Christopher Loewen & Karl-Joseph, his father
Riesling that just sings with acidity. These wines have soul and they want you to know about it. Mostly dry, as there is very little in the way of intervention and they stop fermenting when they stop.
- Defined as very cold winters, hot, short, fairly rainy summers, with long, cool, dry autumns.
- Until climate change this was the very northern edge of where grapes could ripen fully, but only about 7 out of 10 years.
- Now: winters are usually not as cold, summers are much hotter, drought is a serious problem 4 or the last 5 years, and autumns start later and are often much wetter than they used to be.
- The unpredictability is what makes Mosel wines especially vintage sensitive and creates havoc (and high costs!) for winemakers.
- Cool climate wines are high in acid, low in alcohol, light in body, and often show a lot of mineral flavors rather than fruit.
- Usually white wines are made, but some light reds, like Pinot Noir can also ripen enough.
- Warmer vintages: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015 produce wines with lower acidity, higher alcohols, and richer fruit flavors.
- Cooler vintages: 2021, 2013, 2010, 2008 produce what are now considered “classic” cool-climate wines
- 2022 is an enigma. It was hot and very dry for most of the growing season, but rain and long cold fall ended up giving us wines that taste more like “classic” cool-climate wines than rich, ripe wines.
Slowly they have collected 18 hectares total, 50%+ of the vines are un-grafted and between 60-125 years old.
- Maximin Klosterlay: The original holding of the family, since 1803 when it was auctioned off by Napoleon's government (Maximin Grunhaus was of the same abbey holdings and was sold to the Von Schuberts). An Erste Lage (1er Cru) site with south east exposure, blue slate, and a lot of water access at the base give these wines high toned minerality and a long finish.
- Leiwener Laurentiuslay: Grey slate with deep soils and southwest exposure. Where the family have their house and cellar. A very steep Erste Lage (1er Cru) site with terraced vineyards that was spared the Flurbereinigung (land consolidation) treatment. Meaning its rife with old vines, with better access to water and makes some very pretty, but fully ripe wines. Excellent value to be found here.
- Thörnicher Ritsch: Weathered, brittle, grey slate and quartzite, which you can see layered in the rock face in the photo below. Because of how hard quartz is, the river couldn’t erode it as much as the other hills, making it the second steepest hill in the world, after Bremmer Calmont, in the Mosel Terrassen. It’s not just the steepness that makes for outstanding wine, it's that this is a standalone outcropping, acting like a geological air conditioner of sorts. One of the features of isolated hills, like that of Corton in Burgundy, is that wind hits the backside, as it comes around the sides, it picks up speed, (like an airplane wing, lifting up), keeping the vines much cooler than those protected on either side by more hills. Add to this one of Germany’s largest forests starting at the end of its west flank, providing colder air still. What that means is that even in the ever warming German climate, the Ritsch is much, much colder, and the wines produced here have much higher acidity, they are often, and rightfully so, compared to the Saar for their tension, and wispy, filigreed nature. Karl-Joseph bought his parcel in 2008 and it took 10 years of farming by the family to get their plot in shape for dry wines.
- Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg: Devonian era red slate, un-grafted vines planted in 1896. This was the 3rd of the three Maximin vineyards (the other being Klosterlay and Grunhaus) which were sold off in Napoleonic times. Bruno Schmitt, the 6th generation of the original purchasers, had no heirs and was looking to sell. He and Karl-Joseph were like two peas in a pod, and Bruno knew Karl would do his legacy site justice. This is home to the oldest Riesling vines in the world and makes some of the most incredible bottles of wine imaginable.
- Herrenberg (no Maximin) is the top of the slope. There is no red, only blue slate here. For the Kabinetts.
Grape Varieties |
- The King of White Grapes.
- High acid, semi aromatic
- A huge variation in style potential from very light and dry, sparkling to the most unctuously sweet wines on the planet.
- Divisive for its high acidity and sugar retaining capabilities
- Perfect in its dynamic nature, ability to transmit the slightest nuance of terroir and being capable of aging for hundreds of years.
Vineyard Perfectionist, Practicing Organic
- Christopher is obsessed with farming and works incredibly to have healthy thriving soils and ecosystems in his vineyards.
- Clones for any replanting done are selection massale cuttings from all of their oldest vineyards with huge genetic diversity. Selected for flavor and structure, not yields.
Cellar Work |
Traditional, low intervention
- These are some old school methods
- Grapes are direct pressed on their stems, which is normal for the Mosel. It means no skin contact, and super pure juice, like in Champagne.
- Juice is allowed to brown out completely. All the larger, sensitive particles oxidize, turning the juice brown, then they flocculate out to the bottom, leaving a very stable must, which doesn’t have a bunch of easily oxidized bits in it. The same method is used in Burgundy and Austria. I
- They ferment spontaneously
- No temperature control, which is really crazy. The cellar keeps things generally cool, but it means they can get as high as 35 degrees celsius, which is about 10 degrees higher than anyone would normally let their must go. What this means is much less overt fruity vibes, as the aromatic esters burn away, leaving very mineral, stony flavors in its wake.
- No enzymes or corrective additions or subtractions.
- Long lees contact, at least 6 months, further helps stabilize the wine and protects from oxidation.
- Sulfur is used in the sweet wines, but most of these wines are dry and the sweet wines are drier than most.
- There is Malolactic bacteria in the winery, the wines have never gone through it, so there is no need for bacterial filtration
About the Winery |
A very cool place full of history and enthusiasm and knowledge. Karl-Joseph turned the estate from a couple of hectares of polycultural farmland into a bustling estate with some excellent wines being produced.
