A bottle of 1990 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Auslese, tasted in 1992, made the young Daniel Vollenweider, a Swiss guy with no family connection to winemaking, decide he wanted to make wine in the Mosel.
No matter how critical this sacred bottle of Egon Müller was to the young Vollenweider, two things cannot be doubted: 1) It takes more than a bottle of wine to drive a person to this sort of Mosel-fanaticism and 2) The story after this sacred Auslese is the more interesting narrative.
In 1999, after a number of winemaking stints in Germany and further abroad, Vollenweider purchased a small, one-hectare plot of vines in the once-famous Wolfer Goldgrube. This is prime Middle Mosel real-estate, a site with historic fame. The Goldgrube also happens to have a genetic gold mine of old, un-grafted vines up to and beyond 80 years old. Yet, as with so many of these sacred places, the Goldgrube was going slowly fallow (or, at the very least, under-performing) because it had no author to write its story, no one to sing its song.
And then someone like Daniel comes along and things change, completely.
In his first few vintages, Daniel’s focus was almost exclusively on sweet wines; the results were extraordinary. The wines showcased an explosive energy, glossy and kaleidoscopic mid-palates with a sternly Germanic definition and detail. In 2003, Daniel was awarded the winemaking “Discovery of the Year” by the influential wine publication Gault Millau. As early as 2005 Riesling dorks in the U.S. were already talking about the wines – if you could find a rare bottle of Vollenweider to bring to an event, well, you were the shit. Even though by 2009 the Gault Millau had ranked Daniel at four stars, at the same level with heavy-weights Karthäuserhof, Schloss Lieser, Willi Schaefer and Zilliken, the financial collapse of 2007/2008 had already all but destroyed his export business.
It’s time to begin this story again because few people make Mosel Rieslings with more intensity. You would call these Rieslings Baroque if they weren’t so delineated, so defined. These wines are glossy multiplicities of fruit ravished by slate and acidity.
The winemaking philosophy is as simple as it gets, there are no short cuts, no compromises. The estate is 100% Riesling and 100% steep vineyards awash with slate. The work is all done by hand and the vinification is as hands-off as possible. That’s it.
Daniel clearly has “the touch” for sweet wines – these are among the most thrilling Prädikat wines you will ever taste. They are full-throttle Rieslings with dense mid-palates and seductive curves. They have weight, yet they also have 100,000 volts of electricity coursing through them and this gives them a lift, a verve, a length that is, well, uncommon.
Daniel’s dry Rieslings have only more recently begun to receive the credit they deserve – for me personally the 2014 vintage was a breakthrough. These wines shed a bit of the gloss, yet the textural density and richness remain, all finely spun with mineral, slate and salt.