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Baden, Germany

In the south-western corner of Germany lies a distinctive wine region, encompassing some 16,000 hectares of vineyards – making it the third largest wine region in the country – stretching over 200km north to south, east of the Rhine River.

Vineyards around the Kaiserstuhl, Baden, Germany

Vineyards around the Kaiserstuhl, Baden, Germany

The average vintage in Baden produces around a million hectolitres of wine.

At the time of writing this page, Baden is the only wine grape region included in the EU’s Zone B – which exposes higher minimum requirements for Quality Wine and Quality Wines of Distinction.

Other wine regions included in this zone include the likes of Alsace, Champagne and the Loire Valley – which places Baden in serious company!

Surprising then, that little is actually known about Baden outside its own borders, despite the fact that it is as large as Alsace – just over the river.

Baden covers over 400km, including 9 districts:

Baden vineyards

Baden vineyards

Badische Bergstrasse, Tauberfranken, Kraichgau, Ortenau, Breisgau, Kaiserstuhl, Tniberg, Markgräflerland, and Bodensee.

Around 55% of wine grapes grown here are of Pinot varieties; 36% Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder), 10% Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder) and the rest Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder). This makes Baden the largest producer of Pinot varieties in the whole of Germany.

The remaining 45% odd is made up of Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and the lesser-known Chasselas (Gutedel).

Interestingly, although we don’t hear a lot about its use, Chasselas has a number of pseudonyms around the world: Abelione, Abelone, Albilloidea, Alsacia Blanca, Amber Chasselas, Amber Muscadine, Bar sur Aube, Bela Glera, Bela Zlahtnina, Berezka Prostaya, Berioska Casla, Beyaz Gutedel, Biela Plemenika Praskava, Biela Plemincka Chrapka, Biela Plemincka Pruskawa, Blanchette, Blanquette, Bon Blanc, Bordo, Bournet, Bournot, Charapka, Chasselas, Chasselas Angevin, Chasselas Bianco, Chasselas Blanc Royal, Chasselas Blanchette, Chasselas Crognant, Chasselas Croquant, Chasselas de Bar-sur-Aube, Chasselas de Bordeaux, Chasselas de Florence, Chasselas de Fontainebleau, Chasselas de Jalabert, Chasselas de la Contrie, Chasselas de la Naby, Chasselas de Moissac, Chasselas de Montauban, Chasselas de Mornain, Chasselas de Pondichéry, Chasselas de Pontchartrain, Chasselas de Pouilly, Chasselas de Quercy, Chasselas de Rappelo, Chasselas de Tenerife, Chasselas de Teneriffe, Chasselas de Thomeri, Chasselas de Toulaud, Chasselas de Vaud, Chasselas di Fountanbleau, Chasselas di Thomery, Chasselas Dorada, Chasselas Dorato, Chasselas Dore, Chasselas Dore Hatif, Chasselas Dore Salomon, Chasselas du Doubs, Chasselas du Portugal, Chasselas du Roi, Chasselas du Serail, Chasselas du Thor, Chasselas Dugommier, Chasselas Dur, Chasselas Fendant, Chasselas Hatif de Tenerife, Chasselas Haute Selection, Chasselas Jalabert, Chasselas Jaune Cire, Chasselas Piros, Chasselas Plant Droit, Chasselas Queen Victoria, Chasselas Reine Victoria, Chasselas Salsa, Chasselas Tokay Angevine, Chasselas Vert de la Cote, Chasselas White, Chasselat, Chrupka, Chrupka Biela, Chrupka Bila, Common Muscadine, Danka Belaya, Dinka Belaya, Dinka Blanche, Dobrorozne, Doppelte Spanische, Dorin, Doucet, Eau Douce Blanche, Edelschoen, Edelwein, Edelweiss, Edelxeiss, Elsaesser, Elsasser Weiss, Fabian, Fabiantraube, Fábiánszőlő, Fehér Chasselas, Fehér Fábiánszőlő, Fehér gyöngyszőlő, Fehér ropogós, Fendant, Fendant Blanc, Fendant Roux, Fendant Vert, Florenci Jouana, Fondan Belyi, Franceset, Franceseta, Frauentraube, Gamet, Gelber Gutedel, Gemeiner Gutedel, Gentil Blanc, Gentil Vert, Golden Bordeaux, Golden Chasselas, Grossblaettrige Spanische, Grosse Spanische , Grosser Spaniger, Gruener Gutedel, Gutedel, Gutedel Weiss, Gutedel Weisser, Gyöngyszőlő, Junker, Koenigs Gutedel, Kracher, Krachgutedel, Krachmost, Lardot, Lourdot, Maisa, Marzemina Bianca, Marzemina Niduca, Morlenche, Mornan Blanc, Mornen, Mornen Blanc, Most, Most Rebe, Moster, Pariser Gutedel, Perlan, Pinzutella, Plamenka Belyi, Plant de Toulard, Plant de Toulaud, Plemenika Praskava, Plemenka, Plemenka Bela, Plemenka Rana, Pleminka Biela, Praskava, Pruscava Biela, Queen Victoria, Queen Victoria White, Raisin D’officier, Ranka, Rebe Herrn Fuchses, Reben Herm Fuchs, Reben Herrn, Rheinrebe, Rosmarinentraube, Rosmarintraube, Royal Muscadine, Sasla, Sasla Bela, Schoenedel, Shasla Belaya, Shasla Dore, Shasla Lechebnaya, Shasla Viktoria, Silberling, Silberweiss, Silberweissling, Silberwissling, Strapak, Suessling, Suesstraube, Sweetwater, Sweetwater White, Temprano, Temprano Blanco, Terravin, Tribi Vognoble, Tribiano Tedesco, Ugne, Uslechtile Bile, Valais Blanc, Viala, Viviser, Waelsche, Waelscher, Weisser Gutedel, Weisser Krachgutedel, White Chasselas, White Muscadine, White Sweetwater, White Van der Laan, Zlahtina, Zlahtnina, Zlahtnina Bijela, Zlatina, and Zupljanka! [Source: Wikipedia]