When Christopher came aboard, he did the normal “kid” thing and wanted to change how everything was done. His dad must be a really patient person, because he let him try out many of his ideas, never discouraging him from pushing the boundaries of quality. Not everything they changed worked, but a lot did, and Christopher has come to the helm with much deserved confidence.
One of the most interesting lessons I garnered from my visit was one Christopher learned a few years earlier. In the old nature versus nurture argument, through the lens of terroir versus farming, if all things are relatively equal, nature and terroir will win out . He was sure that if you farmed a site perfectly, got super healthy thriving soils, a balanced ecosystem, healthy vines, that they would produce superior wines to poorly farmed top rated sites.
Once he was able to farm everything the way he wanted, so the playing field was level, is when he really started to experience for himself, that a really great site will always shine through, making distinct, better wines. It was a theory I put to the test again and again the rest of the trip and was proven true many times.
What do the wines taste like?
Mineral, elegant, textural, not-overtly-fruity, mostly dry or dry-finishing wines. The old vines and high clonal diversity in the new vineyards really set these apart. They are just turned up to another level, with countless layers of complexity. I never drink enough of these wines and there are never enough of the top to go around.
Wines on Offer |
Carl Loewen, Pinot Blanc Estate Trocken, 2022 $23.99 $21.11
From Leiwener Klostergarten. Soil Type Weathered slate and loam. Fermentation & Élevage: 6-9 hours of maceration (skins, stems, etc), fermentation and aging in 1/3 stainless steel, 1/3 used fuder, 1/3 new barrel -- Importer note
Carl Loewen, Riesling 1896, 2022 $104.99 $92.39
The idea behind the wine: How did they make wine a 100 years ago? Christoph bought a 60 year old basket press. He picks in the evening, whatever is there good and bad, under and overripe from the same block on the hill. Then hand pressed, gravity fed and fermented in a 70 year old barrel made from Mosel oak at the top of the hill, no sedimentation. Fermentation is as long as it takes, one times a whole year, no racking, stays on the gross lees and then filtered with diatomaceous earth. The ocean, sand, wind, green sea foam, I want to smell this forever. Holy cow, the acid, the texture, the power, the delicacy, so complex, so pretty, silky, long, fantastic.
Carl Loewen, Riesling Alte Reben Trocken, 2022 $27.99 $24.63
10 Residual sugar, 8.1 TA, 50 to 70 year old vines (25 years old is legal for a Alte a Reben). White/green apple, lime skin. A prescription drug, to show you what the estate is made of. So much acidity and dry extract, slightly short finish, ,but everything else is just “more”. Turned up a notch. A tiny bit sparkly. What a wine for the money.
From the Klostergarden, above the town, facing east, colder site and young vines. Nice reduction, fresh minerality, fruit is in the background, white peach, white pineapple, a fuller texture, lime, yeast, juicy acidity. 12.5 g residual sugar, 8 TA.
Up to 100-year-old vines on Devonian and grey slate. Spontaneous fermentation. A saline sea of ripe citrus, smoke and spice, nearly alpine in its purity and focus. Aromas of lime, orange blossom, chamomile. Not for the faint of heart, but if you crave the thrill of climbing a bald rock face freestyle, pushing yourself to breaking point, then you’ll love this wine. Aromatic, racy but never biting, then comes the power and creamy concentration. Linear grip, eye-wateringly saline. 16.5+ pts -- Paula Sidore, JancisRobinson.com
Carl Loewen, Riesling Leiwener Laurentiuslay Spätlese, 2022 $35.99 $31.67
♥️Yum. Silky, elegant peaches, the most fruit of the line up but still not too center stage. High elevation parcel, extra slate, windblown. Coolness, lime skin, so long, so good, a rotten funk. 9 TA, 55 g residual sugar.
Spontaneous fermentation on old Mosel fuder with lees contact until bottling Importer note
Carl Loewen, Riesling Longuicher Herrenberg Kabinett, 2022 $25.99 $22.87
😀 Longuich red slate spicy, a 100 year old un-grafted parcel at the top of slope. Limey with more elegance, more fruit, “the best Prädikatt (sweet) wines are the ones that are not sweet. Can't not drink this one. Cool acid, fresh like a cloud.
Oldest riesling in the world, 1.5 hectare parcel planted in 1896, un-grafted. Red slate spice, herbal, full-bodied. Oh my! So layered and perfect, dry. Paper thin, like sheet-metal stacked on top of each other, with each layer a different color and texture, but so think you get just a hint of each layer. Seamlessly knit together, crazy spicy, forcefully mineral, phenolic, tartaric, cinnamon apple crisp.
Carl Loewen, Riesling Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg Grosses Gewächs, 2022 $64.99 $57.19
😀 Same hill as the 1896, but one higher step in quality. Planted 1902, this is steeper, stonier, only .2 ha or one fuder and 1200 bottles. Silkier, stonier, sleeker, less fruit, shows true restraint. Happy happy dance.
Carl Loewen, Riesling Thörnicher Ritsch Auslese, 2022 $48.99 $43.11
Bought the parcel 1998 these grapes are from a midhill windy cool site. Orange Julius, cheese, salt, iodine, herbal, holy f*&@ why so good??? Complete. Bottled beginning of March.
There wasn't enough 2022 made for us to get to drink any. Instead Christoph was generous enough to open at 2017 and boy was that singing. Just buy this and in 5 years it will taste like this: 12.5% abv. Beautiful development, dried flowers, a fluency, integrated acid, almond, toast, salty acid, white pineapple, kernel, vanilla, kissed by botritized fruit, the length!!! They picked all the botrizited berries for the Auslese and then wait 10 days to pick the GG, meaning some berries have a tiny bit of noble rot, but there are no raisins. Super balanced wine.