This is the first of a three-part series chronicling Contributing Editor Anne Krebiehl’s experiences working harvest on the Mosel slopes. Click here for part two and here for part three.
It was an itch I had to scratch. I love Riesling, I adore acid and I am German, after all.
I have worked harvests in the past (Pinot Noir in New Zealand and Germany, Nebbiolo in Barbaresco) but never before have I harvested Riesling from a steep slate slope. The Mosel was calling me, and it was simply a question of time.
The alarm clock went off at 4 am, and I was quickly off to fly to the small provincial airport of Hahn, little more than a hangar.
It wasn’t planned like that. A week had been set aside in late October, planned more than a year in advance, for me to work the slopes. But as Gernot Kollmann, co-owner/winemaker at Immich-Batterieberg, where I volunteered, said, “Grapes are just not disciplined in that way.”
A warm spell a week earlier had brought the entire harvest forward, so with little notice, off I flew to pick Riesling in the Mosel valley.
The sun was out when I landed in Germany. Gernot picked me up and filled me in on what was to be done on the 10-minute drive to the winery. The vineyard crew had already left, so I was to lend a hand in the cellar.
Immich-Batterieberg is a small affair smack bang in the Middle Mosel, in the municipality of Enkirch. We are equidistant from the cities of Trier and Koblenz, which is where the Mosel runs into the Rhine.
It has just 20 acres of estate vineyards, plus 17 acres of vineyards from which grapes are bought. Everything is done by Gernot, and the wonderfully mellow assistant winemaker hired for the duration of the harvest, João Aguda. He has worked in wineries all over the world.
Everything was already underway by the time I had arrived. Grape harvest had started a week earlier. Various stainless steel tanks and large and small barrels were already in full ferment. Airlocks bubbled away, letting the carbon dioxide of the fermentation escape, providing a strange sort of musical performance once the hum of the machinery was turned off.
The bins that the grapes arrive in get hosed down right away. For the rest of my first day, I was primarily on washing duty. Time and again, we swept and hosed the floor. Grapes are full of sugar, so if we didn’t do this constantly, the entire winery would be a sticky mess in no time at all.
The reception area for the grapes is in a new building that’s modern, functional and easy to clean. It’s wedged into a narrow space between the old, original estate building and a neighboring house. In other words, your typical Mosel village.
The cellar itself, where the barrels and most of the tanks are, is very old. Part of it is built with local slate stone, but the oldest segment is hewn straight into black, solid slate rock.
While the winepress completed its cycle, Gernot and I drained used barrels that had been filled with water to prepare them for the must (unfermented grape mash) they were about to hold. We then rinsed additional barrels with cycles of hot and cold water.
The freshly pressed juice was cloudy with grape debris from the pressing, and requires time to settle. Many of these solids would fall to the bottom of the tank as sediment, a process that takes about 20 hours. Once the must finished it’s time in the sedimentation tank, we filled the prepared barrels with fresh Riesling juice.
Each barrel will get a silicone bung fitted with an airlock. The must is not inoculated with cultured yeast, as fermentation from the organically farmed grapes will start on its own after a day or two.
Everything around me bubbled away, as life does in Riesling country. A fitting end to the first day of my Mosel harvest.