Focus 50: Trip 27, Leitz (Germany)
To mark Enotria&Coe’s 50th anniversary this year, we’re shining a light on 50 outstanding producers who have been instrumental to our company history. As part of our celebrations, members of the E&C team took a trip to the Rheingau to experience the world of Focus 50 winemaker Leitz first hand – here, they share their highlights.
EJ Bailey – Head of Events: The welcome we received at Leitz was heartwarming, and Johannes Leitz rapidly became one of my favourite people in the 15 hours we spent there. From the start, it was completely open arms, open heart. We really felt like we’d been welcomed into a little bit of the Leitz family’s lives.
Edward Mercer – Business Manager, The Great Wine Co: We arrived at the impressively large state-of-the-art winery just outside Rüdesheim in a Leitz-branded minibus. After a firm vine-growers handshake from Johannes, we were back in the van. He drove us through the small, picturesque town of Rüdesheim, into the Rheingau vineyards above and through the Grand Cru vineyards to the west. Fantastic names like Berg Roseneck and Berg Rottland flew by en route to a stop overlooking Berg Schlossberg. Then we visited Johannes’ latest acquisition and ‘new toy’, Berg Kaisersteinfels.
Richard Lewis – Buyer: Going around the vineyards with Johannes was pretty special. I’ve done it before, but that was in the depths of winter 2020, so touring them in August was very different. We went up right to the highest point of his highest vineyard. He rebuilt the old stone walls that used to be in the area and rescued them from falling apart. The view looked onto the river we’d just come down from, across the whole of the Rheingau. It was pretty spectacular. I knew how much the vineyard meant to Johannes, and it was really nice to be there with him.
Edward: The red slate soils at Berg Kaisersteinfels, different from those a few hundred feet away, were packed tight with stone – it’s a miracle that anything can grow at all. All of these prestigious vineyard sites, of which Leitz seems to own a decent stripe, are at inclines far beyond those accessible by tractor, as the slopes follow the course of the Rhine River hundreds of feet below. Over and over again, we asked how viticulture or picking is possible at such a gradient. The answer, not entirely given, sounded pretty Heath Robinson: with pulleys and winches. Johannes shrugged as he admitted he had lost at least one tractor when it careened down the rows of vines.
For such a searingly hot year, the vines of the Rheingau seemed to be doing well for water. Other hot years have not been so blessed, and despite the health of the vines, there was a general hope for cooler nights and a little rain in the mix.
After a delicious lunch of schnitzel and lager, it was back to the winery to look around one of the newest, most pristine facilities we had ever seen – the place gleamed. This is a huge production, in a micro-measured and thoughtful way. Attention to detail seems to run through all aspects of the business. We noted the steel fermenters in the ‘cathedral’ and huge oak casks, including the newest 10,000-litre ‘monster’ cask, which we were invited to peer into. Thankfully none of us got… er… Stück!
Rob Ward – Digital Acquisition & Partnerships: Leitz is the second-largest family-owned winery in Germany, and it is a real operation. We were walking around with Leitz’s right-hand man, Jan Schmidt, and he was saying, ‘Oh, we’ve got a million bottles in our facility over there’ – the scale is impressive.
We went into the tasting room, which is absolutely stunning. Jan said, ‘Oh yeah, but it’s not as good as the one we’re building next door, which will actually have a hotel attached to it’. But the business hasn’t lost that familial touch.
Edward: We felt truly honoured to be the first non-winery people to taste the 2021 vintage, including the Grand Cru (Grosses Gewächs) wines, from those stunning vineyards we’d toured an hour earlier. The Rheingau style is leaner than the Nahe, with piercingly high acidity. Despite their overly youthful vibrancy, the wines showed their sense of place brilliantly. Jan made it clear in his modest way that the 2021 wines are some of the very best he has seen, and expectations for their future development are high indeed. The Magic Mountain Riesling, which uses fruit from across the better sites, was delicious and superb value given the pedigree. The Drachenstein Dragonstone Riesling lifted the sweetness level ever so slightly for the first time and wa also excellent.
Rob: Afterwards, we were invited to come to Johannes Leitz’s home for a barbecue. He’s got a swimming pool in the backyard with the Leitz logo on it, and underneath his house, he stores all of the wines that he and his family have been making for generations. And yet it’s a family home. That’s what really struck me: the passion and dedication. It’s not a job for them, it’s a life.
Richard: Johannes grows heritage tomato varieties. That day, whilst we were doing the tasting at the winery, he’d gone off and he picked loads of tomatoes from his garden. He spent hours slicing up these 32 different varieties of tomatoes to make a tomato salad for us that evening – a rainbow of sliced tomatoes that tasted unbelievably good.
EJ: Dinner at the house was my favourite part of the visit. Johannes opened up his house, his pool, kind of moved the furniture around and then presented us with the most incredible tomato salad that I’d ever had, with tomatoes that he grew himself. He got the barbecue going, then he opened up a bunch of stock from the cellar underneath the house. Nothing was off limits. Again, it was like being welcomed into the family. The conversation was super easy, and it was very relaxed and lovely.
Edward: The significance of Leitz in the German wine market, and especially in the Rheingau, cannot be underestimated. Since Johannes took over, it has grown from four hectares to 165 hectares. This is before we even consider its excellent non-alcoholic wines, which are taking the world by storm. By way of demonstration, on the train back across Germany we noted that even the onboard bar serves the Eins Zwei Dry Riesling!
The team's top wines
|1||Leitz-Becker Spätburgunder Rheingau 2009||Gorgeously evolved Pinot Noir showing vivid fruit augmented with tertiary bacon and leather notes. Rob Ward|
|2||Berg Schlossberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2020||Beautiful aroma, composed with ripe peach and mineral smokiness. Powerful and concentrated on the palate, with intense crystalline fruit and crushed rock texture. Delicious now, with years of life ahead of it. Richard Lewis|
|3||Berg Kaisersteinfels Riesling 2014||Such a class act. Very subtle sweetness, making it just off-dry. In perfect harmony with the intensity of the fresh peach fruit, with a core of salty freshness and vibrant acidity. Both complex and understated. Richard Lewis|
|4||Berg Roseneck Riesling Spätlese 2013||Tasted at the end of a long day, but this took me aback with how good it was. At nine years old, still so youthful with flavours of pure lime juice and powdered stones. A fresh streak of acidity, with just a touch of waxiness showing some development. Ultra-fine and possibly a legend in the making. Richard Lewis|