A small booklet emerges from the pile of wine papers. Rather thin, not more than 40 pages, simple spiral bound, but in elegant dark blue cover with gold print: “A Life in the Port Trade by James Symington” . A memory from Graham’s in Oporto and a visit for almost exactely a year ago.
I couldn’t resist, but read the story again. Short excerpts from history, spiced with anecdotes from the Symingtons’ life within and outside the world of Port. The time line spans over 100 years, from the background to why James Symington’s grandfather Andrew Symington came to Oporto in 1882 till James’ own retirement in the late 90ies. The range of stories is wide, from the frog who travelled the Atlantic, to efforts in marketing for broadening the port wine market, especially in the US. Pleasant reading that elicits nice memories from our visit in Oporto.
The memory of visiting Graham’s lodge and the Vinum restaurant a beautiful Sunday in May is also agreeable. The welcoming and friendly attitude from everyone, from the guide (yes, we attended a public tour here) to the staff in the bar, restaurant and shop. The relaxed atmosphere. The view over Douro, Porto and Gaia. The first class food. The excellent wines, Port as well as table wines.
There are more than Port to discover at Graham’s. We tasted good white, but it was the red Douro wines that captured our hearts. The top premium wine Chryseia is incredibly delicious. We were also impressed by Altano, Quinta do Ataíde 2010 Reserva with its fine structure and high density between the flavour molecules: spicy, bay leaves, dark berries, cherries, oak and a floral kiss. Very expressive. After lunch we stopped in the shop and let a bottle get one of the very limited spaces in the suitcase for the trip home.
The booklet with James Symington’s story was there, on a shelf in the shop. For you who like to feel the wing strokes through wine history, I hope there are still some copies. Because a visit in Oporto and to Graham’s and Vinum is something we really recommend.
Wines to drink at home? Well, the range is unfortunately not that big in Sweden, hope you are more lucky. For the summer we suggest to have some bottles available of the basic, yet so yummy ruby Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port. To the cheese, the chocolate cake or just for a glass on its own to satisfy the apetite for something sweet after dinner. Port delivers, also in chilly summer evenings.
 A life in the Port Trade by James Symington. Published by The Symington Family, Oporto, Portugal, 2007.
Tears well up in my eyes. Just like that. Touched by a single sip of wine, a sip of magical wine. How it tastes? Overwhelmingly delicious, although I can’t be so much more specific. As Terry Thiese  writes: “The greatest wines are the ones you can’t write notes about because you’re weeping, overcome with their loveliness.” This is one of those.
We stand in the Leinsweiler Sonnenberg, surrounded by old vines. On the top of the hill, a big building, the Slevogthof with its white tower, for some years the home of artist Max Slevogt, one of the most important German impressionists painters. At the end of the slope, the small, but very beautiful church of Leinsweiler. Further down, the village.
Already 1200 years ago, this place was covered with vines. Today a VDP Grosses Lage for Siegrist’s Riesling and Pinot Noir. A southfacing slope with calcarious soil. One of those favoured places where soil, climat and vine merge together and create exceptional wines.
View from the grand cru Sonnenberg to the Kleine Kalmit with its white chapel.
A moment ago we walked in the vineyard, talked and looked at the vines, the soil, the view. Took some pictures. The vines have been pruned, the sap rising, no signs of buds. Of course, it is only mid March.
Then Thomas Siegrist takes out a small bottle from the car and pours us a glass each.
Siegrist Sonnenberg Riesling Beerenauslese 2007 is lusciously sweet with beautiful golden colour. Eternal length. Overwhelmingly delicious. Just a single sip is needed and I’m overcome with its loveliness. Eyes wet by Sonnenberg tears .
Many thanks to Monika Dapprich, Thomas and Gisela Siegrist, Bruno and Kerstin Schimpf for so kindly receiving us at Weingut Siegrist and sharing your passion for wine, for great wine.
