German Steel: Willi Schaefer

Posted by CrushWine

We often talk of tiny productions, but let's put it in context with some numbers from 3 of the highest quality (and best known) producers in all of Germany:

Prum: 10,000 cases from 14.5 hectares
(36 acres or .056 square miles)
Donnhoff: 8,000 cases from 14.5 hectares (ditto)
Muller: 5,000 cases from 8 hectares
(19.8 acres or 0.03 square miles)*

And then there's Willi Schaefer ... who with his son Christof makes a mere 2,000 cases from the impossibly tiny, collective 3 hectares of vineyards (7.4 acres = .011 square miles) he owns in the Mittel Mosel towns of Graach and Wehelen. (c'mon! Central Park's Great Lawn is twice the size of his property!!)

Quietly lauded worldwide by those in the know, each year Schaefer's loyal cadre of followers surreptitiously snap up as many bottles of the gold-labeled nectar as they can get their hands on and squirrel them away without making a fuss about it, lest it become more difficult or expensive to find the wines the following year.

Word is getting around though: a Gault Millau rising star award a few years ago put the international pundits on notice and now positive reviews by renowned critics abound. Despite the fact that the wines are gaining popularity by the second Schaefer will not increase the size of his production.

Willi, as quoted by the importer Terry Thiese, says "the estate is the right size for me to work and give proper attention to the wines."

Fat, rich and much more tempting in their youth than other vintages, Schaefer's Rieslings will reward those of you with the patience and restraint for cellaring. As they shed their baby blubber, they become perfectly etched and pure examples of uncanny balance, finesse, filigree, richness and power.

2004 QbA on Sale!

The 2005 vintage is an amazing vintage for wines of Spatlese Pradikat and above, and very good at the lesser pradikat levels. Having tasted a number of 2005 QbA or "Estate" level wines, we find them rounder, plumper, and richer than the leaner, crisper, and more minerally 2004s.

The 2005's are Rocking

By now if you're as obsessed as we are with Riesling you've heard the word that the Mittel Mosel is the sweet spot of the 2005 vintage:

"Power[ful], not muscle bound ... staggering ripeness and concentration, yet still elegant and transparent." (Terry Thiese) and a "model of what botrytis should be" (Rudi Wiest).

Wehlener Sonnenuhr vs. Graacher Domprobst

While Schaefer's Wehlener Sonnenuhr and Graacher Domprobst vineyard sites share the Devonian blue slate soil widely considered the best for Riesling, the resulting wines are quite different in style.

Heavier soil weight in Domprobst causes the grapes to ripen more slowly and evenly than those in the neighboring Sonnenuhr vineyard in the town of Wehlen, meaning that in warmer years (2005), wines from Domprobst are not only solid in their youth, but also exceptionally long-lived as their intense minerality is offset by riper fruit.

On the other hand, the lighter earth in of Wehlener Sonnenuhr, likely the most famous site in the Mittel Mosel, causes the wines to be much more generous and accessible early on. They are the most appropriate for immediate hedonistic drinking, though they will not disappoint if cellared.

Did you know?

....that it takes anywhere from 2,500 to 3,600 hours of labor per year (quick math: 60-75 hours per week) to cultivate 1 measly hectare in the Mosel compared to 800 hours in Pfalz and about 250 in Bordeaux?*

In such a difficult environment, many small producers have had to give up their trade due to a lack of affordable local labor.

Sadly, during a recent 12 month period 340 hectares (700 acres) were abandoned by families who were not up to the challenge.

*All labor and vineyard site figures obtained from Stephen Brook's 2003 Wine of Germany