Weingut Barth & the Rheingau Wine Region
The Barth estate is located in famous Hattenheim in Germany's Rheingau wine region. The Rheingau is one of world's smallest and finest wine-growing regions and perhaps it can be viewed as a small natural wonder, due to its remarkable location along the banks of the Rhine River.
For its entire length of nearly 560 miles, the Rhine flows north with one exception, a 28-mile stretch where the river hits the Taunus Mountains and changes its course to run west. This enables the vineyards to face south and bask in the warmth of the sun all day long, providing optimally cool nights and reflective rays that promote growth in the vineyards.
Within this little paradise there is one place that is especially blessed by nature, the village of Hattenheim. Located in the heart of the Rheingau at the Rhine's broadest point, it is not surprising that Hattenheim has outstanding vineyards that are world-renowned and highly esteemed. Nearly half of them have been classified as Grand Cru sites.
The Estate & Its History
Weingut Barth overlooks the Rhine and was founded in 1948 by Johann Barth. Originally, a mixed agricultural facility, the property was transformed by Norbert Barth in 1973 to a fully operational winery.
Norbert studied viticulture at Schloss Reinhartshausen, a revered VDP estate (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweinguter – The Association of Germany’s Best Estates). It was here that he developed an affinity for his craft. In 1999, Norbert was honorably inducted into the VDP. This is the most prestigious accolade a winemaker can achieve in Germany. The VDP represents only the top winemakers from Germany, currently a little over 200 members.
Driving his passion has always been a love and pursuit to make the highest quality sparkling wine possible or Sekt as it is called in Germany. For the Germans, Sekt is something for everyday consumption and they are coincidentally the world’s largest consumers of sparkling wine per capita. The Barth estate is recognized among Germany’s preeminent traditional method Sekt producers and they have had their products featured in Michelin star properties, as well as with Lufthansa Airlines.
The Winemaker's Philosophy
“Make the best out of something good. Coax everything from the grape that can impart the distinctive character of Hattenheim’s vineyards, so blessed by nature. Create wines and sparkling wines that are racy and elegant and that lend a festive touch to every occasion. They’re good for body and soul and add pleasure to life."
Science and technology notwithstanding, the “good” and the “best” products are ultimately a result of the winemaker’s dedication and attention to detail.
To Norbert and Mark Barth, wines that really stand out always reflect the commitment and personality of their producers. A unique, unmistakable creation requires the winemaker’s fine hand and input – all with heart and soul.
The Next Generation
The estate has experienced continuous transformation over the last decade. Under the tutelage of Norbert comes the next generation winemaker, Mark Barth. Mark is a graduate of viticulture and enology from the highly acclaimed Geisenheim Institute, located in the Rheingau. He is married to Norbert’s daughter, Christine Barth, and took the family name to carry on the tradition of the winery.
Formally taking the reins in 2010, Mark and Christine have re-built a state of the art cellar, tasting room and modernized facility that is über contemporary.
They have nearly doubled their production and today own 18 hectares. Production is about 135K bottles per year and Mark was also recently recognized by Handelsblatt (the Financial Times of Germany) among the best young winemakers in Germany.
Additionally, Mark carries the torch for producing high quality sparkling. In 2010, he released Primus, the 1st Champagne Method Grand Cru Sekt from the 2008 vintage. The Primus Sekt is an autographed auction format magnum of the most exceptional Riesling bubbly made in Germany.
The production of wine is done with natural yeasts and most whites are aged in stainless steel vats. Reds see a variety of wood treatment, both large holzfass (wood) and small oak barrique barrels.
For sparkling, after the primary fermentation, the base wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle. After the secondary fermentation, the wine stays on the yeast for 18-36 months, so that it can clear naturally through sedimentation. It is then hand-riddled and disgorged on order to ensure a product of the highest quality.
The Significance of the Rheingau Charta Association
Norbert was an original member of the Rheingau Charta (or Charter) Association, a small growers association founded in 1983 by top quality minded producers. The Charta methodology set the stage for what became the VDP’s current Cru based classification, which was rolled out in 2012 and modeled very much after the system found in Burgundy.
Charta was developed because the 1971 classification, or the classic Prädikat system (distinct wines: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese…) did not address vineyard site to denote quality. Rather, it was a system that focused on sugar in the grape at harvest (Öechsle) as a means to denote quality. Charta members wanted to make high quality wines from top producing vineyard sites. To qualify, the wines were required to be from exceptional sites, limited yields, built out harmoniously dry, bottled and aged for about a year before release, double blind tasted by a panel of members and presented in a heavyweight double roman arched bottle.
Charta later set the stage for what has transformed the modern VDP classification system, which now puts all the emphasis on the designate of “the place of origin,” or terroir (the French term describing the specific microclimate, geology and geography of a place). The VDP now distinguishes quality based on regional wines, village-specific wines, Premier Cru vineyards and Grand Cru vineyards, because the place of origin makes great wines great, not their sugar level at harvest…
The Wine & Vineyards
The Barth estate produces mostly Riesling (83%), followed by Pinot Noir (12%) and a few other varieties (Pinot Blanc, and Cabernet among others) on vineyards of clay, black loess, marl and slate soil, creating elegant and well-structured wines.
Environmentally friendly viticulture is of utmost importance to the Barth family, who shows great care towards the vine, soil and nature. Time-consuming vineyard work like harvest reduction and the harvest itself are all selectively done by hand for optimum ripeness and flavor.
The estate was certified organic through the European Union in 2013. They follow strict guidelines for the production of organic wines and are non-interventionist in the vineyard.
Top sites include the VDP Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) Wisselbrunnen, Schönhell and Hassel, as well as the VDP Erste Lage (Premier Cru) Schützenhaus. They also produce regional and village-specific wines.