One morning in May of 1978, I rang the bell at several wineries in Niederhausen, including this one. I was looking for wines from certain great sites in this commune, and figured the local growers could offer them to me. It was my first trip ever to visit growers and taste their wines.
Hans Schneider, Jakob’s grandpa, greeted me that day. Hans was a talker, but more than just a talker; he was an orator, a soliloquist, a speechifier, a polemicist, and “colorful” doesn’t suffice to describe him. Anecdotes of Hans Schneider festoon my early catalogues; the man was born to be written about. One year I was traveling with a colleague who spoke no German, and as we rang the bell at Schneider I warned her, “Whatever you do, do not make eye contact with the old man.” But Jeanie was a kind and courteous woman, and she tripped the wire, and the next thing you know Schneider had her affixed in a gestalt eye-lock as he sputtered and yammered away at her, until, mercifully, Hans’ son returned to the room and shook his old man by the shoulders: Dad, she doesn’t understand you!
The son did what he could to tidy things up after his father’s passing. The task was gigantic, as old Schneider had never discarded any object in his proximity, nor had his vineyard or cellar methods moved forward from the era of the Weimar Republic. And yet he had the land – boy did he have the land – and sometimes he couldn’t help making remarkable wines. I followed his son’s progress impatiently, but there were times I thought the estate might be growing moribund.
This is no secret; I talked one year with Helmut Dönnhoff and relayed my concern that Schneider was dubious these days, and Helmut advised me to hang in, that the new generation was staging (at Knoll in the Wachau in fact at that moment) and appeared to augur a hopeful future for the domain. So I did wait, and young Jakob did appear, with a still-herculean task ahead of him, but with all the piss and vinegar you could ask for in a fresh new vintner.
Shortly after he arrived, we were tasting a new vintage of what was a perfect Hermannshöhle Spätlese, and he asked did I like it and I said it was perfect. “Please don’t touch it,” I requested. “Really?” he wanted to know. “I was thinking maybe adding a tiny bit of Eiswein to it, just to pimp it up a little.”
“Why would you do that?” I asked, though I knew the answer. Those ten grams of Eiswein would garner another 4-5 points and increase the odds the wine might end up on the year-end top-10 lists in the wine guides. We tasted the “improved” wine. It was good – not necessary, but good. I said I’d offer it either way, but that Jakob should trust the beauty and integrity of the wine as it was.
I waited, somewhat foolishly, for his wines to modernize. They never really did, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they grew more up to date and competent without ever becoming trendy. What I see Jakob doing now is to refine, yes, but only so far. They still do a lot of their business with private customers and they still offer a portrait of a grounded family wine estate who know many of their customers by name. There is a kind of elegant lust in the wines; they are wines of appetite, and yet they hail from land that gives truly otherworldly flavors to Riesling.
Can we ask for more honesty or character than we see here? I don’t think so. And I’ll leave you with this. Jakob and his wife Laura have kids of their own now, and his grandmother (Lisl, the soul of the house) is still very much alive, and I have known four generations of Schneiders and done business with three. Is this just geezer nostalgia? Or do we learn to consider those souls with whom we have walked our mutual paths, in a life that grows ever more inexplicable, and ever more precious?
Submerse yourself in my tasting of Weingut Schneider, here.