So as you know mustard seed is not the only thing that grows out in them there fields. Europe also likes its grape juice, …it’s fermented grape juice. Yes, wine.
Earlier this year, Rachel and were given the opportunity to make reservations for a private Wine Tasting event in a neighboring region. And as Rachel and my respective educations on wine basically starts with Manischewitz and ends at Bartles and Jaymes (“…and thank you for your support”), we jumped at it. The reservations, made over 5 months ago, were for this past weekend. So, intellectual expressions affixed on our faces and pinkies pointed firmly in the air, Rachel and went on a bit of a wine sabbatical to the town of Bad Munster, Germany.
Wine out here in Europe is *literally* cheaper than bottled water. Where Rachel and I are situated here in western Germany, we are only 20 minutes from the border into southern France. You can buy cases of this stuff for penny’s on the Euro out here. With wine tents popping up on the side of the road over every hill, it’s not surprising to find some amazing deals. How about buy one case of wine, and get another free! No kidding, …Welcome to wine country. When Rachel and I drove up to Paris over New Years, we had the chance to tour through Champagne, France and see some of their vineyards. Something special about walking through a field surrounded by grapes that go for $800 a bottle. Here, we find wine for the rest of us. The kind of wine that doesn’t *sparkle* and tickle your nose when you drink, but amazing none the less.
Asking locals here what kind of wine they prefer is pretty much like going into the work place and asking about religion or politics. You will got a very diverse, and always very passionate response from everyone. Talking to people from this part of the world, versus those folks who live in, let’s say, Napa Valley, California would be like comparing Democrats and Republicans. In the end they will just agree to disagree. Still, to true wine connoisseurs there are always certain things you can agree on. Certain regions are best known for certain types of wine, and ultimately your preferences are a matter of taste. Whether or not those tastes are the result of a “less cultivated pallet” as the French often retort, is up for debate, but the point stands.
So, when you hear any group of wine drinkers actually come to a consensus on any particular type of wine, or wine maker, it’s good to listen in. Rachel and I are anything but aficionados in this area, and we know we have our work cut out for us coming up to speed in these parts. And one wine grower whose name came up in several circles, and on a few occasions, was the Jung family of Weingut Jung vineyards. They’ve been in the wine business since 1783., …the same family for a dozen generations.
Well a few weekends a year, this family opens up the gates of their vineyard and invites a few dozen guests into their home, …for the whole weekend. It’s like Willy Wonka and the Wine Factory. The guest list is derived from friends of the family, their best clientele and whomever select few patrons these folks are allowed to bring with them. Typically these “select few patrons” then earn their right to be core invited guests the next year. A few years after that they then earn the right to invite others. An interesting system, not unlike getting season tickets for the Redskins or the Yankees. And, as equally, these invitations are cherished and passed through generations.
Well, as the “friends of the family” and “best clientele” lists are pretty much locked in, the only real way to get an invite is to be a “plus 1.” And this is how Rachel and I came to be invited to Willy Wonkas. Our neighbors were actually “plus 1s” of some old family friends of the Jungs. Actually they were “plus 4’s.” As it happened the other couple couldn’t make it, and Rachel and I were allowed to take their place, even though we had never met either the Jung family or these old family friends. Still, we weren’t ones to argue.
The vineyard was located in the town of Bad Münster a.St.-Ebernburg, a gorgeous Spa town right nestled alongside the mountains in South West Germany. Arriving Friday night, we found our quarters just a hundred yards from the Jung’s residence. A bed and breakfast of sorts, that was a lot more breakfast than bed; i.e. we walked through the family restaurant, passed the kitchen to find the near-hidden corridor leading to our room. A nice meal, and a good night sleep later, we arouse early to do a bit of sightseeing and make our way to the Jung’s.
Karl Jung was a humble, gracious and thoroughly classy man. He made us truly believe it was he who was fortunate to be in our company. Though most of the conversations were in German, he always made a special point of talking to us in English whenever possible. The special relationship his family had with the wine was fascinating. It was in his blood. He, and the whole family, spoke about each type of wine like an old friend they had gotten to know and see develop over decades. As Rachel and I were clearly the least experienced winnoisseurs (hmm, seems like a real word) in the group, we did what we could to catch on with the basics. Basically, near as we can tell, there are several factors that come together to form the overall taste of a wine. Clearly the type grape is the biggest factor. Also affecting taste is how the grape is processed (resulting in tastes from dry to sweet), when the grape was picked in the harvest (affecting how much sun is absorbed), and what kind of season it was (rain, cold spells, heat waves).
