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  • March 27, 2013
  • Henrik Möbitz

  • by Lars Carlberg

henrik_moebitz_kanzel_2011Several years ago, I came across a bottle of Kanzel Pinot Noir 2005 from Henrik Möbitz. It remains one of my favorite German Pinot Noirs, along with Centgrafenberg Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) from Fürst. The Kanzel 2005 tasted pure and taut, with complex mineral notes. It happened to be a special bottling for Hubi Scheid of Schloss Monaise in Trier. At the time, Henrik had decided to bottle all of his wines, including Pinot Noir, under screw cap. Although Hubi, who is outspoken to a fault and a noted chef and connoisseur of Mosel Riesling and red Burgundy, insisted that Henrik keep to natural corks instead of screw caps for his restaurant.

Not long after tasting Henrik’s wine, I emailed him and learned that he also had a liking for many of the same Mosel and Northern Rhône wines as I did, such as Maximin Grünhaus or Thierry Allemand. He would later visit me at my flat in Trier with some samples in December 2009. At the time I was seeking new growers for the Mosel Wine Merchant portfolio, and I thought Henrik—despite having only tiny quantities—could be of interest. He knew about us and was keen on our importing his wines to the States.

Yet after tasting Henrik’s 2007 Pinot Noirs I found them somewhat lacking in warmth as compared with his Kanzel 2005 or Enderle & Moll's Buntsandstein 2007. Henrik’s 2007s were all bottled under screw cap (namely Stelvin), which might have accentuated my taste impression. So let’s jump to early 2010, when I approached him again about tasting the following vintage. With the 2008s, he reconsidered his stance on closures as well as chaptalization, and the wines have improved as a result.

Henrik, who is from Bielefeld, in Westphalia, studied in southwestern Germany's Baden at the University of Freiburg and has a Ph.D. in Chemistry and Biochemistry and a master’s in Philosophy. He lives with his wife in Freiburg and commutes during the week to Basel, where he’s an investigator in preclinical research. Wine is his second vocation. In 1997, he began as an autodidact and often spends his evenings, weekends, and off-days in the vineyards and cellar.

He now just rents a mere 0.6 hectares divided among four sites: Kapelle, Koepfle, Kanzel, and Steinberg. The three “K's,” as he likes to call the first three, are all located in Alte Oelberg in Ehrenstetten, just southwest of Freiburg:

  • Kapelle. The steep south-facing part with old terraces. The soil is a mix of marl and sandstone with almost no iron oxide.
  • Koepfle. The crest above Kapelle and the hillside path, south facing. Deep topsoil with lots of iron oxide mixed in with limestone.
  • Kanzel. A tiny vineyard area situated above a rocky cliff and surrounded by wind-shielding woods; southeast facing. A limestone soil with less iron oxide than in Steinberg or Koepfle.

Alte Oelberg, or the old Ehrenstetter Oelberg, is the former name of this small hillside. For hundreds of years, it’s been left untouched, so no consolidation or restructuring of the hillside vineyards, called Flurbereinigung, took place here. It’s the last geological rise when moving south along the range of a small massif, known as the Schönbergkette, between the Rhine plain to the west (towards nearby Alsace) and the foot of the Black Forest to the east.

As in the Mosel region, the 1971 German Wine Law significantly reduced the number of single vineyards in Baden by grouping various old sites under one name, usually a better-known vineyard. Henrik wrote that the 1971 Wine Law designated all the semi-decent vineyards in the commune of Ehrenstetten under an expanded Oelberg (ten times larger than the original site!) and the vines planted in what were formerly potato fields or on less privileged north-facing slopes received the well-sounding name of Rosenberg.

Steinberg (Bollschweiler Steinberg) is a hillside vineyard located in the village of Bollschweil, about one kilometer east of Ehrenstetten. It’s even more influenced by the cool Hexental (witches valley), in between the Schönbergkette and the Black Forest, as the grapes tend to ripen later than in Alte Oelberg. The higher iron content also gives the wines a somewhat harder tannin structure. Only on the southeast hillsides of Oelberg and Steinberg are layers of limestone strata; on the west sides are the more typical clayey soils. When I asked Henrik to describe his various sites, he says, “Kanzel is aristocratic, Kapelle a little bit sauvage [wild], whereas Koepfle is plush with appealing ripe green tones, and Steinberg is almost Riesling-like.”

Henrik doesn't seek surmaturité, or overripeness. He prefers to pick a little earlier to ensure good acidity from ripe healthy grapes. In the past, he was categorically against chaptalization, even if this resulted in very low alcohol levels à la the older wines from Hubert de Montille in Volnay. “With just a tad higher alcohol from a symbolic chaptalization (0.5 to 0.7 percent), I find that my wines hit their sweet spot showing more body, yet without losing any of their ability to go down well—the 2008s are still pretty low in alcohol anyway (11.7 to 12.2 percent),” he says. Henrik avoids over-extraction, too, instead preferring delicacy, expression, and precision in his Pinot Noirs.

Since 2005, he acquired a deep, cool cellar that is located at the foot of Alte Oelberg in a former mill. “I like to think that the drinkability of my wines is due to the cellar used to be the riverbed of a former mill,” Henrik says with a bit of tongue-and-cheek esotericism (“water flow = drinkability…”). All work is done by gravity—in other words, no pumping. He ferments exclusively by ambient yeasts in stainless-steel tanks and ages his wines in custom-made wooden barrels from a local cooper. The oak is sourced from Denzlingen, in the Black Forest, and dried naturally outdoors for three years. He says, “buying local barrels ensures that I get slow-grown, properly aged wood, which is not a given these days—I also like the aromatics which are more floral-fruity than oaky and integrate very well.” His Pinot Noirs are neither fined nor filtered.

Besides Pinot Noir, Henrik makes some very good Gewürtztraminer and Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc). His production needs to be shown to a wider audience even if it doesn’t make sense to go through all the red tape to have just a few cases imported to the States. Then again, the hope is that someone selects these type of wines. ♦

This post first appeared in similar form on the blog of Lars Carlberg Selections, April 19, 2011. New label courtesy of Henrik Möbitz.