Riesling Ambassador

Riesling is the key!

Photo: Alexandra Stellwagen

Photograph by Alexandra Stellwagen

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There are no more dramatic vineyards than those in the breathtakingly rugged Middle Nahe Valley in Germany where the vines cling to steep slopes wedged between jagged cliffs of volcanic rock. They are now one of my twin homes. However, before Monday, 5th March 2019, when I became the Riesling Ambassador for the Gut Hermannsberg (GHB) wine estate in Niederhausen on the Nahe, I was deeply committed to freelance journalism for 35 years.

No, it was more than that. I was a free spirit who wrote about wine and anything that was connected to the wines that interested me. This included subjects as diverse as geology, anthropology, military history and rock music. The border between the possible and impossible in winemaking fascinated me and I was frequently a bladerunner on that edge. My gonzo journalist’s life was sometimes exhilarating for other reasons, because I wasn’t afraid of controversy and several times I sailed straight into the heart of a storm. I sometimes got into trouble, but always managed to dodge the bullets fired in my direction. So why switch path?

The truth is that everything has down sides. In my case they begin with the fact that most of the daring things I wrote only appeared in German. That’s the reason most of you have not only never read any of them, you also didn’t realize they existed until this moment. This means that my trilogy about wine and globalization Schöne Neue Weinwelt (2003, Argon Verlag, Berlin), Wilder Wein and Wein Weit Weg (2006 and 2009 both Scherz Verlag, Frankfurt) never appeared in English and therefore failed to achieve their full potential. Regardless whether you consider these works successful together they add up to a revolution in wine journalism. The same basic problem applies to the more conventional Wein Spricht Deutsch (2007, Scherz Verlag, Frankfurt) which I wrote with Ursula Heinzelmann, Chandra Kurt, Manfred Lüer and Stephan Reinhardt, illustrated by Andreas Durst’s photos.

The second downside is that in all those years I never had a single big commercial success. However, if you have plenty of small and some medium-sized successes over half a lifetime, then they stack up and you build quite a reputation. Once when I gave an interview to a journalist from one of Germany’s leading newspapers and she told me that I was, “a B class celebrity, but you dress a lot better than most A class celebrities!”

Lastly, thanks to the Internet and social media most kinds of journalism are shrinking and some of them are dying in front of our eyes. Most of my medium-sized successes were with printed books, but the last of them – Best White Wine on Earth (published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York) aka Planet Riesling (Tre Torri Verlag, Wiesbaden) – appeared in 2014/15. Since then printed wine books have became an endangered species and my attempt to switch to self-published e-books wasn’t commercially successful. In 2012 the third series of my German-language television series Weinwunder Germany (for BR, the BBC/PBS of Bavaria) was another medium-sized success, but it was also my last tv project. In the autumn of 2015 the frequency of my wine column in the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany’s equivalent of the New York Times) was halved and with it my income from that source.

Perhaps this sounds like I have a negative attitude. However, it was my rapidly shrinking bank balance that pushed me to begin a radical rethink in the spring of 2016. Then, suddenly, in September 2016, James Suckling asked me to become a member of the tasting team for JamesSuckling.com, one of the world’s few really successful Internet wine publications. I coped with the considerable stress of that position for two and a half years, but my health started suffering and my wife wasn’t happy about me being on the road most of the time. That set me rethinking once again.

I came to the conclusion I needed a job that connected me directly with concrete products incapable of digitalization. You can post a picture of a wine bottle and describe its smell taste in words, but you can’t post its smell and taste. I also wanted to have get both feet on the ground: one foot in Eppstein in the hills above the Rheingau wine region where my wife has lived for twenty years, the other in some special vineyards that needed a voice.

That I, an “outsider”, could become the voice of GHB’s remarkable collection of vineyards – all 30 hectares are classified Grosse Lage / “Grand Cru” by the VDP – isn’t as ridiculous as it looks at first glance. I’ve been following the wines from there since the spring of 1984, through my entire career as a wine journalist. I’ve known estate director Achim Kirchner since 1999 and winemaker Karsten Peter since 2002. It was therefore rather easy to integrate into the GHB team although I’m a very different creature to anyone else who works at estate. One door has closed and another has opened. Riesling was the key!

21 Responses to Riesling Ambassador

  1. Frank says:

    Sehr schöner Neustart. Macht Appetit auf das, was da kommt.

  2. Christian says:

    Herzlichen Glückwunsch zur neuen Website! …sehr gelungen! Wir freuen uns auf spannende Telegramme!

  3. Zoli Heimann says:

    Hallo Stuart,
    Herzlichen Glückwunsch schon mal auch von mir! Ich warte auf unser Treffen in Dezember und wünsche dir bishin viel Glück mit dem Great God of Wine! 🙂
    LG aus Ungarn, Zoli

  4. Mike Keylock says:

    Congratulations on your Weinwunder Deutschland programme. About 35 year ago I studied German in Freiburg and had to undertake a project. I chose “Badischer Wein, von der Sonne verwöhnt” and spent wonderful days and weeks travelling through the Markgräfler Land, tasting those “leckere Tröpfchen”. Now my son is an apprentice Winzer in Franken and my old interest has been rekindled – kein Experte aber ein Geniesser! Es lebe der Wein! Keep up the good work! Mike K. Freudenberg, NRW

  5. 塑膠模具 says:

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  6. Woah this weblog is magnificent i like reading your articles. Stay up the great work! You know, a lot of people are looking round for this information, you can help them greatly.

