This summer I finally got the chance to meet Thorsten Sperl, the owner of Sperl Concept Winery. Sperl Concept Winery produces a great range of wines. The vineyard is located in Neustadt an der Weinstraße, the center of traditional wines in the world-famous region Pfalz (Germany). The funny thing is; the wines are anything but traditional...
The Pfalz and its famous Wine Route
Neustadt on the German Wine Route is located in the Pfalz (some say it's the Tuscany of Germany), surrounded by a sea of hillside vineyards. Shortly after the turn of the century, the grapevine came to the Pfalz together with the Romans and found a new home here. It is thanks to this that wine has so established itself in Germany and especially in the Pfalz.
The Pfalz is now the second-largest wine-producing region in Germany and is also an important factor in export.
Many know that Pfalz was once Bavarian. Few people know that Pfalz wine owes its variety of flavors to the Alps. The Alps were already essential when the Rhine rift was formed. Put simply, the Rhine Rift was created because the weight of the Alps pressed on the earth's mantle and bulged it up. The earth's crust expanded, its clods collapsed, and formed a trench that today extends from Basel to Mainz. Traces of the initial spark of this process, which dragged on in several phases over many millions of years, can still be discovered in Forst. There, 53 million years ago, magma rose from the cracks and crevices of the earth's crust, leaving behind the Pechsteinkopf with its cooled basalt rock.
Millions of years later the Rhine rift began to sink, later the sea penetrated into the rift and created lime-rich deposits. A longer period of rest followed, and the sea gradually silted up. The last act began about five million years ago. The Alps rose to the high mountains and were pushed seventy kilometers northwards. As a result, they exerted a thrust on the Rheingraben that caused further faults. At the rift valley, the bottom was turned up. And so the winemakers on the Hardtrand are pleased with an amazing variety of rocks and soils today.
Photo: We were walking through the vineyard downhill to the little wine center of Neustadt (slide to the right for more photos)
The wine route was once created by Josef Bürckel Nazi party chief in Pfalz. Josef Bürckel who had the right connections to build a wine empire in the center of Germany, faced two problems to make the wine center a big success. Firstly, the wine trade in the surrounding Pfalz region was in the hands of Jewish merchants who were forbidden to work in the Third Reich. Secondly, the harvest of 1934 and 1935 was devastating and led to a collapse in prices. His dream was to create a wine route connecting the main wineries on the left bank of the Rhine. It ran for 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the village of Bockenheim to Schweigen on the French border. Burckel inaugurated the Weinstrasse with a speech in Bad Durkheim on October 19, 1935, and promoted the wine route in German cities. The concept was a hit and the sales went up like crazy.
In the late 70s and 80s, the wine industry chooses to have quantity over quality. Supermarket wines were advertised on U.S. and UK television like crazy. Yields were astronomical, up to 18,000 bottles per hectare, whereas nowadays they are restricted to a maximum of 9,000 bottles. The 1990s were the turning point for Pfalz wines. The growers realized that they have to compete worldwide on quality alone. The EU also forced Germany to end its restrictive practices. A lot of Chardonnay was replaced by Riesling, the main grape variety of today Germany’s wine country.
Neustadt an der Weinstraße
Neustadt is the administrative center of the Rheinhessen-Pfalz district. The city is located in the Weinstrasse (“Wine Route”), the center of the German wine trade. Every year there is an annual Wine Festival (Hambacher Fest). This festival is well well known because of the famous historical Hambacher Schloss.
Nowadays Neustadt is still an idyllic town. Downtown you can eat a local dish in numerous restaurants and if you drive up in the mountains you will find several wineries where you can stay and drink the local specialties. Thorsten, the owner of SperlConceptWinery welcomed us warmly and showed us our room (yes you can rent a beautiful room here in the vineyards!). With a view over the vineyards and two of the wines of Sperl Concept Winery, we are in heaven. After we unpacked our suitcases we pour ourselves a good glass of Riesling to celebrate our first holiday in Neustadt.
And of course, we need to eat! Wouldn't it be a nice occasion to explore the local cuisine? Around 19.00 we walked through the vineyards and entered the little center of the famous Weinstrasse. The vineyards are located up in the mountains. The vines love the lime-rich deposits and have to dig deep to get nutritious. Some vines are more than 80 years old! We have the sun in our back, in a few hours the sun will go down behind the mountains behind us. On the horizon, we see a few clouds which are creating shadows on the land. I guess we are so high that nature is making its own land paintings.
Walking down the stairs we are entering the wine street of Neustadt. The buildings are pitoresc and covered with vine leaves. It's like time stands still for a while and makes you enjoy the scenery. Our restaurant called Fuxbau Weinstube & Vinothek is a restaurant with classical stone cellar walls and traditional German meals. During dinner, we enjoyed Thorsten his new Amarone wine made out of Dornfelder grapes, which he dried for weeks.
Sperl Concept Winery
Thorsten loves different kinds of growing areas. In addition to his home growing area in the Pfalz, Thorsten also prefers the European growing areas in Italy, France, Spain, and Switzerland. These areas are very interesting for him because after the harvest he can load the grapes into his refrigerated vehicle on-site and drive them back home to his winery.
Thorsten: '' In Switzerland, the wines are made by me on site and imported as must because of the German wine law.''
''I got the idea for this when my wife was in Switzerland for work and we were invited to a wine hike together in Lavaux (a wine-growing region in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland on the northeastern shore of Lake Geneva). The vineyards are located directly above Montreux.
I was so fascinated by the growing area that I asked the winemaker on-site if he would sell Gamay grapes so I could make a different kind of wine. It was possible so I then bought grapes and made my first Gamay wine. Gamay in France is used to make Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône''
Thorsten: ''Gamay itself is a super interesting grape . The little brother of Pinot Noir, so to speak, grows in southern Burgundy and if you make this wine using traditional methods, as I intend to do, you get wonderfully structured wines .The nice thing about this wine is that it can be served with any dish. It is usually totally underestimated.''
Next to the Gamay wine Thorsten also makes unfiltered Riesling. An ecological nutrient cycle through green manure and legume vegetation, as well as only minimal use of biological fungicides, produces small fruit, aromatic and healthy grapes.
Color: unfiltered yellow
Smell: Grassy aromas and citrus fruits
Taste: A gentle oxidative expansion, a long fermentation, and a slight malolactic fermentation give this Riesling a wonderful variety of aromas and minerals. You taste the malolactic aromas combined with the right balance of acidity. It's a fresh, bone-dry Riesling with fresh citrus aromas.
Grape: 100% Riesling
Region: Pfalz, Germany
Want to try this wine?
Also, an interesting wine is the Four Hearts Rose. It was the first unfiltered Rose I've ever tasted. It's a bold wine, aromas of strawberry and raspberry. Oh and by the way, this Rose is not only for women, the label also suggests this Rose is for tough men ;)
Color: Unfiltered red
Smell: Strawberry and raspberry
Palet: Jammy fruits, strawberry, and raspberry, a little sparkle, an acidic wine.
Variety: 100% Gamay
Region: Lavaux, Switzerland
Want to try this wine?
Want to learn more about the Sperl Concept winery? Click on the links below
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