Who’s gonna read all this, who’s gonna drink all this?
Every spring the congregation awaits the wine letter from the house of Stein. In addition to a review of the weather, special features and noteworthy events of the past year, the wine letter always contains qualified contributions on the subject of wine. We wish you lot of fun
– while reading, as well as while drinking.
Wineletter 2022 | Steepest Vineyards, Climate Change
Dear friends of good taste,
The climate change that has been described again and again since 2006 has presented itself again the past year. The extremes of the last few years continued with a long dry phase in the spring and heavy rainfall in summer, leading to the devastating floods on the Ahr and many other regions of the Eifel. Compared to this catastrophe, our region was largely spared and we had to deal with more everyday problems.
On our dry slate steep slopes the vines started suffering from stress early due to the dry March and April. While the deep-rooted old vines survived the prolonged drought quite well, younger vines partially stopped growing or even dried out completely, despite regular irrigation. The unstable weather in the summer months of May, June and July led to delayed flowering of the vines and and in some cases severe fungal infections. Targeted applications of sustainable fungicides allowed us to mostly prevent damage from the dangerous fungal diseases powdery and downy mildew.
In contrast to the previous years, where continuous sunshine led to significant levels of sugar (Oechsle) and diminished acidity levels, in 2021 we started harvest with good acidity and moderate sugar levels. This allowed us to start harvest later, with the main part of harvest taking place in October.
The wine quality is comparable to that of the previous top vintages, except for the tip of the quality pyramid which is missing this year, so there are no Spätlesen and Auslesen. And the volume is missing! Compared to the 10-year average our winery had a yield of 50%, about 3000 l per hectare, which is about half a bottle per vine.
The weather extremes also lead to a downright plague of wild boars, which ploughed through entire vineyards during the night and ate all of the ripe grapes in certain parcels.
Unfortunately more and more steep vineyards on the Mosel are being abandoned or are only being tended to if they are capable of being mechanised by the use of a caterpillar on a winch. This requires certain spacing between the vines and there can be no walls in the vineyard. Most steep slopes in the Mosel meet these requirements now and most tasks (weed control, mulching, spraying, hedging, leaf-plucking, fertilizing, grape transport) can be done with the caterpillar. The future will show how the usually loose and aerated soil will react to this constant compaction by the heavy caterpillars.
Manual labour makes for high cost and workload reduction makes sense, but the terraced steep slopes with their old walls simply require more effort and generally do not allow for any mechanisation (with the exception of grape transport using a monorack train). Obviously it is also possible to produce great wines in mechanized vineyards and when the machines contribute to the survival of these vineyards, this is absolutely necessary and should be considered a good thing.
Our winery also uses a tractor and a winch for ploughing in the St. Aldegunder Klosterkammer, the Alfer Hölle and partially in the St. Aldegunder Himmelreich and the full cases of grapes can be pulled up through the vineyard on a sled. Even with this partial mechanisation, there is still plenty of manual labour left to be done in these vineyards. An even more original and traditional way of working – identical to how it was a 100-years ago – is still done in most vineyards in the Himmelreich, the ‘1900’ and especially in Palmberg.
These terraced vineyards still have characteristics that can not be compared to those in mechanised vineyards. Most importantly they have ungrafted vines which are over 75 years old, classically trained to single posts. These old soulful vineyards with their gnarled old dry walls and their irregular slopes and rock faces contribute significantly to the singular landscape and the wines that they can produce.
Producing racy, fruity Riesling wines that are as low in alcohol as possible, dry and with fine acidity, is becoming increasingly difficult in times of climate change, and knowledge of vine biology is becoming more and more important. Climate and weather change, but it is certainly possible to react to the changing conditions optimally. In order to ensure sufficient water supply, we have continuously increased the humus content of our slate soils. To protect the grapes from ‘sunburn’ in summer, the vine leaves are left on the side facing the sun and only the back is leaf-plucked. This allows air to reach the shaded grapes so fewer fungal infections occur and the fine Riesling aroma is not destroyed by excessive temperatures in the berries. Since we attach great importance to physiologically ripe grapes, which, with sufficiently high must weights, are characterised above all by a distinctive aroma and a balanced, racy acidity, we have always coordinated the harvest time as well as possible to these parameters.
