Thursday, 3 July 2014
There is Riesling and then there is Dönnhoff
Helmut Dönnhoff: maker of great Rieslings in the Nahe
The planning had gone a little awry by the time we got to Dönnhoff. Supposed to arrive at 6pm we had yet to arrive at the winery by 7.45. We were already running considerably late and this was compounded by hitting a motorway jam, which added a good 20 minutes to our tardiness.
However, in the end it all worked out fine and for the best. We had a short tour through some of the steep Dönnhoff vineyards in marvellous mid evening light, which we might have missed had we been a little earlier and closer to our itinerary.
The vineyards have mix of old and new vines. Helmut was born in 1949 – a very fine vintage and started here in 1971 – another very fine vintage, although less good for sensible wine laws. At that time the family had four hectares of vines; he now has 25 ha.
On this trip we tasted a number of fine Rieslings but none of the consistent quality and balance shown by the Dönnhoff range.
What is the Dönndoff's secret?
For a man, who makes such wonderful and widely acclaimed Riesling, Helmut Dönnhoff is remarkably humble giving no hint of his star status. He has great warmth without flamboyance. He clearly understands and loves his vineyard sites that so vividly convey their different characteristics through Riesling. It is clear from the vineyards, the winery and offices that Helmut, and his son Cornelius, are very meticulous and precise in their work.
One example is the habitual check they use to see if a wine needs sulphur and how much as Helmut explains:
"We use as little SO2 as possible. We don't just work on analysis. You have to learn to read the nature. We pour a glass, put it on a barrel and see how it's the next day and then the following days, so we can judge the level of oxidation in the glass to see the level of sulphur each wine requires. This varies from wine to wine, vintage to vintage. Wine is always a question of balance. If necessary we add sulphur during the process before we get to bottling, when it is never added."