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  • March 16, 2018
  • The Case of Silberberg

  • by Lars Carlberg

Editor’s note: Max von Kunow, the owner of Weingut von Hövel, kindly explained that the VDP made an error in mapping the Silberberg vineyard. For more on this, see my comments below this article.

This is meant as a constructive critique of the VDP's attempt to classify vineyards on the Saar, with a look at Silberberg, which is technically neither an official single vineyard (Einzellage) nor a cadastre place-name (Gewannname) and, therefore, cannot legally be listed on a label. (More on this below.)

"VDP.GROSSE LAGEN are [some but not all of] the very best vineyards of Germany and the source of [some of] the finest wines that reflect site-specifc characteristics. They are [can be] expressive, rich in complex flavors, and have exceptional aging potential. The sites are [not always] carefully [or consistently] determined and demarcated by the VDP regional associations."

Despite the rhetoric (with my qualifications in brackets), the VDP.Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Grosser Ring simply combined the rather large post-1971 Einzellagen Krettnacher Euchariusberg and Krettnacher Altenberg to create the much larger VDP.Grosse Lage Silberberg. Meanwhile, they chose to ignore both the historically relevant Niedermenniger Herrenberg and Niedermenniger Sonnenberg, despite the fact that one of its members farms a big block in the best part of Niedermenniger Herrenberg (and Zuckerberg) albeit without rendering a wine that reflects that site's potential. The same goes for the once famous hillside of Euchariusberg, specifically the south-facing portion known as Großschock, which has been erased by Silberberg. (The VDP.Vineyard.Online map renders Krettnach as "Kettnach" so search under the latter or under Silberberg to see what I'm talking about. Click on this link, and you can see that what the VDP defines as Silberberg comprises all of today's Krettnacher Euchariusberg and Altenberg. This map is from the Deutsches Weininstitut and lists all the official single vineyard sites, not just those that the VDP wants to highlight on its interactive vineyard map.)

The VDP goes on to say:

The 1971 wine law enabled quality wines to be produced from any vineyard site within the German wine-growing regions. Thousands of vineyards were consolidated and often named after the best-known site within the borders of the newly created site—regardless of the varying quality of the parcels with a site. This marked the advent of Grosslagen (collective vineyard sites) that often included the vineyards of many wine villages. Unfortunately, there is no indication on the label as to whether a wine originates from a collective or an individual site.

In essence, the VDP created its own Grosslage rather than a smaller and more site-specific Grosse Lage, or grand cru vineyard. It should be noted, too, that the term "Grosse Lage" can easily be confused with Grosslage (especially for non-German speakers). The VDP is now writing its classification terms with a prefix, a period, and in all caps, such as VDP.GROSSE LAGE.

"The VDP developed an in-house vineyard classification in response to unfortunate consequences of the 1971 German wine law. Among other things, the law made it very difficult to identify which wines truly offer exceptional quality," the VDP says. In the case of Silberberg, of course, the opposite is true. This extended vineyard has southern, northern, eastern, and western aspects, as well as steep slopes and flat land. It includes top sites that were once highly rated by the Prussian government and lesser ones.

Basically, VDP members' wishes as to what should be classified as Grosse Lage are generally respected, particularly if a site does not have multiple member-shareholders with conflicting interests and virtually every single member has such a site. The site of Pulchen in Filzen is ranked grand cru according to the VDP, while once renowned sites, especially those that have no VDP member-shareholders get ignored but also some where members have holdings but little interest in the sites. The same goes for less famous vineyards that have great potential, like today's Saarburger Fuchs and Stirn in Niederleuken. (See "VDP.Klassifixation" for more on this.)

I had been given to understand by Max von Kunow, the owner of Weingut von Hövel, in Oberemmel, that he wanted to use Silberberg only for his choice 0.6-ha parcel of old vines (number 28 on the cadastral map, to be precise) in the place-name Auf dem Hölzchen, not for his other vineyard holdings in Krettnach and Niedermennig, which are spread out across various slopes, some facing west and not south. Max acquired these diverse parcels when he signed a long-term lease agreement with the Schmitt-Reuter estate. All of a sudden, Max doubled his holdings from 10 to slightly over 20 ha. He initially didn't want to expand beyond 15 ha after he took over his family estate, but he couldn't pass up the challenge. Among locals, the western flank of the south-facing Crettnacherberg (including the place-names Auf dem Hölzchen, Ober Schäfershaus, and Ober Schodenhaus) is called "Hölzchen" or "Hölzi," which refers to the wooden coffins of the nearby cemetery.

Because Silberberg is not an official place-name, or Gewann, on the cadastral map of Krettnach, it isn't technically allowed on a label in the first place, though this is hardly the first such instance among VDP.Grosse Lagen. I suspect that Max just liked the name Silberberg and decided to push it as a historical site name, but the true names of note were Euchariusberg (no village designation) and Krettnach(erberg), both much smaller before the 1971 Wine Law. He now designates the wine from his prime parcel in Krettnach as "S" for Silberberg. The problem with "S" is that it has had so many meanings among vintners over the years, such as Steil, meaning steep, or Selektion.

