Organic grapes and wines

Perennially one of the best wines for summertime drinking is Heller Estate’s Chenin Blanc. The winery in California’s Carmel Valley, in Monterey County, southeast of the town of Carmel, is operated on rigorous organic terms, and its wines are not only organic but vegan, meaning that no animal products such as eggs or milk were used in fining, the process by which an innocuous substance is introduced to the wine to help precipitate solid particles to the bottom of a barrel or tank. Heller uses the traditional bentonite — Education Alert! — an absorbent clay (aluminum phyllosilicate) that has an astonishing number of industrial and medicinal uses, from the drilling and engineering industries, to a wide range of ceramics applications that include sand casting and rocket nozzles, to skin creams, laxatives and (paradoxically) cat litter.

Those with long memories may recall that Heller Estate occupies the old Durney Vineyards, first planted in 1968. Heller’s winemaker is Rich Tanguay.

Anyway, the Heller Estate Chenin Blanc 2008, which is drinking beautifully now, is a blend of 90 percent chenin blanc grapes and 10 percent riesling, or, as the winery notes say “Johannesburg Riesling.” Actually — another Education Alert! — the term “Johannisberg (proper spelling) Riesling” was phased out on Jan. 1, 2006 by the U.S. Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau aka TTB. American wine labels must now say “Riesling” or, for some reason “White Riesling,” as if there’s a lot of red riesling around to confuse us. Anyway, with no more digressions, as the winery’s hillside vineyards (1200 to 1500 feet elevation) have matured, the proportion of chenin blanc in the wine has increased; 10 years ago, the blend was more on the lines of 75 percent chenin blanc to 25 percent riesling. For 2008, the wine bursts with notes of honeydew melon, mango and litchee, with more subtle hints of straw, dried thyme, peach and tangerine; a few minutes in the glass bring up a hint of jasmine. Acidity that’s taut as a bow string keeps the wine lithe and lively, though the texture is a pleasing combination of crispness and slight lushness, and flavors of apple, roasted pears and softly spiced and macerated peaches are bolstered with a finishing touch of grapefruit bitterness. Serve as an aperitif or with moderately spicy seafood dishes. Excellent. About $25.

Heller makes a minute quantity of pinot noir; based on the Heller Pinot Noir 2007, Carmel Valley, I wish they made more, because this is frankly exquisite. The color is medium ruby with a pale violet rim. Aromas of black cherry, red currant and plum are wreathed with hints of nutmeg and cloves and a touch of something wild, like mulberry and rose petals. Bright acidity cuts a swath on the palate, holding a steady course through warm, smoky cherry and currant flavors ensconced in a seductive satiny texture that remains airy and elevating. Hints of clean damp earth and a kind of mossy-mushroomy quality lend a sense of true Burgundian character over undertones of slate-like minerality so chiseled that they feel transparent. Oak from 13 months in French barrels, 35 percent new, gently shapes the wine, providing subtlety and suppleness. Above all, this pinot noir exudes spareness and elegance and finely-tuned poise. The alcohol level is a modest 13.5 percent. 154 cases were produced. Excellent. About $50.
The petit verdot grape is not often made into its own wine, finding its purpose primarily in Bordeaux-style blends with cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Even in Bordeaux, its natural habitat, petit verdot is not planted as much as it was 50 years ago. Still, a few wineries keep the faith, and Heller is one. The Heller Estate Petit Verdot 2007, Carmel Valley, doesn’t offer much in the way of elegance or poise; instead, it’s robust, earthy and succulent, virtues not to be denigrated when you have a steak sizzling on the grill or a rack of ribs slumbering in the smoker. The deep-purple colored wine opens with a dark fusillade of black pepper, blackberry and currant permeated by baking spice, graphite and bitter chocolate; gradually notes of lavender and lilacs, briers and brambles emerge. This is all rich, juicy, brambly black fruit in the mouth, an opulent sensation tempered by rousing acidity, dense chewy slightly dusty tannins and well-wrought oak, from 18 months in French barrels, 60 percent new. Give the wine a few more minutes, and it begins to smolder with wood smoke and bacon fat. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 170 cases. Quite a performance — if you like wines that perform rather than simply exist — though I would be happier if it cost under $30. Excellent. About $50.