You first read the story about “The Sonnenberg tears” on Lovely Wine Grapes. All post on Lovely Wine Grapes about our visit to Weingut Siegrist in March 2015:
Note  From the highly recommended book (although only to passionate winelovers), “Reading between the wines”, by Terry Theise (2011, page 22): “The greatest wines are the ones you can’t write notes about because you’re weeping, overcome with their loveliness. This happened to me in a restaurant in Paris one evening; the waiter must have thought my wife had just told me she didn’t love me anymore and was absconding with the plumber. Nah, it was just the damned Jurançon. This like all wine experiences, will jump out of the darkness at you, but it’s ok, it’s part of the spell. Don’t fear the weeper.”
On the picture, it looks like debris on the lens, some tiny grey spots against a hazy sky. That afternoon in March, the dots were part of a magical scenery. We stood on the top of the Kleine Kalmit and looked out over the rolling landscape in the backlight of a glittering sun. A glass of Siegrist Kalmit Pinot Noir in our hands. The debris slowly moving around. There are many of them, paragliders around the top of the mountain in the Palatine Forest. Calm silence, crispy air and charming wine. It was as if the gods of happiness hovered over the hill.
Probably is our association to the gods of happiness not that strange. We are now on the top of the Ilbesheimer Kalmit in German Pfalz, but a short while ago we were in Weingut Siegrist’s winery in the neighbouring village Leinsweiler.
In the winery entrance stands the Greek god Hermes and greets the visitors. The Siegrists are not just passionate about wine, they love the beautiful. Sometimes artists join their events. Hermes came to Siegrist on one of those occasions and he chose to stay.
“We think wine is a message from the winemaker to the world, just as Hermes is the messenger of the gods,” explains Monika Dapprich who welcomed us to Weingut Siegrist. “Hermes has become our logo, you meet him on all our wines.”
We started to taste Siegrist’s white wines, an exploration of four levels of elegance, the hallmark of Siegrist. Now we head for the red side. When Thomas Siegrist started 40 years ago he declared early on that he wanted to go for the red wines. The older generation advised against, but he defied them. We are glad that he did.
Thomas Siegrist became a pioneer, inspired by travels around the world and not least Burgundy. He has turned ideas, such as serious red wines, use of barriques and organic grape growing, into reality. Vision and quality ambitions have come true and are now carried forward by the next generation, Thomas daughter Kerstin and her husband Bruno Schimpf, the cellarmaster of Weingut Siegrist.
Thomas still travels around the world to learn and get inspiration. He travels with his friends, winemakers from the southern Pfalz. They call themselves the “Fünf Freunde”, the Five Friends: Becker in Schweigen, Münzberg in Godramstein, Rebholz in Siebeldingen, Siegrist in Leinsweiler and Wehrheim in Birkweiler. All of them also VDP-members. They inspire and learn from each other, and they sometimes make wine together. The “Amici V” wines are cuvées with wine from each of the five friends.
Red wines are today around 30% of Siegrist production. Pinot Noir is the main grape, but other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Dornfelder and Merlot are also found in the vineyards. We focus on the Pinot Noirs, which are exciting to explore. Exquisite wines, where different soils give different expressions.
The southern Pfalz is a multitude of different soils from different ages. Not strange as the area is a continuation of the Vosges in Alsace, wellknown for its many types of soil. Here in Pfalz you can in just one kilometer find clay, then loess and then calcareous marl. Fascinating.
Siegrist’s 15 hectars of vineyards is divided on 70(!) plots. Not something unusual in this region. The very small plots is a result of the inheritance laws, just as in Burgundy. If the farmer had three sons, the land was divided among them, and so on, for generations.
“Sometimes we have like three rows. If you have ten, your are the king,” says Monika Dapprich. “Of course, it is a lot of logistics and sometimes our apprentices even get lost. On the good side is the spread of risk, for example with hail.”
