Travel Journal: what I loved in the Rheinhessen
Natural avantgarde, venerable institutions: our short winery tour in Rheinhessen delivered both wine and inspiration
Every year, me and a bunch of winemaker & wine geek friends try to make a pilgrimage to some wine region, to understand how they work and what's going on there – and then bring those insights back home, because for me, there's never enough ideas and inspiration. This year, we opted for Germany's Rheinhessen, a renowned region of (mostly) white wines on the left bank of the Rhine.
3 days, 9 winemakers, and a big spread in terms of their philosophy and size: from absolute naturalists to venerable established institutions, from small wineries to giants. It was this diversity that I enjoyed the most - first because it's fun to witness the different preferences across our group, but mostly because it's really enlightening to talk to people who have different perspectives on certain things. It always helps me to chisel or sometimes shift my own opinion. Not that I agree with everything, but there are some things that just make sense, even if I might have dismissed them in the past for some reason (usually due to ignorance or lack of context).
I often find myself devouring information from more traditional growers who have several generations behind them. It makes sense because this is something we are sadly missing in the Czech Republic, due to our fractured recent history; on the other hand, the questions we sometimes get show us that there's also a certain advantage in the freedom of not having a strong-established tradition one has to follow and/or live up to. (These may sound like strong words, but to me, natural wine in its current "trendy" shape has a difficult future. I think the way ahead lies in the synthesis of the "established" and the natural, as each direction has much to offer to the other. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, we shall see in a few years.)
But I digress, back to the Rhineland! I have two highlights of these three days: the first is Kai Schatzel, a guy I find extremely inspiring and smart, and these features are mirrored in the taste and quality of the wines. And he loves flor, just like me .)
The second thing I'm taking out is the name, Wittmann. I've known this venerable winery for a long time, of course, and also their Rieslings, great across the board... but what I found even greater, and very telling of Philippe Wittmann's qualities both as a person and as a winemaker, is the fact that practically every other winery we visited in the region spoke of him with infinite respect. On their own, without us even asking about him. They all mentioned how he elevated the whole region and put it on the map as a prime-quality area (which was not always the case), thus indirectly helping many other winemakers. Not only by inspiring them but also because thanks to him, they can now market their wines in a completely different way than before. (Another name that has been pointed to us similarly often is undoubtedly Keller. These two "giants" are pushing the region forward in an incredible way, and it's been wonderful to watch their peers realise that and give them props.)
If you're headed to the area, I definitely recommend not to miss the other wineries we visited as well, as all were absolutely kickass: SektHaus Raumland, Bergkloster, Wechsler, Gunderloch, Eva Fricke, Knewitz, Grohl – I can't thank all these guys enough for their hospitality and inspiration.