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  • March 19, 2015
  • Riesling and Cask—Back to Basics

  • by Roman Niewodniczanski

franz_stockingerAs part of our return to traditional craftsmanship, we at Van Volxem will begin to vinify our Saar wines from Grosse Lagen (grand crus) in big oak casks. This will also shape our future cellar room, which will house these casks and be the centerpiece of the new manufactory from Van Volxem. In connection with the idea of sustainability, we also prefer local oak, which has a sensational fineness, thanks to the harsh climate and rather meager slate soils of the Eifel region. It also doesn’t hurt that my maternal ancestors from Bitburg have cultivated for centuries oak forests in the Eifel for their Bitburger beer casks. This led us to the expert Austrian barrel-maker Franz Stockinger, whom (pictured here) the magazine Vinum described as a “quality fanatic.” In the winter of 2009, the wood from almost 50 of our 300-year-old oak trees from the Eifel has been under the influence of the rain, snow, and sun of Lower Austria.

In order to discuss the final details, we recently visited the birthplace of our first casks before delivery. We were, once again, impressed by the great level of craftsmanship by Franz Stockinger, whose precise work has now almost a cult status among many of Europe’s finest wine producers. Why wood? The fine porosity of oak gives the wines a minimum amount of oxygen, or micro-oxidation, in the large, oval, up to 6,000-liter casks. This allows the wines of Van Volxem, which are spontaneously fermented by ambient yeasts, the most natural means to mature and the highest level of refinement, elegance, and aging potential. The upbringing in small barriques, with the taste of wood, is not our style. With the big oak casks, we (and future generations) can better realize the grandiose quality potential of the fascinating steep slate slopes of the Saar. ♦

Translated, from the German, by Lars Carlberg.

Photograph courtesy of Van Volxem.

  • Thanks to Roman for letting me post his article on my website.

    As an addendum, Fassbinderei Stockinger also produces some barriques for Van Volxem’s Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc). Otherwise, they make for Van Volxem different-sized oval casks: 2,000, 4,000, and 6,000 liters. Roman says that these casks will first be used for Weissburgunder and, afterwards, steamed with water in order to clean them when they are empty again. When the oak flavors have been leached out over time, the casks can then be utilized for their Saar Rieslings. The new cellar for the 60 or so new casks from Stockinger will be completed this coming spring. Roman also plans to have the wines from his best sites on the lees for a few years before bottling.

    At the moment, Van Volxem has a number of stainless-steel tanks, about three dozen 1,000-liter Fuder, which are the traditional casks of the Saar and Mosel, and around a dozen 2,000-liter oval casks from Holzküferei Hösch. The latter is used for Weissburgunder.

    Hösch is a likable, family-run cooperage in Hackenheim. They make excellent round- and oval-shaped casks. Stockinger, however, is better known and kind of the Zalto of barrel makers. Many consider Stockinger the best of the bunch.

    In Germany, the 1,200-liter oval cask is called a Stück. A Halbstück is half this size, and a Doppelstück is double in capacity. These oval casks are more common in the Rheingau (in particular, the Halbstück), Mittelrhein, Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz. Though most producers have stainless-steel tanks now. (See my in-depth article on Fuder and my interview with Rudolf Biewer, the last barrel maker in the Mosel wine region, for more details.)

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