Monday, June 29, 2009

German winemakers: Bert Selbach, Eberhard von Kunow, & Fritz Becker in Los Angeles

I had one of those busy weeks last week, where every moment was packed with something. Much of that had to do with hosting 3 German winemakers who were in town: Bert Selbach of Dr. F. Weins-Prum, Eberhard von Kunow from Von Hovel, and Fritz Becker from Friedrich Becker Estate.

When one has winemakers in town to do what some people call "work-withs," the standard procedure is to schedule interesting accounts for them to visit. This has the purpose of improving relationships both ways - for our customers, it is very fun to meet the actual people and see the actual hands that make the wines they know and love. It is also a bit of an honor, I think, to have the winemakers personally visit their establishment, be it a restaurant or a retail store, to establish the relationship all the way around the world.

And for the winemaker, it is a bonus also, to meet the customers that buy their wine, to get their reactions to the end products of their vines, to see how German wines are received in the marketplace, and get first hand what people really think. Its the feel that they can't get just looking at a spreadsheet. My hope is that first hand information actually helps them know what people want from wine.

While the winemakers were in town, we had quite a few consumer tastings as well, where the real end users had direct contact with the winemakers, such as at this tasting pictured below at The Wine Country:

On the left is the very humorous and extroverted Eberhard von Kunow (who likes to be called "Adt" for short), and the more reserved, introverted Bert Selbach, both who make incredible Rieslings from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer.

Adt's Rieslings at Von Hovel express that beautiful Saar acidity, along with plenty of beautiful plump ripe fruit, a delicious salinity, and satiny gorgeous body, from his basic 2007 Von Hovel Balduin Estate Riesling up to his 2007 Von Hovel Oberemmeler Hutte Riesling Auslese One Star. Though for many tasters, his 2003 Von Hovel Oberemmeler Hutte Riesling Spatlese stole the show, because 2003 is such a maligned vintage, and this wine, six years after the vintage, is showing the uniqueness of German Riesling with time in the bottle - succulent peach cobbler fruit with a dash of petrol and a length that goes on forever - honey, but Eberhard says no botrytis in this wine, just clean ripe fruit and ripe acids - this is a wine that can age for decades, and is tasting really good right now, putting into serious question the naysayers of the 2003 vintage. This is a wine that has to be tasted!

Bert Selbach is a genius with the Dr. F. Weins-Prum Estate. With only a 4,000 case annual production, Bert is a one-man show. That means he is the owner of the estate, the cellar-master, the vineyard manager, the bottler, and the guy who loads the labels onto the labelling machine that labels the bottles. He is a quiet, reserved winemaker, but his wines speak volumes. From the humble feinherb (medium-dry, in German) 2007 Dr. F. Weins-Prum Estate Riesling through his many different single vineyard Kabinetts and Spatleses (he's got Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Domprobst, Urzig Wurzgarten, and Erdener Pralat), his wines are the embodiment of class Mosel refinement. With Dr. F. Weins-Prum wines, you know these things - first, you're going to get great acidity, great minerality that shows off the individual terroir of each of these single vineyards, ie. feminine and graceful Wehlener Sonnenuhr is going to taste totally different from rocky, masculine Graacher Domprobst, which will be different from spicy, red-slaty Urzig Wurzgarten; second, you are going to great wine for a fantastic price - these wines are bargains at twice the price, genuine, real wines made in small, small production, for half the price of the more famous next-door neighbor and cousin Joh. Jos. Prum.
More than 50 people attended the Thursday afternoon tasting at The Wine Country, and it was a very enthused crowd that enjoyed a taste of these wines poured by the winemakers themselves.

Fritz Becker Jr. was also in town from his family's winery Friedrich Becker Estate in the Pfalz. This estate is known for their Pinot Noir and also its drier style white wines. It was Fritz Becker's father, Friedrich Becker Sr. who first began making his own wine from his family's estate, which was selling its grapes to the cooperative after the Second World War. The town of Schweigen where their winery and home is situated, was completely demolished after the end of the war, so all the local wine growers had to completely rebuild and replant and set up cooperatives to help one another recover their vineyards. So that was going back to Fritz's grandfather's generation. Fritz's father in the 70s began making his own wine in the family's winery, and began to develop a reputation for his fantastic Pinot Noirs, many of which are made from the family's vineyards which are now on the French side of the border, in Alsace. But because the Becker family has owned these lands for over 100 years, they are allowed to make German wine from much of their grapes which are French.

The telltale fox on the label of Becker wines is from the fable "Sour grapes" wherein the fox cannot reach the grapes, gives up and says to the crow, "Pffff - those grapes are sour anyway." The connection to the wines is that when Fritz's father was first making dry wines (such as Pinot Noir) in the 70s, many customers complained that the wines were sour, because they were used to sweet wines. And so the cute, catchy label was designed.

Above, Fritz is showing his wines to Bart Miali, owner of Elvino Wines on the very cool Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice Beach.

Next, we headed over to a very hidden location - you must drive up beautiful Pacific Coast Highway then turn right on Topanga Canyon, drive 4 miles up the windy canyon, and then you reach a restaurant that has been there over 30 years: Inn of the 7th Ray.

I told Fritz that when I go and visit this account, I really like my job! It is a gorgeous drive, and when you get to this oasis, it is a beautiful outdoor setting for a wine tasting - right by the little creek, practically in the woods. They don't call it L.A.'s most romantic restaurant for nothing!

Here, we got to taste with sommelier Travis Brazil, former soccer player for Mannheim in Germany. Travis can speak fluent German, went to university at Heidelberg, one of the oldest Universities in the world, and he is a huge fan of German wines, in particular those in the Rudi Wiest portfolio.
The featured wines we took out with Fritz were, of the reds: 2007 Becker Estate Pinot Noir, 2006 Becker "B" Pinot Noir, and 2005 Becker Kammerberg Grosses Gewachs Pinot Noir. Each Pinot Noir was from a different tier, the first is the entry level and is an unoaked Pinot Noir (though there is oak, it is just a huge giant fudre, so no oak influence is more accurate), the second is the middle tier wine aged in old barriques (smaller barrels, more oak influence but all old oak), and the third, or top tier is the Kammerberg single vineyard, where the vines are 42 years old (planted in 1967), and the wine is aged in 80% new German oak barrels.
Of the whites, they were the 2008 Becker Estate Pinot Blanc (in German, the Schweigener Weisser Burgunder), the 2006 Becker Limestone Pinot Blanc (in German, the Kalgestein Weisser Burgunder), the 2007 Becker Laisser Faire Riesling, and the 2007 Becker Gewurztraminer Auslese. The white wines were impressive, my favorites being the 2006 Limestone Pinot Blanc, and the Laisser Faire Riesling.

Pretty cool huh? All in a day's work.


Noel DLP said...

I really liked that Friedrich Becker Estate story :)

Samantha Dugan said...

It ended up being a very good event at The Wine Country, everyone was thrilled! Thanks for bringing them question, how come we didnt get the hottie?!

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