The Strange and Wonderful Story of Gut Hermannsberg’s 10th Anniversary Book – Part 1

The publication by Gut Hermannsberg (GHB) of 10 years of passion for RIESLING & TERROIR / 10 Jahre RIESLING & TERROIR aus Leidenschaft gives me both strange and wonderful feelings.  For the author it’s always wonderful completing a project as complex as this: 14 interlocking texts in both the German and English language editions describing from multiple perspectives the first 10 years & vintages since Jens Reidel and his wife Christine Dinse bought GHB back in August 2009. It also felt rather strange, because in spite of only 32 pages plus the cover for me this really is a new and innovative wine book.

Behind that feeling of strangeness stood a painful realization. Although my last published book Best White Wine on Earth (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York, 2014), in German Planet Riesling (Tre Torri Verlag, 2015), sold quite well it left me with the gut feeling that wine books would soon be finished for good. True, since then a couple of successful wine books were published. I strongly recommend Cork Dork (Penguin, New York, 2017)by Bianca Bosker, which recently appeared in German translation as Das Große Weinmaleins (Piper, 2019). However, these are all half-wine book and half something else. More importantly, my conversations with various publishers made it clear that not even a TV/movie tie-in would set the presses rolling again!

When I began work on GHB’s 10th anniversary publication it seemed too small to count as a wine book, and the purpose of documenting the last 10 years at the Nahe wine estate where I’ve workes as a consultant for exactly one year felt quite limited in scope. However, after GHB’s co-director Jasper Reidel pushed me to dig deeper and see wider connections I realized the last decade at GHB had the potential to make a really good wine story. It’s all about the vision of the Reidels and winemaker Karsten Peter together with their team to take what was one of Germany’s greatest wineries back to the top where it stood for the first 85 plus years since its foundation in 1902.

That might sound quite straightforward, but beginning the task of climbing back to the top after almost 20 years of underperformance makes it a huge challenge. That’s long enough for any wine producer to be forgotten by consumers and the trade alike, and it makes the back-to-the-roots policy of the Reidels and Karsten Peter pursued much harder to implement too. Making wines like half a century ago sounds great, but is much more difficult than it sounds because all the equipment has changed. And how do you know exactly how everything was done back in the Good Old Days, or how those wines tasted when they were young?

But it was and remains tougher than that. In spite of some claims to the contrary, the words “Riesling” and “German wine” are not great selling points except on the domestic market and a handful of smaller export markets. Then, come the effects of the little talked about global over-production of good and great wines, plus the growing political and economic conflicts of the 21st century. No wine producer is immune to them, but they’re certainly greater obstacles for those climbing up towards the top, than for those with well-established reputations. Here are the fundamental tensions driving the GHB story, to which you must add the weather roller-coaster ride in the age of global warming. For example, the catastrophic frost damage in spring 2017 was followed in 2018 by the warmest growing season ever recorded in Germany!

Seen from the inside, it is clear to us that during the last couple of years GHB took several decisive steps along the steep upward path. For me, the current range of wines from GHB’s 7 terroirs, or GG/”Grand Cru” sites, is the strongest since my first visit to the estate on the 26th April, 1984. However, that doesn’t mean everyone sees it like that. So, although the story in the book ends with the high notes of GHB’s 10th anniversary celebration and the exciting climax to the 2019 harvest, enough tension remains.

There’s no helicopter service to the summit of Mount Everest. Instead, you have to climb every step of the way up. One thing makes that huge task easier: the top is already in sight!

10 years of passion for RIESLING & TERROIR / 10 Jahre RIESLING & TERROIR aus Leidenschaft is available in both English and German language editions through €9.95 including packing and postage.

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