These wines were samples for review.

There’s a sense — or possibly several but never mind that now — that I live in a different world than many of my readers do, and that’s because I receive wine samples for free. Many of these are unsolicited; the friendly UPS or FedEx person comes to the door and hands over a package or two and I sign for them and bring them inside and open them, and sometimes I think, “Oh, great, this will be interesting” or “Oh, yikes, wow” or “Geeze, why do they send me this crap.” Much of it comes after inquiry. Them: “May we send you such-and-such wine?” Me: “Why, yes, thank you very much.” Some I ask for a sample. Me: “Would you send me this wine to try?” Them: “Hell, yeah.” I’m certain there are writers and publications that receive far more wine than I do, but I probably receive more wine than writers and bloggers just starting out. After all, I’ve been doing this for 25 years.

Some wineries and importers have been sending me wine for 15 or 20 years, a process that allows consistency in my coverage and reviewing. And some wineries and importers stopped sending wine when my weekly newspaper column folded in 2004 and never picked up again. C’est la vie.

I mention these matters in an attempt to prove that when I drink a glass of the Morgan Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands ($48), with my cheese toast, as I did yesterday at lunch, I’m not trying to be a jerk and imply, “Ha-ha, loser, see what I get to drink with my cheese toast and you don’t.” I mean, the wine is there, it needs to be tasted, there’s an opportunity, so why not? Sure, the pleasure principle is a factor too, as in, “Hmmm, maybe I should open this skimpy, undernourished little $6 merlot with my cheese toast instead of the Morgan Double L Pinot ’07,” and then I say, “Nnnnaaaahhhhh.” After all, I can always do the SULM in a line-up with a bunch of other inexpensive reds, n’est-ce pas?

On the other hand, perhaps none of this requires any explanation or justification whatsoever.


The Morgan Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands, is absolutely beautiful, a smooth, shapely, harmonious mouthful of wine. Aromas of smoky black cherry and cola twine with mulberry, rhubarb and hints of cloves and mossy-like earthiness; a few minutes in the glass bring whiffs of violets and camellia. In the mouth, the wine performs as a model of the marriage between elegance and power; between balance and integration, on the one hand, and buffed tannins and vibrant acidity on the other. Flavors of black cherry, black currant and plum burgeon with spicy nuances, laid on a foundation of rooty briers and brambles and a texture that drapes the palate like satin. The subtle oak regimen is 11 months in French barrels, 50 percent of which are new. Double L is farmed organically. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Production was 1,050 cases. Excellent. About $48.

Last night, LL braised ox-tails with bacon and a smoked ham hock, a bottle of merlot and a bouquet of celery, carrots, leeks, sage and parsley. This cooked in the oven for, oh, four hours. She served it with a mash of celery root, sweet potatoes and white potatoes. It was brilliant.

Casting about for a wine, naturally I thought about syrah/shiraz or zinfandel, but then I decided to throw discretion and even sense to the winds, and I opened a bottle of Joseph Drouhin Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2007. If ever a red Burgundy could stand up to such a hearty dish, this would be it.

At about 125 acres, Vougeot is the largest vineyard in Burgundy, It is also the most minutely parceled, its area divided among 70 owners, some of whom have proprietorship over only a few rows of vines; this is pinot noir, of course. The firm of Joseph Drouhin owns two parcels that amount to 2.25 acres. Placement is everything in Vougeot; vines at the bottom of the hill do not produce wine as good as vines higher up the slope. Drouhin’s parcels are on the incline, facing east. The parcels are farmed according to biodynamic principles (though how do you compensate for the people around you that don’t farm by the same method?); harvesting is by hand; yeasts are indigenous. The wine rests is oak 14 to 18 months, depending on the year, but typically only 20 percent of the barrels are new.

