But this has changed, especially over the last 5-10 years. Young, ambitious winemakers have looked in the history books and discovered that around two centuries ago, the area had a much greater reputation, with certain famous sites and producing top quality German wine. And so these young people decided to revive the interior Rheinhessen, fix up the old sites and produce first rate wine. Quite a few joined an organization called “Message in a Bottle”, and worked with each other as colleagues rather than competitors. The result, frankly, is that you could easily argue that the Rheinhessen is the most exciting wine region in Germany, with the most innovation and ambition.
Recently, a German language magazine focused on three of the most exciting new or newish wineries in the region: Wittmann, Dreisigacker, and Winter. All are young, dynamic and producing superior wine in areas no one or at least few thought could produce great wine.
Winter is in a sleepy little village called Dittelsheim. You will find no restaurant or hotel worthy of the name in it. The winery itself has recently moved from the center of the town to a little hill just outside of it or at its edge. From a very simple, old-fashioned Hof, it is now an ultra modern, classy building with a clean and inviting tasting room overlooking a hillside of vineyards.
Stefan, who looks maybe just old enough to be served alcohol in this country, runs the cellar and the vineyards. In spite of the feeling that everything is fresh and new, the estate actually goes back to the 15th Century and there is a record of Riesling and Silvaner being planted there in 1600. But the big news is what Stefan and his father have done in the last few years to raise the reputation of the winery to one of the finest in the Rheinhessen if not in Germany.
The estate is fairly large, about 20 hectares. 60% is planted in Riesling; the rest is divided between Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Silvaner. There are two great vineyards, which are Grosses Gewächs: the Leckerberg and the Geyersberg. Both make classic, powerful and profound dry wines from Riesling. Soil is a mixture of decomposed limestone, clay, loess and marl.
All estate grapes are picked by hand. Riesling is fermented entirely in stainless steel, whereas the pinot Gris (Grauburgunder) is in 500 liter neutral barrels. Stefan says he wants his wines to be sleek; consequently, there is no malolactic fermentation. Alcohol levels are kept relatively low.