Terroirism Rules At Schloss Vollrads

Rowald Hepp of Schloss Vollrads

Dr Rowald Hepp, the manager and chief winemaker at Schloss Vollrads, is an unashamed terroirist.

One of his first acts upon taking over management of the 900-year-old property in 1985 was to uproot all the vines other than riesling. Muller thurgau, sylvaner, ehrenfelser, etc, all went. Today the estate is 100% riesling.

“The Rheingau is a unique place to grow grapes,” he says. “The Rhine River normally flows south-north; it’s only this 30-kilometre stretch that runs east to west and gives our vineyards a pure southerly aspect. They receive direct sun and solar reflection off the river which is a kilometre wide here and gives a lake-like character to the climate.”

Dr Hepp says climate and soil are the two unchangeable elements of wine production – whereas grape variety and management practices can be altered by man. “We have two choices: we can look to the market and say ‘What can I sell best?’ Or we can look to the soil and climate and say ‘What works best here?’”

There is only one answer and that is riesling. Why would you grow chardonnay, for example, and make yet another average chardonnay, when you have the opportunity to produce great riesling? It may not always be the easiest wine to sell, but in the end, quality will prevail and great riesling of unique character will always find a market.

The tower at Schloss Vollrads

One of the human choices he makes is to pinch off the bottom of the cluster in his best Grosses Gewachs vineyards, to reduce cluster-size and hence reduce the yield. He showed me a bunch off the vineyard across the way, which has riesling bunches of normal size and shape, beside a bunch that had been cut in half by pinching the stalk between the nails of the thumb and forefinger. The result is not only fewer berries per bunch, but more open bunches which better resist fungal disease, and the yield is about 30 to 35 hectolitres per hectare compared with a long-term average of 62 for the vineyards with uncut bunches. The wine will be more concentrated and – he says – the minerality imparted by this special soil will be intensified.

The Schloss Vollrads wines (tastings) are certainly excellent across all quality and price levels. The prices are also attractive: Dan Murphy’s has been Australia’s exclusive direct importer for the past five or six years and Hepp is very happy with the relationship. The first vintage imported was 2009; the first shipment of 2013s was recently despatched. Schloss Vollrads uses only Vino-lok (glass stopper) and screwcap closures and the entry-level wines come in a distinctive dark-green proprietary bottle. Not exactly the signs of a staid old winery.

Schloss Vollrads was owned by the Greifenclau family for 900 years until the death of Count Matuschka-Greifenclau in 1997. It’s now owned by a German bank, and under this ownership Dr Hepp has supervised an increase of the estate from 30 to 80 hectares of vines and a major lift in both the quality and market distribution of the wines. The future is looking good. 

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