In our winery, we mainly cultivate old ungrafted vines. With their small, yellow grapes and low yields, they produce these important ingredients early on and in large quantities, even at relatively low degrees of Oechsle. The power of these deep-rooted, old vines goes less into sugar production and more into aroma production. They are in a better physiological balance than the modern high-performance clones. This mineral power is most clearly expressed in our Kabinet wines.
Old cultivated plants are often more resistant to diseases and pests and represent an important gene pool. Less than 1 percent of the German vineyard area, i.e. about 800 hectares, are older than 75 years and of these, 10 percent are over 100 years old. About 600 hectares of vines are ungrafted, most of which grow on the Mosel.
In one of our vineyard the ‘1900’, there are 1,200 of these ancient Riesling vines, which can be proven to have been planted in 1900 and have produced wines that are particularly rich in extract and aroma ever since.
The low yields and the rapid increase in costs of up to 50 percent for corks, labels, cardboard packaging, bottles, energy and shipping unfortunately make it unavoidable to raise the prices for the new wines. Although we are among the fortunate people who live in a wonderful landscape and have a job that is fun and fulfilling, we also have to keep our finances in order. At the same time, we are aware that the latter is also important for our customers.
After the past two difficult years, we wish you all the best this spring and look forward to seeing you again in good health as soon as possible. We raise our glasses and drink to better days with the fruity and racy 2021 wines,
Ulrich and Peter Stein, Ruth Schiffer and Philip Lardot.
Wineletter 2021 | Naturewines, Grapesecco
Dear friends of the good taste,
the past vintage is once again one of the very good wine years with little rainfall. 2020 was already the eighth extreme year in this decade and illustrates the ongoing climate change. As in previous years, the long summer was characterized by plenty of sunshine, extreme heat and persistent drought.
While the deep-rooted old vines again survived the prolonged drought quite well, younger vines partially stopped growing or even dried out completely.
Consistently midsummer weather led to early vine bloom in late May/early June and accelerated further grape development. Rainfall in August ended the summer dry spell and led to rapid grape growth.
In sunshine and high temperatures, the green vine leaves produce particularly high levels of sugar (Oechsle), which is then stored very early in the grapes – at the same time acid is reduced. In order to avoid too high Oechsle degrees – and thus too much alcohol in the later wine – with too little acidity, and above all to harvest grapes that are as healthy as possible, harvesting had to be early and selective.
For our light, fruity Rieslings and elegant and the elegant Pinot Noir red wines, the grapes were already perfectly ripe in mid to late September. In contrast, we harvested the grapes for the more opulent wines such as Steinlaus and Hölle 1900 and the robust Cabernet only two to three weeks later.
As in the similarly hot year of 2018, completely healthy grapes could be harvested in sufficient quantities. The young wines once again represent the great potential and range of Riesling and Pinot Noir from steepslatesites.
In recent years, drinking habits, communication and sales channels, as well as wine-legislative specifications have
changed. We have taken this into account: with a slightly different winemaking process, the redesign or reorganization of labels and price list and a new homepage with integrated wine store.
As far as winemaking is concerned, light, fresh, tangy, fruity everyday wines are increasingly appreciated at home and abroad; very acidic, austere, ripe and heavy wines are consumed less. This applies – with certain restrictions – in the meantime also to red wines.
A completely new and exciting development is taking place in the field of so-called “natural wines”. In almost all wine-growing countries, especially in Georgia, Austria, Italy, Spain and France, many, especially younger winegrowers, practice this somewhat different style of vinification. Since our designated successor Philip Lardot is also successfully oriented towards this style, natural wines will play a somewhat more important role in the future. However, two things are very important: First, we will continue to cultivate the proven and also by Philip appreciated Steinwein style (light, fresh, fruity and elegant). Second, the “natural wines” produced by him and by us, while different and unusual in taste, are far from questionable beverages that are simply oxidative, cloudy, and barely enjoyable.
Well-made natural wines can open up completely new worlds of taste, for example as food accompaniments.
Since these wines do not correspond to the usual German taste picture and, moreover, often show a very slight natural turbidity, they were sometimes rejected, sometimes positively decided at the official testing station. In view of these imponderables, we have decided to dispense with official testing in the future and to market the “border crossers” as country wines without a test number. Unfortunately, even if the grapes originate one hundred percent from one site and the region “Mosel”, both may not appear on the label. So now we have to leave out Himmelreich and instead of “Mosel” write “Landwein der Mosel”.
