The historical vineyard of Mullay Hofberg is without a doubt one of the most beautiful vineyards on the planet. It’s impossible to look at a photograph of it without being awestricken.
However, these vertiginous slopes also represent a mammoth task of perseverance; it is simply impossible for even the most modern or developed machinery tools to function here, so by nature this parcel of vines takes us back to how life was centuries ago. The only way to tackle the upkeep of such a beautiful piece of land is to do so on foot and by hand, and thus it requires the utmost dedication — a dedication that is possessed by the green-fingered and courageous Thorsten and Steffi Melsheimer.
People: Thorsten & Steffi Melsheimer
Place: Mosel, Germany
Varieties: Riesling, and a tiny bit of Pinot Noir and Johanniter
Hectares: 11, eight of which are in the famous Mullay Hofberg parcel
Did You Know? The cellar of Melsheimer is incredibly cool, meaning that some wines take over two years to ferment! Additionally, these chilly temperatures act as a sort of natural filtration, meaning that Thorsten's wines are always clear, despite not fining nor filtering them.
Their first foray into ‘natural wine’ was in 2011, but Thorsten doesn’t define his wines by that term per se. He explains,
“I still did something — I pressed the grapes. If you just put a bunch of grapes on a table, there won’t be wine at the end of it. But after 16 years of organic farming, I trusted natural proceedings more and more, so I decided to make a wine without any additions. I just pressed the grapes, the juice went into a cask and then it started fermenting. I still do this today. Then, I wait until fermentation is done. I don’t do bâttonage (stirring of the lees), and I don’t pump the wine. Of course, I also don’t filter.”
It coincided with wine lovers and wine professionals all around the world looking for low intervention styles; wines that were more transparent of their place, with less human intervention in the flavour profile:
“I was very lucky that at the same time, people were asking for wines like these. I was one of the first [in the Mosel] who did this, and it was very funny when I met other winemakers and we spoke about natural wine — to discover that others were doing the same thing at the same time.”
In recent years, he has become particularly celebrated for his sparkling wines. His cuvée ‘Rurale’ — a pét-nat — was born from experimentation. He says,
“There was no plan to make pétnat… I make all of my wines without using [lab-cultured] yeasts, instead letting them ferment naturally. Whereas for sparking wine, traditionally you add yeast and sugar. My idea was to get rid of this… As a producer, I wanted to be able to stand here and be able to say, the only thing I use in my cellar are grapes, and that is all.”
So, he experimented with this idea in mind, simply using his intuition. By bottling his wines while they were still slowly fermenting, they continued their fermentation in bottle, hence producing a sparkling wine.
He discovered that this was in fact the style called pét-nat when his Danish importer came to visit. They asked him if he’d consider producing some, but Thorsten hadn’t heard the term before. When they explained what it was, he realised he already had it — his bottles were experimentally ageing in his cellar. He returned with a sample, and just a few days later, a pallet of pét-nat was on its way to Copenhagen. The Rurale cuvée has since become one of Thorsten’s best-sellers.
His cellar is very cool, resulting in very slow fermentations. He says,