…but anyway, back to Baden …

Kaiserstuhl

Kaiserstuhl vineyards

Kaiserstuhl vineyards

By far the largest number of wines, and largest vine area in Baden is the Kaiserstuhl [King’s Seat].

This hilly outcrop in an otherwise fairly flat area is actually the core of an ancient volcano. Its soils are thus volcanic, and give rise to a mineral quality to the wines.

However there are areas of loess – a fine, light soil that erodes very easily – which retain water more readily and have given life to some fuller-bodied wines during hot years.

This area – the warmest wine grape-growing region in Germany – is able to ripen even red wine grapes to sufficient levels to produce excellent wines.

Kaiserstuhl vineyards, Baden, Germany

Kaiserstuhl vineyards, Baden, Germany

The area speciality would have to be the Spätburgunder Weissherbst. Made from the Pinot Noir grape, the mineral qualities of the soil impart a spritzy character to this light-bodied red.

Unfortunately the best wine of this region stays in the region. – and you really can’t leave without trying several bottles!

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Viticulture for Virgins Part II: Grape Expectations

I’ve already mentioned in ‘Viticulture for Virgins Part I’ that the varietal of grape grown in any region is determined by the location.  Let’s look into this further …

Horses for Courses

Villa Franca, Spain (Torres Bodegas)
Villa Franca, Spain (Torres Bodegas)

Although grape vines are weeds, you can’t just throw any old variety in the ground and expect to make great wine from it. The realisation that certain varieties grow better in certain regions didn’t happen overnight. The Europeans discovered this more by trial and error – over hundreds of years – than by scientific research.

There are a handful of considerations you need to mull through when choosing your grape:

Ripening – is there enough sun and warmth to ripen Shiraz? Is it cool enough to maintain desirable acidity in Sauvignon Blanc? If not, there’s a myriad of varieties to choose from that will be more suitable to a region. If all else fails, modern science just creates new varieties to suit growing conditions.

Tolerance to Climatic Hiccups – some regions are prone to drought, or Spring frosts. These factors can have horrific affect on new buds, or fruit setting. It’s important that the varieties chosen for a particular region can hold up in times of adverse conditions.

Jerez, Spain

Jerez, Spain

But the world is a constantly changing place …

Advances in viticultural practices (trellising, harvesting) and modern technology (eg refrigeration) may mean that ideal grape type may have changed, however -probably because of traditional planting restrictions in Europe – implementation of this change has been slow, if at all.