Drouhin’s Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2007 is a beautiful wine, too, but in a different way. This is the beauty of confidence balanced between poise and assertiveness. It’s a wine that could swagger if it wanted to but clearly doesn’t need to. In fact, beyond this wine’s warmth and richness, beyond its layers of spiced and macerated black cherries and plums grounded in dried spice, shale-like minerality and acidity that plows an authoritative furrow, there’s a sense of reticence, of holding itself back for the proper moment. The elements of dried spice, tending a bit toward the exotic, blossom amazingly in the glass, pulling black fruit with them, turning increasingly seductive; at the same time, however, the wine becomes drier, picking up sinew and dusty tannic austerity. Try this from 2011 or ’13 through 2017 or ’20. Sixty cases were imported to the U.S. Excellent. About $172.

Wow, you’re saying, if both of these wines rate Excellent, why not just forget about the Clos de Vougeot ’07 and go with the Morgan Double L? Well, sure. Let’s admit that not many people possess the fiduciary prowess to buy the Clos de Vougeot or the cellar in which to let it mature. On the other hand, the two wines offer quite different but equally eloquent and authentic expressions of the grape. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice. I’m lucky enough that I was able to try both of them on the same day and to tell you about them.

I recently received a bottle of the first issue of Cecchi’s Natio Chianti 2007, a wine made from organic grapes certified by CCPB. The front label states, “Product with Grapes from Organic Farming,” while the back label says, “Made with Organic Grapes.” Notice that the phrase “organic wine” is not used. That’s because in order to be called “organic wine” that wine would have to be not only made from certified organic grapes but every step of the winemaking process would have to be certified organic, something that the governments and certifying agencies of the world have not figured out a way to measure and regulate.

It’s not mentioned on either front or back label, but Natio Chianti 2007 is suitable for vegans (and possibly Venusians) because, as the press materials state, “No animal by-products were used in production.” And you, My Readers, are thinking, “Animal by-products? Gack! What in heck-to-Remus are you talking about?”

Allow me to explain. One might assume that wine is completely safe for cuisineophiles of every persuasion, from outright carnivores to the most fragile of picky macrobioticists, but such is not the case. There is more to wine than mere water, alcohol and chemicals. A process in winemaking called “fining” has traditionally employed substances from the animal kingdom (or from the fridge, to be practical about it). After fermentation, wine is usually left with a multiplicity of microscopic elements called colloids. Typically, a wine that offers a plush or viscous texture contains more colloids than a light, more delicate wine; removing colloids can also make a wine astringent, though they lend a wine detail and dimension. Fining, in other words, represents a trade-off in terms of a wine’s character, but the process also clarifies wines and eliminates cloudiness or haze.

Substances used in fining are ancient (relatively speaking) in origin; they include egg whites, milk, isinglass, made from fish bladders, and (not so ancient) bentonite, a form of clay found chiefly in Wyoming. These substances are harmless and are almost completely absent from the finished wine. Each has advantages and disadvantages — bentonite is so absorbent that it can diminish the flavor of a wine — but nobody, on the other hand, is going to buy a bottle of wine that isn’t perfectly clean and clear.

Naturally, the idea that wine may contain a glimmer of a molecule of egg white or milk makes it inappropriate for vegetarians or their more extreme cousins, the vegans. Very few wineries allow this sort of information to be printed on their labels because the it would sound more scary than helpful. An exception is Randall Grahm, owner of Bonny Doon Vineyards, who a couple of years ago, after he took the Ca’ del Solo vineyard biodynamic, began stating on back labels the ingredients in the wine and the substances used to make the wine, including fining agents. I doubt if many (or any) producers will follow his lead, at least until government regulations require such statements, as inevitably they will. Grahm is predictably ahead of the curve.

I asked Jane Kettlewell, director of public relations for Banfi Vintners, whose Excelsior Wine and Spirits division imports the wines of Cecchi, why the vegan opportunity was not explored on labels of Natio. Here is her reply:

“It seems there was very little space indeed for back label copy and the conclusion was that as most wines do at some level have some connection with an animal by-product, that vegans don’t tend to be wine drinkers. This seems like a Catch 22 situation – the vegans won’t find us if they’re not aware of the vegan-friendly nature of this wine, but on the other hand, vegans aren’t stampeding into wine stores to begin with.”

