Updated: Apr 18
What happens when a passionate family business decides to completely change course? Right... a vineyard that is 100 % biodynamic. But this family had to do a lot of hard work to get there. Zwölberich Winery is a family business with a tradition since 1711. For almost 25 years, Zwölberich has been fully committed to organic and biodynamic viticulture. It, therefore, meets the strict Demeter quality mark.
Photo: team Zwölberich
It all starts with a vision
After the moving eighties and the terrible disaster of Chornobyl, Hartmut Heinz decided in 1987 to change course. To lead a healthy life eating organic food and taking care of the land are very important.
Hartmut: “It was right after Chernobyl, people could see how fragile our ecosystems were and it changed everything for us. What I wanted for my family had to be the same as for my work. Our neighbours, however, did not understand.”
How it all started
Sustainable economic management was necessary in viticulture until the 1930s in order to be able to harvest anything at all. Hartmut's ancestors had always ensured healthy soil, with only a few temporary exceptions. The Heintz family then converted fully to biodynamics, the first winery in this German region to do so. Before that, Hartmut's father had already experimented with wide-area systems and thus already created a good basis for that decision. Biodynamics in the vineyard was a tough cookie to crack not only because Hartmut his father had zero experience but also because his neighbors kept on working with the same old pesticides. The soils are still connected to the soils of other places. Water does not ask where it can go. Nevertheless, the father of Hartmut was dedicated and 20 years later the winery is recovered perfectly, having healthy soils and a diverse ecosystem.
It took around 5-7 years to see a clear difference. The roots got stronger and healthier. The rows of grapevines have been planted twice as far apart as usual. This gives space for plants such as wild herbs, vetch, clover, or (Phacelia); and for animals such as butterflies, bees, songbirds, or hedgehogs. These ensure a natural biological balance and help to control pests. This wider planting also ensures that the grapes are exposed to the optimum amount of sunlight, and also dry more quickly after rainfall. This also helps to prevent mold growth. Also by using a small dosage of natural fertilizer the leaves and bunches were fresher and healthier.
The plant care and fertilization are carried out with completely natural methods: extracts of seaweed, horsetail, and nettle as well as rock flour give the vines additional vitality. The vines are fertilized with manure, compost, lime, and rock flour. The basis of the bio-dynamic economy is the field preparations: horn dung and horn pebbles (dust-finely ground quartz, i.e. pebbles) play an important role in organic viticulture, says Helmut Wolf, the manager of the outdoor operation and cellar of the Zwölberich winery.
Fresh cow dung is filled into horns and buried in winter. In spring this horn dung is dug up again and formed into balls for storage. For spreading, the horned dung is stirred in water in a stirring barrel (dynamized) and then spread on the ground in fine drops. The horn dung is finely ground quartz (pebble), which is filled into cow horns and buried in the earth over the summer. The light effect is concentrated in it. It is dug up in autumn and in the next vegetation phase, it is also dynamized in water and finely atomized in the atmosphere above the vines. These "information carriers" are buried in cow horns under the ground to preserve their natural positive properties. This movement is started by Rudolf Steiner, an esotericist, writer, architect, and philosopher who dedicated his life to anthroposophic medicine, the pedagogy of salvation, the social tripartite, and biodynamic agriculture.
Photo: working biodynamics through the vision of Rudolf Steiner (click right for the slideshow)
Hartmut: “To foster the vitality and health of the vine in harmony with nature is our passion, our creed and our way, for the joy and benefit of the people… For us, a lot of good wines feel at home, simply because the vines are at home in our family.”
The Vineyards The vineyards of the winery in the Zwölberich are within a radius of about 3km from the winery, in the districts of the communities Langenlonsheim and Guldental. The two towns together have the largest contiguous vineyard in the Nahe Valley. Around 30 hectares of vineyards on very different types of soil on the southern foothills of the Hunsrück (Soonwald) are cultivated by the winery in the Zwölberich today.
In Langenlonsheim we cultivate vineyards in the individual layers of Steinchen, Königsschild, and Löhrer Berg. The Langenlonsheimer Steinchen stretches from Guldenbach in the west over the entire length of Langenlonsheim to the neighboring town of Laubenheim in the east. The last foothills of the Sonnwald, which descend here into the Nahe valley, have taken the fine earth down into the valley over time so that nutrient-rich soils can be found everywhere on the slope foot, while the warm southern flanks are characterized by skeleton-rich, well-ventilated stone soils. The variety of varieties in this location is particularly large. Most of our Silvaner wines thrive here, as do Müller-Thurgau and Dornfelder, and a good part of our Pinot Noir grows here on the nutrient-rich loess loam soils.
Photo: Steinchen (click to right for slideshow)
The Langenlonsheimer Steinchen has the largest location on site. Extensive southeast slope, the deep, sandy clay soil of which produces fine, elegant wines. It consists of the following sections:
Langenlonsheimer St. Antoniusweg : Flat location in the southwest of the municipality. Very strong, deep loess soil that gives the strength and body of the wine.
Langenlonsheimer Lauerweg : Plateau-like in front of a protected forest area. The mineral, gravelly clay soil is ideal for cultivating Riesling.
Langenlonsheimer Bergborn : Located on the western edge of the village on the southeastern slope. Heavy, deep soil made of clay, clay, and gravel.
