of sweetness could highlight your sweet potato casserole! For a spicy-sweet contrast, they pair well with Szechuan and Indian cuisines. The Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Spatlese calls for something a bit heartier, and the Auslese is perfectly at home with foie gras or a good camembert. 

Enjoy the wines with friends and family around the holiday table, and save a few in your cellar. The Kabinetts will shine in 5+ years. The Spatlese and Auslese, stabilized by acidity and sugar, are reliable cellar selections (and both less than $50/bottle). You can be confident they will age gracefully. Pull the wines out at a dinner in 20 years - you will NOT need a backup. If you think the flavors are dancing now, just see what kind of choreography they pull on your palate later


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