On a recent trip to Germany I got to stop by Weingut Schäfer-Fröhlich in the Nahe Anbaugebiete.
<-- Weingut Schäfer-Fröhlich
<-- The Tasting Room
Schäfer-Fröhlich headquarters are based in Bockenau.
<--- This is the town you drive through to reach their headquarters.
Tim Fröhlich took over from his parents in the 1990s (1995 was his first official vintage) but his mother is still very much involved. They taste every parcel together and confer on the best way to proceed. Tim describes his mother's palate as very similar to his own. He goes on to elaborate that because they have such similar palates, their discussions about the wine always revolve around fine-tuning the tiniest details. These wines are so precise that I can't help but think that these talks with his mom have immensely shaped his direction of winemaking. It's special to find a winemaker so lucky to have a mentor that could guide him along such a narrow path. I imagine most winemakers start off with wild experiments to see what works and what doesn't, and it can take years to narrow down to refinement. Tim has had strong guidance from the beginning and has been able to skip over finding his way, and has jumped into fine-winemaking right from the start.
I only spent about an hour tasting with Tim, and from that hour I'd describe his personality as intense, focused, and driven. He's a quiet guy, but you can tell that inside there is this glowing, meticulous, fierce intensity. He doesn't talk about sales or brands or the wine market-- he talks about grapes, soils, vintages, and vineyards. He is obsessed with his vineyards, and with coaxing the best from them. His intelligence is focused: he knows exactly what he wants from each vineyard and he mentioned that one of the greatest things he has going for him is a great vineyard management team. "They know what I want," he says, and it means so much to be able to trust them to prune and pick to his specifications.
Tim on Yeast
Tim feels very strongly about doing wild yeast fermentations. He describes it this way: "When you use cultured yeast, or even domesticated wild local yeast, you end up with a 'Grand Style,' but you hide the year." To him, the most interesting thing about winemaking is how the particular year gives the wine its character.
To cultivate these yeasts he farms with a philosophy that I'd call lutte raisonn e. He uses salts and biodynamic preparations at times, but this is mixed with other approaches based on weather and site.
He and his mom choose when to pick by tasting the grapes. He has found that consistently, they end up picking fruit for their spätlese wines from the same parts of the vineyards. He doesn't usually pass more than once through a site to pick in stages. To him, the later harvest vines express themselves as parcels. He tributes this understanding of the vineyard to meticulous vineyard management. His words of wisdom: "If you must make a lot of selections at the end, you didn't do the work at the beginning."
Some soil samples from his various vineyards.
I noticed at the 2013 Weinbörse in Mainz that several producers made 2012 blanc de noir wines from pinot noir. From a linguistic viewpoint, it is interesting to note that everyone in Germany refers to these as "blanc de noir" instead of "Weiss vom Schwarz."
For Tim, this is a great way to showcase his pinot noir vineyards until he has a larger winery and can start to make dry reds.
These grapes come from Stromberg-- a very steep vineyard full of volcanic rock and planted with 35-40 year old Spätburgunder vines.
When describing this wine to me, Tim says "We prefer maximum elegance;" and you can definitely taste this preferment! The grapes from this site have much color in the skins; Tim wants a light color, so he does no skin contact and uses all free run juice.
Schäfer-Fröhlich, Bockenauer Weisser Burgunder "R", 2012
This Weisser Burgunder comes from red slate in some steep places in Bockenauer.
This was picked at 102 Oeschle (that's quite ripe!).
These single vineyard Grosses Gewachs are what wine is all about. When I tasted through these side-by-side I had one of those profoundly personal wine experiences. I was awestruck and amazed. My idea of what riesling could be was forever changed.
I've always appreciated riesling, and even loved it on occasion. I've curiously observed many wine geek friends who are absolutely obsessed with riesling and preach it like religion. I've watched them drool over the riesling section in wineshops. I've met up with them for dinner and seen them wide-eyed, pulling a bottle of riesling out of their bag to pour-- clutching the bottle with two hands as if it were the Holy Grail, meticulously portioning it out as if it were a rationed resource. I've gotten a kick out of their passion, I've been inspired by their undying, unwavering, unfaltering love of this grape. After this Schäfer-Fröhlich side-by-side GG tasting, I became one of them.
I know the exact moment it happened too: we were on the third one, and I was suddenly overcome with the realization that I was experiencing something profound, unique, and special.
There is a wide spectrum of what riesling can be; of how it can manifest. Tim's GGs exist within a very thin band of this spectrum, and while they are all similar, each one reveals an infinite inner world of subtle detail, subtle textural differences, über-expressive minerality, and electric energy. Driving energy, focused detail, subtle power: these qualities could describe both Tim and his wines.
Here is more detailed information about these vineyards:
Schlossböckelheimer Kupfergrube ("Copper Ditch")
Kupfergrube was originally planted between WWI & WWII on the site of an old copper mine. It is 14 hectares in total, very steep, with complex volcanic soil rich in a wide array of minerals.
Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg ("Rock Hill")
80-90% slate with some white & black quartz deposits.
Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen ("Little Place of Spring")
Tim has a special parcel that is very steep and comprised of hard, red slate.
very rocky & steep vineyard, calcerous soils, over 65 year old vines
blue Devonian shale with quartzite and basalt
Wild orchids grow in the rocky places of this vineyard, and a special flower-protection group ensures that these areas are protected. Tim recognized the potential of this vineyard and bought the entire Felseneck when the opportunity arose. He even purchased the steep part that is protected by the orchid group, in hopes that maybe one day, he can plant there. He sees the orchids growing among the vines and thinks that the two plants can coexist.
<-- This is me holding a glass of Felseneck next to a soil sample from the vineyard.
Tim describes a few past vintages from this vineyard:
2008- "a very elegant wine, but the acidity is much brighter than in the 2012"
2010- "a special vintage because the harvest came very late"
2012- "The words for me are finesse and elegance." I concur!