As we walked up towards the famous Hermannshöhle vineyard in the Nahe, Helmut Donnhoff shouted back to of us, slowing down everyone by taking photos of the spectacularly steep vines, “Hurry up. There are beers waiting for us a the end!”
He has known this vineyard since he was a child. The Hermannshöhle vineyard was replanted in 1949, the year of his birth. As he showed us the frost damage on the canes from April frost, he explained how strange it was for this vineyard to be affected by frost,
“Cornelius (his son, who is now the winemaker, born in 1980) did not believe that frost could happen here. Now he knows that anything can happen.”
He recalled his first vintage was 1971, one of the best vintages of the century. We joked that 1971 was a high standard to forever live up to. As we drove up to the Felsenberg vineyard near the “Donnhoff Castle” I asked,
“What is the difference between working in the 2017 and 1971 vintage?”
He thought for a while, slowing right down to glance at vines as if they were children playing by the side of the road,
“The difference is that the weather was very mild… Long periods of gentle sunshine. Not too much rain, not too much heat. There were no extreme (weather) events. That is the difference between the weather now and then.”
“The average temperature has increased by 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius since the 1970s,” he said, and admitted the riper fruit is something he welcomes (in a region at 49.800 degrees North), but overall, it is not a good thing for winemakers in hotter climates, especially in Southern France.
“It wasn’t possible to do 4 grams of residual sugar in the 1950s and 1960s (as it is today for the 2016 Dellchen Riesling Grosses Gewachs).”
Dark storm clouds were gathering over the valley. We got out at the Felsenberg vineyard and climbed though nettles and up the old stone stairs to the castle fort to see the view along the river. Big splotches of rain fell on my camera.
“What do you think has changed the most, in that time – the vineyard or the winery?”
The biggest difference, he said, is in the vineyard… and then, we quickly went back to the van just before it began to downpour. A few minutes later, rivulets of water were flowing down from the vines towards the river.
We drove slowly back to the village of Oberhausen, in sheets of rain along the winding roads down to the town. As we drove, Helmut was gauging how much of the slate and soil would be eroded and have fallen to the bottom of the hill. When we arrived at the restaurant in the village, the rain stopped. Like clockwork. Time for that beer.
11 July 2017
Winery Facts – Dönnhoff
Winemaker: Helmut Donnhoff and Cornelius Donnhoff
The Estate: Hermann Donnhoff – VDP member
Location: Situated in the village of Oberhausen between the villages of Niederhausen and Schlossbockelheim in the rocky landscape of the middle Nahe
History: The Donnhoff family first came to teh Nahe region over 200 years ago. As time went by they turned their modest farm into a wine estate, with the acquisition of top vineyards. Helmut Donnhoff has not only been making wine here since 1971 but also purchased top sites, including Kirschheck, Dellchen and Krotenpfuhl.
Vineyards: 25 ha
Grapes: Riesling 80%, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris 20%
Vines: 15-60 years old
Production: 150,000 bottles
Grosse Lage: Hermannshohle (translation – Herman’s cave); Felsenberg (Rocky hill); Kirschheck (Cherry hedge); Dellchen (Little Dell); Brucke (The bridge); Krotenpfuhl (Pond frog); Kahlenberg (Bare hillside); Leistenberg (Slate hill); Hollenpfad (Path to hell).
This visit was part of the 2017 Masters of Riesling (and Pinot Noir) with Awin Barratt Siegel Wine Agencies (ABS).
The ABS First Taste Grosses Gewächs Tasting (Riesling 2016 and Spätburgunder 2015), will take place on 7th September in London as part of their ABS Portfolio Tasting.
Related post: German Pinot Noir 2015 – Furst and Jean Stodden