  7. Faber Lucien says:

    wegen Aufgabe meines Weinkellers verkaufe ich Rieslinge (vor allem 2005 und 2007) und andere Weine. Rebholz , van volxem, busch clemens, St. urbans hof, Karthäuserhof

  8. John Doe says:

    Well, i would call that a quite impressive CV! Your sense of humor speaks for itself.
    I absolutely share your love to Riesling, especially German Riesling. Actually, sometimes i am a little bit worried that all the PR you create with your work might drive prices for German Riesling. So far, it is nice to have a world class GG from Rheinhessen or Nahe for less then 50 Euros… Anyway, all the best of luck!

    P.s: You don’t happen to have a bottle of the Grand Cru Mueller Thurgau. I’d love to try it!
    P.s.s: too bad you were not available for Bernhard Huber’s 25th anniversary dinner!

  9. Sara says:

    Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the images
    on this blog loading? I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.
    Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

    • Stuart says:

      Hi Sara, I had a look at this issue and other people didn’t seem to be experiencing the kind of difficulties you did. I think this says the problem probably lies at your end. My apologies whatever the cause of the trouble was. Easy access is what the internet is supposed to be all about. Best, Stuart Pigott

  10. hk says:

    I’m a student studying at Missouri State University and really enjoy what you have accumulated in this article, truly like what you’re expressing and the method with which
    you assert it. You are presenting it in a way that is enjoyable and you still
    make sure to keep it clever. I am excited to trade
    creative concepts and information with you. Your website is without a doubt
    one of the better blogs out there right now.

  11. I seldom leave a response, but i did some searching and wound up here I am Riesling |
    Stuart Pigott’s Planet Wine. And I actually do have 2 questions for
    you if it’s allright. Could it be just me or does
    it look as if like a few of these responses appear as if they are left by
    brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are posting at other online social sites, I’d like to keep up with everything new you have to post.
    Would you make a list of all of your communal sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook page
    or twitter feed?

    Also visit my web site; mvp sports bedding for boys

  12. Pingback: New York Riesling Diary: Day 47 – What do YOU think about My New Bio? | Stuart Pigott's Planet Wine

  13. Say Hey Stuart Pigott,

    Nice article about Riesling and you in June 7, 2014 Los Angeles Times.

    Have you tried the Stony Hill Riesling from St. Helena?

    The vineyard is adjacent to Smith Madrone. Stuart & Charlie Smith and Michael Chelini (Stony Hill Winemaker) are good buds.

    To the Vintage Year,

    Bob Brown
    Thousand Oaks, California, USA

  14. Martha Gioumousis says:

    I’d like to review your new book in the Finger Lakes Wine Gazette. Can you contact me directly?

  15. Chris Kassel says:

    I will be in Traverse City over the Salon Riesling weekend. I’d like a chance to interview you for a book on Northern Michigan wine country. Can you contact me if you are available at any time during that celebration?

  16. Manfred Schmidt says:

    Lieber Herr Pigott –

    ich habe alle Ihre Kommentare über Riesling in Deutschland und der Welt mit Vergnügen gelesen und auch Ihre Kurzfilme bei uns im TV gesehen. Einige der Winzer an Mosel , Rheingau und Rheinhessen, die Sie besucht haben und kennen, haben sehr lobend über Sie berichtet. Ich bin ein deutscher Rentner mir einiger Weinerfahrung und wäre sehr daran interessiert, wann Sie wieder hier in Deutschland sind und wie man Sie dann mal hier treffen könnte .
    Über eine kurze diesbezügliche Information wäre ich Ihnen dankbar.
    Ich würde wirklich gerne mit Ihnen mal einen guten Riesling trinken; – vielleicht auch zwei oder 3 Weine !

    Mit freundlichem Weingruß

    Manfred Schmidt
    p.s. – bin übrigens aufgrund Ihrer Empfehlung am 17.9.2015 nachmittags im Weingut Wagner&Stempel in Siefersheim, Rheinhessen ( diese Weingut hatten Sie als einen Ort der “vinophilen Entspannung” definiert !)

  17. Chris Kassel says:

    Stuart,

    Quick wine question. How long will the top German estates with the top reputations wait between harvest and release? I am looking for the hyperbolic answer, not necessarily specifics. Just an idea of the time frame for the best wines to actually see shop shelves from the time they are made.

    • Stuart says:

      Chris, that’s a very good question and there isn’t a simple answer to it.For the regular quality white wines October harvest and March/April release is normal. However, the high end dry wines (GG & Co.) don’t get released until September following the harvest and some producers hold back a lot longer than that. For red wines add one year to all of that. Best, Stuart

  18. Hi Stuart:
    I am presently enjoying your book, and was intrigued with the reference to Synchromesh, and Thorny Vines Riesling in particular. I am currently in the process of updating the Thorny Vines website and was wondering if you would mind me including a quote from the book.

    Thorny Vines is our vineyard, but the credit for making the wine goes to Alan Dickinson who I believe you met a couple of years ago. He continues to build his reputation as one of the premier riesling winemakers in the Okanagan and we just bask in his reputation.

    All the best,
    Ian Hornby-Smith

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