Thursday, 1 October 2015

Weekend Winery Business with a Co-op

This post was contributed by Lucia Santoso, an avid wine lover, musician and traveller currently based in Germany.

Harald Weiss presents a selection of Schriesheim wines

Imagine you’ve inherited a hectare or two of vineyard. What do you do? Quit your day job and honour the family tradition by launching into the wine business? What would be the risks? Can you earn a living out of it?

First world problems, I see you roll your eyes… But in Germany this can be a real situation one would face, and there is a solution - keep your day job and run the wine business in the weekend, by joining a winemaker’s co-operative (Winzergenossenschaft), explained Harald Weiss, GM of the Schriesheim co-op.

The winemaker’s co-operative at Schriesheim (about 13 km north of Heidelberg, in the Baden wine region) charges 750€ per quarter hectare of vineyard, and they press the grapes, make the wine, bottle them, market them, put the bottle on shop shelves, and give members the agreed cut of the profits. So all one needs to do is tend to the grape vines, harvest them, drop off the grape berries, and Bob’s your uncle!

Comprising 200 members over an area of 120 hectares, the Schriesheim co-op produces between 600 kL in a bad year to 1 million litres of wine per year. This co-op itself is one of the 32 members of a greater cooperative that share winemaking facilities, expertise, as well as market. The co-op not only takes care of the process once the grapes are picked, but also monitors the vineyards by GPS and keeps strict quality control practices. Indeed, I saw with my very own little eyes bunches of discarded grapes on the ground to keep low yields, 80% of which are hand picked. The results are truly good quality wines which you are about to read, so prepare to drool…

The tasting starts with a Riesling, of course, being the most important grape variety in the cooperative, occupying 25 of the 120 hectares. Clear and pale lemony in colour, this light bodied 2014 Schriesheimer Kuhberg Riesling Kabinett trocken offers melon and mineral on the nose with a citrus palate and refreshing acidity. Just what we needed after two hours of a hilly vineyard walking tour!

The medium bodied 2014 Schriesheimer Rittersberg Weißer Burgunder Kabinett trocken wafts the fragrance of white blossoms and white stone fruits, with a subtle palate of minerality and tropical fruit. Little birdies say that an earlier vintage was the choice of the German president himself - one day a few years ago a phone order had come, for delivery to the presidential villa in Berlin! Harald would drink it with almost anything, he says, or on its own. I myself happily indulged in the classic can’t-go-wrong pairing of white asparagus and white pinot. Ah… the joys of this rite of spring…

The 2014 Spätburgunder Weissherbst (pinot rosé) Kabinett is a cheerful, happy go lucky party wine, with the expected berries on the nose, and amarena cherries on the palate, making it the usual favourite of the wine queens.

It was not so long ago when the Schriesheim cooperative community started to experiment with French grape varietals, with impressive results. For me, la pièce de la resistance in the selection is the 2012 Schriesheimer Rittersberg Chardonnay Spätlese trocken. Matured in French oak, this medium bodied wine bears a buttery-toast, biscuity nose and mixed stone fruit palate. No wonder it won a gold medal from the Badish winery society. The mouthfeel reminisces a Meursault, at a quarter of the price tag! A must on the shopping list!

The session in the cellar ended very happily with the 2012 Schriesheimer Rittersberg Spätburgunder Rotwein Spätlese trocken. Looking beautifully purple, the aromas of cherries, black pepper and allspice firstly teases your senses, before these flavours explode on your tastebuds. The juicy fruitiness reflects the warm summer. Tasted blind, you’d think this also comes from Burgundy, again, at a quarter the price.

Why don’t you taste it for yourself and let the wines themselves do the talking. Schriesheim plays host to wine wanderings in February and September each year.

Author’s note: websites are in German. Hint: that’s what Google translate is for. ;)

Notes on labels:
Kabinett = dry style Prädikatswein (quality German wine), usually harvested earlier
Spätlese = literally ‘late harvest’ richer, denser Prädikatswein, harvested at least one week after the start of the harvest season
trocken = dry
Kuhberg = literally, cow mountain
Rittersberg = knight’s mountain, see the castle and imagine how it was like centuries ago

Wine-searcher has further info on how to read German wine labels.

The picturesque town of Schriesheim

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