Archive for June 16, 2011

Fritz Becker of Weingut Friedrich Becker and the 2010 Vintage

Pinot Noir Grapes at the Becker Estate

Weingut Friedrich Becker, Schweigen, Germany- Pfalz Region

A Brief History:

Freidrich Becker started producing wines in the early 70s, eschewing the family tradition of selling the family’s grape production to the local cooperative.  With the help of cellar master Stefan Dorst, the Becker estate began getting recognition for their white wines in the 1980s.  Soon after, Friedrich Becker and Stefan Dorst began efforts to improve the estate’s red wine selection. By the early 90s, the estate received nationwide recognition for their ’89 vintage Pinot Noirs.  From that point forward, Becker was ranked as one of the top Pinot Noir producers in Germany.  The estate has continued to improve further, and is now routinely listed as one of Germany’s top estates.

My Take:

The Friedrich Becker estate is one of my favorite estates in the Pfalz and produces some of the best Pinots coming out of Germany.  I love their wines!  Unlike so much of the generic juice out there, Friedrich Becker wines show typicity of terroir.  You can’t mistake those earthy Pinot Noirs anywhere; their concentration and finesse that resemble great Burgundies, yet somehow can’t deny their German-Alsatian heritage.  Yes—Alsatian, is right!  Some of Friedrich Becker’s vineyards are actually on the Alsace side of the border, which they are able to legally label as German.

Although, the Pinot Noirs get most attention from critics, there are other wines worth exploring at Friedrich Becker.  The estate produces good, up to exceptional Riesling, Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauer Burgunder, Muskateller and Gewürztraminer.   I was able to taste a handful of their 2010 whites at the recent Mainzer Weinbörser and was impressed with the wines.  The wines were very solid and showed great concentration with wonderful high acidity—these wines will surely continue to evolve very well over the next few years.

I particularly gravitated towards their Pinot Blanc “Kalkgestein,” which was lush on the palate, yet had laser-like precision, amazing minerality and complexity of pure citrus fruits; grapefruit and lemon peel with a touch of pear and spice on the finish.  The 2010 Sonnenberg Grosses Gewächs was not available for tasting as they are not able to legally show until later in the year, but as one might expect given the vintage, the 09 version was very good, well balanced with good concentration of fruit and acidity; some white peach, citrus and mineral notes.  The 2010 Riesling Schewigener Trocken (dry) barrel sample was tightly wound, with a lot of concentration of fruit and acidity, lime, grapefruit and mineral notes—it will be interesting to taste this wine again in several months to see where it is at.  The 2009 Steinwingert Pinot Noir was present, bursting with red fruit flavors of red cherries, raspberries and red plums, velvety mouth feel with notes of spice on the palate; overall well structured with both finesse and some power.

Fritz Becker

Interview with Fritz Becker, Winemaker, Son of the founder, Friedrich Becker about the 2010 Vintage:

E- The 2010 vintage was considered by many producers in Germany as being a very challenging vintage, how would you describe the growing season leading up to the harvest and what made it challenging for you at Friedrich Becker?

FB-The problem was the huge amount of rain in August and September.

That forced us to cut a lot of bad grapes to the ground and the selection-work during harvest was extremely intense.

E-When did you begin harvest?

FB- We started in mid-September with the early varieties. Harvest lasted till mid November with our Rieslings.

E- How were Yields?

FB- Lower than average, around 40 hl

E-I heard this vintage had great ripeness/physiological ripeness and that the acidity was also very high.  Could you go into further detail about the acidity and PH of this vintage (percentage tartaric versus malic)?

FB-The Ph is low and acidity quite high but due to late harvesting we have a very ripe acidity which will give the wines good potential for ripening.

E- More detail about the fruit concentration?

FB-The fruit is very good and integrates nicely into the wine without being too upfront.

E-Was it difficult to balance the acid with the fruit?  Did you need to incorporate any different techniques in the cellar?

FB-We needed to de-acidify two of the basic lots of Riesling.  Everything else we could manage without [de-acidifying]. In some Pinot Blancs and Chardonnay we used some malolatic fermentation to balance the wine better.

E-The 2010 whites I tasted from your estate showed very well; how did you feel about 2010 vintage overall, whites and reds included and how would you describe the wines this vintage?

FB- It is low in quantity, good in quality.  Some very good wines will be there as well.  2010 will be a real cool pinot noir year!

E-Would you compare 2010 to any recent vintage? if so, how?

FB-Maybe a little to 1996 or 2004 which were quite acidic as well but we had a better ripeness in the end compared to these two vintages.

E-What are your favorite Friedrich Becker wines in 2010?

FB- The pinot noirs! the grand crus will be really good

E-What was the biggest surprise of the vintage?

FB-The unexpected good fruit and level of physiological ripeness

E-What was the biggest lesson(s) you learned in 2010?

FB-Patience!!! Sometimes you just have to wait for better weather even if it costs you a lot of fruit (due to rot) meaning a lot of lost fruit… waiting paid off very well in 2010 [as] the best fruit came in after mid-October.

E-What sets your estate apart from others in 2010, if anything?

FB-Harvesting really late. Not taking any bad fruit in at all.

E-What vineyard/cellar practices set you apart from other producers in Germany?  Organic? Biodynamic?

FB- Not organic…We do not use any finings or treatments in the wines. But the most important thing is that quality comes from the vineyard! I do interfere with the wine as little as possible except tasting it a lot during the processes!

E- What is one thing you want people to know about your winery/wines that is likely not well known?

FB- We are trying to show that we really can produce world-class wines in a town with more than 800 years of history for Pinot Noir and other(s) [wines]. Still we are just getting started and hope to get better each year.

E-Outside of Germany, whose wines do you admire the most and whose wines are in your personal cellar?

