A lunch of pickles, bread and cheese washed away any trace of the 1980 Zilliken and I was ready to move on.
Max is the 7th generation winemaker here, and when we met in May 2013 he was about to have his 34th birthday. He laughed and said, "I am a twin of the stars" (a.k.a. he is a Gemini). His ancestors purchased the estate in 1806 from the church. The property had originally been a retreat for the monks at St. Maximin in Trier.
The St. Maximin monks had this cellar built in the 1100s. It has burned down twice since then, but the cellar foundation has remained the same.
The Von Hövel estate has four main vineyard holdings that total 12.9 hectares and the vines have an average age of 35-40 years. The four vineyard sites are:
Rosenkamm- Rosenkamm is not an official vineyard recognized by the government. It is a parcel of the larger Rosenberg Einzellage in Wiltingen. Rosenkamm was once a recognized site on the par of "grand cru" and considered to be one of the best sub-sites of the Rosenberg, but the wine laws of 1971 condensed many vineyards and during this assimilation the Rosenkamm was absorbed into the Rosenberg on political maps. Families like Max's, however, have farmed these special sites for generations, and it's not always easy or appropriate to simply forget the nuances of a certain place. Many producers I spoke to would reference special pre-1971 vineyard sites, and they have come up with interesting ways to notate these on labels by using fantasy names. Max calls his wine from Rosenkamm "R." The Rosenkamm geology is a mix of riverstone and fine slate. One part of the site has 34 year old vines, another part has 42 year old vines.
Scharzhofberg- Scharzhofberg is a world-famous vineyard made up of slabs of slate with a bit of quartzite. It has a forrest behind it, and the ground retains a lot of water. The best years for this site are the dry years (1959, 1969, 2003, 2005). Max's part of the Scharzhofberg has vines that are four different ages: 20, 25, 45, and 55 years old.
Hütte (monopole)- The Hütte is a monopole in Konz, composed of small, fine slate that Max thinks is best for Kabinett/Spatlese/Auslese. He owns the entire vineyard, and has three sections of vines that are 15, 30, and 45 years old. Max talked about how roots grow in this kind of slate: "They grow to be about 25 meters long and they ride under the surface of the rock like a carpet."
Hörecker (monopole)- Located in Kanzem, this site is about the size of an acre and is composed of rocky slate with iron. The slate is green in some areas and red in others. The vines here are quite special-- the site is 75% 100 year old vines, and the dying vines are replaced in 20 year intervals (so far, they have been replaced in 1993 and again this year in 2013). The vineyard is so steep that you need to have spikes on your shoes as you walk it.
We were here to try the 2012 vintage-- Max's third vintage as head winemaker, and he had this to say about it: "2012, it was a good year for quality, but not so much for quantity." To give an example of what this means: In 2011 Max made 3000L from the Hörecker site. In 2012 he made just 750L from the same site.
Von Hövel, Hütte, Saar Riesling Kabinett 2012 (Mosel, Germany)
57g RS, 8.5g/L acid
Von Hövel, Hütte, Saar Riesling Spätlese 2012 (Mosel, Germany)
110 Oeschle, 9.5 g/L acid, no botrytis, some grapes were frozen at harvest
Von Hövel, Scharzhofberg, Saar Riesling Spätlese 2012 (Mosel, Germany)
note: These are the 2012 vintage, so the new VDP rules apply for labeling. If Prädikat terms (Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese) are used, the wine must have a certain amount of discernable residual sugar unless the term "trocken" is used. If the new Grosse Lage vineyard classification system is used, then the Prädikat terms must not be used, the vineyard must be named, and the wine must be dry.
This first flight was the fruity Prädikat-style wines with some RS.
Click here for more about labeling among VDP members.
The fruit from "R" comes from Rosenkamm, but as mentioned above, this is no longer an official vineyard site, so the fantasy name "R" helps distinguish its origin while not breaking any rules.
Von Hovel "R" Saar Riesling Spatlese trocken 2o11 (Mosel, Germany)
earthy and meaty, fine white pear, slate minerality
Von Hovel "R" Saar Riesling Spatlese trocken 2o12 (Mosel, Germany)
fruitier-- pineapple, banana, and tropical fruits
105 Oeschle, 8.5 g/L acid, 15% botrytis
Scharzhofberg needs little introduction. It's one of the most famous vineyards in the Saar with incredibly steep slopes of slate, and a micro climate that has one of the largest diurnal temperature swings in all of Germany. Egon Muller has helped to make this vineyard so famous; his Scharzhofberg TBA fetched record prices.
<-- the Von Hövel Estate Riesling, 2011. This wasn't produced in 2012 because there wasn't enough fruit harvested to make this bottling.
Max has a fun project called Crossmosel. Under this brand label, he makes wine with his friend, the Luxembourg chef, Lea Linster. You can see in the label photo to the left that this cuvee "LMEAAX" gets the name by weaving together the names "Lea" and "Max." L M E A A X
"Crossmosel" refers to their juxtaposition of the two friends across the Mosel River: Lea is in Luxemburg at one end of the Mosel while Max is in Germany on the other side of the Mosel. Their collaboration is "Crossmosel" wine.
Chef Lea carries this at her restaurants.
Then we descended to the cellar that was built in the 1100s! The architecture felt sacred-- I imagined what it was first filled with by the monks who built it. No doubt it held barrels of wine, like today, but probably also ale, staples like butter, salt- or sugar-cured meats, root vegetable harvests that may have lasted partway through the winter, maybe spices brought back from the Crusades, perhaps some dried herbs or fish. With no windows, this cellar saw nothing but candlelight for almost 8 centuries. Down here, there air was thicker, the silence was louder; as you walked you cut through humidity as thick as the history.
<-- The rieslings are aged in large, neutral barrels.
We headed upstairs again.
<-- Back in the daylight, we noticed some demijohns in the corner-- oh, that was just some TBA, still fermenting... In fact, Max has collected some grapes with record-breaking must weight and has made a wine with 350g RS and 193 g/L acid.
He reminds us on the way out that "one hundred years ago the wines from the Saar were the most famous wines on the Earth." If Max continues with the same success of his first three years, perhaps he will slingshot them to the global forefront once again.