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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Heyl Zu Herrnsheim Baron Heyl Estate Riesling

Germany (Rheinhessen)


The rockscape is the stunningly beautiful Torngat Mountains in northern Labrador. German missionaries came ashore here centuries ago. Today a German wine immigrant has arrived.

It’s a long way from home, but with snow just glazing the Torngats the bottle is remaining nicely chilled.

The wine’s origins are in the village of Nierstein on the Rhine, where the Baron Heyl estate building dates to 1561. It once housed Cistercian monks. Vineyards are spread on steep slopes above the town, across the famous five kilometre stretch of red clay/slate soils of the Red Slope, the “Roter Hang”.

The estate’s modern history is rooted in the early 20th century, when it fell under the ownership of the Heyl family. Today its 24 ha are in the hands of private investor and textile merchant, Detlev Meyer, and its winemaking facilities are housed under the same roof as those of a sister winery, St. Anthony. Winemaker Felix Peters oversees both operations.

Following his wine studies at the prestigious Geisenheim Institute, he spent time on wine estates outside his homeland, and was particularly influenced by what he experienced in Burgundy, where a sense of terroir is so integral to winemaking. (Hence, his current experimentation with pinot noir.) For now riesling, the stalwart of German varietals, remains his major focus. He seeks to bring to it a definite sense of place. Even the basic entry level riesling, which includes our chosen bottle, is soundly marked by the soil and care taken in the vineyards. (A distinct step away from the Blue Nun of my college days.)

Heyl Zun Herrnsheim has operated organically for thirty years, in the forefront of natural, ecologically-sound winemaking when there was hardly such a movement in Germany. Peters is committed to taking the estate to new heights. For some wines he is moving away from stainless steel, towards experimenting with a return to barrel fermentation and aging on the lees. His aim is “finesse, balance, and wealth of aromas”, setting his wines firmly among the very best in the country.

Heyl Zu Herrnsheim Baron Heyl Estate Riesling 2008

Very light in the glass, but casting a greenish hue. Light, spritz-like nose of clean white fruit. There is an attractive semi-sweet purity, with a graceful touch of the earth behind it. I think of pink grapefruit, the acid cutting the sweetness nicely. Not at all cloying in the way that some rieslings can be. Lovely harmonious nose and palate, with a very pleasant aftertaste.  $

Set it atop a little ice, with that special northern light, and it would likely glow.


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