Legs paralyzed by fear, heart furiously pounding and thoughts in panic mode all told me that I could have been making one of the biggest mistakes of my life! In a nutshell, that wraps up the most overwhelming moment I take away from my last vacation with my husband, in New Zealand. My best and worst moments in New Zealand – a place that I have dreamt of visiting for over 19 years – took place hiking the continual upward slope of a particular trail to reach the summit.
My husband and I were able to take two week long vacations this year instead of just the one week during the summer. Previously, I had been given the opportunity to go on a wine press trip to New Zealand, a place with unique animals, plants and landscapes that I desperately wanted to see, but it was two weeks long. I never like to take press trips that extend more than a week, and for me, the shorter the better as I am always juggling a lot of work as a freelancer. When I am on a press trip I am working while dealing with 15 hour days that are typical for such media trips and it ends up being exhausting, especially when you are burnt out from the long days of taking notes, social media posts, outlining possible article ideas while answering emails only to be forced to stay up for hours more once back at the hotel room to catch up on freelance work. Also, I like being there on a daily basis for those who are the most important people in my life and so I hate to be away from home, my loved ones and my community for too long. And once I found out that my husband, the most important person in my life and the number one person I hate to be away from, really wanted to go to New Zealand, we decided to look for deals to see if it could be possible.
After a year and a half of planning, the time finally came when we would take this trip which took place a couple of weeks ago, a 30 hour journey each way – a lot longer than some other routes but it was half the price of these other offerings – and I would finally see the place I had dreamt about and, better yet, got to share it with my best friend. We only had five and a half days to enjoy New Zealand on the ground so our plan was to go to the South Island (there are two islands: North Island and South Island), flying into Christchurch then driving down to Queenstown seeing the raw, untouched beauty that was like no other place. We had a few side trips from Queenstown and we devoted a whole day to Fiordland National Park (which is far from being enough time) in the southwestern section of the South Island which is around 3 million acres of mountains, lakes, fiords, rainforest environments and so much more. We took many walks through various sections of the Fiordland National Park but none would be as challenging as a section of the Routeburn Track that was a three hour return hike and took us to an array of alpine plants at the summit. While the sparsely populated track had other hikers who seemed to be fairing better than us – some even carrying toddlers on their backs – I was not prepared for this endeavor.
As odd as it seems, during my times of feeling overwhelmed and straight out panicked at various points of this hike, I had flashes of a visit back in September with a small German wine producer named Weingut Beurer. New Zealand is a great wine producing country but we only visited one wine producer because we only had a little over five days on the ground to visit the natural wonders that brought us to that land and I wanted us to mainly be able to spend time alone without too much work involved (I am currently working on a separate article for the producer we visited). As I was constantly trying to figure out a way to get my non-athletic body up the seemingly never ending slope, along with the Routeburn Track path turning into a narrow walkway with slippery, broken rocks that skirted the edge of a mountain, the wines of Jochen Beurer (owner of Weingut Beurer) kept popping in my mind.
Jochen Beurer is a wine producer located in the southern part of Germany in the Württemberg region that is known for warmer weather, wines that are less distinctively German and influenced by an array of European countries and big smiles among its people. Every press trip I go on I always debate whether it is worth it considering the amount of work I always have to do and the exhaustion I have to battle yet meeting someone like Jochen, in his humble house with a tiny cellar on a cloudy rainy day, is one of those moments that makes these trips worth it. He very much downplayed his operation and he seemed very conscious that he was a tiny producer that made wines that perhaps were not for everyone. He did not have a grand place or take us to a cool, fancy restaurant but his wines were electric, rich and utterly intriguing.
Jochen wines are organic and biodynamic certified through Demeter and he uses a low amount of sulfur, spontaneous fermentations with natural yeasts as well as allowing malolatic fermentation to complete; also he implements long skin contact with his Riesling wines that range from three months to two and a half years. He is one of the producers who has inspired a more serious look at the wines of Württemberg as it is historically a region that is known for wine cooperatives that produce quaffable wines. But over 20 years ago, Jochen, his father and wife decided to leave the cooperative and today they own 32 acres (13 hectares) of vineyards with some top vineyards sites for Riesling that are considered 1er Cru and Grand Cru level sites.
