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For knowledgeable German wine drinkers, Willi Schaefer is the Maestro of the Mittel Mosel, revered for the brilliant Rieslings he makes from two of the region’s greatest vineyards, Graacher Domprobst and Graacher Himmelreich.
What the cognoscente know is that Schaefer’s wines are among the Mosel’s most achingly beautiful, ethereally perfumed and laser-like in the expression of their great terroirs. And these qualities have placed them among the region’s most sought-after.
As John Gilman has written, “it is very evident when one is attending the annual VDP auctions in Trier that Weingut Willi Schaefer has now reached the very pinnacle of great estates on the Mosel, with many of the most sophisticated connoisseurs of German wines now pursuing the wines of the Schaefer family with the same passion as they do the wines of Egon Müller, Dr. Manfred Prüm and Hanno Zilliken.
In charge of his family’s estate since 1973, Schaefer draws on the accumulated wisdom of his many predecessors as Graach winegrowers dating back to the 16th century, following a traditional path of farming and winemaking to fashion Rieslings of extraordinary purity and finesse.
These captivating qualities are well known to Schaefer’s ardent followers; aware of the Weingut’s small size and tiny production, they’ve learned to keep quiet about their discovery.
Even still, there is never enough; the estate has a mere 4 hectares under vine, and makes only about 2000 cases annually of all of their 15+ bottlings for the entire world.
From the rare, dry Graacher Himmelreich Grosses Gëwachs to the even more scarce Eisweins and Beerenauslesen, everything that Willi and his son Christoph make is a quintessential example of the weightless intensity and haunting perfume that sets the Mosel’s Rieslings apart from all others.
Yet, for the estate’s fervent devotees—and in keeping with Willi’s and Christoph’s intent to fashion Rieslings that are “elegant, transparent and full of character”—it is with their Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese bottlings that the Schaefer genius for purity and finesse is best articulated.
Given their astonishing transparency, it all begins with two great, adjacent Grosse Lagen, ”great growths,” analogous to France’s Grands Crus—Domprobst and Himmelreich—in the Schaefer’s home village of Graach.
From these two sites, which look straight down on Graach’s rooftops from their nearly vertical slopes of blue-grey Devonian slate, Willi and Christoph produce Rieslings that capture the essence of the Mittel Mosel, highly finessed and elegant, yet also intense and complex.
And in the Schaefer’s skilled hands, the differences between these adjacent terroirs—sharing an ideal south-southwest exposure—are rendered with startling clarity, revealing their complementary natures.
Himmelreich, which extends further up the steep slope, is the less powerful and earlier to mature of the two, and more fruit-driven in its expression than Domprobst, whose more sheltered position directly above Graach produces a brooding, structured Riesling, unfurling with age in wines of stunning nuance and texture.
Himmelreich’s particular fruit character also makes it—in Willi and Christoph’s view—better suited to the estate’s rare trocken cuvées.
Vital to the breathtaking intensity and purity of the Schaefer’s Domprobst and Himmelreich Rieslings is their insistence on keeping the estate small. At just four hectares, equally divided between the two, Willi and Christoph are able to keep a close eye on their vines, despite the fact that they are planted in more than 100 numbered parcels.
They also benefit from the concentration and complexity of ancient, ungrafted vines, some up a century in age, providing an extraordinarily pure transmission of their terroir. In both vineyard and cellar, father and son rely on instinct and experience, rather than analysis, to make the most of what the vintage has produced.
The decision to harvest is based on tasting, as is what classification a given lot is best suited for. In the cellar the Schaefers work much as their ancestors did, fermenting with the native yeasts—”a part of the terroir” as they said to Gilman—in old neutral fuder, followed by lees-aging in the same vessel.
Minimalists in the extreme, Willi and Christoph intervene as little as possible, allowing each fuder to take its time in achieving the perfect harmony that is the hallmark of their wines. This ideal balance is why the Schaefer Rieslings can be enjoyed young for their sheer youthful power and exuberance, or can be put away for 20-30 years to savor their unmistakable elegance and class.
|2012||2012 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese #11||
|2016||2016 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese (#11)||JG93||12||$89.95||add|
|2018||2018 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Beerenauslese 375 mL||375 mL||JG97||3||$285.00||add|
|2011||2011 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spatlese #10||WA95||4||$79.96||add|
|2017||2017 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spatlese||3||$59.95||add|
|2012||2012 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett||1||$39.95||add|
|2018||2018 Willi Schaefer Graacher Riesling Trocken||5||$29.95||add|
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