There are numerous institutions that provide higher education on viticulture and winemaking, but very few are first-class wine producers per se. Prior to the destruction wreaked by the two World Wars, it was German-speaking Europe rather than the great U.S. of A. that produced the most Nobel laureates in Chemistry, Physics and Physiology or Medicine. Signs of Germanic scientific dominance can still be seen in today’s vinous world, with Austria and Germany sharing between themselves three of the oldest research centres dedicated to viticulture and winemaking in Klosterneuburg, Weinsberg and Geisenheim.
Established in 1868 as Königliche Weinbauschule (Royal Institute of Viticulture), Staatliche Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Wein- und Obstbau Weinsberg (State Education and Research Institute for Viticulture and Pomology Weinsberg; abbreviated as LVWO) is the oldest of its kind in Germany, indeed predating the foundation of the country. Its winemaking body is Staatsweingut Weinsberg, a 40ha estate whose vinous portfolio is akin to proportional representation in parliament, with Riesling representing merely 20% of total hectarage, while possessing three Große Lage vineyards in Burg Wildeck, Gundelsheimer Himmelreich and Weinsberger Schemelsberg.
The Chinese mind may find it difficult to imagine that government ownership and technological progress can be mentioned in one breath, but this is the birthplace of such world-renowned crossings as Acolon, Cabernet Cubin/Dorio/Dorsa/Mitos, Dornfelder (in honour of Immanuel Dornfeld, one of LVWO’s founder fathers), Helfensteiner, Heroldrebe, Juwel and Kerner. Meanwhile, the Anglo-Saxon mind may refuse to believe that, rather than disrupting the omniscient market, state bureaucracy actually does not harm to an entity’s initiative and ingenuity, as Staatsweingut Weinsberg stays a member of Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter (VDP), H.A.D.E.S. and Deutsches Barrique-Forum.
A visit to this world-class research centre is a sui generis experience. Rows after rows of clones and patches after patches of seedings are meticulously aligned in greenhouses and laboratories, each given a thoroughly systematic name comprising seemingly random letters and numerals. For instance, born WE70-281-35 and WE 70-77-4F respectively, Cabernet Cubin and Mitos are both crossings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Lemberger, but no two clones are identical, so much so that they become two varieties. There is not so much room for impressionism as austerity and exactness.
According to scientists at LVWO, each successful clone is the result of literally hundreds if not thousands of attempts, and that it is virtually unthinkable that a scientist would witness the complete cycle of a new variety within one’s lifetime, since it may take up to a century for fruits to bear. In addition to continually analysing and improving existing varieties, scientists at LVWO are constantly creating new varieties essential to ensure viticultural security in an increasingly homogenised world. The Irish Potato Famine from 1845 to 1849 and the Phylloxera Plague from the 1860s to 1890s are stark warnings against putting all the eggs in one baskets, even if the baskets are Riesling and Pinot Noir…
The following wines were tasted at Staatsweingut Weinsberg (W: www.staatsweingut-weinsberg.de; E: firstname.lastname@example.org) in the presence of Mr Martin Schwegler during a press trip organised by Mrs Diana Maisenhölder (email@example.com) and Mr Dietmar Maisenhölder (firstname.lastname@example.org) of VDP Württemberg (www.vdp-wuerttemberg.de).
Sourced from old vines grown on Keuper marl, fermented and matured on lees in barriques. Saturated citrine with radiant golden reflex, the imposing nose exudes gooseberry, passion fruit, nettles and flint. With vigorous acidity and firm minerality, the spectacular palate oozes guava, jackfruit, elderflower and salted butter. Bone-dry and full-bodied at 13.5%, the assertive entry continues through a sumptuous mid-palate, leading to a high-spirited finish. A true showstopper, or gourmet in a bottle.
Sourced from old vines planted in 1959 on steep slopes dominated by Muschelkalk, matured in barrels for 18 months. Bright garnet with carnelian-ruby rim, the alluring nose effuses cranberry, raspberry, cinnamon, geranium and sous bois. With animated acidity, silky tannins and linear minerality, the seductive palate emanates blackberry, cassis, nutmeg, violet and forest mushroom. Medium-full bodied at 12.5%, the adorable entry evolves into a melodious mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish. Comfortably rivals a grand cru from Côte-de-Nuits, but at a fraction of the latter’s price.
An exceptional blend of Cabernet Cubin, Dorsa, Franc and Sauvignon, sourced from old vines grown on Gipskeuper and Keuper marl, matured in barriques for 18 months. Dark garnet with carmine-maroon rim, the brooding nose reveals damson, raisin, cocoa, fresh earth and graphite. With generous acidity, succulent tannins and clear pulsating, the impenetrable palate unveils mulberry, prune, clove, coffea arabica and charcoal. Full-bodied at 14%, the fruit-laden entry persists through a well-built mid-palate, leading to a memorable finish. This Cabernet quartet is as innovative as it is inimitable.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain, France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages