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|Grapes||Spätburgunder aka Pinot Noir|
|Vineyard/Cellar Practices||Biodynamically Grown, Low-Intervention/Natural Wine, Vegan|
Benedikt Baltes may be the undisputed champion of spätburgunder (pinot noir); his laser-like focus on the varietal grounds his revitalization of the vineyards and cellars of the Franconian city of Klingenberg. Benedikt originally hails from the Ahr, where his family grew grapes for the local co-op, but after studying enology and economics, and interning in Austria, Hungary, and Portugal, he sought to branch out with vineyards of his own. He ended up back in Germany at Weingut Stadt Klingenberg, which was founded in 1912. (Winemaking in this region stretches back to the 12th century.)
In 2010 Benedict purchased the old municipal winery, which boasts 12 hectares of old vines planted on steep, red sandstone terraces, now all protected historic monuments. He seized the opportunity to start fresh, unfettered by traditions or expectations, and revitalized the old vineyards. Converting to organic farming (certified organic as of 2018), fermenting with native yeasts, and aging in local oak all further highlight the distinctive identity of spätburgunder. He doesn’t own a tractor, instead harvesting everything by hand. A flock of Dwarf Breton sheep graze, aerate, and fertilize the soil, while the estate also grows its own stinging nettle to use in antifungal teas.
A staunch advocate for spätburgunder’s “autonomous identity,” Benedikt follows an approach less akin to that of other red wines, such as Burgundy, taking inspiration instead from Germany’s iconic rieslings. The vineyards’ steep red sandstone terraces retain crucial heat, insulating the pinot vines during overnight temperature dips, and imparting a distinctive iron-driven minerality. (This is essential for pinot noir since Klingenberg sits close to 50 degrees north latitude!) These dramatic diurnal temperature shifts give the wines a cool, taut, elegant character, with tremendous detail and depth. Delicate aromatics and fruit are balanced by nervy acidity and grip. These definitely demand decanting!
Particular wineries and sites have shown to produce spätburgunder of exceptional quality. The Bischofsberg vineyard, outside the village of Großheubach along the Main river, constitutes one of those sites. Both Bischofsberg and Schlossberg in nearby Klingenberg are designated Grosse Lage (equivalent to Grand Cru). Only because this release comes entirely from the Bischofsberg site can it carry the “GG” (grosse gewächs) label. The terraces of Bischofsberg climb a steep slope, sitting on red sandstone, where the old vines are farmed with certified organic and biodynamic methods. In Bischofsberg, sandy topsoil sits above the sandstone, which results in wines of charm early in their development. And while the 2016 is drinking beautifully now, this has several years to go before its peak. Despite considerable rain during the early growing season, the 2016 vintage ended with very high quality results. After a little decanting, the nose opens to beguiling complexity: deep dark red fruits, sous bois, with a eucalyptus-like coolness and a hint of smoky reduction. The flavor is rich, the tannins are well-integrated, and the acidity indicates that this wine will only improve with cellarage. Biodynamically grown, low-intervention/natural wine, vegan.