Germany’s Nahe Region: Wine Innovation and Tradition

The Nahe region is one of Germany’s smallest winegrowing regions comprising just under 11,000 acres of plantings. Fully 75 percent of the vines planted are to white varietals specifically Riesling and Muller-Thurgau. The remaining 25 percent of vines are dominated by the red blending grape, dornfelder. The area is home to many steep vineyard sites and the Nahe River languidly strolls by, bending just before the minuscule village of Oberhausen.

There, Helmut Donnhoff crafts beautifully styled wines that are usually sold out as soon as they are released. Donnoff is producing 120,000 to 150,000 btls of which 50 percent are exported. He produces no reds, but does make small amounts of pinot blanc and pinot gris. His family settled in the Nahe just under 250 years ago and set up a modest farm, raising cattle, sheep and orchards. Over time the estate turned to winegrowing and Helmut has been making his classic wines since 1971.

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I sat down with Helmut to taste through his 2007 vintage just before harvest. “Riesling has two talents.” he tells me. “It can produce both sweet and dry wines,” something red wine and most whites cannot boast of. He makes about 10 dry whites and about 15 sweet versions. “My wines are meant to be lean,” he says. Indeed, his wines are extremely clean, pure expressions of what Riesling can do.

Coming from mainly volcanic soils. Helmut picks later than most other producers in the Nahe, “until nearly the leaves fall off,” he says. Typically that means mid-October through mid-November. Donhoff encounters the normal problems with the winemakers in his region, farming is a tenuous thing. Some years the weather cooperates, and others times the weather does not. He’s been doing this long enough that he understands the cycles of nature and works with it, not against it.

“The difference is to make the wines you have,” he states, “not force a fermentation to create a market driven wine. If it ferments as fruity (as opposed to dry) so be it.” He strives for dry Rieslings that are “clean and full of elegance,” as he puts it and expects his wines to age for up to 20 years. In fact his sweet Rieslings can stay open for a week to ten days once the cork has been popped without losing much aroma or fruit.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

His wines are tough to find in the U.S. and often he doesn’t even have enough to conduct tastings at his finely appointed winery, therefore reservations when visiting are a must. I ask is he is willing to produce more wine to meet market demand. “No,” he says flatly, a slight smile suddenly crossing his face. “I have only one life.” And he intends to make certain he has time for other interests.

Not far from Hochheim, still in the Nahe region, the little village of Neiderhausen is home to Jakob Schnider Winery. The name is one of those family names, passed down for eight generations and at family gathering if you call out, Jakob, chances area every man will turn to you. The current Jakob who crafts the wines is the son and Jakob, the father tends the vineyards. Jokob (junior) tells me there are 52 different soil types in the Nahe from which comes intense Rieslings.