And then there’s …

Market Demand – obviously there’s no point in increasing plantations of Chardonnay in Australia at the moment. No-one wants it. Consumers are looking for more interesting whites. [Originally written in 2006 … update in 2012 is that Chardonnay is making comeback … I rest my case …]  Here again the New World boasts supremacy. Without appellation contols, they can plant whatever they want!  But can they keep up with consumer demand?  New vines take up to 7 years to produce a decent yield. The consumer has changed his mind 15 times by then. Nature takes a little longer to respond to consumer demand than man does.

Old World Tradition -v- New World Innovation?

Siena, Chianti, Italy

Siena, Chianti, Italy

If I may digress into my marketing head for a moment … Interestingly enough, the New World criticizes the Old World for adhering to planting restrictions – particularly in France, where not only type of grape but yield (quantity harvested/hectare) is limited by appellation controllée laws.

At the same time, repeated articles I saw in wine press during the late 90’s/early 00’s, claimed the New World [particularly Australia] has revolutionised the wine industry globally with its “brand-building discipline“.

Building brands is exactly what the French have been doing all the time. Just because they don’t do jingles, fluoro-coloured labels and tacky merchandising to go with it, we all know that a ‘Bordeaux’ is not just a region, likewise a ‘Burgundy’, ‘Champagne’, or a ‘Rhone Blend’. The wine world knows what to expect in terms of taste and quality from these brands … oops, wines.

Early to Ripen:Early to Harvest

Kaiser Stuhl, Baden, Germany

Kaiser Stuhl, Baden, Germany

Grape varieties don’t all ripen at once, so they can be split into different maturity groups. This is important when laying out the vineyards and determining which grapes are to be planted. Obviously if all grapes ripened at the same time, by the time you have harvested the fruit from the whole property, the last ones may be a bit worse for wear!

Thus, large vineyards often have different varieties growing in different sections which mature at different times.

Those grape varieties that need less heat or sun to mature are called ‘Early Ripeners‘. As the amount of sunlight has a direct bearing on the colour of a grape’s skin, it’s not difficult to understand that most early ripeners are white grapes: eg, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sultana, Traminer, Verdelho.

What? – you say – Pinot Noir is a red grape! True, but the colour in a wine comes from the skin, [flesh of all grapes is white] and when Pinot Noir is used in Sparklings or Champagnes, the colour of the skin is not needed – and neither is a high level of sugar. So, for this purpose, they are early ripeners.  You see, wine is not all red and white – there are pink areas!

Mid-season ripeners are the next to mature and be harvested. This group includes all the regulars, eg: Cabernets (Franc, Sauvignon, Ruby …), Shiraz, Merlot and whites that need a little more sugar, like Savignon Blanc, Marsanne, Riesling, Semillon.

Finally the late ripeners, which by now I’m sure you realise are those varietals which need more sugar: Grenache, Muscats, etc.

Grapes can move between these maturity groups depending on climate. Riesling, for example, is able to reach adequate flavour ripeness at relatively low sugar levels in very cold regions. This is one of the reasons it is one of the most important grapes in Germany.

Early-Picked v Early Ripening

Don’t confuse ‘early-picked‘ with ‘early ripening‘.  Early-picked refers to grapes picked at an earlier time than optimum ripening requires.  This is done to reduce the sugar level in a wine.  Of course, ‘late-picked‘ means the opposite – ie picked late to increase sugar levels.

A Sea of Varieties

Rudesheim, Germany

Rudesheim, Germany

There are literally hundreds of different grape varieties used for wine-making around the world, and research (particularly in New World countries) is resulting in new clones, custom-made for specific regions all the time.

Commercial wines from all over the world are mostly grown from grapes of the Vitis vinifera family. Originating in Asia, this species will die in freezing temperatures, and is prone to mildews and other bugs. The viticulturalist monitors these problems closely as they can be devastating not just to one vintage, but to the survival of the vineyard.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2013 in Viticulture

 

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Viticulture for Virgins Part I: Location, Location, Location!

Vineyards in Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia

Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia

This is my first blog in a series I will post about viticultural practices in the vineyards, and how they have direct influence on the type and style of wine that can be produced from any area.

The aim of this post is to give you an overview of each viticultural topic so that you understand how and why a wine tastes the way it does.