Photo The Königsschild (click to right for slideshow)
The Königsschild is located in the middle of the vineyards in Langenlonsheim, one of the best locations in town. South slope, in which the sun can shine optimally all day. The ground is characterized by tertiary shell limestone and a deep loam clay layer, partly varying to clayey clay, and partly interspersed with gravel. Ideal for growing the Riesling grape. Pinot Noir also appreciates this top location.
photo Löhrer Berg
The Langenlonsheimer Löhrer mountain on the border with the neighboring community Laubenheim is home säureverspielter Rieslings. At the top of the slab of clay, in the upper slope the "surf zone of the primeval sea" with a meter-thick layer of terrace gravel, including heavy Latvians. These layers of the earth offer everything a Riesling needs to grow. A consistently good water supply and an intensive soil life ensure sustainable mineralization. The south-southwest exposure brings rapid warming of the soil and allows a long evening sun for the vines. The Riesling thanks it with a distinctive character. The mountain ridge is characterized by terrace gravel; the steep slopes down to the south to the foot of the slope range from red-lying sandstone weathering soil in the west to heavy, very nutritious clay soil on the eastern edge. Here the solar energy is stored all day long and ensures a balanced, special microclimate and optimal water supply all year round.
Hartmut: ''In the old Prussian tax register, this location is registered as the "first location", we say "Grand Cru location" after our French neighbors. ''
In Guldental the vineyard cultivates vines in the individual layers of Honigberg and Rosenteich .
The Honigberg on the southwestern edge of the Guldenbach rises about 60m above the stream. A layer of the earth just a few meters thick, interspersed with many river pebbles, lies on a mighty red sandstone layer that rose from the interior of the earth at the time of the sinking of the Rhine trench and formed the valley of the Guldenbach. The soils are comparatively poor in nutrients and require intensive humus management to ensure an adequate water supply. We have planted burgundy in our "Rosenwingert" which captivates with its special fruitiness.
The vineyards of Zwölberich are surrounded by protective forests and diverse orchards. So that we can cultivate the vines there in full harmony with nature, unaffected by the viticulture of our conventional colleagues. The subsoil of this layer consists of red sandstone, which rose to the west and east of the Guldenbach when the Guldenbach Valley sank as a column millions of years ago. There are only approx. 70 - 80 cm cultivated soil on the rock. The wines that grow there are particularly characterized by the water supply to the plants throughout the year.
Photo Rosenteich (click to right for slideshow)
The Rose pond is the largest single layer in Guldental. The broadening brook lowlands have formed over many millennia from the floodplains of the Guldenbach. The vineyards are located on the east side of the stream between Guldental and Langenlonsheim. The vineyards are flat to slightly inclined to the southwest. The high proportion of fine earth ensures a good water and nutrient supply. Nutrient-rich loess mixes with an alternating high proportion of gravel and thus provides the basis for strong and full-bodied Burgundy.
Here in the Rosenteich Zwölberich cultivates noble Auxerrois vines, which you can hardly find anywhere else on the Nahe.
The Rosenteich is a slope slightly inclined to the south, which adjoins the Langenlonsheimer Lagen in the west. The sandy clay soil is characterized by a high proportion of gravel. The soil structure is very homogeneous several meters deep and allows the vines to be deeply rooted. Here Zwölberich primarily cultivates Burgundy.
The wines The Wine Estate offers several different types of grapevine. These are mainly of the white variety: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Silvaner, Pinot Blanc, Wuerzer, Kerner, and Auxerrois. Hartmut Heintz is especially proud of the Auxerrois variety of Burgundy grape. He fought for ten years for this variety to be re-planted in the Nahe region. Today it is a prize-winning wine in the Zwoelberich collection. The red varieties are represented by Pinot Noir (late harvest), Frühburgunder (early harvest), Blauer Portugieser, St. Laurent, Regent, Dornfelder, and Pinotin, a fungus-resistant grape variety, which is new breeding.
Some of these are matured in barrique barrels. What's really special is that every bottle has its own number. This is because the wines are unique and the number of bottles produced is limited. Firstly the average wine yield per hectare of our vineyards is limited to 65 hectolitres. Secondly, the number of bottles of each wine produced per season is limited. Every bottle is unique and has its own serial number.
I had the pleasure to taste 3 different wines from winery Zwölberich. Check out my tasting notes below.
- Auxerrois 2019 bottle 7186 Color: Straw yellow, clean wine
Smell: Stone minerals, a hint of grass, and lemon.
Palet: A light delicate wine, wine fresh citrus, honey, apricot, Guadeloupe melon, and white pepper. A really refreshing wine, good to drink as an aperitif.
Grape: 100 % Auxerrois
Region: Nahe, Germany
Want to try this wine?
- Spätburgunder 2018 bottle 3587
Color: Deep red, clear wine.
Smell: A hint of forest and smokiness, dark berries and plums.
Palet: The loamy soil with a high proportion of sand and gravel is perfect for this grape variety. The wine is well-balanced and has the right amount of acidity. Juicy red fruits, plums, dark berries, and some herbs. A hint of wood in the finish. Wonderful!
Grape: 100% Pinot Noir
Region: Nahe, Germany
Want to try this wine?
- Riesling 2019 bottle 0103
Color: Straw yellow
Smell: Green apple, lemon, stone minerals, clean wine.
Palet: Tastes like juicy apples, grenadine, and white flowers. The clay soils give the Riesling a nice punch of acidity which makes this wine joyful.
Grape: 100% Riesling
Region: Nahe, Germany
Want to try this wine?
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