An edited version of this article was originally published on jancisrobinson.com on Tuesday 26th July, 2016
On a recent family holiday in Germany, I was able to negotiate sneaking away from the family for a morning of wine tasting. The other side of the deal was me agreeing to take the kids to Legoland Germany, but being a bit of a kid myself it was a bit of a win-win. I only had a few hours so the wine producer(s) had to be near to our hotel in Baden-Baden. After a bit of research, I discovered that the town of Durbach is well endowed with good-quality wine estates. It is also a relatively short (but fast) 40-minute drive down the Autobahn, so off I went.
The estate I selected to visit was the Markgraf von Baden-owned Schloss Staufenberg estate, where I met Michael, Prince of Baden (yes, he is a real prince and is pictured below).
Michael runs the Schloss Staufenberg estate with his elder brother Bernhard. It was only when I visited that I discovered the historical significance of the estate and its impact on the winemaking practices in the area.
The Schloss Staufenberg estate was built in the 11th century. The family also own another wine estate, Schloss Salem, further south towards the Swiss border on the banks of Lake Constance. Vines have grown at Schloss Staufenberg since 1680, but not always good ones. That all changed in 1782 when Carl Friedrich Margrave of Baden-Durlach (he later became the Grand Duke and ruler of Baden) returned from a trip to the Mosel Valley armed with cuttings of Mosel Riesling vines.
These were planted on a steep vineyard next to the winding road leading to the estate. The wine was known locally as Klingelberger, referring to the 'ringing of the bell' (klingeln means 'to ring'). Locals once prospected for silver in the vineyards with small metal hammers; the sound of the hammer when it hit silver was like a bell ringing.
As the vineyard prospered, Carl Friedrich decided that the vines were suited to the local terroir so generously gave cuttings of his vines to surrounding estates, encouraging them to plant them. Many did and the Mosel Riesling clones prospered throughout vineyards surrounding Durbach.
Over the ensuing 200-odd years, tastes and practices obviously changed, vines were ripped up and replaced. The Schloss Staufenberg estate is now better known for its Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) than for its Riesling. However, in the Bereich Markgräflerland area a bit further south, Spätburgunder plays second fiddle to Gutedel (Chasselas), a wine known locally as Markgräfler. Like the Klingelberger, Gutedel was also first brought to Baden by Carl Friedrich Margrave of Baden, this time from Switzerland.
In 2004, Prince Michael decided that the Klingelberger Riesling of 1782 was special and deserved a comeback. Working with the University of Freiburg he sought to reclaim the old Mosel clones. By searching his own and surrounding estates, they were able to identify 130 ancient vines that could be traced back to the original 1782 Mosel clone.
Using cuttings from these ancient vines, he has planted the same old vineyard with Klingelberger vines on the estate and produces a single-vineyard Riesling named Klingelberger from the fruit. The vineyard stands as a monument to Carl Friedrich, who had such a big influence on winemaking in the region, and is pictured below.
I was fortunate enough to taste the 2014 Durbacher Schlossberg Klingelberger 1782 Riesling when I was at the estate. Made in the dry (trocken) style, it had a powerful nose of tropical fruits and straw, leading to a lovely fruity palate with a strong lemon and mineral finish. It really reminded me of a Hunter Valley Sémillon. I tasted several wines from their range, including a number of much more expensive Grosses Gewächs Riesling and Spätburgunder, but this more humble Erste Lage seemed to have more character. I thought it was good value for the €17 price tag. Here is the wine with the Baden 1782 Club badge;
As well as creating this special wine, he set up a club, the Klingelberger 1782 Club, in 2007 with 2008 the first vintage. The 1782 Club comprises wine estates around Durbach which have at least one of the original Mosel cuttings on their estate. As well as the Markgraf von Baden, there are currently 11 other members:
Winzerkeller Hex vom Dasenstein
Graf Wolff Metternich
Zeller Abtsberg Winzer
The rules are strict. The vineyard has to be within the historical Klingelberger villages, has to have a slope gradient of at least 35% and/or an elevation of at least 300 m (984 ft). It has to face south east to south west and be based on weathered granite. Yields are limited to 50 hl/ha. Only Klingelberger Riesling vines may be used and the grapes must be hand-picked at ripeness of at least 90° Oechsle with no rot. No enrichment or concentration is allowed and ferments must be with the specially selected Klingelberger yeast or with ambient yeasts.
The 1782 Club's aim is to promote the Riesling of the local area and increase the quality of the wines. It's obviously also a marketing ploy to help promote the wines of the region. Prince Michael despairs at the reputation of German wines overseas. 'UK and US think we have only sweet wines, but in Germany we drink trocken.' It is a shame that he still gets this reaction, as in the UK at least we are lucky enough to have access to a wide array of trocken Rieslings from Germany, alongside Rieslings in the sweeter fruity style.
He also thinks Germany's wine culture is different from that of other countries in Europe, which does not help the promotion of German wines overseas. Part of this is due to Germany's other great drink, beer. The Germans still consume more beer than wine but wine consumption is increasing in Germany, while beer consumption is falling. But when it comes to drinking wine, the culture is different. 'The Germans don't have the concept of sharing a bottle over dinner like in France. Germans typically prefer to each order different wines by the glass', bemoans Prince Michael.
The 1782 Club holds regular tastings where members are required to approve the quality of new wines prior to bottling. Wines which do not make the grade are not allowed to carry the 1782 Club badge on the bottle. The wines are tasted blind and all members have to agree before a wine is given the nod. If it doesn't make the grade, feedback is given and the wine can be reconsidered at a later date if deemed not ready for bottling.
In June this year, they held a Klingelberger Symposium at the Schloss Staufenberg estate attended by more than 100 wine lovers. Guests were able to sample Rieslings from 1782 Club members, including wines made prior to the formation of the club in 2007, going back as far as the 1969 vintage.
Above; the view across the vineyards towards Durbach from the Schloss Staufenberg estate
This teamwork approach that the existence of the 1782 Club creates has really brought the Durbach wine community together and raised the quality of their wines. As Prince Michael told me, 'Fifteen years ago, you couldn't talk to the neighbours. It was so old-fashioned and competitive. People just didn't taste each other's wines. But the younger generation of owners realise the power of working together; attitudes have changed'.
I sensed a real togetherness among the winemakers. The support network is strong and the producers exude passion for the wines. In part, though, I can't help feeling that this camaraderie is born out of an inferiority complex. In Baden, they sit firmly in the shadows of more famous neighbours from the Mosel when it comes to selling Riesling in international markets.
In working together to create a story for their wines they hope to compete for shelf space with the more established names. Only time will tell whether they will succeed, but based on the quality of the wines I tasted they certainly have every chance of doing so.
Unfortunately the Markgraf von Baden wines of Schloss Staufenberg are not available in the UK, but the wines from some of the other 1782 Club members are. Petersfield Wines imports wines into the UK from Andreas Laible, Andreas Männle, Heinrich Männle and Graf Wolff Metternich. In the US, the California Wine Club appears to stock the 2012 vintage of the Markgraf von Baden's Klingelberger Riesling. See wine-searcher for stockists in Europe, and they can be bought direct from the estate.