A Tasting at Weiser-Künstler

On my second stay in the Mosel valley last year, Katharina Prüm mentioned that a lot of their wines, including older vintages, were available at the Rieslinghaus in Bernkastel. Little did I know that this would be a treasure trove to be visited basically every time I had the opportunity (and budget) on future trips! On this first visit, aside from starting an ever-growing stock of JJ Prüm, I asked the owner to recommend a couple of wines from interesting growers at reasonable price points (this doesn’t exactly narrow down the choice you have when it comes to Mosel wine, but you have to start somewhere).

Among the selection, there were two wines that really stood out: Julian Haart’s Goldtröpfchen 2014 Spätlese, and Weiser-Künstler’s Enkircher Ellergrub 2013 Spätlese. On every subsequent visit to the region, I tried to visit one of these two producers (among others), yet to no avail, until last September, when Alexandra Künstler graciously welcomed me following the Grosser Ring Versteigerung.

Konstantin Weiser and Alexandra Künstler only set up shop in 2005. Outsiders to the Mosel Valley, Alexandra discovered wine while working in restaurants in her native Franken as a student, while Konstantin picked up the tips and tricks of winemaking through stints at Herbert Messmer in the Pfalz, Leitz in the Rheingau and Milton in New-Zealand. Somehow, he ended up in the Mosel Valley at Immich-Batterieberg, and it was thanks to his friendship with the Immich family that the couple could lease two hectares of the Enkircher Ellergrub in 2005. One agreement with Daniel Vollenweider to use part of his cellar for the winemaking later, and everything was set to start on their own.

Konstantin and Alexandra are quite strict when it comes to parcels that they want to work with: ideally old vines, ungrafted and untouched by Flurbereinigung. Several of the Lagen had quite the reputation in the nineteenth century, and if you look at the Steuerrat-Clotten Weinbau-Karte, you can see those colored in the darkest red (signifying that from a fiscal perspective they were the most interesting as they generated the most revenue at the time).

Organic certification is ongoing, and the estate eschews the use of herbicides and pesticides. This means that 2016 was challenging to say the very least. Treatment options against the downy mildew were few, and the losses they had to take were large, with yields only around 10-20hl/ha in the parts hit the hardest. Luckily, the long Indian summer meant that what was there was of good to excellent quality, but financially, it is not a year to remember.

So on to the 2016 collection! As I did with Markus Molitor, primary focus is on the vineyards, then on the different cuvées.

The entry level Riesling is made from grapes sourced in various vineyards, partially bought from other growers, and makes up the bulk of the production. While technically not trocken at 14 grams of residual sugar, it is a thirst-quenching, savoury wine with fruity aromas on the nose, and a delightful freshness towards the finish. Compact, yet not without a bit of complexity.

Wolfer Sonnenlay is a vineyard that has not exactly been the center of attention, located in a side valley of the Mosel region. This means that there is less direct exposure to the sunlight reflected on the water (which would have helped the ripening process) and refreshing air currents at night. The selection in the vineyard is therefore tricky but pays off as the estate’s Wolfer Sonnenlay Kabinett Trocken 2016 is a fantastic wine. Zesty lime in the nose, very lightly smoky and a salty tang on the palate. At only 9.5% alcohol, this is a classic example of old-school Mosel Riesling, and a joy to drink.

Moving up in ripeness, we come to the Kabinett which stopped at around 45 grams of residual sugar. Vinified in stainless steel, the aromas of spontaneous fermentation are immediately noticeable on the nose, earthy, herbal and quite smoky, but unpacked by layers of fruit on the palate set against a gorgeous nervous acidity. It just comes across so alive that you cannot stop drinking it, and personally I would consider it to be their best of the 2016 collection.

For their three “premium” wines, preference goes out to vinification in Fuder or barrels, as these can help to round out acidity. First up, Enkircher Steffensberg. Located the furthest from the estate, again in a side valley, facing south, planted in grey slate soil. There was some skin contact before the fermentation, around 12 hours, and it is noticeable, giving the wine a certain richness on the palate, but overall this did not come across as ready, showing quite hard and even a bit tart.

Trabener Gaispfad does face the river with a westward exposition and is more monotone in soil composition, mainly grey and red slate. In contrast to the Steffensberg, it is much softer, a deep minerality that prevents it from being mellow courses through it, and there is a bit more extract. Whereas the Steffensberg is bottled in May, this one is only done in August, so that may explain why it is more approachable, giving the wine more time to find its balance.

Finally we get to Enkircher Ellergrub, the estate’s top parcel, with a soil composed mainly of blue devon slate with a hint of quartz, planted with ungrafted vines close to 100 years old. Their personal version of a GG, the “Grosse Eule” is a massive effort. Youthful, but staunchly showing punch and presence. There is an herbaceous note that I really like in the nose, as well as a bit of spiciness. I find it very difficult to describe the palate, quite savory, more based on depth and a sappy acidity than on any real flavours. It is quite tight in the finish with that herby tang again, promising a great future.

The Grosse Eule is a rarity, with only one barrel made due to the simply dramatic yields, and sadly this has consequences for the Pradikat wines as well. There was no Kabinett produced, so we go straight to the Spätlese. Less spontaneous on the nose, more on cool zesty lime, autumn fruit and again that herbaceous notes that seems to define Ellergrub. On the palate, it is a magnificently succeeded tradeoff between lightness and depth. There is enormous potential towards the future, but the wine is already so delightful now that you would need a hefty dose of discipline to keep a few bottles tucked away!

Although strictly speaking it would have been possible to produce a Beerenauslese, using only botrytis-affected grapes, practically there would just have been too little, so everything went into the Enkircher Ellergrub Auslese. This decision did not yield a lot of wine however, as only 100 liters could be produced. Not that showy on the nose, but exploding in flavours, ginger, honey, yellow prunes followed by a palate-cleansing acidity yet with a lingering that just invites another sip, gorgeous!

With most estates, you would see a gradual yet noticeable increase in quality, coinciding with price at first until going off the rails when you get to the highest echelons. At Weiser-Künstler however, all the wines tasted, from the entry level Wolfer Sonnenlay Kabinett trocken to the Grosse Eule, are successful in their own way. There is real focus on identity, not just of the vineyard but of the estate as well. Precision, ripeness without losing lightness and a gourmand-like aspect run through the entire range, simply popping up in different expressions. Moreso, the wines’ nuanced character and the herbaceous tones so typical of old vine Riesling make them perfect for autumn drinking.

Being a small-scale operation in the Mosel Valley is not easy. Currently working 4.2 ha, there may be potential to go up to 5, but that would be as far as Alexandra and Konstantin would go in order to keep it manageable on their own, even if this comes with budgetary constraints. The 2016 collection proves that the estate can deliver stellar wines in even the most difficult circumstances, let’s just hope that future vintages will allow them not only to reap wine writer praise, but financial leeway for all their hard work as well!

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