True enough, but I hate to think of vegans not enjoying wine with their tofu enchiladas because of a fear of wine’s supposed animal connection.

And the wine? Well, the Cecchi Natio Chianti 2007 falls into the category of Decent Quaff. We drank the bottle with pizza Saturday night and that sums it up: An enjoyable but not memorable Chianti, a little rustic, but delivering authentic sangiovese scents and flavors of dried fruit, dried flowers and spice in a good structure that balances tannin and acid. A meatloaf, burger, pizza wine. Very Good. About $16. I would be more comfortable if it cost $12 or $13, but everything organic is more expensive. It costs to be natural.

Carton of eggs image from Glass of milk images from

The advocates of biodynamic methods of agriculture range from the mildly committed, who employ bio-dy techniques selectively and ignore the mumbo-jumbo aspects, to disciples for whom the words of Rudolf Steiner and Nicolas Joly are gospel.

The last part of that sentence, or something similar, was much on my mind late in the afternoon of Wednesday, July 8, as the group I was with paid a visit to Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn, one of the most highly regarded estates in Germany’s Rheingau region. The winery, situated at the outskirts of the incredibly charming village of Oestrich, offers nothing fancy and neither do the unpretentious Peter Jakob Kühn and his wife Angela, who are friendly and down-to-earth, though she is more forthcoming than he, who is the shyer of the couple. (She is a former German Wine Queen.) Both, however, are passionate about their 18-hectare estate (a bit less than 47 acres) and the wines they produce.

PJK has been certified organic since 2004 and this year became a member of Demeter, the organization that certifies biodynamic estates. Much of what Peter Jakob Kühn does in the vineyard, along with being scrupulously meticulous, seems like common sense. Compost the vineyards with estate-produced materials in the Spring. Plant crop cover between vine rows in the Summer and in the Spring plow it under. Avoid chemical nutrients. Apply minimal pressure in the winery; stainless steel and large barrels for riesling, with a light filtration. Anyone could do that.

Peter Jakob, also, however, follows many of the stipulations of biodynamic agriculture as laid down by Rudolph Steiner in his famous lectures of 1924: horn compounds of manure and silica; teas of horsetail, stinging nettle and chamomile to spray on the vines; careful consideration of the phases of the moon to supplement the “movement” of the wine, including during bottling.

We stood with Angela Kühn by a vineyard that sweeps up to one side of the winery, accompanied by the winery’s 13-year-old Labrador, Acino. Here’s where things got a little sticky. One of the group mentioned that the rows did not have great shoots springing from the tops of the vines; were they cut back?

“No,” said Angela, “in the best parcels, we don’t cut the tops of the stems to give a message to the vines that no one wants to damage them and cut off their lives. If you cut the stems, it creates a sense of urgency and power because their lives are in danger, and they want to regenerate the next generation. This pushes the sugar level up. By not cutting the stems, by reducing the stress and gently tying the stems back” — the stems are wreathed along the top of the row and tied with soft but durable material — “we create a more balanced wine. Vineyards that get not only care and concern but love, we feel the vines will profit from it.”

This is the point where I throw my notebook and pen into the air and say, “Oh, please!” Not really, because my mother taught me better, but come on, the vines think their lives are in danger if you cut the stems? You have to love the vines, not just take care of them? Does the same principle apply to tomato plants and rutabagas? Amber waves of grain? Corn as high as an elephant’s eye?

But these are sweet and gentle people, and their attempts to live and work in harmony with nature are touching, and the wines they produce, which is really the issue here, well, the wines are pretty damned wonderful. (And all the wines are closed with screw-caps.)

Take, for example, PJK’s basic wine, the Jacobus Riesling trocken 2008, made in stainless steel. My notes: “Big, ripe, fleshy; yellow plums, camellia, honeysuckle; intense, concentrated, seductive; full, lively, dynamic; v. spicy; crushed stones, pulverized slate and gravel; really great.” The price in Germany is 8.60 euros, or about $12.50. An amazing wine for the price. Jacobus is named for the founder of the estate, Jacobus Kühn, who started making wine here in 1786.

