Eva Vollmer embodies the energy that has made Rheinhessen the epicenter of a refreshing approach to German winemaking.
For four generations, Vollmer’s family grew grapes (along with other crops) for sale to a cooperative. Unsettled by handing off her family’s grapes each year, she studied oenology at Geisenheim University and interned at William Hill Estate and Atlas Peak in California.
Even before graduation, Vollmer assumed responsibility for her father’s 8.5 hectares of vines and launched her namesake winery (with the help of her husband Robert Wagner, pictured above), converting it from a potato cellar. Her production has since gone from 4,000 bottles to 40,000 and she’s now one of the most talked-about winemakers in Rheinhessen.
How did you start your own winery?
My boyfriend [now husband, pictured] and I were always thinking about starting our own winery, but it seemed like an untouchable dream.
For Christmas 2006, we gave each other two special presents. Without planning, we each gave the other a stainless-steel wine tank. We had never talked about it before, but suddenly, we had two tanks, and we knew it was destiny. So we decided to just do it, and in 2007, we bought more tanks.
How did you transform the family business?
My father always encouraged me, but I had to convince my parents with “liquid evidence” that we could bottle our own wine instead of selling grapes to cooperatives.
In the vineyard, traditionally, we did the things you have to do, but at a basic level. I’m fanatic about quality vineyard work and dropping grapes was very hard for my mother to understand. To convince her, I divided the vineyard in half, working one half basically, and the other half at a higher quality, and then made two separate wines. My parents tasted the wines and were convinced it was the right way to proceed.
As a woman, was it more difficult to become a winemaker?
Traditionally, there was an unwritten law that only the male child of a family would take over a business. But in my case, my father had no sons and the only other possibility would have been to stop the business.
Growing up, I did all the hard work that men did. Sometimes people would say, “Oh, it’s too heavy for you,” but I did it anyways. I drove tractors and 40-ton trucks filled with sugar beets. To pay for part of the winery, I drove huge snowplows at Frankfurt airport. I knew I had to be strong and work hard.
The men in school accepted me as one of their own, not someone who was lesser because of a weakness of the body.
Is the process much different for young women today?
When I was young, I read stories from Austria of female winemakers, but I had no real contact with any women winemakers, and very few women were studying winemaking at Geisenheim.
But today, you see it in this region more and more. Women today have seen that it’s possible to do it—why shouldn’t they follow?
How do you balance work and family?
My daughter is currently one and a half years, and another will be born in January. Both are January babies because that’s the only way it would be possible. I can’t have a child during harvest time!
My mom and my husband’s mom are both active, and it wouldn’t be possible without them.
My daughter is always with me in the winery. She’s with me when I drive the tractor or the forklift and when I have customers. She hands me bottles in the cellar—well, sometimes she drops bottles—but she’s learning.
When I was young, I had no real contact with women winemakers. But today, you see it in the region more and more.
What are your Christmas traditions?
Christmas is a very family-based tradition. We go to church, where my father and I perform in a musical group. Afterwards, we come home and eat sausages and potato salad that my 83-year-old grandmother prepares. Since my sister and I were children, we would always play piano and the trombone together, so someone always has to perform something.
What wines do you drink at Christmas?
We drink our own wines every day, so mostly we drink “trophy” wines that we’ve collected over the years. Wines that we’ve exchanged with other winemakers from around the world, or purchased while visiting other wine regions.
Last year, we drank a Chilean wine from a backpacking tour I took with my best friend to Chile. It was a special trip because it was just us two women.