From a phoenix vine­yard flows a drop to Loosen your tongue

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - JAMES HAL­L­I­DAY

THE Dr Loosen wine es­tate in the heart of the Mosel, Ger­many, has been in fam­ily own­er­ship for 200 years, not es­pe­cially long by Ger­man stan­dards but there has never been a more charis­matic leader than Ernst Loosen, who took the helm in 1986.

He has rewrit­ten the book in count­less ways. First and fore­most, he has a great sense of hu­mour. His fa­ther (a lawyer) com­manded him to study at Geisen­heim, Ger­many’s lead­ing wine fac­ulty; the young Loosen spent four happy years be­tween 1977 and 1981 with a group of friends who never rose be­fore mid­day and spent the af­ter­noon plan­ning their evening’s en­ter­tain­ment.

He then stud­ied arche­ol­ogy at Mainz Uni­ver­sity from 1981 to 1986 be­fore the sud­den ill­ness of his fa­ther forced a choice be­tween sell­ing the es­tate or aban­don­ing his de­gree.

He chose the es­tate, which had 12ha of vine­yards spread across towns on the Mosel River. They had an av­er­age age of 60 years, with some up to 120 years old, due to the be­nign ne­glect of what had pre­vi­ously been a side­line for the Loosen fam­ily.

Loosen im­me­di­ately showed the drive that would steer the wines on to the world stage. With cel­lar man­ager Bern­hard Schug, he made sweep­ing changes in vine­yard and win­ery, caus­ing the em­ploy­ees to walk out in protest. The pair kept their nerve, re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing the vine­yards and win­ery prac­tices with a new team, and haven’t looked back since.

The vine­yards are sit­u­ated on a U-bend of the Mosel River: Bernkasteler Lay in the south, then Graacher Him­mel­re­ich, Wehlener Son­nenuhr, Urziger Wurz­garten, Er­dener Pralat and Er­dener Trep­pchen. The slopes are daunt­ingly steep, each vine on a sin­gle stake, all the work done by hand, one vine, one step af­ter an­other.

Twenty years on, ev­ery con­ceiv­able hon­our has been be­stowed on Loosen (known as Ernie in the 43 coun­tries to which he ex­ports his wines). Mag­a­zines from the US ( WineSpec­ta­tor , Wine&Spirit , Wine En­thu­si­ast ) to Bri­tain ( De­can­ter ) and Europe ( Gault Mil­lau ) have var­i­ously awarded him wine­maker of the year, best white wine­maker and best Ger­man wine­maker, among other tributes.

The high­est ac­co­lade Loosen, 51, was awarded was the 2005 De­can­ter man of the year, the first Ger­man to re­ceive the award, which since its in­cep­tion in 1994 has recog­nised the great­est fig­ures in wine. (Max Schu­bert and Len Evans the two Aus­tralian re­cip­i­ents.) The tributes rolled in and the en­tire Ger­man ries­ling mar­ket was en­er­gised.

The Dr Loosen la­bel stands along­side the other great­est names of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer re­gion: JJ Prum, Egon Muller, Richter, Fritz Haag, Kes­sel­statt and Max­imin Grun­hauser.

All the Loosen wines share a mag­i­cal syn­the­sis of del­i­cacy and in­ten­sity, of sweet­ness and acid­ity, of mouth-wa­ter­ing fresh­ness. The wines range from kabi­nett (off-dry) through spatlese, auslese, beer­e­nauslese, trock­en­beer­e­nauslese and eiswein, be­com­ing in­creas­ingly sweet and lus­cious, though the al­co­hol re­mains con­stant at about 7.5 per cent. But the price in­creases ex­po­nen­tially, from $28-$33 (kabi­nett) to $500 for a 375ml bot­tle (trock­en­beer­e­nauslese).

There is an­other set of vari­ables, here moulded by the ter­roir. Bernkasteler shares the slate of the other vine­yards but is heav­ier and deeper (with some con­ven­tional soil) and the slope is less pre­cip­i­tous. The wine is richly tex­tured and more assertive in the mouth.

Wehlener Son­nenuhr (the sun­dial) is pre­cip­i­tously steep, with pure blue slate and no soil what­so­ever. It pro­duces wines of ex­treme del­i­cacy and fi­nesse and has al­ways been my favourite. Urziger Wurz­garten has blaz­ing red slate in a nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre cre­ated by the bend in the Mosel River and pro­duces wines with a heady cock­tail of ex­otic spices and trop­i­cal nu­ances.

Er­dener Trep­pchen’s vine­yards are so steep, cen­tury’s-old stone steps were built to al­low vine­yard work­ers ac­cess to the vines. The iron-in­fused, red slate soil gives wines with great pre­ci­sion that are Ernst Loosen’s favourite, al­ways re­pay­ing bot­tle mat­u­ra­tion.

Er­dener Pralat is such a warm site that it only pro­duces wines of auslese or above rich­ness, which are the most scarce in the Loosen port­fo­lio. There are com­pelling ex­am­ples of the im­pact of ter­roir in Bur­gundy, but none more so than th­ese glo­ri­ous sites along the Mosel River.


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