Immich-Batterieberg is one of the oldest wineries in the Mosel; originally founded by a Carolingian monastery, it can be traced back to the year 911. In 1495, the Immich family purchased the property, producing traditional dry and off-dry wines under their name for almost 500 years. In 1989, the estate was sold to a new owner, and the style of winemaking quickly shifted: long, spontaneous barrel fermentations were replaced with stainless steel, cultured yeasts and micro-filtration. The resulting wines became sleeker, fruitier and more modern.
After filing for bankruptcy in 2007, the estate was reacquired in 2009 by Gernot Kollmann and two Hamburg based investors. Gernot is one of Germany's finest up and comers, and no stranger to the Mosel: since his first internship at Dr. Loosen in the early 90's, he's also worked for Weingut Van Volxem (4 vintages: 2000-2003) and Knebel (2004-2008). Since taking over, the wines are once again produced in a dry or off-dry style, with sugar levels depending on each site, each vintage. All of the Cru wines are once again being vinified separately in old oak barrels; spontaneous fermentations are the norm and chaptalization, re/de-acidification or any other intervention during vinification is forbidden. Sulfur is added in low doses and only before bottling.
As far as the sites and terroirs, they are amongst some of the best in the middle Mosel. 80% of the vines are un-grafted and over 60 years old, and everything is worked organically (though not certified). 4 Cru bottlings are produced:
Steffensberg is on a side valley behind the village of Enkirch, and is characterized by deeper, softer soil composed of copper heavy red slate.
Batterieberg is a 1.1 h monopole within the Zeppwingert, and also the place that gives the estate its namesake: it was Carl August Immich's decision to dynamite this hill between 1841 and 1845 which permitted him to create terraces and plant vines (Batterieberg translates to Battered Mountain). The slate here is grey and very rocky, with a heavy amount of quartz.
To the right of Batterieberg is Gernot's parcel from the Zeppwingert Cru. The soil is darker here.
Finally, 150m further to the right is the Ellergrub. Gernot considers this his best vineyard. Here, you find the classic blue slate of the middle Mosel.
Two Mosel blends are also produced, the C.A.I and Escheburg. C.A.I (named after Carl August Immich) is a blend of the bottom rows of Batterieberg and purchased fruit from un-grafted, organic vineyards. Escheburg is a blend of the "b selection" grapes that don't make it into the Cru bottlings.
This interview with Gernot Kollmann took place at the Immich-Batterieberg house in February, 2013.
Tell us about Immich-Batterieberg's past and present.
Immich-Batterieberg is one of the oldest wineries in the Mosel. The earliest documents we have trace it back to the year 911. It was originally founded by a Carolingian owner that belonged to a monastery, and the base of the cellar is from the end of the 9th century (around 870). The family that gave its name to the winery took over in 1495 and owned it up until 1989.
Did the winery have a name before?
We do not know. But it was not common for wineries to have names in medieval times.
What happened after 1989?
There was another owner who went bankrupt in 2007. We took over in in beginning of 2009.
If I'm not mistaken, this owner drastically changed the style of the wines...
There was definitely a stylistic shift in the wines. The crus were being co-fermented in stainless steel, cultured yeasts were being used and the wines were in a more fruity style... We're bringing things back to the winery's roots: more wooden barrels, spontaneous fermentations, and a less reductive style.
Did this new style hurt the estate's reputation?
Honestly, there wasn't really any reputation left to speak of. We started fresh, with a completely new customer base. At the moment, not one merchant who used to buy the wines has recontacted us, and only 3 or 4 consumers from the old days still visit and buy a few bottles!
If it was a totally new start, why keep the original name of the winery?
Because the original name is so closely linked to the Batterieberg vineyard, but also because we wanted to use to classic 16th century label. In the end, the reason we are here is because the wines were so fantastic in the past. We wanted to show that we are not a new winery, but an old one!
What were you doing before Immich-Batterieberg?
Wine was a hobby for me, and I originally wanted to practice medicine. I worked in a hospital for a few years, but my hobby grew stronger and I eventually made the decision to pursue wine full time in 1991. My first internship was at Dr Loosen. I then studied oenology and marketing. When I finished my studies, I knew I had to return to the Mosel. I worked at a very large winery in Trier for 3 years, then four vintages at Weingut Van Volxem (2000 to 2003). I then left in July 2004 to start a winery consulting business.
How did working with these other wineries affect your own viticultural and winemaking choices?
When I started with Van Volxem in 2000, there was no use of enzymes or selected yeasts. Working this way produces a style of more open and lively wines, and I would not be able to go back to cultured yeasts: today, most wines made this way bore me. There is no de-acidification in the winery, and we would never chaptalize.