Siegrist approach to vinification is described as being based in tradition with the addition of modern technology. The grapes and must are handled with care. Gentle pressing, no pumping. Open fermentation of the reds. The reds usually get 18 months in barrique, normally without racking.
The result then, you wonder? Well, it is a jump directly into Pinot heaven.
The mid-line Concretus Pinot Noir 2011 ismade of grapes from limestone. Lovely aromas of forest floor, compost, red berries and well integrated oak. Nice texture and fine grained tannins. The Siegrist hallmark of elegance is very present. Fabulous wine, fabulous value.
The grand cru originates from the Leinsweiler Sonnenberg slope, with its calcareous soil. Sonnenberg Pinot Noir Grosses Gewächs 2008, gives a hint of how beautifully these wines will age. It has still a long life to live.
A sniff and a sip of the Sonnenberg and we dive into a deep clear well of multifacetted finess. The delicate complexity, the texture, the velvety tannins. The perfect balance, the clearness, the elegance. Surely one of the most amazing Pinots we have tasted.
However, the Lössriedel Pinot Noir 2009 turns out to be a great contender to the Sonnenberg. Monika explains that the grapes come from a special clone of Pinot Noir with small berries that give a powerful, extractful wine. The deep dusty loess soil contributes with a delicious creaminess.
It is stunning. Delicate, complex Pinot aromas spiced by a light touch of toasted oak. Fruity with exact acidity. And that creamy texture and velvety tannins… The notebook says “you are in heaven”. Seduced by the gods.
We could have sat in the tasting room and meditated over the wines for hours, but it is time to move on. We will go and see some of the vineyards with Thomas and Monika. First to the Leinsweiler Sonnenberg and then to the neighbouring village Ilbesheim and the Kalmit.
The view is beautiful from the Kleine Kalmit. The glittering sun through the hazy sky. The paragliders in the sky. The little white chapel. Vineyards around us, row after row of vines. Here, on top of the Kalmit, we taste the last of the Pinot Noirs.
Kalmit 2011 is young and beautiful. The wine is a bit cold, as the afternoon despite the sun has become a bit chilly. But we warm the glasses with our hands and feel the harmony and energy.
No notes taken. Solely enjoyment. Even so, we can’t miss the unmistakeable message from the winemaker and the gods: this is the essence of elegance.
Do the gods send tearful messages? To be continued…
You first read the story about “A message from the gods” on Lovely Wine Grapes. All posts on Lovely Wine Grapes about our visit to Weingut Siegrist in March 2015:
We reach for the glasses, noses approach the rims. Expectations and curiousity. These glasses contain something special. It is not that often you are poured a wine from ungrafted vines. This Palatine Riesling is an exception. Old vines, original vitis vinifera rootstocks. We smell, taste and scribble in our nootebooks. Expectations met.
Siegrist √rudus 2010 is mindblowing. Riesling at its best. Graceful aromas of petroleum, citrus, minerality. Delicious complexity. Plus that pure, cristal clear impression. A wine steeped in the hallmark of Siegrist, elegance.
According to the wine list, √rudus officially qualifies into the third level of elegance. We, we would put it on the fourth and highest.
The grapes comes from an old plot in the Leinsweiler Sonnenberg. Old Riesling vines, slowly but surely reaching the end of their time on earth, perhaps only five vintages more to harvest. Sad, because this is a marvellous wine. Aged one year in new barriques, something we wouldn’t have guessed, but on the other hand not surprising to learn. Barriques is another hallmark of Siegrist.
We sit in the “probierstube” and have tasted a range of beautiful white wines before reaching the √rudus. The first impression we got at the Sommelier’s Day in Gothenburg has been confirmed. Weingut Siegrist, Leinsweiler, Pfalz, Germany, owned by the families Siegrist and Schimpf, is the origin of the most delicious wines.