The 1906 edition of Franz Josef Clotten's Viticultural Map of the Saar and Mosel.

I also don't understand why Max is fixated on naming the site Silberberg, as I have found no historical references to this designation from the Mosel's heyday at the turn of the last century. It appears to be a site name that was first used on labels beginning in the early to mid-20th century. The original slope, as on Clotten's tax map, was called "Crettnacherberg," and Max's well-placed parcel is located in the place-name Auf dem Hölzchen.

Instead of calling his wine "S," he could label it either as Krettnacher Altenberg or simply Krettnach, as the wines were called back then. On the Clotten maps, Krettnach is spelled with a "C." The VDP.Grosse Lage Silberberg includes Crettnacherberg, Kapellenberg, and Euchariusberg, plus all the areas between these three prime south-facing slopes that had yet to be planted with vines.

"Don’t get me [started] on the Silberberg," one smart and witty European critic says. "Quite frankly, given how little is still planted at the back end of the [original] Altenberg today, why not use Altenberg as the VDP Grosse Lage and basta? Why fixate on Silberberg which he will (a) not be able to defend (b) not be able to define in terms of contours (c) which he will not be able to get registered locally?"

As for using the official place-name, this same critic says, "I would not use [Auf dem] Hölzchen because it would be difficult to classify by the VDP (who ask—correctly—about historical evidence). He would not be able to provide any. It is already hard enough for Silberberg..."

The Tranchot map. ©GeoBasis-DE / LVermGeoRP (2016), dl-de/by-2-0, https://www.lvermgeo.rlp.de

On the early 19th-century Tranchot map, the present-day Krettnacher Altenberg was only the main south-facing slope of this side valley, as shown in the image on the right. It was the "old hillside," or Altenberg. None of the other sections were planted back then. So why not use Krettnacher Altenberg? The Webers of Hogut Falkenstein chose for one well-situated old-vine plot the more site-specific place-name Ober Schäfershaus because the diabase soil is only in a small section of this slope towards the cemetery, and it includes Max's parcel in Auf dem Hölzchen. Erich Weber, who is from Krettnach, says that Ober Schäfershaus is considered the best site among the growers from his home. Hofgut Falkenstein has another plot in the place-name Enkers Weinberg. This vineyard is in the middle of the slope and has the typical gray slate and quartz, though you can't see this because of the green cover. One needs to look at the neighboring vineyards that are sprayed with herbicides to see all the stones.

The best part of the the hillside includes the following place-names: Ober Schäfershaus, Ober Schodenhaus, Auf dem Hölzchen, In der Kirschheck, Oberm Hölzchen, and Enkers Weinberg. The main soil type (as mentioned above) is gray slate and quartz, but a vein of diabas runs through Ober Schäfershaus, Ober Schodenhaus, and Auf dem Hölzchen. Diabas can also be found in Saarburger Rausch, which is ranked as a Grosse Lage by the VDP, and in Avelsbach, nearby Trier.

I spoke with Dr. Stephan Reuter, who is a winegrower from Krettnach and who also happens to head the wine law department at the ADD (the regulatory authority) in Trier. He confirmed that Silberberg was a pre-1971 Wine Law site within today's Krettnacher Altenberg. It disappeared after the 1971 Wine Law. The remodeling of the vineyard, or Flurbereinigung, occurred at the same time. Like Erich, Dr. Reuter said that this small site in the western flank of Crettnacherberg had a walled vineyard, but he doesn't know its exact borders. It included Max's well-placed parcel (number 28) in the place-name Auf dem Hölzchen. Dr. Reuter, who owns an old-vine plot (number 27) with a good amount of blue slate directly next to Max's, is pretty sure that Max chose Silberberg because it sounds good, much like Goldberg in Wawern, and it has a story. A remnant of the wall that enclosed it, as in the photo at the top, is located directly above parcel number 28. Dr. Reuter believes the wall, which was erected by the family who owned the vineyard, once ran down from the top of the slope at Auf dem Hölzchen past where an ugly refurbished house is in the middle of this place-name. It appears that the dark-red section (which designated the highest-taxed and thus the highest-rated vineyards on the various editions of Clotten's tax maps) are all adjoining plots in this sector—namely, numbers 29 to 31.

