WAGNER-STEMPEL – SIEFERSHEIM, RHEINHESSEN
Daniel Wagner is the current generation in a long line of Western Rheinhessen polycultural farmers but the first to dedicate the vast majority of his efforts to the cultivation of the unique viticultural potential surrounding his home village of Siefersheim. When he made his first vintage in 1993, the Rheinhessen was still thought of as a bulk-wine district with very minor exceptions made for a few special cases in the eastern extreme – namely Nackenheim, Nierstein and Oppenheim. Like the rest of the region, Siefersheim was only really important for dairy and cereal farming as well as the production of the dreaded Liebfraumilch (last spring I was shown vineyards farmed by Wagner’s neighbours that were planted to dubious grape varieties and harvested at far beyond 120 hectolitres per hectare!). The catalyst for Wagner-Stempel’s pursuit of quality were holdings in two unquestionably great sites – the Höllberg and Heerkretz vineyards, the latter being the steepest and highest elevated site in the Rheinhessen.
Germany’s quality grower’s association (known to us Anglophones simply as the VDP) consisted of a crusty cast of characters in the ‘90’s and Wagner-Stempel’s induction with the simultaneous elevation of their two key vineyards to Grand Cru status was a long time coming and took a significant amount of work on Daniel’s part – the old guard could not fathom the idea of such quality coming from “Liebfraumilch country” until they looked ludicrous trying to deny it. I guess they systematically ignored the fact that you can see Bad Kreuznach from the top of the Höllberg and that about 25 minutes to the west, Dönnhoff crafts some of the world’s most legendary white wines from similar porphyry-based soils in the Nahe.
Siefersheim feels like it’s off the beaten path, and one can appreciate the tranquility and relax there. My first visit was in 2011, shortly after the bottling of the 2010 vintage and the wines destroyed me, even more devastatingly than I had anticipated. They were humming, buzzing, crackling creatures with some of the most vivid and haunting flavours that I have encountered. I have made a habit of visiting Daniel and his right-hand man Oliver Müller in Siefersheim each spring since with each lineup of wines working their way into my dreams in the weeks that followed; insomnia inspired by liquid Siefersheim!