The white wines dominate Siegrist’s production, counting for about 70%. Riesling is on top of the list with 30%, followed by Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. However, Thomas Siegrist decided early on to go seriously for the reds. The result are beautiful Pinot Noirs, but let’s start with the whites.
When we arrive, we get a copy of the wine list. As being one of the first winery visits on our Pfalz-Baden wine tour, we are not (yet) used to the multitude of wines. The list makes us a bit overwhelmed and slightly confused. It comprises about 30 wines. We through a glance at Monika Dapprich with slight despair in our eyes. What to taste? Then Monika asks us to turn the paper. And see! Another long list of wines, the top qualities. In total almost 50.
Later on our journey we understand that these long wine lists are common. No, not just common, it is the standard. Many grape varieties, many plots with different soil and micro climat and many quality levels. A big share of the wines are sold locally and we are explained that there is a demand for the large range of wines. Although confusing at first. As newcomers in the region we need some guidance to find the “passion line for wine lovers”. So we gratefully take the advice from our hosts at each winery and learn.
Siegrist’s wines are divided into four quality levels corresponding to the VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter) classification:
The entry level line of VDP.Gutswein is named Solidus, latin for “solid” (and originally the name of a Roman gold coin).
Concretus, the VDP.Ortswein, comes next. The mid line, where the wines so to say get more serious, more concrete.
Then the Primus, wines from the prime vineyard plots, classified as VDP.Erste Lage.
On top of the quality pyramide, the Grosses Gewächs from the very best plots, the VDP.Grosse Lage, that is the Grand Crus.
The common denominator throughout the four quality levels is elegance. The wines share a graceful clarity and purity. Add thereto exquisite aromas in layers of nuances, an attractive vibrating nerve and a backbone of precise acidity and you have some of the touchable components of the Siegrist elegance. We find these elements already in the Solidus entry level, they grow in the Concretus and reach a delicate crescendo in the Primus and Grand Crus. Four levels of elegance.
From Solidus, the entry level, we taste some nice 2013 including young, fresh and variety true wines from Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. The still Pinot Noir Blanc de Noir gives an impression between red and white and we agree when Monika suggests it to be a lovely companion to lightly spiced Asian food, for example with some coriander.
The SolidusSauvignon Blanc2013 isa rather new arrival in the Siegrist grape family, included when Thomas Siegrist’s wife Gisela came up with the idea for the replanting of a plot. It has the typical Sauvignon Blanc cursors, but expressed in a nicely restrained version. Fresh, light and clear with minerality. As a charming gentle summer breeze.
Siegrist is a renowed barrique pioneer in the region and the practice was already in the mid 80ies an important part of the winemaking. Since some years the wood has its origin in the Pfälzerwald, i.e. the Palatine forest, the home of slowly growing oak trees.
“We cut the oak in the Pfälzerwald and then send it to a cooper in Burgundy where the barrels are made. The quality of the Palatine oak is so good that the French now come and buy it for their own barrels,” Monika tells us.
Barriques are used both for red and white wines. The √rudus Riesling is one white example. In the Concretus line it is usual to give a part of the wine some time in barrique. Reaching Primus and Grand Cru level, barrique ageing is rather the rule.
From the Concretus line we taste a beautiful quartet of 2012:s. The Riesling Heidenbäumel is gentle with nice body, precise and clear, stylish, delicious and pure. The Chardonnay Hagestolz lovely with restrained power and a delicious texture. The Pinot Blanc is almost crispy with nice body, luscious floral notes and minerality. The Pinot Gris charming, tight and very dry.
“We like the wines as dry as possible,” says Monika. “Very often people in the region say that Siegrist makes the driest wines.”
As the attentive reader perhaps already has noted, Siegrist uses consequently the international (French) names of the grapes. Easy for many not that familiar with the German names. For example is Pinot Blanc the same as Weissburgunder. And, when mentioning that grape, we have to admit that it is here, in Siegrist’s tasting room, our new crush for Weissburgunder really takes off.
