In these dog days of summer, my mind is still in Germany. And it’s not just a Riesling thing. My whirlwind trip in June has left a trail of indelible images and experiences, including a chat with winemaker Juliane Eller.
Germany is in the midst of a youthful revolution, which is turning the industry on its ear. It’s a unique situation, unlike any that I’ve seen elsewhere.
Juliane Eller explains
When she returned from her studies at Geisenheim, in 2013 (then aged 23), she wasted little time in suggesting to her parents it was time for a change.
“Two days after I came home, I said to my mum and dad: ‘Let’s change everything! Are you with me?’ And they said: ‘Yes. Let’s do it!’ And now we are growing together.”
Eller says: “It’s a family business. And I now handle the cellar on my own.”
Even though it was challenging at the outset, she’s comfortable with the way things turned out; and is truly grateful for her parents’ support.
“It’s a really positive feeling that they are so behind me,” she says. With three vintages under her belt, she has an air of confidence that can only come from being given such a hands-on opportunity.
Juliane is the winemaker and runs the cellar. Her sister, Katharina, oversees the tasting room and marketing.
The transition from the older to younger generation is complete, embodied in the updated look and JuWel brand that Eller conceived. She suggests that the name is more than just a play on her own name. The idea of the simple, clean lined diamond logo that accompanies it is a reference to polishing the ‘jewel in the rough.’
A new spirit
“The change is working very positively,” says the winemaker, who says the exchange of ideas between her peers is also tremendously helpful.
“There’s a new spirit of collaboration in the younger generation. It’s not only the young winemakers who are transforming Germany but also the young wine drinkers. So many young people are interested in Riesling but they’re also interested in exploring Grau Burgunder and other varieties.”
Also, young women like her are increasingly coming to the fore.
Eller notes that nine of her Geisenheim classmates were women, from Rheinhessen, Mosel, Pfalz and elsewhere.
When their prof. asked what was next, after graduation, she says the response was unanimous.
“Nine girls raised their hands and said they were going to start their own business, or go home and work in the family business.”
A Wine Revolution
It didn’t happen by accident. ‘Generation Riesling’ was the catchy marketing theme Germany came up with to reinvent itself. That was 10 years ago. It was a pretty smart idea. My hunch is that it turned out to be way smarter than maybe even the German Wine Institute imagined possible.
The idea was to celebrate young winemakers coming to the fore. Believe me, there’s no shortage of them.
The one prerequisite: to stay ‘in the club’ you have to be younger than 35. Anyone crossing that threshold is automatically ‘retired’; put out to winemaker pasture, wherever that might be.
In an industry where people take decades to explore and develop ideas, the notion was pretty radical. What I find gratifying is how the older generation appears so willing to embrace the ambition of youth on a broad scale.
The current crop of Generation Riesling stars is even younger than ever. More to the point, as Juliane Eller notes, more and more are women. When it comes to removing the notorious (wine) glass ceiling, Germany is streaks ahead of the rest of the world (except perhaps Chile).
In 2006, the original London event launched Generation Riesling with 25 winemakers. Today there’s 530, and counting. That’s impressive.
In reshaping her parents’ vineyard business into JuWel (Juliane Eller Weine), Eller decided to focus on five varieties: Riesling, Weiss Burgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grau Burgunder (Pinot Gris), Silvaner and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). That too was a recurring theme on my trip: the ‘new’ Germany is about a whole lot more than solely Riesling.
Eller has moved entirely to hand-picking and is transitioning to certified organic. Her 10,000 case annual production currently sells out.
I’m hoping, at some point, we’ll see JuWel wines here in BC. From packaging to in the glass, they express a clean and modern style.
Reviews (for Quench magazine)
• Juliane Eller JuWel Weissburgunder Trocken 2015 (Rheinhessen). From 35 year old vines on limestone. Lifted tropical, lychee and stone fruit precede a fresh and fruity palate of grapefruit and zesty notes. c. $23, 91 pts.
• Juliane Eller JuWel Grauburgunder Trocken 2015 (Rheinhessen) Apple and orchard fruits announce a bright, fruit driven and quite creamy, mouth filling palate. Good length and vibrant acidity before a clean end. c. $23, 90 pts.
• Juliane Eller JuWel Riesling Trocken 2015 (Rheinhessen). Up front lemon lime proclaims a well balanced palate. Citrus and orchard fruits underpinned by fresh, structured acidity. c. $23, 90 pts.
(All prices approximate.)