The Wine Anarchist has been a bit quiet over the winter, while he was busy establishing a new project in Northern Ireland including planting an experimental vineyard and researching for his book on the permaculture vineyard. Now he is back on the road for some field research for the book.
His first call was to the Winzerhof Linder in the small historical town of Endingen on the foothills of the Kaiserstuhl mountain in the Baden region of southwestern Germany.
The Kaiserstuhl is a small hill range of volcanic origin in the upper Rhine valley between the Black Forest to the east and the Vosgue mountains to the west and is one of the warmest spots in Germany. When current owner Ronald Linder took over the small 4 hectare estate from his grandfather in 2011 the vineyards had just been replanted 2 years before and he was going to do things differently. For a start his dad was given a 'Maschinenverbot', he was banned from using any machinery, else he would get carried away on the tractor mowing down the ground cover plants between the rows to tidy up the vineyard.
The use of non-natural sprays were restricted to copper sulphates and sulphur dioxide, both permitted in organic agriculture, and those only limited to particularly wet seasons. Instead Ronald sprays with a variety of compost teas as well as biodynamic preparations. One plot each of Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) are kept completely free of copper and sulphur in an attempt to strengthen the natural resistance of the grapevines to fungal diseases. Instead a weekly spray of nettle (left for 10 days to ferment under water) and horsetail (soaked in water overnight and then boiled for an hour to release the silicates) is applied throughout the growing season. To replace the copper sulphate he is experimenting with a compost tea made from the leaves of ash trees as they are said to contain levels of copper. Ronald also swears by using biodynamic preparations such as horn silica, which he says has an almost immediate effect on the leaves, as they become more erect and almost crisp to touch.
The property is located on a south facing slope between 200-250 metres above sea level on a number of terraces. On the lower terraces a permaculture vegetable and herb garden is planted where many plants are left to grow quite wild and as perennials, such as Tuscan kale, which is now flowering for the third year in a row and happily seeds itself out, providing food for the family.
The garden as well as the vineyard are neither dug nor ploughed, instead soil is created by successive layers of organic mulch.
The mulch in the vineyard is mostly made from nettles which are left to grow freely amongst the vines along with grasses, plantain, horsetail, mallow, vetch, clover, valerian, hyssop, lavender, fennel and mint. Especially the more aromatic herbs are encouraged and hyssop in particular is said to not only attract beneficial insects and deter pests, but also have an influence on the hormonal balance of grapevines by increasing yields and improving the quality of the grapes.
Ronald Linder also experiments with various other herbal preparations such as a plantain infusion as healing potion for injured vines, valerian is added to the nettle and horsetail spray to improve the pungent smell of the nettle tea. He is trying to grow purple osier salix purpurea, a shrub of the willow family in a small wetland area, to produce a beneficial spray.
Another important element is a small herd of Heidschnucke sheep.
The Heidschnucke breed is very hardy and easy to look after. After the grape harvest the sheep are left to wander the vineyards to cut down the cover crops and fertilise the ground. Whilst using the milk is too work intensive and the wool of this breed is not the most useful, the sheep are used for meat production and the fleeces are sold. In permaculture any element is needed to perform multiple functions.
If the ground cover plants grow too tall during the growing season they are simply flattened with a roller, pruning cuttings are left to rot amongst the vines to give habitats for insects and fungi. Until recently a spray of phosphoric acid as a nutrient during flowering was allowed in organic viticulture, but this can be replaced with the nettle application, which has natural phosphoric acid levels.
Also in the interest of using locally available resources, there is a hedge of black locust along the top of the vineyard. The wood is particularly rot resistant, so the stems are used as end posts for the trellising system.
All in all the Wine Anarchist enjoyed his walk around the natural vineyard with obvious signs of nature and biodiversity which was in stark contrast to the conventional vineyards of the neighbours
And as for the wines? Winzerhof Linder produces some 20 different wines from Mueller Thurgau, Rivaner, Weisser Burgunder (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay, Grauer Burgunder (Pinot Gris), Sauvignon Blanc, Gewuerztraminer, Rulaender, Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Cabernet Sauvignon. One thing that shone through with all the wines was a distinct minerality and a true expression to the volcanic terroir. Here are some of the Wine Anarchists tasting notes:
- Weissburgunder 2014 - Light in colour; delicate aromas of peach stone and hawthorn blossom; fresh on the palate with a long, distinctly minerally finish
- Sauvignon Blanc 2014 - Pale colour with greenish tinge; aromas of nettle and kiwi with herbal notes; on the palate a tart acidity is countered by some residual sugar. Nice aromas but a little jagged around the edges and lacking harmony
- Grauburgunder 2014 - 1/3 of this wine has been matured in second passage local oak barriques for a short period, whilst 10% has been produced using the so-called 'orange wine' method. This method goes back to the roots of winemaking in Georgia, where both for red and white wines, the skins and stalks are left to macerate in the wine during fermentation. To avoid oxidisation during this process, Linder used earthen Sauerkraut fermentation vessels for this batch, which have a heavy plate on the top to ensure the skins remain submerged in the liquid. Finally the wine has been left to mature on it's lees for 4 months. These methods have resulted in a hugely complex and full-bodied wine, displaying a deep golden colour, a rich and complex minerality and fruit with hints of redcurrant and rose petals and a long spicy finish.
- Grauburgunder Kabinett Tocken 2012 - Medium gold in colour; apples and spice on the nose follow through onto the palate with an extra spicy sensation and delicate layers of white fruit.
- Chardonnay Kabinett Trocken 2014 - Pale gold with green tinges: floral aromas of peach blossom and some apricot fruit; marked acidity, medium body, more apricot fruit with hints of green apple, finishing long if a little tart. The WA felt it needed a little time for the acidity to settle down.
- Spaetburgunder Edition Landwein 2012 - Garnet in colour with an orangey rim; on the nose this displayed some fresh strawberry fruit combined with sweet damp earth and old leaves; the palate was medium in body with a firm backbone balanced by sweet ripe strawberry fruit and a touch of cranberry, finishing long and dry. Classic Pinot Noir!
- Spaetburgunder Kabinett 2011 - Light garnet colour showing maturity on the rim; a bouquet of wild strawberry and raspberry fruit with a touch of oak; the palate is lighter than the 2012 with mature fruit flavours, slightly gamey and a touch of sweetness, which aren't balanced by tannins, although the acidity is marked. The finish is medim in length with earthy notes. With the low tannin and slight sweetness this would do nicely with blue cheese, but it was the WA's least favourite wine of the selection.
- Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 - The Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on the sunniest part of the vineyard being exposed virtually all day resulting in impressive 14% alcohol. This was matured in barrique for 18 months displaying a classic deep purple colour; the nose is rich with plenty of vanilla oak and cassis aromas; the palate is full with marked tannins, balanced with rich liquorice and blackcurrant shining through finishing long. This obviously still needs some time, but showing plenty of promis.
- Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 - The Wine Anarchist also had a bottle of the 2011, but was enjoying himself too much to take any notes. A distinct mintyness and plenty cassis have stuck in his mind though and showing that with a bit of maturity, these wines clearly become better.
Still a young project, but one that the Wine Anarchist will be keeping a keen eye on.