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Ulrich Stein
Haus Waldfrieden
Cabernet Sauvignon
F.W. Bernstein, and the Neue Frankfurter Schule

{ Calling this a "collector's edition" feels at best schlocky and at worst, just wrong. }
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2019 Stein Cabernet "F.W. Bernstein Etiquette" 

In reality, this bottle and its curious label are just an absurd and wildly improbable - and delicious - cultural product.

There aren't that many instances (that I know of at least) where the rather solitary practice of winemaking has been so genuinely integrated into a broader cultural movement. But this is exactly what happened beginning in the late 1980s, through the 1990s and well into the 2000s as the founding artists and writers from the Neue Frankfurter Schule came to Stein's private hotel on the mountain top, "Haus Waldfrieden," to write, draw, paint and to hold concerts and readings... and of course to drink Stein wine.

This offer tells that story - this offer allows you to have a small part of this history, in both a vinous and artistic form.

Here we offer a stunning Mosel Cabernet Sauvignon made by a true rebel and iconoclast, Dr. Ulrich "Ulli" Stein, with a label drawn by the important artist F.W. Bernstein. The details of the Cabernet bottling along with tasting notes are below. However, there are not many of these bottles with the Bernstein label and they are very special and personal for us; we will limit to three per person. 

Bernstein was one of the founding members of the Neue Frankfurter Schule, a group of post-war writers, intellectuals and artists who embraced absurdity and satire in their drawings, paintings, poetry and theatre as a way of coming to terms with the horrors of the second World War.

It's difficult to articulate exactly the spirit of the Neue Frankfurter Schule, partly because its cultural production was so diverse and multi-disciplinarian. If the founding literature of this movement was the magazine Pardon (1962 to 1982) and then, later, the magazine Titanic, this group of writers, poets and artists created everything, from happenings and readings, to books, poems, paintings, sculptures, comics, caricature and more.

The Neue Frankfurter Schule was satirical and erudite in ways, but also childish and absurdist - part Dada and part Monty Python - born from the spirit of revolution that swept much of the western world in the 1960s.

This was and is Stein's generation. Bernstein became a good friend of Stein's. The original drawing used for the label, reproduced above, is on display at Haus Waldfrieden.

But this is a lot more than an offer for me; there is a lot to unpack here. This offer is rife with my own personal journey, my own coming to understand Stein and his life intermixed with some of post-war Germany's most avant-garde cultural figures. This offer is in a way about my own lack of understanding, or lack of confidence, or both.

If Stein planting Cabernet Sauvignon in the Mosel was in and of itself an absurd gesture in the late 1980s - done explicitly to provoke the wine authorities - for my palate, from about 2015 onward, this "provocation" began to show a real seriousness. These wines began to evoke something of the Napa Cabernets I'd tasted from the late 1970s and 1980s. They were different too, obviously. I'm not trying to draw false equivalents; I'm just trying to say I felt the wines really had something to add to the conversation about Cabernet Sauvignon. I thought they were nervy and delicious and well structured. Here was true Mosel mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, grown on steep, slate slopes.

But I looked at the label drawn by F.W. Bernstein, a satirical reimagining of Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" in the Sistine Chapel, as I looked at all of Stein's art labels, with more than a little bit of trepidation. They just didn't seem serious enough.

In a way I thought I was defending or protecting the artist-winemaker Stein, alone on his mountain top and not privy or practiced in the whims and expectations of the market. I desperately wanted everyone to take his wines seriously. I guess I wanted everyone to take me seriously too.

Some of you may know Stein's Cabernet Sauvignon "vom Berg" with its stately, blue label and minimalist design. These are the same exact wines; the blue label is simply my design for the U.S. market.

And maybe it was and is the right call, in general, to use this more modern and staid label.

But over the years, Ulli's history with these artists and writers, the personal stories and his collection of drawings and notes got me slowly more and more interested in the Neue Frankfurter Schule - in this defining post-war movement. I slowly began buying books, finding all the images I could, studying the movement and this wily group of artists.

And with this I also began to reconsider these labels, their importance and relevance, their aesthetics. Within the context of Stein's iconoclastic life, they began to feel more and more right. Ridiculous and sublime.

So here is just a small monument to celebrate this moment, these wines, these artists.

Ulli first met Peter Knorr, one of the founding members of the Neue Frankfurter Schule and an important author and satirist, in the late 1980s when he was visiting a friend in the nearby village of Enkirch in the Mosel. Not knowing exactly who Knorr was, they all traveled up to Haus Waldfrieden because Stein had the deepest cellar and the most wine. When they got to Haus Waldfrieden, Knorr went to the bathroom and found, to his surprise, Stein had an absurdist poem tacked to the wall above the urinals. It was from the influential magazine Titanic, which Knorr had helped to found and was an editor at.

And thus began a spirited friendship that eventually became an annual weekend retreat. Of the eight founding members of the Neue Frankfurter Schule, five of them became regulars at Stein's Haus Waldfrieden for nearly 35 years. Knorr first brought Robert Gerhardt and Bert Eilert. This trio of men were for a long time the ghost writers for the German actor, musician and comedian Otto. Gerhardt especially became quite famous as a writer, poet and artist. After some years, the artists F.W. Bernstein and F.K Waechter began to come to Haus Waldfrieden as well.

The first artist label for Stein was done by Robert Gerhardt in 1999. He was the Riesling drinker and so he did a label for the Riesling Hölle. F.K Waechter, more of a Pinot Noir guy, drew a label for Stein's Pinot Noirs in 2002. Bernstein followed the next year with this label for the Cabernet.

Bernstein was the professor of the group, both figuratively and literally. From 1984 until his retirement in 1999 he was the professor of caricature and visual history at the Berlin University of the Arts. Even at the rather bohemian Haus Waldfrieden, Bernstein would always wear a jacket and a tie; he would have a serious look on his face even though he was a trickster, something of a clown with a deep sense of humor.

His drawing for Stein's Cabernet recreates one of Michelangelo's most famous visual passages from the Sistine Chapel. Yet instead of presenting the sacred moment of creation, with God's limp finger nearly (but never really) touching Adam's outstretched arm, we have what feels to be two old friends, toasting to a lazy day on the beach. In Bernstein's version, God and man have an obvious rapport; they feel like bar mates, equals. Both are more than a bit rotund, with simple round bellies (God's belly's roundness mirrors the simple curves of the clouds) that mock the elaborate and detailed articulation of muscle and flesh of Michelangelo's Adam.

If Michelangelo's Creation of Adam seeks to capture a moment of perfection, before the fall, Bernstein's drawing seems to illustrate a moment long, long after the fall.

Knowing Ulli, and learning more about Bernstein and the Neue Frankfurter Schule, it seems more likely that Bernstein's piece may show God and man toasting the fall.

You may toast to whatever you like: The absurdity and beauty of creation, the endless detail and complexity of the things all around us, or just the greatest Mosel Cabernet Sauvignon on earth.

The point is just, I guess, to raise a glass with someone you love.

2019 Stein Cabernet Sauvignon "F.W. Bernstein Etiquette" 
One of the more seasoned New York wine salespeople, working at one of the city's most respected small wine stores, once wrote the following after tasting Stein's Cabernet (I think it was the 2017): "The best $50 Cabernet in New York? For you old schoolers, it might just be."

That's as appropriate an introduction as anything to a wine that simply has no precedent and no real context. What does Cabernet (with some Merlot), grown on steep, slate slopes in the Mosel, taste like? Like old-school Cabernet, that's what. The 2019 clocks in at 13% alcohol, though my guess is that it's 12.5-12.8% - Germany is the only country left that rounds up their alcohol levels! For the red wines, this gives them a certain air of international seriousness and for the white wines, certain domestic buyers won't buy Rieslings under 12% alcohol for fear that they might, gulp, taste sweet!

Stein believes this is the most elegant Cabernet he's ever made, and it could be. Certainly after the more layered and powerful 2018, this is a return to a more cold-climate form - dark brambly fruit, saddle leather, tobacco, dried herbs, menthol and mint. There is a brooding, linear sappiness to this. The vines were planted sometime in the late 1980s and early 1990s and so are currently for the most part 30 years and older. In other words, there is some concentration here. Yet the overall feel is tensile, sleek - not overly structured, but energetic. This is a delicious, sleek-fruited and satiny Cabernet that still has a live-wire of acidity. It drinks very well upon opening though a few hours (or a day or more) bring out more and more layers. I'd guess the 2019 especially could cellar for another 5-15 years quite easily. 

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