The next level is the stainless steel Quarzit Riesling trocken 2008, and the name tells it all. My notes: “V. stony, v. pure and intense, v. spicy; yellow flowers, yellow fruit, stone fruit; huge hit of minerals, slate and limestone; v. dry, crisp, vibrant, austere.” This is, one admits, a little demanding; it needs a year or two. 13.90 euro, about $19.50 to $20.

We tried two of PJK’s top rieslings. The Oestrich Doosberg 2007, aged in 2,400-liter barrels, is a brilliant medium gold color; the wine is intense and concentrated, coiled like a steel spring, offering incredible energy and nerve and verve; it’s very ripe, very spicy, sleek and lithe and racy, and could stand to mature for two or three years before being opened, or you could wait until 2015 to ’17 and see how it develops. Extraordinary. Not surprisingly, the price goes up at this point, 26.60 euros, about $37.50. The Mittelheim St. Nikolaus Riesling 2005 — current release is ’07 — is powerful and earthy and exotic, an eloquent expression of pure minerality with hints of petrol, jasmine, crystallized ginger and a touch of banana, all leading to a finish that’s almost brutal with granite and limestone. This too needs a few years, say 2011 or ’12 through 2016 or ’17. 24.60 euros, about $34.75.

Finally, there was the Oestrich Lenchen Riesling Spätlese 2008, a pale gold-colored wine of piercing minerality that offered subtle touches of lemon, lemon curd and peach, a wine delicately sweet, winsomely floral and sustained by such a surge of acidic nervosity that the glass feels electrified in your hand, and then from mid-palate back the whole package turns startlingly dry and austere. A lovely and slightly challenging riesling that needs a year or two in the bottle. 18.30 euros, about $26.

So, at this point, Readers, you’re saying, perhaps rather smugly, damn your eyes, “Ah ha, F.K., now you have to revise your negative opinion of biodynamism and admit that it works!” Well, what I will say is that Peter Jakob Kühn is a brilliant winemaker and that he certainly makes brilliant wines, making that judgment on a brief exposure. If biodynamic methods in the vineyard contribute to this brilliance, then I will say that, yes, the principles work here. I wonder though: If Peter Jakob Kühn did not bottle his wines “in a diminishing phase of the moon,” would they be any less brilliant? If he did not spray with, say, the horsetail compound, would the wines be less compelling? Would Peter Jakob Kühn — meticulous, thoughtful, hard-working and attentive — not make brilliant wines under any circumstances?

The wines (or some of them) of Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn are imported to the U.S. by Domaine Select Wine Estates.

Images of the winery and Angela Kühn & Acino are by Ernst Büscher; image of Peter Jakob Kühn is by Tim Wegner.

The times and the tastes they are a-changing in Germany. Look at this statistic from the German Wine Institute: In 1980, the ratio of white wine produced in the country to red wine was 88.6 percent white and 11.4 percent red. In 2007, the production figures are 63.2 percent white and 36.8 percent red. Yes, the German wine consumer is turning away from white wine in favor of red wine, and red in Germany generally means pinot noir (spätburgunder). Plantings of pinot noir in Germany’s wine regions have grown from 3.8 percent of total acreage in 1980 to 11.6 percent in 2007 or about 30,377 acres.

(Though plantings of white grapes are down, plantings of riesling itself increased by about 1,235 acres in 2007. Germany’s total vineyard acreage in 2007, about 102,000 hectares — 262,140 acres — lands it in seventh place in Europe behind Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Moldavia and Greece, but ahead of Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria and Switzerland. Spain’s vineyard acreage — 1,169,000 hectares or 3,004,330 acres, by far the largest in the world — beggars the imagination. What happens to all that Spanish wine?)

The pinot noir grape has a long history in Germany, but the problem is that it’s not easy to get pinot noir grapes to ripen around the 50th parallel, which runs through the upper Pfalz and Rheinhessen. As a result, German pinot noirs tended to be thin and acidic. Climate change in the past decade, however — and if you don’t believe in global-warming, talk to German winemakers — has brought the blessing of milder winters and slightly warmer summers (“slightly,” except for the brutally hot summer of 2003), resulting in the potential for riper grapes all around.

