As I mention in Part 1 and Part 2, I recently made the decision to leave my job as a lawyer in the City to follow my passion for wine. The first stop on my wine adventure was a month’s work experience at legendary German winery, Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff.
Now that I have returned to UK soil, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on the four weeks that I spent at Weingut Dönnhoff and share with you some of my highlights.
New vineyard. After spending an exhausting first week bottling wines from the 2011 vintage, much of my second week was spent outside working in the vineyards. The final two weeks were a combination of the two but a real highlight was helping to plant young rootstocks in a new vineyard plot in the Norheimer Dellchen. One of the really smart things that Helmut Dönnhoff has done over the last 20 years is to acquire parcels in numerous vineyards throughout the region. By cherry-picking the best sites as they become available, he has been able to maintain very high quality not only in his top single vineyard wines but also in his more generic estate Rieslings.
Lunch breaks. The way that we took our lunch breaks was a breath of fresh air for me. Each day we would all assemble in the communal galley at 12.30 to have lunch together. Lively conversation would flow – often about wine and football (which suited me down to the ground) – and there was also usually a bottle of something to hand so that we could wet our beaks on the good stuff before heading back to work. A definite improvement on my time as a lawyer, where I routinely spent my lunch breaks alone at my desk!
Driving the Unimog. What a rush! Google search “Unimog” and you’ll get the idea.
My housemates. I was fortunate to have the company of three other lads in the accommodation block where I was staying – one from Germany and two from Poland. The German, Sebastian, 20, is currently carrying out a year-long work placement at Dönnhoff as part of his wine studies. The two lads from Poland, Mateusz and Mateusz, both 23, are in Germany for the year just to earn some cash. They are genuinely three of the hardest working people I have ever met and their humour and goodwill kept me in high spirits throughout my stay.
Visit to the Mosel. It was brilliant to have the chance to make my first trip to the Mosel, the most famous of all German wine regions. As we made our way from village to village, it was amazing at last to see so many of its magnificent vineyards after having spent so many years quaffing the region’s wines! The most striking feature was without doubt the steepness of the slopes. Previously, I had thought that the vineyards in the Nahe were steep but the Mosel takes it to a whole different level – some of the vineyards reach 80% gradient in places!
VDP Weinbörse. On my penultimate day in Germany I travelled to the city of Mainz for the annual tasting of VDP members. The VDP is an organisation to which most (but not all) of Germany’s top wine producers are members. Like any wine fair, you need a well laid out plan of action before you go into battle otherwise you won’t stand a chance. My focus was on the Rheingau, Mosel and Baden regions, as well as a cursory stroll through the Nahe section to say hello to Team Dönnhoff. After a good six hours slurping and spitting, I walked away exhausted but content in the knowledge that 2011 is generally speaking a magnificent vintage for Germany across the board.
Plugging English wine. Having drank so many impressive Germany wines, I could not head back to London without first spreading the word about the rapidly improving English wine scene. Our wineries continue to improve year-on-year – especially in the sparkling category – and I could not resist leaving boss, Helmut, a bottle of sparkling from East Sussex winery, Breaky Bottom – the Sparkling Brut 2008 (100% Seyval Blanc) to be exact.
It is amazing how quickly time flies when you are working hard and having fun but this experience was invaluable and I cannot thank Helmut and Cornelius Dönnhoff enough for this opportunity.
One thing’s for sure – it has certainly given the Revolution fresh impetus. Roll on 31 Days of German Riesling!