This concerns, among other things, our “bordercrosser” Elbling, which we have been producing since last year. The still very active 84-year-old winemaker Ewald Scherrer, is the namesake of this dry country wine. Ewald has leased us his vineyards in St. Aldegund. His property also includes a parcel of land in the “St. Aldegunder Himmelreich” site, which is planted with rooted Ebling vines.
The vineyard was planted by him in 1951, (the year of birth of the author of these lines) and thus belongs to the oldest Elbling vineyards in Germany.
The wine legislation prescribes more and more detailed what, how and where has to be written on a label. This results in both curious and annoying specifications: The font size of the alcohol content is regulated to the millimeter, while the alcohol content itself may not be stated exactly, but must be rounded up or down to the half digit.
A new regulation has now caught our popular Seccos, which we have been producing successfully – and hitherto unchallenged – as quality sparkling wines for twenty years and have also been allowed to call them that. For a better understanding, the basics of Secco and sparkling wine production should be briefly described again:
In contrast to sparkling wine, in which the sparkling carbonic acid is produced during an elaborate fermentation and aging process lasting several years in the bottle, in sparkling wine endogenous carbonic acid, i.e. carbonic acid obtained from the fermentation of other wines, is added in a pressure tank and the impregnated wine is filled into thick-walled bottles under counterpressure. As with sparkling wine, the use of a high-quality base wine is the most important prerequisite for producing good quality wines.
Top sparkling wines and champagnes are produced using the very labor-intensive “Methode Champenoise” or “traditional bottle fermentation”.
In this process, a finished, preferably fully fermented, high-quality base wine (so far always Riesling, from this year also Pinot Noir), with 24 grams of sugar per liter and a special pure yeast is added, bottled in pressure-stable bottles and sealed with a crown cork.
Within the next few months, the yeasts ferment the added sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide (pressure!) and produce specific bouquet and aroma compounds. Since the storage time on the yeast has a very strong influence on the quality, we only shake the aged yeast after a long maturation phase of at least four to five years and place the bottles on special “riddling shelves”. Subsequently, each bottle is shaken daily, which causes the small yeasts to clump together into larger cell aggregates and settle in the neck of the bottle as a plug, which is ejected by the internal pressure when the bottles are opened. After this “disgorging”, the so-called dosage, a wine usually heavily sweetened with sugar, is added and the bottles are sealed with a thick champagne cork. We use our high-quality, noble-sweet Striehween as dosage for better flavor rounding.
While our sparkling wines are allowed to keep their designations, the name “Qualitätsperlwein” and the indication of grape variety, vineyard and growing region are prohibited for the seccos since March 26, 2021. The fact that the new product designation must now read “sparkling wine with added carbon dioxide” is grammatical nonsense, but can just about be understood in terms of meaning.
However, the fact that a Mosel Riesling produced by us may no longer be called such is nothing more than bureaucratic arbitrariness, both for you and for us. Supposedly, these senseless regulations serve the consumer protection, in fact they lead to a targeted disinformation of consumers. This control mania seems to have only one purpose: to keep a superfluous bureaucracy alive. But we do not give in so easily. Our “Riesling Secco”, which may now only be called “Secco” and which may not have “Mosel” on the label, has been given a new name by the new regulation: “O Mosella …”. This, of course, is to be understood exclusively as a quotation of the well known and beautiful song about the Moselle.
For our customers who, for whatever reason, do not want to or cannot drink sparkling wine, we have added carbon dioxide to part of our popular grape juice as a “further speciality”. The result is a freshly sparkling non-alcoholic sparkling grape secco.
Finally, a note:
in 2017, we produced a fruity red wine from the Dornfelder grape variety (purchased grapes) with a small proportion of Pinot Noir for a Chinese wine customer. The customer, due to Corona, has called only a part of the quantity. We are now selling the remaining bottles (17D1) at a preferential price.
After the difficult past year, we wish you all the best this spring and look forward to seeing you again in good health as soon as possible. We raise our glasses and drink to better days with the fruity and racy 2020,
Ulrich and Peter Stein, Ruth Schiffer and Philip Lardot
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)