OLD WORLD, NEW TRICKS
Germany's Oberhofer winery works with some of the oldest vines in the world using the newest know-how.
Written by Claire Williams / Images courtesy of Oberhofer Winery
Looking out over the 62 acres of vines on the Oberhofer winery, you can see the terracotta-tiled roofs of the village of Edesheim and the local church's steeple. Piercing the horizon are the Haardt mountains, which protect the town from the frigid and wet weather blowing in from the Atlantic, giving this region the aptly named title "The Tuscany of Germany." Edesheim sits in the Pfalz region of Germany, also known as "the Palatinate," in southwest Germany just north of France's Alsace region and only an hour south of Frankfurt.
The Haardt mountains make it one of the warmer and drier areas in Germany, allowing almonds, figs, and lemons to grow here alongside wine grapes in villages whose home call to mind the structure of a cuckoo clock. With a favorable microclimate and extra sunny days compared to the rest of the country, the only thing brighter than the sun is the contagious smiles of the Oberhofer family
The Oberhofer family first started making wine in 1754 in Alto Adige, Italy. Some 250 years later, after emigrating to Germany, Stefan and Heidi Oberhofer built the foundation for their own winery by merging their parents' vineyards on the Southern Wine Route to establish the Oberhofer winery in Edesheim. One could say the Oberhofers are one of the original "nepo babies" of the wine world. Now their children have a hand in the business (literally), with their son Pascal as the resident winemaker at just 29 years old and their two other children helping out as well.
Contrary to most well-established and revered family wineries in the Old World, the Oberhofers don't believe in old practices and outdated traditions but instead evolving their winery for the modern age. Stefan and Heidi give their son creative freedom to try new techniques and styles of wine. Just 15 years ago, the Oberhofers switched to strictly organic winegrowing, way before "organic" became the buzzword it is today, and were leading the charge on organic viticulture in Germany.
One of the easiest ways to understand their approach is through one of the winemakers' favorite quotes from an unknown source: "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." At its roots, organic winegrowing is about preserving biodiversity in vineyards and maintaining soil life so that the terroir of winegrowing areas doesn't deteriorate to a point where the cultivation of vines will no longer be possible.
The youngest of the Oberhofer children, Marlene, explains her family’s philosophy by saying, "The more you take care of your soil, you have more healthy vines and powerful grapes, and the less you have to 'add' anything during the winemaking process to compensate mistakes and illness from the grapes." Therefore, they don't use chemicals or pesticides and co-cultivate various other plants within the vineyard's rows, which naturally adds nutrients to the soil and strengthens the vines.
The Oberhofer's production is primarily white grapes: Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer Just under forty percent of their grapes are red: Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The climate, reminiscent of Northern Italy, makes their wines fresh and balanced, perfect for those who enjoy nice acidity and fruit components in their wine. Their Sauvignon Blanc has aromas of exotic fruits balanced with vegetal aromas. Their Riesling, susceptible to the soil and climate, thrives in this region with cool nights and warm days, resulting in notes of crisp apple, citrus fruit, honey, and minerality, all balanced by fresh acidity.
While the Oberhofers fully embrace modern methods, they're also proud to have the oldest vine in the world, known as "The Eldest ."Church documents record an unknown winegrower planted vines during the Thirty Years' War in the early-to mid17th century in "Rhodter Rosengarten ."Despite being one the most destructive and protracted conflicts in European history, four hundred of those ancient vines still exist today, growing in the rich limestone marl soil and producing a small yield of Gewürztraminer grapes. The grapes are hand-harvested, and after fermentation, wine from "The Eldest" is aged in oak barrels, followed by a gentle filtration and another three months of aging in complete darkness. Due to the fragility and small yield of the vine, the only way to taste this vieille vigne is to get your hands on one of the 300 bottles produced in those years when yields allow cultivation.
The Oberhofer's have taken place in national and international competitions, such as AWC Vienna and the Meininger's International Spirits Award, where they have won both silver and gold, along with three different design awards for the packaging of their Eldest wine.
Looking to the future, the Oberhofers want to continue their objective of growing their vines harmoniously with nature rather than fighting against it. Reminiscent of looking out across the Oberhofer vineyards, their bottles have a design that is a kaleidoscope of colors, different for each vintage. Marlene says, "The design of the labels reminds us of the many elements that make this genuine natural product possible: The family farm. The ecological care of soil and vines. The care of the harvest. The artisanal winemaking in the cellar. The patience during storage. The joy of the product. The harmony between the generations and how every single point works together,". The Oberhofers have found a balance between their vines and nature, work and family, the past and the future, to create a truly exceptional wine domain. sl