Jochen Beurer’s mission to make wines that were “joyful to drink” with a strong sense of place were criticized for many years, and still get odd looks, as he is always pushing the envelope as he won’t allow the chatter to make him doubt his path. The idea of blocking these negative thoughts and fears from his mind started when he was very young as he was the BMX European bike champion in 1992. Although he had the intention to always come back and make wine with his father in the cooperative, for a time he was performing in BMX competitions performing jaw-dropping tricks… I only found this out because I looked up his background and asked him about it. He actually has one wine that pays tribute to that time called ‘Nothing’. Nothing is the name of a trick where the rider jumps up in the air and lets go of the bike completely (no feet and no hands) and it is called nothing as the hardest part of it is getting past the initial instinct of fear and panic because everything in the body just wants to hold onto the bike; you have to have a clear mind to do it. As Jochen said, the slogan of BMX is ‘no brain, no pain’ and there on the label of his Nothing wine was a drawing based on a photo of him doing the trick.
One has to practice a lot before performing such a trick just like one has to do for quality winemaking; in regards to wine, Jochen has received a formal education, done internships at modern wineries, worked with natural wine legend Elisabetta Foradori in Trentino, Northern Italy, but when it comes to the toughest part – spending decades going against the convention of one’s neighbors, snobbery from more established regions and the weight that bills need to be paid and passion doesn’t pay bills, none of those aforementioned things in the wine world could prepare Jochen with his internal fight against the barrage of negative fears more than performing the ‘Nothing’ over and over again. The Nothing wine is on the skins (crushed berries with seeds) for two and a half years, wild ferment, unfiltered and he used no sulfur in this wine. He is actually holding experiments by bottling and cellaring this no sulfur wine to see how long it will gracefully age.
Brain: Greatest Asset and Worst Enemy
Certainly, I am not advocating just throwing oneself into a potentially dangerous situation without being prepared. Jochen said that, unfortunately, he has a couple of friends who did end up in wheelchairs because of the risks of performing such tricks, just like there are many warnings to hikers in regards to the various New Zealand trails as temperatures plummet quickly and some tracks are for more experienced hikers. As I was up there on this trail, looking down the steep cliff that triggered my fear of heights which was only heightened by the rain coming down, I was able to assess the situation… I told myself, “Well, there are many trees along the side of the mountain that would stop me from falling” and I paid attention to where I was stepping as well as kept conscious of how cold it was getting and if we were wearing enough layers. But every so often I would see people hiking with little kids and I would yell inside of my own head, “Okay if they can do it I can do it!” It may seem silly to talk about an Intermediate Track with such fear near the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown,(where bungee jumping was invented) but my experience in life prepares me to work 15 hour days in front of a computer not to hike up a mountain, and sure as hell not to bungee jump!
What Jochen Beurer accomplished on a BMX bike was much more extraordinary than my hike but it was symbolic of all of us taking on what is holding us back; standing up for ourselves, proclaiming our worth, being a force for good in the world or making wines with passion although they receive unpleasant comments from other winemakers. Our brain is designed to protect us from harm but how many times has your brain hurt you in other ways? Kept you from your purpose? The brain can hurt us in ways that gnaw at our soul and make us give up hope. I don’t know what Jochen’s wines were like when he first started but, surprisingly, his long skin contact wines today are not overtly tannic or astringent to drink, as a matter of fact they are pure, vital and delicious with just the right amount of complexity, structure and tension to make them ‘joyful to drink’ in his own words; and maybe that is the key to joy… finding a way to let go of the brain when you know it is going to cause major pain.
The Weingut Beurer vineyards are specifically located in the town of Stetten that has cooler winds, expositions that avoid direct sunlight and higher elevations over 1,300 feet (400 meters) making it more ideal for Riesling than some other areas in the Württemberg region of Germany.
