Quality rather than quantity: 2017 has great potential
The fascinating 2017 vintage is also one of a kind. The smallest volume here in our wi- nery since the excellent 1971. In many parcels, the Riesling yield barely exceeded 20 hl/ha. For the Pinot Noir, in some instances it was even less.
We are obviously sad because we already know that we don’t have enough wine in our cellar to satisty our customers. But from a quality perspective, the 2017 vintage makes us happy and proud.
2017 has many of the hallmarks of the first-class 2001 and 2004 vintages: the ripeness and out and out nobility of 2001, together with the elegance and extract of 2004. Dear wine friends, if you happen to have bottles from these vintages in your cellar, they have developed into lucky charms and provide a foretaste of what we can expect from the 2017s ten years from now. A year with great potential.
The greatest challenges: erratic weather and hailstorms
After a frosty spring, the 2017 growing season picked up the pace and the young green shoots appeared three weeks too early. We only just escaped greater frost damage in April, with temperatures of -3.5 oC (26 oF). Others regions were more unlucky and many vinegrowers and fruit farmers lost 50–100% of their crop at this early stage. Our vines had to digest the shock of this early frost – as did we.
The vegetation seemed to fall into a winter sleep for several weeks until mid May when summer-like temperatures clearly accelerated the growth of the canopy. June was much too dry and our vines must have felt like nomads in the desert again. Rainfall in the first six months of the year didn’t even reach half the long-term average.
Fortunately the longed-for rain came at the end of July and a cool, damp August allo- wed the vines and us to breathe a sigh of relief. Growth and ripening proceded slowly. The water reserves that are so important for the vine had been replenished and every- thing pointed to a quiet and relaxed final ripening phase. The small bunches hung picture-perfect on the vine.
Towards evening on 25 August a heavy hailstorm in Gundersheim und Westhofen dashed in a trice all hopes of a generous harvest.
I was standing at that moment with my son Felix under the roof overhang. Felix looked as white as a sheet. The hailstones hammered on the roof and we had to look on helpless as our year’s work was brought to nothing in just a few minutes. At least that’s how it seemed at the time. When the sun reappeared there was no time to mope. We had to go on. So we jumped into the VW minibus and checked, vineyard by vineyard, the damage the storm had done.
Fortunately the losses in Dalsheim were less than we feared. In Westhofen, however, Morstein, ABTS E and parts of Kirchenspiel had been badly hit. Had it rained after the hail, we would have lost the majority of our crop. We were very lucky that it re- mained dry. The god of the weather seemed to want to make good and sent us a wonderful Indian summer. The pleasantly warm, dry days and cool nights dried out the berries that had been hit and allowed the aromas in the healthy berries to explode.
The small crop still on the vine developed slowly and benefited from night-time tempe- ratures of around 0 oC/32 oF. The fruit in the berries grew finer, the acidiy transpired very slowly. Sorting the berries in the ensuing harvest took a huge amount of effort. In some instances we had to inspect every single berry individually on the vine. Only the best made it into the little baskets in which we carried home the harvest in the evenings. And when, at the end of a long day’s picking with 25 helpers, only 800-1,000 litres flowed from the press instead of 4,000-5,000 litres, it was hard to see the positive side. My father Klaus, on the other hand, stood by the press beaming and said, ‘A lot and good seldom go hand in hand. The bunches look fantastic!’ And of course he was right. After 52 harvests he’s pretty much unflappable.
It took a lot of patience and willingness to take risks to produce excellent quality in 2017. Those who hurried to rescue what could be rescued generally ended up with green, unripe characteristics and a lack of balance in the cask.
To be perfectly honest, even I am a little surprised by how good the vintage is. And that’s exactly what we winegrowers love: after 30 or 50 harvests we continue to learn so much and are surprised time and time again. Particularly influential for quality in this vintage were the low yields. But still, many more dominoes had to fall into place for us to turn a good vintage into a very good or even a great one.
Keller rieslings: they’re in the world’s top tier for a reason
“If you want to produce fine wine, you have to know what fine wine is about. So the first thing you have to do is travel and drink the world’s finest wines; the second is to meticulously work on your vineyards.”
Klaus-Peter Keller said that 10 years ago, when he was 31. Practising what he preaches, he has since taken the eponymous Keller winery (in the family since 1789) to the point where Keller and Wittmann are the two greatest producers of dry rieslings in Germany’s Rheinhessen, their rieslings in the world’s top tier.
In the vineyard, every shoot on the hand-pruned arched cane is trained vertically, separated from every other shoot. In June, Keller and six employees remove two leaves per shoot, removing weak shoots and double shoots altogether. Later, he cuts off the growing shoot tips and removes another two leaves. In July, the crop is thinned by leaving only one or two bunches per shoot. The leaf-stripping slows ripening, and although yields are far lower than normal for the region, Keller is one of the last to pick each year; strict bunch sorting reduces the yield further.
Some time ago, Jancis Robinson MW wrote: “If I had to choose one wine to show how great dry German rieslings can be, I would choose a Keller riesling. Those wines are the German Montrachets.” Similar praise has been heaped on Keller year after year by international experts.
Keller also makes sweet wines (up to trockenbeerenauslese) and acclaimed pinot noir. He worked at Domaines Hubert Lignier and Armand Rousseau, leading Burgundy estates, and is a regular visitor, now buying Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s barriques (after one use).
by James halliday