What's the work like in the vines?
We are working on extremely steep terraced vineyards. No tractor or horse could ever maneuver through them, so all of the soil work has to be done by hand. This makes working organically very challenging. It's a hard fight, but I believe it is necessary. If you care about the soil, it will shine through in the bottle. There are so many types of grasses and herbs in these rocky vineyards, and I think they bring an innumerable amount of nuance to the wine. We will not stop working this way.
Let's talk about the sites you work with and the wines they produce.
We should start by explaining the C.A.I, which is named after Carl August Immich. His decision to dynamite the hill and create terraces between 1841 and 1845 is what gives our winery its name (note: Batterieberg translates to Battered Mountain). We produce this with our young vines but also from the base of the Batterieberg vineyard. We also purchase fruit from really good sites of un-grafted, organically tended vines that resemble what is grown around Enkirch. So this wine is a Mosel blend, but from really good sites.
As far as the Cru wines, we produce the Batterieberg, Ellergrub, Steffensberg, and Zeppwingert. But like most wineries in the world, we don't use 100% of the grapes from each site to produce each cuvée. We only use the grapes from the best terraces and the oldest vines. For example, we use about 50% of the Batterieberg vineyard to produce the Batterieberg label. The rest goes partly into the C.A.I, and partly into the Escheberg cuvée, which I would describe as the best "b selection" grapes from Batterieberg, Ellergrub and Steffensberg.
Most of the vines are older and un-grafted, right?
80% of our vines are un-grafted, and the vines are minimum 60 years old in Steffenberg and minimum 80 years old in the other Crus. It's hard to know exactly when they were planted.
So phylloxera never affected the Mosel?
It did, but special vineyards all over the Mosel have not been touched. We still aren't quite sure why, but when they are very steep and stony, the vines fare better. In such you find a lot of un-grafted vines in the Mosel.
What are the soil compositions and micro-climates you are working with?
We have 4 different sites, and clearly their commonality is slate soils. Steffensberg is on a side valley behind the village, with deeper, softer soil composed of more copper red slate. It is also the warmest vineyard we work.
Then we have Batterieberg, which is a monopole within the Zeppwingert. It has bigger stones because it's our youngest vineyard (dating back to the mid 19th century), and the rock hasn't eroded as much. The slate here is grey and very rocky, with a heavy amount of quartz.
To the right of Batterieberg, we have the parcel we vinify the Zeppwingert with. The soil is darker here, and you can certainly taste the difference in the wines.
Finally, 150m further, we have Ellergrub. I consider this our best vineyard. Here there are fine slate plates and you have the classic blue slate of the middle Mosel.
Why do you not use the Pradikat system?
We designate the C.A.I as a Kabinett only to show that it was not chaptalized and that we are intentionally producing a light, low alcohol wine. The maximum alcohol we want for this wine is 11.5%.
For us, it makes no sense to systematically follow this system. We want to show an expression of a vineyard, and because of our low yields we never have ripeness problems. In such, the Crus are designated as QbA, but would fall under Spatlese or Auslese. In certain vintages we produce noble sweet wines, and these will be labeled Auslese. But this is not the focus of the winery, and I am happy with every grape we harvest that isn't botrytised; we are lucky that our climate mostly avoids this.
At what point do you add sulfur to the wines?
We sulfur very late, just before bottling. We also make an effort to use the lowest amount possible. The wines spend a very long time on their lees in barrel, so it is not necessary to add any before bottling.
How do you feel about the current context of Mosel wine?
In the Mosel, I think there are two different philosophies of production. One is the more "classic" style, but it's only been classic for around 40 years. I am of course referring to the Pradikat style of sweet, fruity or noble sweet whites. I consider these to be very good an interesting interpretation of the Mosel.
On the other hand, others have decided to rediscover dryer Mosel wines, which was the norm before modern winemaking techniques like micro-filtration. For us, we wanted to go back to this style.
How does a region with such a long and rich winemaking history shift styles so drastically?
Market demand. At the end of the 60's, sweeter wines were what people wanted to drink, and this led to about 95% of Mosel wines being produced in a sweeter style. But then in the mid 80's there was a counter movement, specifically in Germany, where people only wanted bone-dry wines. Immediately, the style shifted. Today, the sweet wines have stayed popular on the export market, while the dry wines are still what people prefer to drink in Germany.
But my goal with Immich-Batterieberg is to express a vineyard, not pander to a specific market.
What do you like to drink?
