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Wines are bottled history, and there’s no better way to grasp this history than by tasting wines from the same vineyard over different eras, and exploring how the practice has changed in the vineyard and cellar. That's exactly what I had the opportunity to do at a recent visit to Weingut Robert Weil, where I tasted three examples of their legendary Kiedricher Gräfenberg Riesling from three different eras. Terroir or place aside, how wines have been grown and made can obviously profoundly affect how they taste and age. So, let’s start with the oldest wine—the 1947 Gräfenberg Cabinet Riesling. This wine came from what we might call the “pre-industrial” era of agriculture—before the take-off of agrochemicals and heavy machinery across the globe. At this time by the way, “Cabinet” meant the highest quality in German wine—literally “from the cabinet” as such wines were often kept aside and reserved for the family or the producer's best clients. So, nothing to do with how the term Kabinett is used today, which I’ll touch on below.

Back to the 1947, this wine was produced from organically grown vines (before there was a choice) and, therefore, from low yields. It was vertically pressed (and probably crushed, so likely a lot more solids) and fermented naturally, with fermentation and extended lees aging in old oak casks. So, in many ways, it is the direct predecessor of the current Gräfenberg GG, even if this is latter wine is now not crushed and is pressed in a horizontal, pneumatic press. There is also less residual sugar today (around 4 g/L instead of the 8 g/L in the 1947).

Even though this was before global warming, the wine was only 0.5% lower in alcohol than today's wines (I don’t know whether or not it was chaptalised) but Wilhelm Weil told me that the wines of this era also tended to have equivalent acidity levels of today’s wines (around 8 g/L). So it’s mostly the budburst and harvest dates, as well as the consistent ability to get perfect ripeness, that has changed.

This was simply an amazing bottle. So many whites of this age are either shot or, if not, simply curios, dominated by tertiary notes. Yet this was an utterly wonderful drink: a deep, complex, spicy white with waves of punchy fruit and some powdery grip. Well and truly alive and kicking, it was also very complex. We enjoyed it without food.

 The 1983 Kabinett came from a completely different era. Thanks to the 1971 law, “Kabinett” now had a totally different meaning, roughly meaning lighter-bodied, off-dry, fruity wine, and the lowest of the Prädikat levels. By this stage of the post-war period, and after the largely disastrous 1971 revision of Germany’s wine laws, conventional viticulture and significantly higher yields were dominant. The pneumatic press, with its much higher pressure and more rotations, had been introduced, as had clarification by centrifuge, selected yeasts and other additives. Fermentation was now exclusively in stainless steel (not in and of itself a problem, but combined with all the other changes mentioned led to far simpler wines). The wines spent far shorter time on lees, and faster vinifications and early bottling were now the norm. This wine was bottled with 25 g/L residual sugar. It was still drinking very well, a testament to the power of the vineyard, yet it was packed with more simple, salted caramel and menthol development notes. The palate was racy, juicy and with good drive. Clearly not the aspirations, depth or complexity of the ‘47, nor the current GG wines, it was nonetheless an impressive wine for a 40-year-old Kabinett of the era.  


The future-release 2022 Robert Weil Kiedricher Gräfenberg Grosses Gewächs reflects the modern era at this producer, post-1990 (and even more so post-2000). It’s far closer in spirit and quality to the 1947 (even if it feels finer, purer and seems to have a lot less extract and grip). Nonetheless, the closing of the gap between the pre-war and today is there in the depth and class of the wine and it makes sense when you look at today's practice. There has been a step-by-step reduction from conventional viticulture to organic viticulture over the last decade in particular, and the Gräfenberg is now certified (it was still in conversion in 2022, meaning the ’22 was grown organically, just not ‘certified’). There has been an equally steadfast reduction of yields and a review of all practices to arrive at an approach that makes use of the best of both traditional and modern practices. Modern pneumatic presses, for example, are still used, but to a maximum pressure of 2 bar. Then, there is the move back to spontaneous fermentation, longer time on lees and use of both stainless-steel and large wooden barrels to maximise expression and character, and to bring aging potential. There is slower vinification and later bottling. At a recent vertical of Robert Weil, the 2022 was deep yet racy and linear, stunning yet tightly wound and obviously still very young. It clearly had the power to age for decades, yet it also showed great finesse and, frankly, was already a wonderful drink! The Spätlese from the same vineyard was, by the way, stunning. This is consistently a great, great wine that deserves to get far more attention!

As the Weil estate has moved closer to the pre-war era in terms of practice, the change in the climate has brought the ability to ripen the fruit fully each year. Climate change has in fact been a boon for the coolest vineyards of Europe. In the cold, northern climate of Germany. With their vineyards high on the slopes around Kiedrich, producers like Weil are now in a sort of Goldilocks zone, able to keep fabulous acidities and balanced alcohols, while at the same time able to harvest each year at complete ripeness. This means that they consistently make wines that are at least equal to the best historical examples (assuming they work the right way in the vines), something that would have been impossible to imagine in the colder, wetter past when great vintages were a relative rarity.

A sharp viewer might note that the old Gräfenberg label above includes a picture of the Turmberg vineyard (effectively a monopole of Weil) and its famous tower. And yet, there was no Turmberg fruit in any of these wines. The two sites have been made separately since the 12th century. It is simply that it was such an iconic site, clearly visible from the Gräfenberg, hence it appeared on the label. The Gräfenberg vineyard, in the centre of the slope, has always produced a riper, more full-bodied wine (still with great finesse) than the Turmberg vineyard. Turmberg is in a cooler side valley in fact, and has always produced more delicate, mineral and tightly wound wines.

Gräfenberg has historically always been considered or rated as Grosse Lage (great growth or grand cru) while Turmberg has been rated "Erste Lage” (first growth or premier cru). This was simply because, in the times before global warming, Turmberg struggled more to achieve full ripeness as consistantly as the Gräfenberg vineyard. Today, Turmberg has also been rated as Grosse Lage, but as Weil is the only producer, Wilhelm Weil has decided to keep the Erste Lage classification for this vineyard and wine, with the goal of producing only the very best they (and Germany) can offer at the Grosses Gewachs level (GG wines can only come from Grosse Lage vineyards). Having said that, Weil’s Kiedrich Turmberg Riesling Trocken is, quite frankly, better than many a GG!  

Robert Walters
April 2024