Once the entire group had assembled we were escorted downstairs into the cellar. Wine cellars are always magical places, conjuring images of castle dungeons and ancient monasteries. Spread out amongst the numerous cellar rooms were giant barrels. Each with a sign and sample bottles placed in front of them. So the basic premise of this 2 day wine tasting was this. You try a small sample of each type of wine until you find an overall “flavor and body” you found appealing. Once you did that, you determined whatever the core grape and vineyard field was and then begin trying other samples with slight variable changes. For example after wandering through several rooms (and cheating off what the other guests migrated too) Rachel and I found a grape we liked called “Hungry Wolf.” Our next step was to try that same grape in a dry, normal and sweet processing style. We then tried the grape picked earlier in the season, and picked later, as well as from different years.
By limiting the changes in each glass of wine you sample you actually did get to *know* the wine a bit. You could begin to discern what change in taste was due to the processing style of the grape, or when it was picked that season. We actually tried a wine that was harvested during a really humid, wet season and it tasted, uhm, …smokier. The other thing you began to notice while trying all of these assortments of styles was …how drunk you were.
Maybe, my *samples* were a bit more than they should have been, or that I really haven’t developed drinking legs for wine, but it wasn’t long till everything started getting warm and all the wine tasted great, and a bit the same. I guess one of the key elements to any wine tasting is pacing yourself. Still, its hard to believe that we had our run of any wine we could fine in the entire labyrinth of cellars. From reds to whites to rieslings to everything in between. No wonder people coveted these invites. Additionally, the younger members of the family continuously brought out breads, and cheeses and salamis to “wash our palette” with. I guess it would have been tacky to see if anyone wanted to go in on a pizza
Throughout the day, Rachel and I mingled with the guests and compared notes on what insights we had picked up along the way. This was really like a wine-tasting boot camp for us. Looking online, you can see that there is actually a very long process for judging a wine.
Now, the highlight of the weekend for me was the brief, but heavy rainfall that occurred. It was blue skies and sunshine one second, and the next it was Noah’s Ark rain. The best part was as most guests bolted for their rooms or for the Jung’s place, a few of the rest us made a b-line for a better place …the cellars. Yep, five of us stuck in the wine cellars alone for 30 minutes. Yes, you can imagine.
After the rain blew past and the blue skies popped back out, we heard the cellar door creak open (what a cool sound that is by the way), and Karl Jung stuck his head in smiling. Rather than being put-off, Karl came down and joined us for a few minutes. He even pulled out a wine bottle from his special wax-paper covered collection. Who knows what that was, but it didn’t last long, ha ha. Then Mrs Jung showed up and the gig was officially up. In any language I could tell all the husbands were in a bit of trouble, but still, an absolute blast.
Now, cellar-exploits aside, I am leaving out the best part of the weekend. Not only could you sample any wine you liked, but you could also buy bottles and cases of any wine you liked to take home with you. And the trick, …they sold it at almost cost. Yep, about 4-6 Euro per bottle. Basically the cost of the label, glass bottle and cork. Unbelievable. Check out this menu of wine costs.
In addition to a dozen other bottles we picked up, Rachel and I ordered 2 bottles of the Jung’s Sparking wine for 7 Euro each, about 10 bucks. I’m told this was equivalent to $200 champagne back Stateside. When the weekend was finally over, Rachel and I noticed that numerous guests had actually rented trailers to haul back all the wine they got. I can see why.
One of my favorite guests was a gentleman by the name of Gerhardt. It was to him that we ultimately owed thanks for the invite, even though we had actually come as guests of his guests. He was a large jolly fellow who knew more about wine than I did about, well, anything. You could tell, even though just a guest of the vineyard, wine was his passion. He looked and sounded to me a lot like Friar Tuck would have. He had a big, hearty laugh, and was keen to slapping you on the back. At least 4 or 5 times throughout the weekend he said “Ron, I want to show you something.” And then he would pull out a bottle and tell me a fascinating story about its origins.
For Gerhardt, wine was a journey. He reasoned that most everyone started off with a taste for sweet white wines, and then eventually move over to mild reds. Only then do they really branch out and try more exotic blends, till you find the one that speaks only to you. This process can, and should, take a lifetime.
At one point I glanced down at Gerhardt’s order sheet, and noticed he only had a few types of wine listed, though they were counted by the case load, …the double digit caseload.
I remarked “Gerhardt, with all that wine how will you be able to have room for the wine you get at all the other festivals you go to?”
He looked at me and said “Ron, this is the only wine tasting I go to all year. My wine journey has ended, I’ve found my wine. And one day I trust you will too.”
The journey of wine, what an interesting parable on life.
I learned a lot more during our wine tasting than I imagined I would, and met some truly endearing people. Oh, and if you guys ever come visit, we have some amazing wine to share with you. I hope your journeys bring us here to Germany one day. And I hope our journey brings us back here for next year’s annual opening of the Jung’s wine estate.
Please peruse our gallery of photos from the weekend if you have time. For now I’ll leave you with my favorite Gerhardt quote of the weekend.
“…Ultimately, it doesn’t matter in life if your glass is half full or half empty, …only how much wine is in the bottle.”[Return to Previous Page]