Husband-and-wife team of Hans-Bert and Silke Wolf are making inspired, delicate and polished Pinot Noirs in a region dominated by heavy, cumbersome, oak-and-alcohol-laden Pinot Noirs that taste, well, often not so much like Pinot Noir.
What’s most relevant is the scale, the human scale, of this operation. In a region overrun by mega-sized, agriculture/industrial cooperatives, Hans-Bert and Silke farm their own few hectares of vines with great care, making only a little bit of wine, with great care.
But ignoring the cooperatives for a moment, if you’ve heard anything about “quality” German Pinot Noir and Baden as a whole, you’ve likely heard someone say “Kaiserstuhl.” This region in Baden – a collection of volcanic hills toward the south – is where the “famous” German Pinots have come from, at least in the last few decades. It’s a hot place, and twenty years ago this factor was probably important for ripening. Not so much anymore, let’s just say that. Although the region is trying to redefine itself, for many the “Kaiserstuhl” has become synonymous with over-oaked, unbalanced and high-alcohol Pinot Noir – as if success for German red wine would be achieving the international plushness of Merlot grown in Portugal.
The vineyards of Hans-Bert and Silke are north of the Kaiserstuhl. To be fair, they’re only about a half-hour north. But a lot changes in those thirty-or-so minutes. First, you have a much cooler microclimate, with the Black Forest cooling down the area. Second, the volcanic soils of the Kaiserstuhl give way to limestone and loess. You can likely see where this is going: Pinot Noirs with lower alcohols and higher acidities.
The “Spätburgunder” is the middle-tier, maybe Premier Cru-quality wine. While everything in the vineyard is the same for all the Pinots, the Spätburgunder sees more of the older barrels for its élevage, thus it tends to be a bit lighter and higher-toned. It is a stunning wine and a profound value.