Archive for the ‘Work at Dönnhoff’ Category
This happened to me the other day. The wine in question was a bottle of Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Spätlese Riesling 2011.
Dönnhoff is regarded by many as one of (if not the) finest producers of Riesling in the world.
The estate is set in the heart of the Nahe wine region. The Nahe is a relatively small German wine growing area and takes its name from the Nahe River that flows through the region. The region’s best vineyards are usually found on steep slopes towering down over the Nahe river.
This brings me to the Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle – the jewel in Dönnhoff’s crown! The Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle vineyard is a little over 8 hectares in size and is positioned on the north side of the Nahe River.
The soil is quite complex and the upper part (where the very best grapes are grown) is made up of volcanic and slate soils. The slope has a calf-burning steepness of 30-45% and only Riesling is planted – my kind of vineyard!
The wines – like this one from Dönnhoff - are known for having intense mineral and spicy notes with immense concentration of fruit. This is thanks to the soil structure and also the position of the steep slopes overlooking the Nahe river, which reflects the sunlight onto the vines.
I don’t mind admitting I have a real soft spot for this vineyard. Not only did I spend a magical few months working on it during my time at the Dönnhoff estate a couple of years back but also served the Niederhäuser Hermannhöhle Riesling from Jakob Scheider at my wedding! So, yeah, I’m a convert!
I won’t bore you with any more minutiae about this vineyard but if you love Riesling (dry or off-dry) then I urge you to explore the wines produced from grapes grown in this vineyard. You will find one of the purest and most memorable expressions of the Riesling grape in the world.
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!
As I mention in Part 1, 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 is a month’s work experience at legendary German winery, Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff. Here is my write-up of my second week in the job:
After a tough but thoroughly enjoyable first week bottling wines from the 2011 vintage, I returned from the Easter break well rested and hoping to spend some time in the vineyards.
Following a short team meeting, I was given the nod to join the vineyard crew for the day which came as excellent news. The only downside, with the prospect of an eight hour day ahead of me, was that the weather was looking extremely ominous. Catching the eye of oneof the team, I gestured to the sky. His response was simply to shrug and say “April macht was er will” (April does what it wants). Not quite the reassurance that I was looking for but, reminding myself that I had not come to Germany to work on my tan, I grabbed my rain jacket and saddled up for the day’s work.
Before I joined the others up on the slopes, one of the lads gave me a quick guided tour in the van of the vineyards owned by Weingut Dönnhoff to help me get my bearings. Dönnhoff owns plots in a number of vineyards in the Nahe region and the majority of these are situated around the villages of Niederhausen and Oberhausen. The best sites are fiercely steep and south facing so that the grapes can soak up the maximum amount of sunlight as possible.
The vineyard where I spent much of the week was the Niederhausen Hermannshöhle, regarded by many as one of Germany’s finest vineyards. The first thing that struck me as I worked up and down the rows of vines was how steep it is. The slopes have a cramp-inducing 40% steepness in places and this certainly does not make the day’s physical labour any easier. I daresay I will have no excuses for not looking good in a pair of shorts when I return to the UK in May!
Although the grapes are usually harvested in September and October, a lot of time and energy is invested at this time of year in making sure that the grapes grow healthily and achieve the required levels of ripeness without any problems. Some of the tasks in which I was involved included training the vines around a wire high off the ground (to avoid damage from Spring frosts), fertilising young rootstocks (to promote healthy growth) and spraying the vines (to keep pests at bay).
At the risk of taking on the appearance of a mountain goat, I was relieved on the Friday to be working on one of the flatter vineyards towards the town of Bad Kreuznach. The morning’s work was much of the same – “vineyard management” – but for lunch we all went to a local Wirtshaus (or pub to you or I). After a cursory glance at the menu, it appeared that the general consensus was that the schnitzel platter was the thing to go for. Not wanting to break rank and ever the fan of a good schnitzel, I got in on the act.
To my delight, a few minutes later no fewer than three schnitzels arrived in front of me together with chips and a token side salad – just the ticket after a week in the vineyards. Although I managed to polish them off, it was definitely a case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach. Feeling like I was about to burst at the seams, one of the lads mentioned that I would be spending the afternoon scaling the seemingly vertical face of the Hermannshöhle. Thankfully he was only joking but the look of fear in my eyes must have been evident for all to see!
On Saturday morning I woke up to a beautiful sunny day. I decided to walk through the vineyards to the neighbouring village, Niederhausen, home to Weingut Jakob Schneider. The previous week I had tried a bottle from Jakob Schneider and was very impressed so I was looking forward to doing a tasting of his wines. I was not disappointed. I was shown warm hospitality and the wines a delight, something that is becoming somewhat of a recurring theme during my time in Germany.
I have no clue what next week has in store but hopefully next weekend I will be able to visit some of the other top wineries in the region. Crossing my fingers that this beautiful weather is here to stay!
Here is the text from an article which I wrote for drinks industry trade magazine, Harpers, about my time working at Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff in the Nahe region of Germany. It was published on 10th April, 2012.
Alex Down, 28, blogger on The Riesling Revolutionary and self-confessed German wine fanatic, recently made the decision to leave his job as a lawyer in the City to follow his passion for wine. The first stop on his wine adventure is a month’s work experience at legendary German winery, Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff. Below he recounts his first week in the job:
My journey to the vineyards of Germany began at the crack of dawn on the Sunday before Easter. Such was my excitement that I barely noticed the hour as I bounced through the revolving doors at Stansted on course for my 6.50am flight to Frankfurt Hahn. Arriving at Hahn (the Frankfurt can henceforth be dispatched as it is about as close to Frankfurt as London is to Dover), I boarded the splendidly named Mosel-Rhine-Bus and off we went through the idyllic countryside towards my home for the next four weeks – Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff in the village of Oberhausen in the Nahe wine region.
Arriving at the winery, I was greeted by Cornelius Dönnhoff, heir to the Dönnhoff throne and the current head winemaker. After the customary guided tour, Cornelius showed me to the room where I would be staying. An en suite bathroom and a balcony overlooking the famous Niederhausen Hermannshöhle vineyard – had I died and gone to heaven? It certainly felt like it but in an attempt to keep my excitement to manageable levels I decided to forego the temptation to crack open a bottle on the first night.
The following morning I reported for duty in the courtyard at 8am sharp. After exchanging brief pleasantries with my co-workers, I was informed that we would be spending the day bottling the 2011 Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc). In a nutshell, this is how the bottling process works: empty bottles are fed onto a conveyor belt which go into the bottling machine; the empty bottles are sterilised and then filled with the wine before moving down the belt where they are corked, capped and labelled; at this stage the wines are the finished product and the sole remaining task is for them to be stacked or packed.
This is where I came in. Once the bottles had emerged from the labelling section of the machine, it was my job to grab them and pack them (in six-bottle cases). As we began the day’s work, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Here I was, free from the shackles of the City and working in one of Germany’s finest wineries. By lunchtime, I was still in good cheer but definitely feeling the strain. By 5pm I was in tatters. Now, I know what you are thinking – sticking a few bottles in a box doesn’t sound too bad. But to put it in perspective, on the first day we bottled around 8000 bottles (which accounts for approximately 1335 cases)!
And things did not ease up over the next couple of days as more bottling was in order. It was certainly backbreaking stuff but it was made all the more manageable by the team and their ability to seamlessly interchange jobs with one another when someone needed to take a well-deserved breather.
By Thursday afternoon we had bottled the 2011 Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder and Tonschiefer (Dry Slate) Riesling. Although by the end of this process I was totally kaput, I nevertheless felt a great sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that I had played a part (albeit very small) in the lifespan of these brilliant wines.
That evening, all of the crew (vineyard and cellar) gathered round the table in the communal galley for wine tasting, hog roast and friendly conversation. The selection of wines was a celebration of the diversity of German wine styles – everything from a Dönnhoff Weissburgunder from the Nahe to a dry Riesling from Baden to a sweet Ruländer Spätlese from the Pfalz to a Müller-Thurgau produced by one of the crew members from his own tiny vineyard plot in the Nahe. But the wine of the night for me was the 1998 Jacob Schneider Niederhäusen Klamm Riesling Auslese – a classy wine from a much underrated producer which has aged with grace.
Could there have been a more fitting and enjoyable way to close out a hard week? Not to my mind. As for next week, I have been told that I will spend some time in the vineyards – very exciting. But, first, time to put my feet up with a couple of chocolate eggs and relax over the Easter weekend.