FB- I like burgundy wines a lot. Unfortunately, I like most the ones that are quite expensive these days… Musigny, Romanée Conti La Tâche, St. Vivant, Clos de la Roche, Montrachet and such from various producers. It is my most expensive hobby… but I think, if you want to make good wines you have to know and taste the best wines there are to get ideas and inspiration.  Besides, I do like Riesling a lot and am trying them from all over the world.  But, I have to say we Germans do the best job with it.

E-Thanks for your time, Fritz.


German Vintage 2010: The Best and the Worst, With Few In-between

Rebholz Vineyards, Pfalz

It was the best of vintages, it was the worst of vintages…or, so might many winemakers in Germany might say when considering the recently released 2010 vintage.   To say that 2010 was challenging would be an understatement to most when considering the challenging weather experienced by wine regions across Germany. To begin with, during the flowering period a cold snap hit vineyards.  The cold affected fruit set and ultimately reduced yields fairly significantly.  The weather continued to be unpredictable, cool and rainy, so that by August it was necessary to further reduce yields by selecting out grapes that had been infected with rot.  In various regions, hail further decimated crop levels. The cool weather continued into September, and contributed to the slow ripening of the grapes, which allowed the acidity to remain very high.

Just when all seemed lost, a very sunny October saved the day for the producers patient and brave enough to put off.  The grapes were able to ripen enough to reach physiological ripeness, while still maintaining the very high acidity levels carried over from the cool August and September months.   What resulted was an anomaly, a very unique vintage that most winemakers weren’t able to completely compare to prior vintages. In most “normal” vintages high acidity as seen in 2010 would correlate to a poor or unripe vintage, while the extraordinarily high ripeness levels would indicate a very good or even great vintage.  2010 provided an abundance of both acidity and sugar free extracts/ripe fruit concentration.

As a result, 2010 yielded some fabulously unique and outstanding wines.  Producers who followed strict selection processes in the vineyards and figured out how best to handle the über-high acidity levels were rewarded for their efforts; producing wines of incredible concentration that seemed sleek and filigreed on the palate.  For estates that made missteps in the cellar and/or vineyard, the end results were at best forgettable or at worst awkward and disjointed; dominated by harsh acidity.   What was universal, or nearly so, was the use of deacidification techniques, employed to some extent or other at most estates.

For the best producers of 2010, the vintage might potentially be considered very good to excellent, depending on how the top wines develop.  The vintage seemed to show particularly well in the Nahe and Mosel, where some producers have declared the vintage.  According to the German Wine Bureau, 2010 produced the lowest yield in 25 years, with yields off anywhere from 40-60% from the prior vintage. So, for the best of the vintage consumers will have to make their purchases sooner rather than later.  For producers who had an off year, the low yields will be viewed as an opportunity to put this vintage behind them sooner rather than later!  It is still too soon to say how ageable these wines will prove to be, especially considering that many of the wines were deacidified.  What is known, is that the cream of the vintage will be very exciting for those lucky enough to get their hands on some of the best juice.

Some Favorite Estates of the Vintage: Bernhard Huber, Seeger, Graf von Schönborn (both Franken and Rheingau), Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken, von Hövel, Clemens Busch, Fritz Haag, Reinhold Haart, Schäfer-Fröhlich, Friedrich Becker, Josef Leitz, Künstler, Josef Leitz, Gunderloch and Robert Weil.

Interviews with individual winemakers to follow!!







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We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!!!

Stranahans is a micro-distillery in Colorado is responsible for producing the "only Rocky Mountain Whiskey"

Sex and the City, Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men have something in common…They have helped to reintroduce the world to the glitz and glam of classic cocktails, bringing almost extinct spirits like Rye back in vogue and re-popularizing libations our parents, and sometimes more appropriately, our grandparents used to enjoy. Who can forget how every girl’s night out on Sex and the City started with Carrie and the girls drinking a sexy looking Cosmopolitan? Or, in Mad Men where sex, power and money seem to include an amazing looking Vodka Gimlet, Martini or Old Fashioned? TV helped to kick off a trend, but what has fueled the current cocktail/spirits craze has been an explosion of micro distillers who are taking the craft of spirit distillation to a new level.

In 2000, there were only about a dozen micro-distillers in the country, that is to say, distilleries, producing 40,000 cases of spirits a year or less. Today, there are about 200 craft distillers countrywide with more producers popping up all the time. Happily, for us tipplers, this means a whole array of spirits now available made from small producers who take their craft seriously, distilling their spirits with love, sweat and tears. Only a little over a decade into the micro-distilling movement and we see new categories of spirits appearing, such as an “American” single malt “Scotch” style whiskey from St. George of Northern California, and vodka made from Maple Syrup from Vermont Spirits. Cordials, gins, vodkas, bourbons and agave spirits that did not exist before now are available for our consumption.

This artisanal, locally oriented micro-distilling movement is simply the continuation of a food and beverage renaissance that started in the early 80s. Almost out of nowhere high quality, handcrafted, and locally produced food and beverages started showing up in supermarkets and specialty shops alike. These early pioneers fought for quality and flavor and did not accept the premise that domestically produced libations and noshes needed to taste boring or insipid. On the beverage front, they refused to accept that only great quality coffee, beer and wine had to come from Europe. So, came the advent of craft beer makers like Magic Hat, Sam Adams, Rogue and Sierra Nevada to name a few, not to mention the rise of Starbucks, the now international coffee chain who introduced America to quality coffee products on a large-scale. This all brings to mind just how far we have come in just 30 short years on the food and beverage scene, and it is exciting to think about where we will be, even in the next 10 years!

To celebrate the advent of micro-distilling, the newest phase of the locally produced, high quality beverage movement, Elixrr will be featuring interviews with some of the coolest artisanal distillers. Stay tuned.