There are so many wines in this world! I don't care much about grape varieties: Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are only as interesting as the place they come from. And that does not mean they are always interesting, and should be planted everywhere! I'm interested in focused, balanced wines with natural acidity. I look for an expression of purity, and this is something you can find from all over the world.
This visit to Weingut Immich-Batterieberg took place in February, 2013.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Jake Halper and Josefa Concannon.
After 10 days in the Loire, it was time to say goodbye to France. After a fun last night in Paris, a small group of us took the train to Luxembourg, rented some cars and headed straight to the village of Enkirch to meet with Gernot Kollmann of Immich-Batterieberg.
Immich-Batterieberg is an estate with a long and interesting history, which you can read all about on THE BRAND SPANKING NEW IMMMICH-BATTERIEBERG PROFILE! Also featured is a BRAND SPANKING NEW interview with Gernot Kollmann; his tone remains humble and understated throughout, but make no mistake: the guy is one of the most forward-thinking winemakers in Germany.
We arrived in the late afternoon, so we started the visit by tasting some 2012's from tank and barrel.
Notes on the vintage: overall production was down 50% from 2011, which in itself was a low yielding year. By purchasing fruit, Gernot was able to produce as much C.A.I and Escheburg as last year. In a statement that echoed what we heard and tasted over and over again in the Loire, Gernot confirmed that he was very happy with the wines of 2012, and that the quality of the vintage will be excellent.
Fermentations are very slow this year, particularly the barrel stuff. We started by tasting three separate stainless steel tanks of pre-blended C.A.I. Each was produced with purchased fruit from three separate sites. The first had a nice balance between acidity and sugar, the second was much more acidic and dry and the third was round and mineral. They were all disjointed on their own (let's not forget they were unfinished), but based on their individual characteristics, I'm sure the blend will come together nicely.
All the Cru wines are fermented and aged in barrel.
We tasted Ellergrub, Steffensberg, Batterieberg, as well as Zeppwingert, which has about 15% botrytis this vintage. We then got to check out the original cellar, which dates back to 870 (no, not 1870. 870!).
After visiting the cellar, we retried the 2011's and had an epic dinner. Gernot is a great cook, and he decided to go all out with local dishes, including yet another wild boar hunted in the vineyard and served into our plates, aka my favorite trend of these trips. Seriously, this started with Dora Forsoni making us wild boar stew in 2011, and since then we have been served wild boar at François Cazin's, Bernard Baudry, Luneau-Papin (twice), Pépière (twice, in paté form) and I'm forgetting at least two other places. Bottom line: wild boars in three different countries eat the grapes of our livelihood, so we must eat them in retaliation. Fact.
Katharina Prüm was there, and she kept pulling out bottles from the early 2000's. She also made dessert: a lovely apple tart. The meal ended with a humongous platter of cheese Gernot had purchased in Angers, and more interestingly a bottle of 1959 Immich-Batterieberg. We drank a lot of old vintages that were full of life this trip, and this bottle was a particularly good example. The acidity, color and focus was just incredible, and I would never have guessed the wine was that old on taste/smell alone.
Two days later, we returned to visit the vineyards, starting with the Batterieberg site.
Batterieberg is a monopole within the Zeppwingert vineyard. It was formed by Carl August Immich, who chose to dynamite this part of the hill between 1841 and 1845 in order to create terraces and plant vines. This is also what gives the estate its name, as Batterieberg tranlsates to Battered Mountain. It's also the youngest vineyard in the estate. Gernot has recently purchased some old, abandoned terraces around here, but it will take some time before anything is replanted, since the walls need to be rebuilt.
The base of Batterieberg was replanted in the 90's by the previous owner, and were grafted on a rootstock Gernot disproves of.
"Back then no one cared about vines and rootstock, just quantity."
As a result, this lower part is blended into the C.A.I. In the future, everything that Gernot replants will be in selection massale: most from Immich-Batterieberg vines but also from another estate in the Saar.
In total, Batterieberg represents 1.1 hectares; 0.6 go into the Batterieberg bottling.
Last summer, we got to ride up on this bad boy.
These are not designed for human beings to ride on, and this is what it looks like when you do it anyway:
At around the 22 second mark, notice how the ride gets A LOT steeper, resulting in my "I'm smiling but kind of terrified" face.
Here are some pics from when we got midway to the top.
The majority of these vines are on their original rootstock and over 80 years old.
We then took a drive up to visit the Ellergrub site, which Gernot considers his finest vineyard. To get there, we had to navigate through this narrow path:
At 1.4 h, this is the biggest single vineyard in Immich. The soil here is the poorest, and the yields are very low, averaging 25 hl/h.