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Wolfram Stempel
authenticity in the avant-garde

{ The young growers reimagining the Mosel should be celebrated. Not only is this development good, it is vital and yes, inevitable: culture doesn't need anyone's approval to evolve. That is simply what it does. }
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It occurs to me that perhaps it is the status of "outsider" (not born in the Mosel to a winemaking family) that offers someone as thoughtful and inquisitive as Wolfram Stempel the singular perspective to intelligently challenge many of the assumptions of what we know of "Mosel wine." Born in Bavaria, a student of Japanese culture who spent nearly a decade living in Japan, Wolfram came to the Mosel only in the fall of 2017, on a whim, following an obsession.

When I spoke with him about his journey, he said to me quietly: "If it wasn't for the Mosel, nothing would have made me give up my life in Japan."

Introducing the curious case of Wolfram Stempel.

These wines represent a fascinating trend developing in German winemaking right now. As with the wines of Lukas Hammelmann, they push boundaries, ignoring many of the "traditions" of Mosel wine (for example, blocking malolactic fermentation) and engage in many of the practices of natural winemaking (for example, no fining or filtering, low sulfur use).

And yet, and this is critical, for us at least: The wines speak of the Mosel, their origin; they are clearly Riesling. They are also, well, just different from many Mosel wines.

For the historical record: We do not believe culture is a zero-sum game. This is not a question of which conception of "Mosel wine" might be considered, or should be considered, the best. We will defend the authentic avant-garde within the Mosel as fiercely as we will defend the classical growers who work respectfully in the vineyards and in the cellars. There is room - there is a necessity - for more than one worldview.

Wolfram is farming only .13 hectares, that is less than a third of an acre. We have secured thirteen cases of his 2019 "MHT" and we cannot recommend the wine enough. This is a dry Riesling that has one of the most fascinating spice profiles I've ever tasted, from peppermint and spearmint to cinnamon and beyond, a green-floral herbal edge that is invigorating and saliva-inducing at the same time. The palate is diffuse and expansive, like Mosel Riesling vapors being unleashed. The palate, the wine as a whole, is not complicated, or, perhaps, it is so finely woven that its ease and delivery is taken for granted, but it is striking in its clarity and rigor, from celery stalk and leaf lettuce, pithy citrus, lime zest, mineral. (See more on Wolfram's winemaking, below.)

The wines remind me in many ways of the wines from Lukas Hammelmann, as mentioned, in their airy, textural quality - in their force and clarity. Those familiar with the wines of Philip Lardot, also in the Mosel (and also an outsider from Finland to the Mosel via Amsterdam), will find something of that style here.

If you are interested in more natural wines, these should be of obvious and profound interest. Yet, if the phrase "natural wine" has come to be a forgiving synonym for "not-another-orange-wine!," or volatile acidity or worse, do not fear. We have tasted Wolfram's wines on two occasions and over several days: the wines retain their clarity and focus.

In other words, if you are more interested in "classic" Mosel wines, these will present a new fascinating perspective on Mosel wine; they should also be of profound interest.

What Wolfram is doing, of course, is part of a larger seismic change happening in the Mosel.

I can think of no wine history precedent quite as jarring, with such a profound history, such depth of tradition, being challenged so quickly and so radically by a new generation of growers. Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Piedmont: These places have for the most part been shielded from this revolution (for better or worse, we can't say) by exorbitant land prices.

Yet the Mosel is a curious place, at once the center and the periphery. Here is a place with history, with fierce and singular traditions, yet it has also been forgotten, overlooked, neglected. That there are precious gems to be found in the Mosel comes as a surprise to no grower. And while vineyards remain relatively inexpensive (given the history and quality of the sites), the cost of finding these gems, in terms of sheer human labor, has been enough to keep many away.

This is changing.

The young growers reimagining parts of the Mosel should be celebrated. Not only is this change good, it is necessary, vital and yes, inevitable: culture doesn't need anyone's approval to evolve. That is simply what it does.

There is an incredible new diversity of Mosel wine being formed, being shaped, by a new generation, not exactly ex nihilo, but with a view more to the new then to what has come before.

Mosel wine, as it has been known for the last 100 years, will be a different thing in five or ten more years. That is simply a fact.

As a consumer, you should ready yourself for a veritable flood of natural wine from the Mosel. There has been a steady trickle for some years, but the tsunami is coming. Yes, there will be some awkward years imitating the precedents of natural wine from around the world, from the aesthetics of clever wordplay and irreverent labels to the ubiquitous cellar regimes of skin contact and low or 0-sulfur use.

As is so widely discussed within natural wine circles it feels hardly worth repeating, but yes, many of these new wines will have little to offer that is either regionally or varietally specific. They will taste like natural wine from any place else on this earth. This is fashion, and this too will pass.

Yet, there will also be a new language, a new Mosel, inspired by boundary-pushing growers like Heymann-Löwenstein, Clemens Busch, Thorsten Melsheimer, Rita and Rudolf Trossen (to name only a few). This is the authentic avant-garde.

Have no doubt: a new chapter in the history of the Mosel is beginning. 

2019 Wolfram Stempel Riesling "MHT19" (Trocken - Dry) 
Wolfram is farming a small parcel, as described above, in Maring, a tiny village in a side valley away from the Mosel, tucked behind and between the wall of vines that is the Brauneberger Juffer and the Niederberg Helden. The "MHT19" refers to the village (Maring), the vineyard (Honigberg) and the dry quality (Trocken). Interestingly, this side valley was once the Mosel's main path, presumably the oxbow lake that once was there has since dried up. The vineyard is farmed organically. The vines are about 30 years old and are planted on a weathered blue slate soil. Wolfram carries out a rather severe pre-selection; no grapes with any botrytis are used, period. He uses a very long and very gentle pressing cycle (a Champagne cycle), so that the tail of the juice is not used, preserving freshness and acidity. Around 25% of the best whole bunches - they really must be perfect - are put into small nets, the effect something like a tea pouch that can steep in the juice. Once these whole bunches are in their nets, the tank is filled with the pressed juice. The wine ferments like this; the 2019 took about ten weeks to ferment dry. As the alcohol increases in the must, the extraction of phenolics from the stems and skins can become quite intense. After the fermentation, the whole bunches that were in the pouches are pressed and this juice is added to the blend. The wine then went into one used 500 liter and one 250 liter barrel - the combination of barrels was necessary as he didn't even have 1,000 liters of wine required for the traditional Mosel Fuder. The wine was topped up and remained in barrel until November, when it was bottled unfined and unfiltered. About 60ppm total of SO2 was added at bottling.

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