When Oliver Spanier of Battenfeld-Spanier married Carolin Gillot of Kühling-Gillot in 2006, it brought together two of Rheinhessen’s leading estates, and created its most glamorous couple. The wines are marketed separately, but he is the winemaker for both.
Kühling-Gillot’s prime holdings are on the ‘Roter Hang’ (red slope), an iron-rich strip between Nierstein and Nackenheim along the Rhine, which include the vineyards of Hipping, Pettenthal, Ölberg, Rothenberg, and Orbel. There are further vineyards in Oppenheim and Bodenheim.
Battenfeld-Spanier lies in the southern-most part of Rheinhessen, and the vines are grown on limestone, which gives them a lifted, citrus character. The estate converted entirely to organic viticulture in 1992, and biodynamic in 1995. Both of them are now farmed biodynamically. If Prüm made wines in Rheinhessen, this is what they would be like: beautifully pure, restrained, and with the promise of a long life.
In late 2019 Battenfeld-Spanier was given the coveted 5 grape cluster award by the Gault-Millau guide, while Kühling-Gillot was promoted to 4 grape clusters. They are now amongst the most highly regarded producers in Germany, a fantastic achievement.
One year the Spaniers were visited by a group of winemakers from Israel. Oliver explained his concerns about the increasingly dry summers and how his vines were struggling to cope. The Israelis asked him what the average annual rainfall was, and when he told them 400-500mm, they burst out laughing: ‘We get less than 200mm per year – how do you think we manage?’ The solution was a layer of straw and compost in the vineyards, which prevents water evaporation, and releases moisture slowly into the soil after rain. It also mitigates soil erosion and compaction by machines. Since then, the estate has spread straw and compost every spring on the ‘Roter Hang’, a method now adopted by many of its neighbours.
There were thus few drought problems in 2020. Careful viticultural techniques – a low canopy and above all low yields – ensured that the grapes ripened early, and the entire harvest was picked before the October rains. The Spaniers leaf- pluck immediately after flowering, exposing the grapes to the sun early on, and allowing them to build up thick skins. This means they can withstand the intense summer heat much better, and there was no damage from sunburn. Conversely, care must be taken not to macerate the grapes too long so as to avoid extracting woody tannins.
Oliver Spanier was delighted with the quality, likening it to the excellent 2002 vintage. The wines are brisk, ripe, and quite charming.
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