I’ll try not to get too technical, but the teacher in me kicks in when I start talking specifics … sorry in advance.  You can always drop me a “reply” with your questions and I’ll do my best to answer.

It’s not rocket-science …

Grape vines are basically weeds.  They’ll grow anywhere with a bit of sunlight and little water, let alone any pruning.  They’re resilient, persistent and can survive in most places without a lot of care or attention – much the same as any other weed.

However, before the viticulturalists reach for their bug spray to silence me, remember there’s a lot more to viticulture than you need to understand for the purpose of choosing or enjoying a great wine. What we’ll discuss here is just the basics:

Wine grapes are ‘picky’ about location …

Table grapes can grow in most places quite successfully. However, not everywhere is suitable for growing wine grapes.

Wine grapes require a balanced combination of colour, acidity and sugar, so they don’t make the best wines when exposed to temperature extremes. Too much cold = too much acid, and too much heat = too much sugar. Table grapes on the other hand are not so discerning – the more heat, the more sugar for them.

VitiLocatMapThere are specific regions in the northern and southern hemispheres where the weather and climate are favourable for growing wine grapes. The bands on this map show generally where these optimum wine grape growing regions are on the globe.  In the northern hemisphere, the best regions lie between latitude 30º and latitude 50º [around Tunisia to Germany]. In the southern hemisphere, between latitude 23º to 45º [half-way down Australia to New Zealand].

And they like their creature comforts …

Within these quite defined climate bands there are optimum levels of sunlight, temperature, rainfall and humidity required to develop desirable sugar and acid levels in wine grapes to make particular styles of wine.

When wine grapes check in, they come with a hefty rider …

  • Avg temp coldest month must be greater than -1ºC;
  • Avg temp warmest month must be greater than 17ºC;
  • Lowest temp in any 20 year period must not drop below -20ºC more than once;
  • More than 180 frost-free days;
  • Minimum 1200 hours sunshine during the growing season;
  • Rainfall greater than 450mm annually [750mm in hotter regions] … although irrigation can make up shortfalls.

… and this is just for starters. There are many more technical specifications determined by the type of grape grown.

The red soils of Coonawarra, South Australia

The red soils of Coonawarra, South Australia

As the sun travels along the line of the equator, there is too much light and heat in the areas between the optimum climate bands to grow fine wine grapes. Best leave those areas for sugar cane and rum distilleries.

The sun’s equatorial path also has a bearing on vineyard sites situated on hillsides. To make the most of available sunlight in the optimum regions the correct aspect has to be considered: southern hillsides in the northern hemisphere, and northern hillsides in the southern hemisphere – particularly in cooler areas.

Not one location fits all, either …

Different grapes, and the different wine styles or types that can be made from them, need specific climatic elements to succeed. Old World viticulturalists go even further, referring to the terroir of a wine region when they characterise its suitability for particular grapes.

Windmill amongst vines, Swan Hill

Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia

There is no doubt that individual locations for vineyards have a great bearing on the grape type most suited to growing conditions available, and on the style of wines that can be made from the grapes.

Different macroclimates have varying rainfall and sunlight hours.  As mentioned above, heat = sugar. Thus grapes which receive lots of sunny days in which to ripen will have higher sugar levels, and grapes which receive too much water will bloat and have less flavour.

The lay of the land also has an effect on grape choice.

In Colmar [Alsace region, France/Germany border] Riesling grapes ripen very well, and make exquisite wines.

However a mere 40 km to the west, in Freiburg in the Baden region of Germany, they won’t even ripen.  Why is this so? Colmar is [slightly] warmer and has less rainfall due to its being in the rainshadow of the Vosges Mountains.

Style is influenced by environment …

There are many location-specific climatic influences that affect wine style.

Winter vines, Bendigo, Victoria

Winter vines, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia

For example, take Shiraz grapes grown in higher temperature regions … The enzymes which produce anthocyanins [responsible for colour] in the skin of the grapes work less effectively over 26 degrees celsius.

Thus, hot climate Shiraz has much less colour.

Sugar levels on the other hand will be higher [as long as it doesn’t get too hot for transpiration]. The resulting wine style will likely be medium to full-bodied, with low to medium colour intensity.

Let’s consider Australia, where higher sugar levels attained in the Rutherglen region of north-east Victoria enable heavy bodied fortifieds [Port, Muscat, etc] to excel from red grapes.