Jochen Beurer has also been on a mission to save ancient native grape varieties that are becoming extinct such as Adelfränkisch which he believes has existed in Germany for over 1,000 years. He has also started selecting his own clones in his Riesling vineyards as he thinks some are more suited for long skin contact fermentation. I would have loved to have talked to him more about this but our time was limited with him.
Wines Tasted at Weingut Beurer on September 8th, 2019
-2018 Weingut Beurer, Weiss Trocken: Blend of Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, and Weissburgunder grape varieties from a mixture of parcels. It is juicy and fruit forward with stone fruit and good amount of body with a refreshing finish.
-2018 Weingut Beurer, Riesling Trocken, VDP Gutswein: 100% Riesling. This Riesling is from a mixture of parcels as well and Jochen calls this his ”breakfast Riesling”. It is certainly a great way to start the day with lovely honeysuckle notes and a hint of smoky minerality with a touch of white peach skin.
-2017 Weingut Beurer, Riesling, “Gipskeuper”: 100% Riesling from southeastern facing vines at around 900 feet (280-310 meters) elevation planted in pre-Jurassic shale that had generous nectarine fruit with wet stones and more structure and body of the previous wine.
-2017 Weingut Beurer, Riesling, “Schilfsandstein”: 100% Riesling from Schilfsandstein soils that represent the reed beds of an ancient sea (alkaline and laden with quartz) that is located 1,080 feet (310-340 meters) above sea level and comes from 35 year old vines. Intense energy from this wine with a linear focus and crisp acidity that was heightened by citrus zest; finish was long with a chalky note on the end.
-2017 Weingut Beurer, Riesling, “Kieselsandstein”: 100% Riesling from 35 year old vines as well yet comes from a younger soil than Schilfsandstein called Kieselsandstein from sandstone soils (feldspar, mica, quartzite and dolomite) and is mineral-driven. Fiercely mineral with wet stones with a savory dried herb quality and an overall beautiful floral component – a Riesling with grip and structure that still retains its finesse.
-2017 Weingut Beurer, Riesling, “Junges Schwaben”, 1er Cru Vineyard (VDP Erste Lage): 100% Riesling from Jochen’s highest vineyard over 1,300 feet (400 meters) located at the top of the Stettener Häder vineyard. The slope here is so steep that a horse is used for much of the farming, and the soils are sandstones mixed with calcareous marls and clays. Cooler temperatures make this one of the last vineyards harvested. The purity of fruit on this wine is simply breathtaking with a hint of spice and honey on the elegantly structured finish. Jochen formed a group with four other winemakers in the area back in 2001 so they could share knowledge and taste each other’s wines while helping to promote each other and they call themselves Junges Schwaben – translated into Young Swabians (Germanic people who are native to the Swabia area which is now mostly divided between the modern states of Baden, Württemberg and Bavaria). Each producer bottles one wine that represents their varietal specialty (they each specialize in a different grape) and Jochen represents the Riesling specialist and so this is his Junges Schwaben bottling; they also do collaborative projects of various libations.
-2016 Weingut Beurer, Riesling, Stettener Pulvermächer, “Berge”, Grand Cru Vineyard (VDP Grosse Lage/ Grosses Gewächs): 100% Riesling from one of the top Riesling vineyards in Württemberg, the Grand Cru Pulvermächer. An extremely textured wine with a rich waxy quality that was balanced by vibrant acidity with flavors of baked apples laced with saline minerality. Jochen has a great quality to his wines that are at once decadent yet electric and this Grand Cru is a great example!
-2016 Weingut Beurer, Riesling, “Nothing”: 100% Riesling that has been on the skins (whole berries filled 50% of a 500 liter neutral barrel) for two and a half years with no sulfur added and unfiltered. Jochen says it is an orange wine without being orange as the color looked gold instead of orange or amber. Blood orange flavors with a hint of fresh sea urchin with Pineapple Underside-Down Cake and crunchy acidity that lingered with the smell of a forest after a rainy day. A wine that I could have sat with for a while just like when we made it to the summit of that track in New Zealand surrounded by wild alpine plants with the cold rain falling on our faces looking onto the other mountains as the fog surrounded us… it was like we were among the clouds… floating.