How much do we know of modern German wine? In this five-part series Chris Losh visits the winemakers that are reshaping the country’s landscape, and debunks some worn-out clichés in the process
German winemakers are staid and conservative
Admittedly, Germany is still one of the most legislated countries in the world, and the country’s Pradikät system, which gives rise to the Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese classifications, is famously thorough. But there are some, such as Loosen, who no longer think that it works.
The problem is that the system requires a minimum level of sugar in the grapes to qualify for each classification. But there is no maximum level. And, as Ernst Loosen points out, some wineries have discovered that they can get high marks in blind tastings by effectively downgrading wines into lower categories; ie picking grapes with Auslese levels of sugar, but selling them as, in effect,
While this might mean high scores, it’s playing havoc with what the wine styles ought to be about. ‘We are running into the same problem as Alsace,’ says Loosen. ‘If people can’t judge by the Pradikät what the wine is going to taste like, then they will leave it. There needs to be an upper as well as a lower level.’
Meanwhile, out in the vineyard, where viticulturalists are wrestling with the three-way battle between cool climate, global warming and pressure to use less and less man-made chemicals, Patrick Johner of Weingut Karl H Johner has a radical solution. ‘For me the future is genetic modification of grapes, so they don’t need to be treated,’ he asserts with confidence. ‘That’s the most organic solution.’
While this might not go down well with the country’s vocal green lobby, there is some sense in it. The process involves cutting precise areas of genetic code (‘snippets’ as Johner calls them) from a clone that has a particular resistance, and then inserting that into existing clones.
‘It’s adding the precise amount of code to the precise part of the genome,’ enthuses Johner. ‘The concern would be that a big company could patent the process. But if that research is done in Europe by a government body, it could be widely available.’