If the Concretus Pinot Blanc sowed the seeds of Weissburgunder passion, the Primus Pinot Blanc Lössriedel 2012 consolidates the love. Grapes from a soil of six to eight meters of dusty loess, which gives a delicious creamy texture, complexity in flavours, nerve and tension. Elegance in a nutshell.
Siegrist’s Chardonnays impressed us already in the entry level. The Hagestolz added to our admiration. When we reach the Primus line, i.e. the VDP.Erste Lage, we meet the Chardonnay Reserves. Raised in lightly toasted oak from the Pfälzerwald, seductively pure, balanced and complex with almost eternal length. 2011 more powerful than the 2012. Both exquisite.
To round of the tour of dry whites we return to the Leinsweiler Sonnenberg, right across the village from the winery. A beautiful southfacing slope with calcareous soil, where Siegrist owns a good part, 2,5 hectar of the total eight. A grand cru slope for Pinot Noir and Riesling.
We taste the Sonnenberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2009. It is gorgeous. So much Riesling, with a promising life ahead. The fourth level of elegance.
And the Pinot Noirs? To be continued…
You first read the story “The four levels of elegance” on Lovely Wine Grapes. All posts on Lovely Wine Grapes about our visit to Weingut Siegrist in March 2015:
Heavenly intervention? Don’t know, but certainly not an hallucination. Just total bliss, derived from some sips of wine. Siegrist wines. Pure, clear wines comprising the very essence of elegance. As they were blessed by a greater power. An angel?
We know where the power comes from. From the people and their passion for wine and for the beautiful. The dedicated care for the vines. The skilled winemaking. The drive for innovation.
Yet, the human power could be seasoned with a pinch of heavenly support. We have seen the barrel cellar, the home to an adorable little white angel. Siegrist’s guardian angel.
The Siegrist winery is relatively young, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Since the start, 40 years of diligent progress with a pioneer at the helm. During these years much has happened in the society. When Thomas Siegrist met his wife Gisela the Palatine wine landscape was a totally different one.
Grapes were just a part of the agriculture in the 60ies. Farmers had cows, pigs and hens. They cultivated the land with many different crops, grapes just one of them. Money were generally scarce. Thus, the watchwords were quantity, and again quantity. Quantity needed to produce as much wine as possible. Sweetish wine, white as well as red. So different from today.
Thomas had new ideas, different ideas. He and Gisela wanted to focus on wine. Just growing grapes and making wine. Nothing else. Something that was not easily accepted by the older generation. But the young couple put their land together and the Siegrist winery started with 10 hectars and high ambitions.
“I want to do great wine, quality wine”, Thomas declared. Inspired by travels to Burgundy and California, one important idea was to elevate the quality of the wine with maturation in barriques.
Thomas bought barriques. And despite the fact that the public opinion declared him crazy, he used the barriques. The result? The wine authority was not keen and declassified the wine. Simple table wine. Visions and determination were however stronger than external criticism. Thomas carried on.
So what about the contemporary Palatine wine landscape? A totally different story, on many levels. The structure of the agriculture is totally different. If serious grape growing is on the crop list, it is the main thing. Likewise with the sweetish reds, they belong to history.
Barriques? Well, today they are certainly not an unusual finding in cellars where quality wines are made. Already in 1991 Siegrist was one of the founders of the Deutsches Barrique-Forum, a network of around 35 renowned producers, sharing the same conviction.
The Siegrist winery, what has happened in 40 years? The answer is pleasing and shows how vision and ambition pay off. Siegrist belongs to the top 100 in Germany. Since 2000 a member of the VDP, Verband Deutscher Predikatsweingüter. Eichelmann, the German wine bible, awards them four stars as beeing an outstanding winery. Thus, a success story.
Today the winery is run by the families Siegrist and Schimpf. Thomas and Gisela’s daughter Kerstin went in her parents footsteps and graduated from university in oenology. She married Bruno Schimpf, who is now the cellar master.