Dr. Reuter confirmed that both village and site names are required on the official front label (though some vineyard names, like Scharzhofberg and Bockstein characteristically stood alone on labels). This was how many of the best German Rieslings were traditionally labeled—even though many top wines were simply labeled after the village, like Ayler or Niersteiner (in Rheinhessen)—but the VDP is trying to mimic Burgundy with its own classification model, including the grand cru sites without the village name on the unofficial front label, and thus no Ayler Kupp (from the Kupp vineyard of Ayl). It’s just Kupp now (this despite there being many other vineyards named Kupp, including five on the Saar alone!). But Ayler Kupp was the name used in the past, not merely Kupp. In contrast, the Scharzhofberg is different from many other sites because the Scharzhof is its own locality, hence no Wiltinger Scharzhofberg. It's similar to Grünhaus in Mertesdorf. Moreover, the 28-hectare Scharzhofberg is technically einzellagenfrei, or not designated as an Einzellage. On the first edition of Clotten's 1868 tax map, the following Saar vineyards are colored dark red: Bocksteiner, Scharzhofberg, Volz, Raul, Hütte (not listed by name), Agritiusberg, (a part of) Crettnacherberg, and Euchariusberg (the Großschock sector). Many of today's VDP.Grosse Lagen on the Saar were either lower ranked (Rausch) or not even planted (Schloss Saarstein) at this time.

Speaking of Ayler Kupp, the VDP.Grosse Lage Kupp "Unterstenberg" is demarcated as the lower half of this famous hillside. But, according to the cadastral map, the place-name Im untersten Berg actually refers to the entire slope, from top to bottom, of this section of the hillside. Florian Lauer of Weingut Peter Lauer has always used the term "Unterstenberg/Unterstenbersch" to mean at the foot of the hill and "Stirn" for the steeper upper part in this core sector. But it actually connotes the best south-facing part of the slope that is closest ("lowest") to the Saar River. In my opinion, the entire slope should be Ayler Kupp. Perhaps one could make an exception for Neu(en)berg, as it did exist as a separate site on Clotten's tax maps (see "Ayler Kupp: A Short History" for more on this).

While I understand why Florian Lauer chose to be more site-specific with his different holdings in Ayl, I’m not referring to the separate hillside of Schonfels, much less those of Rauberg or Scheidterberg, which are all officially part of the greatly enlarged post-1971 Ayler Kupp. Nonetheless, the “real” Ayler Kupp slope includes the Gewann Im untersten Berg, which is considered the prime section of this hillside and comprises both “Stirn” and “Unterstenberg” and was part of the Ayler Kupp pre-1971 Wine Law. Should it be further subdivided? If so, the VDP would do this only if a member requested—in this case, Lauer—and with such requests being subject to some review. On the other hand, today's Saarburger Rausch—or Saarburgerberg, as it was called in the past—includes the former Einzellagen Antoniusbrunnen and Bergschlösschen, but a prestigious member was one of those who lobbied for federal—not VDP but federal—change that eliminated these two sites and made them part of Rausch. This makes some sense. It is one south-facing hillside. Today's Ockfener Bockstein, like most vineyards in Germany, also once had other site names within its boundaries. ♦

  • Max von Kunow, who phoned me this morning, says that the VDP made an error with the registration of Silberberg on its interactive map. It shouldn’t have combined Krettnacher Altenberg and Krettnacher Euchariusberg into one Grosse Lage. When he caught this mistake, he asked the VDP to make a correction. Unfortunately, these type of online changes are done by a firm merely twice a year.

    He only bottles a wine under the designation “S” for Silberberg from his choice 0.6-ha plot below the wall on the main slope of “Crettnacherberg.” He was told that the old site name for this area was indeed Silberberg.

    I’ll be curious to hear what the actual boundaries should have been for the VDP.Grosse Lage Silberberg, even though this former site name can’t be used on a label, as explained in my article.

  • Johannes Weber of Hofgut Falkenstein spoke with an elderly lady in the village of Krettnach. She says that the once walled site of Silberberg was quite small and that it comprised both Dr. Reuter’s and Max’s parcels in Auf dem Hölzchen. If this is true, then a good portion of Silberberg wasn’t inside the dark-red section of Clotten’s maps, but, rather, more to the west of it.

    I should also note that David Schildknecht had emailed Max about Silberberg well before I published my piece. Max, however, didn’t see the email. That’s why he called me this morning to clarify his position on Silberberg.

  • Yesterday, Jean Fisch of Mosel Fine Wines, who reported about Max von Kunow taking over the estate in Krettnach, said that the dark-red and highest-taxed area on “Crettnacherberg” is about 4 hectares. This would mean that the Clotten tax map must have comprised the place-names In der Kirschheck and Enkers Weinberg, too, even if it visually seems like only a part of Auf dem Hölzchen is dark red. He also agrees that the VDP should not have designated the area as Silberberg. The site name should be Krettnacher Altenberg. If the VDP wants to define it as a smaller area than the actual Einzellage, which includes less well-situated vineyards across from this hillside and extending towards Oberemmel, then it should be, in our opinion, the entire western flank of the slope from Ober Schäfershaus to Enkers Weinberg.

  • According to the account of an older villager, Erich Weber now says that the Silberberg wall once enclosed the following place-names: Auf dem Hölzchen, Ober Schodenhaus, and Ober Schäfershaus. This area is the western flank of the main hillside and closest to the village and main valley.

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