The additional problem, though, is what to do with these fully (or more fully) ripe pinot noir grapes. With a couple of exceptions, the red wines I tasted in Germany two weeks ago seemed unsatisfactory from myriad aspects. Many producers in Germany, like their counterparts in the New World, seem to believe that making serious wine means deploying serious oak, even if the grapes involved inherently don’t take kindly to the heavy-handed treatment with wood. For example, Rainer Eymann, at Weingut Eymann in Gönnheim, Pfalz, gave his Gönnheimer Sonnenberg Pinot Noir 2005 two years in oak, effectually killing any flavor, or as my notes say, “Jesus! Where’s the fruit?” On the other hand, he aged his Gönnheimer Mandelgarten Merlot 2007 one year in barrique, the somewhat standard 59-gallon French barrel, and produced one of the best, most interesting and complex red wines we tasted on our trip.

The so-called “noble” grapes varieties in Germany are highly susceptible to the potentially devastating fungal diseases downy mildew and powdery mildew, and great efforts have been made in the past 20 years to concoct grape varieties that are more resistant. Some of these crossings include, for white wine, Johanniter, Phoenix, Solaris and Monarch, and, for red wine, Regent (the most widely planted, but only about 5,600 acres), Cabernet Cortis, Cabernet Carbon and Prior. We tasted a few red wines made from blends of these or other hybrid grapes and found them mainly sappy, weedy and foxy, as if they were a combination of gamay, pinotage and black muscadine, though they were presented with pride and hope. Better to work with pinot noir and try to get that right than to trifle with these minor, goofy grapes.

On the other hand, we tried some pinot noirs that were not just encouraging but outright fine achievements, though, as one would expect, they were individual expressions of the grape; all pinot noir wines don’t have to imitate the Holy Grail of Burgundy, but they need to be recognizably varietal. One of these was the Spätburgunder 2005 from Heiner Sauer, an organic producer since 1987 in the village of Böchingen, in Pfalz. (Sauer also owns Bodegas Palmera, a winery in the Utiel Requena region of Spain.) Sauer’s Spätburgunder ’05 sported a radiant medium ruby-magenta color; a deeply spicy, smoky bouquet of mulberry and black cherry; and a chewy, almost muscular texture that cushioned elements of leather and moss, black pepper and cloves, fruit cake and plums. The wine aged 10 months in barriques, of which 50 percent were new barrels. This excellent pinot noir, both authentic and individual, would sell in Germany for 17.5 euros, or about $24.70.

Another well-made pinot noir was the Rotwein (“Red Wine”) Barrique 2007 from Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn, a rigorously biodynamic estate in the Rheingau village of Oestrich (and I’ll write more about this estate and its methods in a few days). As seems to be the case with pinot noir wines from Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz, this one emphasizes the grape’s spicy aspects; is this stylistic choice or climatic necessity? The color was a lovely medium ruby with a slight brick-red cast; the bouquet delivered beguiling aromas of cloves and allspice with spiced red and black currants and plums. The wine was quite dry, earthy and loamy, reminding me of some location-focused pinots from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and while there was a sufficient (though not abundant) quantity of delicious black fruit flavors, the wood really showed itself from mid-palate back. Personally, I could have used a grilled veal chop with this wine, but we were in the tasting room at Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn, and no such thing was in sight. If you lived in Germany, you would pay 22.70 euros for this wine, about $32.

The wines of Weingut Heimer Sauer and Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn are imported to the United States by Domaine Select Wine Estates.

Truly, though, the pinot noir that I enjoyed the most in Germany came on our first night in Oppenheim, at the restaurant L’herbe de Provence in Hotel Zwo, a sleek place that, like the other small-town establishments where we ate, consisted of a restaurant that occupied the entire first floor with two floors of rooms above. The main course at this introductory meal was a “back” of a country-style “Donnersberger” suckling pig served with asparagus and polenta; with it we drank a Guntersblumer Eiserne Hand Spätburgunder trocken 2007 from the Gehimrat Schnell winery. This was a lovely little pinot that boasted a ravishing bouquet of plums, mulberries, dried spices and dried flowers and winsome flavors of macerated and spiced red and black currants with overtones of lilacs and brambles. Not a great pinot noir by any means, but immensely appealing and drinkable. It would set you back the lordly sum of 8 euros, about $11.30.