The vineyard area has grown to about 15 hectars, distributed in their home village of Leinsweiler as well as neighbouring Ilbesheim, Eschbach and Wollmesheim. Small plots, yes, they count to 70. We thought at first we misheard. “17?” “No, 70,” Monika Dapprich corrects us.
Monika joined the Siegrist winery about a year ago with the aim of learning winemaking and assist in marketing. A suitable task for a woman who spent many years in international marketing & sales, while at the same time nurturing a passion for wine.
Monika is in fact the very reason why we sit in Siegrist’s tasting room this beautiful Thursday in the middle of March. We met her at the Sommelier’s Day in Gothenburg on February 1st, where she enchanted us with the elegance of Siegrist’s wines.
Elegance is a distinctive feature of Siegrist. The wines, white as well as red, share a very special clarity and purity. Graceful wines, filled with exquisite aromas in layers of nuances, accentued by a backbone of precise acidity and an attractive, vibrating nerve. We trace this delicious elegance already in the entry level wines and follow it as it grows to a delicate crescendo in the top range. Elegance consistency.
“How is this clearness achieved? What is the secret?” we ask.
“You have to work properly,” says Thomas Siegrist. “And you really need good vines. What we work hard with is the selection. Preselection and selection. What we bring in is top quality. We don’t make any compromises.”
Lower yields and, as Thomas emphasized, hard selection are factors essential to achieve this quality. Siegrist harvest around 80% by hand. Only grapes destined to the most simple wines are harvested with machine. The actual yields are lower than the limit set by the VDP. The yield for Grosses Gewächs wines, i.e. the Grand Crus, are as low as 35-40 hectoliter per hectar.
Another part of the secret is hidden in the soil.
When Siegrist chose the narrow path to quality, that choice included the vineyards. Lovingly care of the vines. No herbicides. No insecticides. No chemical fertilizers. Working the soil only very gentle. Use of cover crops and encouragement of biodiversity. Organic grape growing, practiced since a very long time.
The climate in this, the most southern part of Pfalz, assists in bringing out the best of the grapes. The Palatine Forest, “Pfälzer Wald” in German, is a continuation of the Vosges in Alsace. A wooded low-mountain range protecting the land from nasty winds and heavy rains. There is a good humidity and it is warm.
Almond trees, figs, peaches, kiwi and melons thrive in the lovely landscape with its gently rolling hills and small villages full of half-timbered houses. Even touchy Cabernet Sauvignon grapes can come to a beautiful ripeness and give fantastic wines. Not surprisingly, the nickname of the region is the Tuscany of Germany.
Innovation is another important piece in the Siegrist philosophy. We have already heard about the early years’ introduction of barriques and organic grape growing. The quest for top quality has driven continuous improvements and new thinking throughout the years and still does. However, Monika Dapprich emphazises that it is a kind of mindful innovation, backed up by experience and intuition. The vinification is based in tradition.
“When we do something new, Bruno and Thomas always look what nature gives this year,” explains Monika. “How conditions are combined with the feeling, intuition of what you could do with the wine. We do not innovate to innovate. We innovate when we feel there is something to build on.”
Passion is an important component of the Siegrist story. Passion for wine and vine, together with firmly rooted beliefs in what the soil can give. Passion for the beautiful has been, and is, a guiding star. During our visit, it was a subject returned to many times.
During 40 vintages, knowledge and experience have grown strong. Experience that allows further steps on the quest for quality. While passion could be seen as the backbone, curiousity and ambition are drivers to reach the vision. A vision Siegrist has stayed true to since the start. Remember what Thomas said in his early years: “I want to make great wine, quality wine”.
To be continued…
You first read the story “There must be an angel” on Lovely Wine Grapes. All posts on Lovely Wine Grapes about our visit to Weingut Siegrist in March 2015: