Sun 12 Jul 2009
I would rather stand in a vineyard talking with and listening to a winemaker than in a winery surrounded by anonymous steel tanks and ranks of wooden barrels. Being in a vineyard seems to bring out the expression and eloquence — like a fine wine — in a winemaker, and I always learn a lot under these salubrious circumstances. It doesn’t hurt that vineyards often occupy stunning landscapes and offer magnificent vistas of surrounding countryside. Certainly, I learned a great deal from Rainer Eymann, as mentioned two entries ago, while we walked through one of his vineyards last Friday in Germany’s Pfalz region.
Back at the Eymann facility, however, the story seemed different. Frankly, his wines were not the favorites of the three days of visiting wineries or sitting in restaurants with winemakers tasting wine. Remember, Eymann told us that because of using biodynamic farming practices, he thought that his wines were “more authentic,” that “the taste and smell of the vineyard is more intense,” and that the wines are “more sophisticated.” I’m not sure what he meant by “more sophisticated,” though there’s obviously the sense in which one could say that, for example, Solaia is more sophisticated than a $10 Chianti.
“More authentic” is the mantra we heard over and over from winemakers using organic and biodynamic methods when we asked if these methods “worked” and if the wines were different somehow. (I put “worked” within quotation marks to indicate that even this notion — farming methods “working” in some way — is ill-defined.) “More authentic,” of course, implies that a wine adheres to a standard, a profile of qualities imbued in and imparted by a particular vineyard; in other words, “more authentic” means that a wine exemplifies the terroir of a place, its “placeness,” better than it did before using organic or biodynamic methods. The unspoken question is: “So, why were you making and selling the ‘less authentic’ wines before? Just for practice?”
Anyway, my fellow tasters and I found the white wines we tried at Weingut Eymann — let’s save the reds for another day; they comprise a whole other set of issues — pleasant, lively and drinkable but not memorable. Of two sparkling wines and three still white wines, I rated two Very Good, one Very Good with a question mark, one Very Good+ with a question mark, and one a solid Very Good+. The latter was the Eymann Gonnheimer Sonnenberg Graubergunder (Pinot Gris) Trocken 2008, an enchanting, floral, spicy wine, redolent of almond and almond blossom and tasting of pear and melon in a cozily dense texture. Overall, the wines seemed quite high in acid, a fact pointed out by my colleague Ewa Wielezynska, from Magazyn Wino in Warsaw, and she asked Rainer Eymann about this perception.
“We are not a global player,” he replied. “We are a local player, and people like this style.” (The winery includes a popular restaurant, which, as we finished the tasting, was beginning to fill with patrons, most sitting outside on a beautiful late afternoon.) “We do not style wines for the international market,” he continued. “We make wines to be piquant and lively. These are practical aspects. People around here enjoy these wines for a meal.”
Well, that sort of precludes criticism, as “practical aspects” tend to do. If the locals appreciate and buy Eymann’s wines, if they come to the restaurant and drink the wines, if they like the wines for their piquancy, liveliness and pleasant qualities, who am I (or we) to say, “But, but, but … ”
The problem, however remains: Do organic or biodynamic methods — and Eymann went organic 27 years ago, way before most producers in Germany had ever heard of such a thing — make “better” wines or “more authentic” wines, and how can those standards or characteristics be measured, quantified and stated?