David Schildknecht and I heard the buzz about Weingart at the same time, but David got there first. Some time later I sat with David on his porch and we drank a bottle he’d toted back in his luggage. Yes, there was a fuss, and this is what it was about.
This was in the late 80s – you weren’t born yet. I made a beeline to Adolph and Helga Weingart’s estate, and put them into my portfolio toot sweet. The first vintage I offered was 1988 (though I may have included any stray ‘87s the estate still had; I liked that vintage).
The Mittelrhein interested me in general. Here was a steep-slope Riesling region that no one seemed to know about. On the left bank it was slate and on the right it was an amalgam of slate and quartzite, and there were barely any “names” to speak of. This was (and is) the touristy part of the Rhine (river, castles, etc.) and most of the wine was bought – at a pittance – by steamship lines and local taverns, and in order to make even a meager profit the poor growers had to push yields and make thin wines. But when I looked at that land, it was clear that excellent wine was possible there.
When I first met Weingarts I saw that they enjoyed unusual conditions. The vineyards are warm in the Hamm and in Spay. You look at a map and assume it’s the frozen north and the wines will have high-acidity, but the opposite is true. The river turns to the east downstream from Boppard, giving rise to a stunning ramp of south-facing (and steep) vineyards to rival anything along the Mosel. Weingart Senior further explained that the subsoils in these vineyards consisted of volcanic detritus from ancient eruptions in what are now the Eifel hills. His wines showed the tropical fruit notes of more southerly bottlings alongside the briskness and minerality of steep slope Rieslings, and I was sold.
I first remember Florian as a cute little boy.
The next time I “registered” him he was a young man headed off to study viticulture and winemaking. Everyone was glad the estate would go on. Pause here please. This is not a given, and every agricultural family, whether a farm or a winery, rejoices when the next generation pledges to carry it on.
The next thing I remember is, he was back, and working alongside his parents. And then his parents retreated, and he was on his own. He had his years of “trying stuff out,” and applying what he’d learned at school and what his peers were yacking about. I don’t recall the wines suffering, but I do recall a conversation we had a few years later when Florian said “I moved away from my father’s methods because like everyone I wanted to do my own thing, but after a while I started to see that the old man knew what he was doing and I came back to many of his practices.”
Florian is unusual among vintners – he is an intellectual and a philosopher. You can go back through my catalogues and see. It was actually not easy tasting there with him because the conversation became so distractingly fascinating I often had to power-taste the wines. I paid that price happily.
What was a little more challenging, from the commercial standpoint, were inconveniences arising from parts of his personality with which I was in deep sympathy. Florian doesn’t have the DNA-strand for “sales,” and his (laudable!) practice of letting the wines dictate their own ways was frustrating to any plans I might have cherished to create an “item” I could anchor his business to. If I asked for “A Feinherb Riesling I can buy for –X- and that you can make every year,” he would reasonably respond, “Yes I understand that, but I can’t guarantee it because I have no idea what any given vintage will provide, not do I want to force a wine into a commodity even for you, my dear Terry.”
And so my offerings skipped around, vintage-by-vintage. No one could “get a handle” on the estate. It grew clear to me that Weingart was seen as a kind of vanity project for me, because Florian and I were so simpatico, and because I loved the wines and cherished what he stood for.
Then there was Spay. It entailed a detour of about a half-day. It was worth it to me, because the whole place is singular, that steep massive ramp, the weird microclimate that presented more southerly-tasting wines than one could possibly have fathomed, and finally the loess surface-soils in many of the vineyards, and the incomparable wines they could give – that creamy wet-cereal sweetness atop an iron spine of slate – wines with few if any equivalents in the Germany I know.
Fast forward to now, and Florian has built a remarkable new winery, watched over by a house on a steep hill behind it, but in keeping with his introversion, the whole thing is recessed and well away from whatever constitutes the “main drag” in little Spay. Personally I think a birdy leafy kingdom in the hollows is a perfect way to live ones life, and more impressive than all manner of Architectural Digest wineries, but that’s just me.
Over the years a few Weingart paradigms have formed, at least in my mind. Surrounding them are a constant parade of surprises, some happy and others not so happy, but what really is happy is that this vintner is never on auto pilot. The group of 2020s I tasted had hits and misses, but that’s what I expect now, and there were two wines that fulfilled every desire I could ever have had for German Riesling, expressed in that matchless Weingart way, and giving me a deep flush of pure joy.