On the other hand, Tasmania’s chilly seasons encourage higher levels of acidity in white grapes required for fine, dry sparklings, but lack enough warm days to ripen Shiraz with adequate sugar levels or skin colour to make medium-full bodied wine.

But there’s more … subtle differences between mesoclimates within a region will have varying effects on the varietals, and the style of wines which can be made from the ripe grapes.  This is one reason that all wines don’t taste the same.

But they can be manipulated …

So, if wine grapes are grown outside the optimum climate bands, does this mean they’ll make undrinkable wine?  Short answer – not necessarily.

Long answer – certain mesoclimates can create area pockets outside of the optimum climate band regions which have suitable temperatures and number of sunlight hours for the grapes to flourish.

Vineyards on the castle slopes, Rapperswil, Switzerland

Vineyards on the castle slopes, Rapperswil, Switzerland

Then there’s canopy management, which also facilitates successful winemaking from grapes by improving the microclimate of the vine canopy.

This is where the viticulturalist really earns his money – by maximising the available climatic conditions to encourage berry flavour development and ripening.

To do this, the vines are grown to shapes that allow sunlight to easily reach the leaves and fruit.

Trellising serves initially as a support for young vines to shape, and later as support for the mature vines. Exactly what form this trellis takes is determined by the expected vigour of the vine.

It’s common to see European vineyards using single poles to train vines. Sometimes they use nothing at all and train the vines as bushes. Modern viticulture, prominent in the New World wine regions, on the other hand, uses quite elaborate structures to train vines.

Apart from canopy management reasons, New World wineries also tend to use more mechanical pruning and harvesting – which most trellising readily enables. A more important factor for mechanical operations though is the spacing between the vines – which can be anything from 2.5m to 4m apart. This wide spacing allows maximum sunlight to reach the grapes as the rows don’t overshadow each other.

Old World vineyards are much older, often on steep slopes and have been pruned by hand for centuries. In many cases, their rows are much closer together – as little as 1m apart.

Shiraz Vines, McLarenVale, South Australia

Shiraz Vines, McLarenVale, South Australia

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2013 in Viticulture

 

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Visiting Cellar Door: Baden

Kaiser StuhlIn the south-western corner of Germany lies a distinctive wine region, encompassing some 16,000 hectares of vineyards – making it the third largest wine region in the country.

Such a large area, and so many wines – how do you get to try more than a few?

The Badischer Winzerkeller in Breisach can help out here. This is actually the largest winery in Europe, built in 1952 to bring efficiency in production for the small wine grape-growers of the region.

This consortium of growers boasts 38 members growing exclusively for the Badische Winzerkeller, and a further 35 members who bring part of their vintage to them.

Altogether, they bring around 4.5 million kg of grapes, which are grouped by varietal and pressed to make the Baden wines.

Spätburgunder accounts for 44% of the harvest, with Müller-Thurgau the second largest at 27%, and a handful of smaller quantity wine grapes.

The Winzerkeller also does tours – including a slide-show on the Baden wine-growing regions, followed by a guided tour of the winery, bottling plant, warehouse and cask-cellar.

The bad news is that the brochures handed to you in Freiburg‘s tourist office are in english, but the tours are not.

Also, although the brochure says daily tours, I was told to come back the next day when I turned up. You get the impression they’re really not interested in single visitors, and thus they’ll tell you to come back on a day when they have a group booked in, so they can tack you on.

The good news is that the Winzerkeller readily brings out the tasting bottles for you to enjoy and choose from. In fact the range in the shop is extremely well priced!

You can also get piccolo’s (small bottles) of many wines for less than a couple of euro … so there’s really no excuse to leave empty-handed!

Getting to the Winzerkeller is simple. Jump on the Breisach S-bahn at Freiburg Hauptbahnhof for the short trip to Breisgau. When you get off at the station, turn right and just keep walking along the same road. You’ll actually see the Winzerkeller from the train just before you arrive in Breisgau, so you can get your bearings then.

When you get to the Winzerkeller, turn and look towards the Kaiserstuhl, and you’ll get a view of the most dramatic terraces – which are part of Ihringen. This is where the best reds come from in the region.

Cost of return ticket is about €10-12 – which actually entitles you to travel on all buses, trains and trams in Frieburg and surrounds for 24 hours.

 
 

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