This small 4 hectare Mosel wine estate commands a well deserved reputation for producing consistently excellent, fine wines. The philosophy of Willi Schaefer and his son, Christoph, is simple – they aim to make their wines as gently as possible, treating the fruit, must and resultant wines with respect. As such, all their wines are treated in exactly the same way in the vineyard and the winery, from QbA to QmP.
In the vineyard there is a meticulous attention to detail and all practices are carried out by hand. The emphasis is placed on healthy, balanced vines producing healthy, balanced fruit. At harvest they aim to be flexible, assessing each plot individually, tasting the grapes regularly and picking them at the optimum time. They are incredibly selective, often passing through each parcel on numerous occasions during the 4-5 weeks of picking.
In the winery they work using gravity, an approach Christoph feels is important to retain the nuances of fruit and terroir character in the wines. Pressing is carried out in a pneumatic press that can be altered to take different size parcels. This allows each pressing to be gentle, slow and steady so the juice is not too phenolic or harsh. In addition, throughout the pressing they taste the must continually and stop as soon as they feel flavour or structure alter.
All the juice is settled naturally in tanks at the ambient temperature of the cellars. The clean must is then racked into large, old barrels for fermentation. During fermentation tasting, once again, plays a crucial role. They taste each barrel regularly to decide when it will be best to stop fermentation. The same applies during the élevage – if a wine needs more time to evolve it remains in barrel, but if it feels ready or it is a fruit dominated vintage, it may be racked to stainless steel tank a little earlier.
The Schaefer’s believe that fermenting in wood results in wines that are naturally more integrated in character. As such they maintain their barrels with typical care and attention. No chemicals are used during the cleaning process, just very hot water. Prior to harvest the barrels are filled with water for 2-3 days, they then taste the water and discard and barrels that have imparted any bad flavours.
The personality of the vineyards comes through the final wine with clarity and precision. In Himmelreich the fruit it to the forefront and the minerality is less overt, so the wines usually convey a sense of accessibility and immediate pleasure. That said they are no slouches when it comes to ageing capacity.
The Domprobst displays more overt slate notes, with earthy minerality dominating and a more obviously linear form that clearly needs time to show its full potential. These opposing vinous characters owe their personalities to the soils on which they are grown. The deep, grey-blue Devonian slate soil that they share embodies subtle differences at each site. In Himmelreich it is lighter in texture and structure, whereas in Domprobst there is more shale and stone.