Once we left St. Antony and Heyl zu Herrnsheim, Thursday (July 9) in Rheinhessen turned into a day of contrasts, not that contrast is a bad thing; often one learns the most through the process of give-and-take. The bus took us south from Nierstein, through back roads, to Ludwigshöher, a village about the size of a baseball diamond, where we were scheduled to have lunch and taste the wines of Weingut Brüder Dr. Becker — this is the estate and winery of Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Hans Müller — and also wines made by their friend Christine Bernhard, of Weingut Janson Bernhard in Zellertal-Harxheim, in the Pfalz region, a sort of preview for our next day’s exploration. Lotte Pfeffer-Müller is chairwoman of the board of ECOVIN. She and Bernhard prepared a spectacular lunch for us, which we’ll get to in a few minutes.

It’s easy to perceive the sensibility of a winery after a few minutes walking around and talking with the owner or winemaker. Brüder Dr. Becker has roots in the late 19th Century, and the facility has accreted gradually over the decades. Even the newer buildings, apparently from the 1960s, seem well-used, practical and rustic. Vines grow abundantly over arbors and trellises, moss furs the paving stones, and close by a rooster protests the presence of strangers in his precincts. Müller took us around the back, into an open shed where old machinery is stored, or simply waits for mechanical eternity, to talk about crop cover in the vineyards. What he showed us was a long table on which stood wide shallow bowls filled with the seeds of the plants — yellow, white and red clover, buckwheat, caraway, wild carrot, black lentils and some kind of pea plant — each type of seed remarkably different from the others, some fine enough that they almost felt like fine meal in the hand, others rough and pitted.

He took us into the winery, down two flights of stairs to the cellars where large oval barrels slumbered in the dim light. I promise, My Readers, that once you have seen a thousand steel tanks and 10,000 barriques, you never want to see another, but oddly shaped, venerable casks — some of these were from the 1930s and ’40s — silently hunkered down in a cellar carved from stone, highlighted by the unforgettable aroma of young wine and old wood, make for an experience of which I never tire.

Back upstairs, we walked into a room set for lunch in a manner that would have made the editors and stylists at Food & Wine and Gourmet magazines weep with envy. Out came the cameras to record this sight: a long, long table, overflowing with bright, colorful flowers and set with platters and bowls of the most gorgeous food imaginable, everything artistic yet artless, beautiful and carefree. There were slices of quiche with nettles; baby carrots wrapped in mint and thin slices of ham; lamb meatballs with feta cheese; pancake-like wraps of tomato pesto and feta cheese; bales of herb salads; home-made herb butters and dipping sauces, all made from organic ingredients and as locally-grown as possible. As delightful as this feast was, it didn’t make the best setting for tasting wine; there was too much going on, too much to eat and talk about, but, being the professionals that we were alleged to be, we forged professionally ahead.

While we ate and tasted, Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Christine Bernhard provided commentary, each weighing in with a zinger. “If you don’t produce ecological wines,” said Pfeffer-Müller, in her motherly yet uncompromising way, “then you don’t make real wines. If you don’t grow ecologically, then you cannot talk about terroir. It’s a kind of lifestyle.” And when we were trying Bernhard’s irresistible Zeller Klosterstuck Riesling Spätlese 2007, she said, “Riesling is unforgiving, but he’s adorable, too.” She always referred to the riesling grape in masculine terms. Both women asserted that since changing to organic methods in the vineyards, the grapes are “healthier” and the wines “better,” but, again, we had no standards of comparison. The wines we tasted, as these briefs notes should convey, ranged from appealing and delightful to profound. (Sorry, I only recorded prices for a few of these wines.)

