Sep 29, 2014

Alter Satz - Heritage of biodiversity

Two traditional wine bottles of Franconia called Bocksbeutel
Traditional Franconian Bocksbeutel bottles
In 1835 first European settlers landed on the north banks of the Yarra River, Australia, in California the gold rush began and in Franconia, Germany, a small vineyard was planted with at least 35 different grape varieties.

A lot changed since then, Yarra Valley became a spot on the map of wine regions, wine became the new gold in California but the small vineyard in Franconia remained as it was back then. Almost forgotten, for god’s sake, too far apart from other vineyards to merge with and too far for Phylloxera to reach, so that there was no need for clearing and grubbing it. Almost 180 years later the vines still produce grapes and thankfully there is a vintner – Otmar Zang of Sommerach - who is anxious to preserve this heritage by caring for this vineyard called “Rimbacher Landsknecht”.

The Gemischter Satz - farmers perils insurance

What today seems completely absurd, to plant in one vineyard 35 different varieties, was back then in Franconia the norm. A so called “Gemischter Satz” (mixed planting) was the perils insurance for the farmer to harvest at least something even in years with bad weather conditions, and there were lots of those back then. Even if some grapes would not ripen others would. And not to forget, the vast biodiversity is a perfect measure of pest management because pests and diseases can’t specialize on certain plants.

No surprise, the wine made from this vineyard is outstanding. The diversity of varieties translates into an overwhelming complexity. The aroma is rather weak in the intensity, without clearly defined peaks, but is composed of too many different impressions to describe it comprehensively. Furthermore it is almost senseless to describe the taste of this wine because it would never be the same again. All 35 varieties are harvested together, this means that each vintage is different. What almost certainly will retain in each vintage is the pleasant minerality which originates from the 30 to 50 ft. deep rootage of the vines in the shell limestone of this area. A distinct acidity is also characteristic for Franconia and so it is for this wine.

The wine is called “Alter Satz” which refers both to the old (German: “alt”) vines as well as to the “Gemischter Satz”, the mixed planting. “Satz” also translates into “sentence” or “phrase” which is a nice analogy. In other words, a single grape variety is like a violin but a “Gemischter Satz” is an orchestra.

You are interested in what grape varieties are planted there, well so is Otmar Zang as well. Of the 35 different varieties there are only 16 identified yet. Even the experts of the Federal Research Institute of viticulture (Bundesforschungsanstalt für Rebzüchtung) could not identify the remaining 19 definitely. Predominant is the oldest German variety “Elbling” which almost disappeared from today’s wine lists. Of course the Franconian signature grape the green Silvaner can be found there but also its less known sisters yellow and red Silvaner. Others are e.g. Aligote, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, Riesling, Heunisch, Muscateller, Traminer and Gutedel (Chasselas) varieties.

Now, did I water your mouth? If so, then I am deeply sorry to tell you that you need to come over to Franconia to taste it. There are only about 2.000 Bocksbeutel filled each year of this precious wine. But in this case precious does not automatically mean expensive. The 2013 “Alter Satz”, Rimbacher Landsknecht, Franken is listed with 13,50 EUR for the 0,75 liter Bocksbeutel bottle.