EDEL ZIEREISEN + HANSPETER ZIEREISEN = WEINGUT ZIEREISEN
During a dinner organized last March to showcase the wines of a producer making Alpine-style, low alcohol, delicate reds in the south of Germany, Weingut Ziereisen, I was reminded of something that is often understood, respected, and extremely valuable…but it is something that not often is mentioned. One of many, this particular secret to the wine business is that behind most great producers there is a strong, intelligent woman (or man) who helps brings clarity, focus, and vision to an emerging winery. Especially one at the early stages of existence that works hard, struggles, and frets over how to get people to understand why their wine is any better than their neighbor’s wine. Not to mention that they often raise a family, keep an eye on the home, and contribute to the work in some aspect of the grape-growing and/or winemaking process.
On their first visit to the United States, the husband & wife team (Hanspeter & Edel) at Weingut Ziereisen in the southwest corner of Germany showed their wines at a brilliantly paired dinner at Tocqueville restaurant in Manhattan. At a small dinner of 20 or so people, our table of 6 people was comprised of a few New York City wine buyers as well as the matriarch herself, Edel. She is a former trade instructor who trained people looking to enter the hotel industry, a perfect companion to help educate a table of people who were mostly unfamiliar with the region. She regaled us with family stories, the importance of tasting wines from other regions to better understand their own wine, as well as the occasional playful joke directed at her husband’s aversion to brevity when explaining his wine to others.
“Sit down and let the people taste the wines”, she occasionally muttered with a wink as Hanspeter was still excitedly explaining the wine with little concern for time.
She was also instrumental in translating their local culture by explaining customs, the Swiss-German dialect that people use in the area, and the history of the region. A perfect ambassador to set the stage while Hanspeter stood at the front of the room talking about the philosophy behind the wine and telling a few stories of his own.
[Ziereisen is only a stone’s throw from France & Switzerland]
Hanspeter’s favorite story was one at the source of the winery’s success. After the wine government in Baden (the German wine region where Ziereisen technically resides) refused to approve their wines because the house style was unlike any of the other wines of the area, he found himself in a difficult situation. Without their approval the wine label could not carry the name “Baden” and would potentially fall into obscurity as it would have be labeled as a simple table wine - the lowest German quality category. Making red wine in Germany, obviously better known for white wine, is already a challenge for winemakers. Even in the southern region of Baden where most of the production is red wine, to produce high quality red wine and then have it declassified is simply adding insult to injury.
Luckily for Ziereisen a very well-established gourmet grocer in Munich, Dallmyer, with a highly respected wine sales department, had already committed to buying some of his wine. But without this government approval he could not legally ship his wines unless they changed the label. A process that would cost money and time, but potentially more disastrous, might put this important sale in jeopardy.
With this on his mind he called the head of wine sales at Dallmyer and told him why there was a hold up on the delivery. Unintentionally on Hanspeter’s part, this caused a battle of egos between one of the most important wine retailers in Germany and the regional wine approval board of Baden. With his feathers ruffled by the situation, the head Dallmyer buyer called the Baden regulatory board and insisted that the wines were up to par and that they should reconsider their decision. But the phone call didn’t have the effect it intended as the local wine government stood by their decision. Now aggravated by the narrow-minded bureaucrats unwilling to see the value in the wines and determined to prove them wrong, the buyer decided to give the Ziereisen wines 3 department store-sized windows in front of their flagship store in Münich, decided to buy the entirety of wine from that vintage, and sold it as table wine at the same price. Controversy would prove to be good business as the wines received more attention, success, and helped create a name and a following for the winery in the local market of German wine consumers.
There’s nothing wrong with a little Controversy…right Prince?
Though the wines are German by geography, the local culture has strong ties to Switzerland and France - something very evident in the wines themselves. When looking at a map, it’s obvious to see why the ties to those neighboring countries is so strong. It’s only a stone’s throw across the Rhein River to France and about a 10-mile drive south to Basel, Switzerland. Their focus on Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Gutedel (Chasselas) is a further reminder that France and Switzerland are so close by. The reds are very similar in nature to Jura-style pinot noir: soft, light, and elegant. While the whites, with a searingly crisp character, are severe in their freshness and minerality in part because they are grown in limestone soils.
Also of note, with about one hectare (roughly 2.5 acres) of Syrah planted, they are the largest single grower of the grape variety in all of Germany. [Yes…they make Syrah.] The light, alpine quality of reds that is distinct in places like the Jura in France or Valle d’Aosta in Italy shines through, even with this thick-skinned red variety. It has classic notes of pepper, red berry, and black olive, but is uniquely laid on an airy, medium-bodied, delicately natured wine. Best described as curious and restrained, this is nothing like any Syrah I have tasted. (The closest comparison that I can make is to Arnot-Roberts who makes high altitude light-bodied Syrah in California).
The production is low, the wine is neither expensive nor inexpensive. So be prepared that these aren’t the easiest wines to find and that they might seem expensive in the context of German reds. But if you find them they are worth exploring. Wines that have a distinct voice behind them…and I think they’re saying something in Swiss-German.
Edel made sure we all learned Guete, which means “enjoy/cheers”.