Weingut Leitz - Rudesheim, Rheingau Wine
There’s no sensible excuse as to why it’s taken me so long to compose a profile for Weingut Leitz. It’s not because of a lackluster history and it’s certainly not because of uninspiring wine. A possibility is that Leitz’ international prestige exceeds that of our other German growers thereby rendering written promotion less essential, but this too is an insufficient reason for me to deprive you of my own garrulous diatribe. Most tenably, and at the expense of sounding pathetically sentimental, it’s because Leitz Rieslings, the unique vineyards in which they grow and the wonderful people who bring them to fruition mean so much to me in ways that are so integral to my existence that it hadn’t occurred to me to promote such things in writing. Perhaps subconsciously, the importance of the wines have seemed too obvious to write about – like an article on the importance of oxygen.
For those tolerant (and unoccupied) enough to keep reading, the modern story of Weingut Leitz has it’s beginnings in the mid-60’s when Johannes Leitz’ father passed away, leaving his mother to manage her flower shop, tend to the family’s vineyards and raise 2-year-old Johannes all by herself. Johannes took over the wine estate in 1985 and little by little, as finances allowed, he refurbished the winery, constructed new cellars and most importantly, purchased vineyard parcels that became available to him. Almost 30 years later, he possesses what you might call a fearlessly simple approach to ushering wine into being. Not to be lazily dismissive, but the work in the vineyard is just what you’d expect from a quality-conscious grower. This includes the use of cover-crops, restricting yields and hand-harvesting (and Johannes claims that he was the first in Rüdesheim to cordon-train and is still the only one to point the cane up the hill). In his words, “vineyard applications are 99% organic, but there are already too many regulations in Germany to add more in the form of certification.” Likewise, most of the vinification particulars are somewhat systematic amongst high-quality Riesling producers (with the exceptions of his bottling straight off the gross lees and the rejection of süssreserve) and perhaps instead of deliberating over such details, we should simply consider Johannes an expert at letting the vineyards have their say. However, one lovably Teutonic point of particular note is the fact that any wine fermented in wood is bottled with cork closure just as any fermented in stainless steel are sealed with screwcap.
How does one speak of Leitz without also speaking of Rüdesheim? The village boasts the Rheingau’s steepest and warmest slopes where botrytis is a rarity, marking the western end of the region before the Rhein River flows northwards again. Sandy loess segues into grey slate and clay which give way to quartzite and red slate with several combinations thereof over a distance that one can easily walk in 45 minutes. These disparities, combined with differences of aspect, slope and altitude allows Leitz’ wines to speak in several different dialects and intonations while only employing one grape and an extremely limited area of land. You get the regal, red-fruited Berg Roseneck, the penetrating minerality of Berg Schlossberg, the playful, appley Magdalenenkreuz, the tropicality and tension of Drachenstein (Dragonstone), the laserbeam salinity of Berg Kaisersteinfels and the broodingly flamboyant Berg Rottland. Qualitative comparisons are completely pointless – instead one should rejoice that the terroir transparency of a single grape from a single village can reveal so much in a single growing season! Johannes Leitz is the foremost custodian of these historically celebrated vineyards and there are few pleasures that compete with a visit to his estate: the traversing of these gorgeous and dramatic slopes followed by a tasting of the impossible disparities in the glass is an otherworldly experience.
Meeting Johannes now, one might assume that such a gregarious and affable character was groomed to be the Leitz brand ambassador - that perhaps there’s a father or brother at home doing all the work while the eloquent and articulate salesman is out promoting. Nothing could be further from the truth; the man has single-handedly built his reputation from the ground up having spent the last 30 years turning the family business into one of the world’s greatest sources of white wine. Amongst a portfolio of truly exciting Riesling producers, here are some of the most noteworthy points regarding Leitz:
- The estate is perplexingly successful at maintaining high levels of quality for what is a somewhat sizable operation. In other words, these are wines rife with artisanal character and charm, and yet the less expensive bottlings are available in generous supply.
- These wines present some of the greatest values in the wine world. It must be conceded that a ludicrously subjective viewpoint prompts this comment, but I feel that Eins-Zwei-Dry and Dragonstone are the most complex and compelling wines for their pricepoints available in Alberta. At the upper end of the range, a single-vineyard wine from Rüdesheim’s steepest slopes will stir your soul and exponentially improve your dismal existence, and yet if you’re reading this on your own computer, then you can afford the $48 to try one out if you really want to! The first time I stood in the Berg Schlossberg vineyard with Johannes, I said to him, “You’re really not making any money on these wines, are you?” He admitted that such was the case and that the tiny production at the upper-tier was a labor of love. Don’t get me wrong, I love my white Burgundy, but you could purchase a case of Berg Schlossberg for the same price as one bottle of Leflaive’s Chevalier-Montrachet. Such scenarios must be considered.
- Lastly, I can think of very few other German producers (Dönnhoff is one) who have such consistent success in the categories of dry and fruity styles of Riesling simultaneously. Leitz is a master of both and this allied with point #2 also makes his wines some of the most useful in the world.
All this writing and I still feel like I’ve done these wines an injustice. I’m not sure I’d have better success on a different day; I think that the whole essence of Rüdesheim, Leitz and his Rieslings have become so interwoven into my being that I’m too close to them to write academically, yet not linguistically competent enough to provide them with an effective abstract treatment. What I really want is to take you there, to share a few old bottles and a couple of schnitzels at the Central Hotel. To suffer insomnia as a consequence of unyielding excitement of the surroundings and to walk to the Ehrenfels Castle as the sun rises. To meet Johannes, to experience his joviality, honesty and hospitality and to taste his wines in their hometown amongst the steep, terraced hills of Rüdesheim, the “Magic Mountain.“
In the end, none of these things want to be written about – a Leitz wine, like any great wine, isn’t concerned with being assessed and promoted. It wants to be paired with your food and shared with your friends, it wants to quench your thirst and raise your spirits, it wants to be drank and enjoyed.