Wines You’ll Probably never Try

Tucked away in Germany, Saxony is producing tiny amounts of terrific wine that we should know more about.

 


In a world where extremes are becoming the paradigms for perfection its a little surprising that one doesn’t hear much of the wines of Saxony. Strike that. One doesn’t hear anything about these wines. And that is not surprising because the production is tiny and the wines almost all consumed locally. But you should be hearing about these wines, if for no other reason than to broaden one’s idea about what cool climate viticulture is really all about. And the wines, well the wines, some of them at least, are worth a trip to Sachsen, even if that does mean putting on a sweater every evening in the middle of summer.

My jobs tends to focus on what is available to consumers. That makes perfect sense since, at its core, my job is to help consumers find wines that they like, but what happens when those wines aren’t even in the marketplace? Do I have any obligation to investigate them? I do, at bare minimum to myself, but more importantly to allow the industry at large to discover wines along with me. It’s how all the great imported wines have made their way to market over the past several decades, and with the incredible success of the wine industry it’s surprising to be able to find a region that is virtually unknown outside of its confines.
Admittedly I went to Saxony to visit a friend, but at the same time the allure of something to discover was quite powerful indeed, particularly when you factor in the potential that this coolest of cool climate regions  has for producing world class wines. Wines that in all honesty few of us will ever get the chance to taste. With little land under vine, and a lively local enotourism culture, born from the love of drinking beer outside that seems endemic in the German speaking regions of the earth, and convenient for those off days when a beer, or three, just won’t do the trick. Wine may currently be a bit of an afterthought here in Saxony, but that might very well be a short lived problem.
 
With only 450 hectares, or just over 1100 acres under vine, there is obviously not a lot of wine to go around, so it remains a bit of a novelty even here at home. Add to that the fact that almost all of the vineyards are hillside vineyards, which must be tended by hand, and produce yeilds that are low, given the difficulty in fully ripening fruit here, and you can see why the market is somewhat limited, and yet there is no wine for export. Perhaps a few bottles make their way to the surrounding states here in Germany, but the numbers really don’t allow for much to be consumed other than locally. Locally by the ways means in and around the city of Dresden.
 
Bombed to near annihilation during World War II, Dresden has made a series of comebacks over the years. A series which is interestingly parallelled by the wine industry itself. First rebuilding from the ashes, albeit under Communist rule and the accompanying centralized dictats. Dictats that replaced vinifera grapes that had thrived in the region since at least the 12th century, when monasteries built out vineyards that eventually covered an unbelievable, when compared to present day dimensions, 6,000 hectares, with more productive, and certainly more proletariat varieties imported from the east. 
 
Ironically it was this rebuilding of vineyards in the former German Democratic Republic that set the stage for today's renaissance. From its peak, vineyard acreage slowly dwindled away in Saxony due to imported diseases such as phylloxera, downy mildew and oidium. By the beginning of the 19th century viticulture on any commercial scale had essentially disappeared. The rebirth, encouraged by the GDR, brought vines back to neglected terraces and untended vineyards. While the wines produced were nothing to write home about, they were wine, and they did, in many cases, reclaim historic vineyard sites.
 
With the weather in the region as it is, offerding just 1,800 hours of sunshine per year, which to put it in perspective compares with just over 2,000 sunshine hours per year in not exactly famously sunny Bordeaux, and average summertime highs of 77F, cool Burgundy manages 79F, and even the Willamette Valley in Oregon gets to an average high of 83F, this is a rather extreme place to be growing grapes, and potentially not very rewarding in some ways. perhaps central planning dictats were the only way a region like this would have been brought back to life. 
 
Though in the face of all the challenges inherent in the region, and as is typically the case, vintners manage to find those south facing bowls and terraces that meander along the path of the Elbe river. Gathering both a bit of reflected light and the retained warmth that the river delivers. Grapes do ripen here, and while the market for premium wine grapes remains small, Muller Thurgau continues to be the dominant variety, there are some remarkable wines being produced here, even from the lowly Muller.

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Comments

  • Snooth User: Ewen
    232417 5

    Now living in the Hawkes bay one of New Zealand's prime wine regions and near 2 of New Zealand's oldest wineries, Church Road and The Mission.

    Sep 04, 2014 at 3:23 PM


  • Snooth User: Ewen
    232417 5

    Running a bed and breakfast for wine lovers, Watea Boutique Bed and Breakfast. Stay with us when you visit Hawkes Bat.

    Sep 04, 2014 at 3:26 PM


  • Snooth User: Zuiko
    Hand of Snooth
    540750 839

    Germany's more known wine districts have always been stunning; now to hear the more obscure northerly districts are doing well is a nice surprise. Thanks for the insight.

    Sep 04, 2014 at 5:38 PM


  • Snooth User: bmyost
    1185744 19

    This was a very nice writeup. I'm aware of Saxony, but knew little about it. This is an area I'll have to spend more time becoming acquainted with.

    Sep 04, 2014 at 7:51 PM


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