Working for a company who exports its products to all the major wine producing countries I have been exposed to a fair deal of international travel, mostly providing technical support to winemakers on all matters fermentation. Having done this for over ten years I have had some, well…, interesting experiences. I recall a certain dinner with German winemakers…
This concept of having a dinner with a group of winemakers started in 2005. About 10 – 13 winemakers get together and we taste their wines. They give a short description of how they produced it and then we discuss the taste. The evening usually starts very formal and ends in a bit of a brawl. In 2005 I did my powerpoint presentation before we tasted any wine. In 2006 we were at a different, much smaller venue and initially I could see no part of a wall that can be used as a backdrop for a powerpoint presentation. We also started tasting and eating immediately. The wines were of exquisite quality and I thought I was off the hook. About two hours into the tasting, with the decibels now being slightly elevated and more than one person speaking at a time, I was told that I will now indeed be doing my presentation. However, not being able to take part in the very German conversations (I don’t understand or speak any German) – I off course concentrated more on the tasting of the wines. All of a sudden there was a big commotion and various plants and murals were removed from the little room where we were sitting, revealing a perfectly big, suitable, white wall instantly decorated with my powerpoint presentation. A projector seemed to have materialised out of nowhere! I was horrified. Since I have had a few glasses of wine by this stage (fortunately German alcohols are not as high as new world wines) I quickly wolfed down about a litre of water and assumed the position. Fortunately presentations in Germany are very effortless because this one winemaker, if he is present, does them for you. I spoke about two sentences and he “translated” for the next 15 minutes; obviously added a significant amount of his own opinion.
After my presentation the evening went downhill very rapidly. Various people were talking at the same time as the winemaker presenting his wine, and the portions poured into the glasses for tasting became bigger and bigger. The speed of wines being hauled out from what seemed to be an endless reservoir increased dramatically. The table looked like the morning after a New Year’s Eve party. At twelve we still tasted wines and there was no indication that the evening was coming to an end – and this was a week night! At approximately 12h30 I took a taxi back to my hotel – leaving behind what seemed like a bachelor’s party at its peak. The next morning I learned that the party ended at 3h30 with beers at the hotel. All the winemakers looked very fragile.
The wines at the dinner were really good quality, fresh, aromatic and surprising very New World in style. They also retained the typical varietal character of these German varieties as well as the slightly minerally character that is synonymous with better quality European wines. In short – they were still very German – but much better quality than what I tasted in previous years. This had a lot to do with winemakers using wine yeasts that promote new world style wines at low fermentation temperatures (for the whites). This dinner was certainly very informative for me in terms of the quality of modern German wines, as well as to the winemakers and our distributors; despite it having been a bit of a twilight zone experience.