>Janson Bernhard Zellertaler Silvaner trocken 2008. Clean, fresh and spicy; vigorous acidity and minerality; lemon and yellow plums; thirst-quenching, delightful. 9 euros. ($12.70)

>Brüder Dr. Becker Ludwigshöher Silvaner trocker 2008. More substance to this sylvaner, a little fatter, spicier. 5.80 euros. ($8.20)

>Janson Bernhard Zellertaler Schwarzer Herrgott Riesling & Traminer trocken 2008. Another delightful wine, a blend of 50 percent riesling and 50 percent gewurztraminer; lively and spicy, very floral.

>Brüder Dr. Becker Dienheimer Riesling trocken 2008. Fresh, clean, bright, floral; very dry, tremendous minerality. 6.90 euros. ($9.75)

>Brüder Dr. Becker Tafelstein Riesling 2007, Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru). Gunflint and lilac, very pure and intense, very dry; profound minerality (limestone & shale), scintillating acid; awesome.

>Janson Bernhard Zeller Klosterstuck Riesling Spätlese 2007. this is beautiful; pure and intense and concentrated; great balance among ripeness and acid and minerality; peaches and apricots, touch of apple and pear; rigorous acidity, yet lovely, delicate; very dry finish. A lesson in the balance of delicacy with power.

>Brüder Dr. Becker Ludwigshöher Scheurebe Spätlese 2008. Deep, earthy and spicy; lime and grapefruit, very floral; poised between spareness and opulence; towering minerality, a sense of balance that’s actually exciting, electrifying. Wow.

>Brüder Dr. Becker Ludwigshöher Traminer Beerenauslese 2005. Close to angelic yet years to go, as in 2015 to ’18.

We also tasted a red wine from each estate, which I’ll save for a post on red wine in Germany.

After leaving Brüder Dr. Becker — late, of course — we wended our way through fields and lanes and minuscule towns to the southern fringe of the Rheinhessen and a broad windswept hill in Hohen- Sülzen, home to Weingut BattenfeldSpanier and Weingut Kühling-Gillot and the forward-thinking and purposeful couple Carolin Spanier-Gillot and Oliver Spanier, whose marriage in 2006 united two old wine families. If Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Hans Müller look like farmers, a sort of “Pleasant Peasant” version of American Gothic, Gillot and Spanier look like young gods, poised, elegant, modern. Their tasting room resembles one of Philip Johnson’s Glass Houses; their website could be a series of still photos from a film by Wong Kar-Wai, all poetry and shadows and evocation — and not very helpful.

Oliver Spanier, we discovered, takes self-confidence to steroidal levels, and as he poured wines for us, he delivered his opinions in rapid-fire and authoritative fashion, and in impeccable English.

On winemaking: “I don’t cool wines, I don’t heat wines. I do nothing. It’s all about fantastic sites and fantastic grapes.”

On biodynamic practices: “I don’t like to talk about bio-dy. I need minimum 20 years to see the results. Many young winemakers are doing biody and maybe it makes a great job to show the wines, but bio-dy is only part of the picture. I don’t believe in the moon and the constellations. The oceans go up and down whether there’s a full moon or not. When I do something, I must show it in science. I hate teas, teas do nothing. [Spanier is referring to some of Rudolph Steiner’s root, plant and herbal teas that are sprayed at intervals on the vines.] We do spray the horn manure. This definitely works. You can see it in the grapes.”

On Rudolph Steiner (inventor of the biodynamic method of agriculture): “Steiner was a sick man. That says it all for me.”

On fruit in wine: “I hate all this discussion about fruit. All this makes me crazy. These writers are writing that a wine tastes like strawberries picked when the dew is still on them! [And I’m thinking, ‘Hmmm, where can I use that?’] I like wines that are spicy and interesting. With this kind of wine, you can’t talk about flavors and boring things.”

On Bordeaux red wines: “I hate Bordeaux! Latour tastes like Coca-Cola!”

The wines, though, I thought were pretty damned wonderful, but they were controversial in our group. One of my colleagues acknowledged that they were well-made but “soulless.” That was not my impression. Brief notes:

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