May 2013
Pinot Revolution
As a result, Germany has taken the calculat-
ed gamble of changing its traditional image
while hoping that sweet wine drinkers—a
clientele that is aging—will stay on board.
To reach its goals, Germany has been
trying to tap into two trends—first, the
Pinot-philia that has swept the U.S. and,
second, the pairing of dry and off-dry
Rieslings with Asian food, a courtship that
has been slow in gaining traction among
restaurant patrons.
As far as Pinot goes, Swift reports, “The
sommeliers who have been introduced to
high-end Pinot Noirs from Germany have
definitely accepted them, and so have the
high-end boutique wine shops.” And most
wine writers have given good reviews to its
current-generation Pinots.
Plus, Pinot Noir production in Ger-
many has been skyrocketing. It now repre-
sents more than 11% of vineyard area in
Germany and trails only Riesling (22% of
acreage) and Müller-Thurgau (13%) in that
category. Thirty years ago, Pinot Noir was
less than 4%, due in large part to the dif-
ficulty most red wines had ripening in Ger-
many’s northern climate.
“We don’t have a problem anymore
with ripening Pinot Noir,” says Michael
Schemmel of the German Wine Institute.
“In fact, due to global warming we are the
third largest producer of Pinot Noir in the
world.” With Burgundy’s lead, France ac-
counts for 35% of world production, fol-
lowed by the U.S. with 24% and Germany
with 14%. Australia is a distant fourth.
Nonetheless, Swift and others point
out that while the cognoscenti have given
their nods of approval, customer demand
has been slower to take off. There are sev-
eral reasons. Some of the top-scoring Pinot
producers do little exporting. Of the wine
that is exported, production costs have
often resulted in high comparative prices.
Plus many potential customers have been
reluctant to try Pinots from what they still
see as a white-wine region.
Then there is that German name…
. “The secret is labeling it
as Pinot Noir, not Spätburgunder, and
printing where it comes from on the back,”
Swift says. “We’re having success with our
Undone brand Pinot Noir this way.”
Veteran importer Terry Theise of
Michael Skurnik Wines is less optimistic
about German Pinot: “As I look around, I
hear a lot of sound and fury about German
Pinot, but I don’t think it signifies much.”
But he is bullish on drier Rieslings. “The
proportion of dry Rieslings I sell each
year is growing slowly, and it is growing
consistently,” he says, “but I think off-dry
may be their strongest suit. No one else can
make off-dry Rieslings as well.”
As was once the case with Australian
Shiraz, it is taking a solid retail commit-
ment to dry German Rieslings to fire up
consumer acceptance. David Moore of
Moore Brothers, which has retail stores in
New York City, Camden, NJ, and Wilm-
ington, DE, says, “Just in New Jersey alone
we sold nearly 1,200 cases last year,” in-
cluding growing numbers of dry and semi-
dry wines.
Modern Message
There certainly is a corresponding opti-
mism among growers I talked with on a
recent trip to Germany, where winemaker
after winemaker stayed on message by tout-
ing their Rieslings as great matches, not for
local food, but for Indian, Chinese and
Japanese fare.
“My father was in the old style and
made wine in oak barrels,” says Markus
Berres of C.H. Berres in Ürzig in the Mosel
valley, the 21st generation of his family to
make wine there. “I want to produce mod-
ern wine.” His “Impulse” blended Ries-
ling and his Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett,
along with a fascinating Pinot Gris, bear
witness to his success.
Many growers have also bonded to-
gether into marketing groups. One is the
11-year-old Message in a Bottle assembly of
28 young Rheinhessen producers. Another
is Talents of the Nahe, a group of similarly
young winemakers in the Nahe, the small
region where some of the best dry and off-
dry Rieslings are now being produced.
There, the well-regarded Dönnhoff
estate now makes more than half of its
production in the dry style. “I want wine
my wine to be clean, like spring water, and
location may be the
key to great wine at its
source, but promotion
is key to selling through
at market. The Wines of
Germany trade group
has ramped up events,
such as their “31 Days of
Riesling” in July, aimed at
retailers, restaurants and
Right, Spätburgunder,
aka Pinot Noir, now
represents the third
most planted variety in
Germany; thanks to both
experience and climate
change, the wines are
better than ever.
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