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“You constantly reflect on how you can create the wines you like to drink. It’s a permanent state of adaptation, according to what you’ve learnt and seen. If you stop, you’re dead!”

Wasenhaus

You might think two Germans starting their own wine project would have met on home soil, but in fact they met and conjured up the notion of Wasenhaus while living on the hallowed ground of Burgundy. 

Alexander Götze, a landscaper-turned-winemaker, and Christoph Wolber, who’d decided that viticulture was the most exciting form of agriculture, had each found their own way to Meursault. There, they would become united in a new mission: to see if they could create some Burgundian-inspired magic of their own, in Germany. 

LITTLEWINE caught up with Alexander Götze

Alexander Götze

Meet Alex 

While studying landscape architecture in Traisen, Alex needed to find a student job on the side to pay the bills. It’s a small wine region, so he managed to find a job working for a winery. 

“I didn’t want to work in a bar, and I figured it would be interesting to see what was happening on the slopes. But it was just a student job, I had no particular interest in wine at the time.” 

But bit by bit he found himself enjoying the work—perhaps more than expected. Additionally, the vineyard work paid slightly better than the landscaping, so he decided to stick with wine for the foreseeable future. However, he’d been working in a conventional vineyard; with weed killers, fertilisers and fungicides, and this didn’t sit well with him. He says, 

“I always hated bringing out the weed killers. When you work in conventional farming, very quickly you find yourself asking questions. Do you want to keep using the products in those plastic containers with the skull and crossbones marks on them? I didn’t. So for me, the most important thing was to find an organic winery.”

He decided to leave to experience what it was like to work for an organic winery. He found himself in the Tuscan hillside; in Montalcino at a winery called Pian dell’Orino. Not only were they organic, but also biodynamic, and this was a completely different experience for Alex. He remembers it fondly, saying,

“They were so passionate about biodynamic farming. That’s the first time I really found myself in touch with the organic world, and what it means to work naturally in the vineyards and in the cellar.” 

He was smitten with Italy, and readily admits that he could happily have stayed there. But he was lacking in white wine experience, having been making Tuscan reds, and the call of Burgundy was hard to resist. So he emailed the iconic biodynamic domaine Pierre Morey. He was in luck; it was January and their pruning team was on the small side. 

“I had always loved Meursault, and the style of Pierre Morey. At the beginning, I just wanted to experience a season in the vineyards and the cellar. I didn’t know there was the possibility to go to school. I didn’t have a wine degree, but I also knew I couldn’t go and study for another three years, earning no money.” 

Once more he was in luck; there was a flexible study program whereby he could go to school and continue his apprenticeship with the Pierre Morey family. 

On his last day of school, he was cycling home from Beaune to Meursault when he bumped into Brian Sieve, the chef de cave at another iconic winery, Domaine de Montille. Brian, an American, and Alex, a German, knew each other through the very small ex-pat community. Before he knew it, Brian had offered him a job. It was another fateful right-place-right-time moment. 

Alex lived in an old ex-hotel room in Meursault; a small town in which one other German lady lived. When a new German guy arrived in Burgundy, she got in touch with Alex to ask if there was a spare room in his building. There was, and so Christoph Wolber arrived on the scene. 

Christoph Wolber

Christoph had just begun working at Bernhard van Berg, and the two hit it off and became good friends. Later, Christoph would gain further experience at Leflaive, Domaine de la Vougeraie and Comte Armand; so the two between them had more experience than many young winemakers would dream of in a lifetime. But as much as they loved Burgundy, they both felt a pull to return home to Germany. Christoph was from Baden, and had his girlfriend and family back home. Knowing that Baden is home to some great Pinot Noir, he began thinking about looking for vineyards.

“I said, well how about we try to do something together? If we can find some fruit and a cellar? It’s a Pinot region and it’s not too far from Burgundy. Next thing we knew, he’d found some vineyards, fruit and a cellar.”

It was 2016, and the first vintage of Wasenhaus was soon in the making. 

The Vineyards 

Although Baden might be gaining a reputation for Pinot Noir, largely thanks to Enderle & Moll and the newcomers Wasenhaus, the majority of the production is still dominated by the cooperatives, which represent circa 80% of the wine coming from the region. But their model is not sustainable without chemical agriculture and tractors. 

“If the cooperatives can’t farm the vineyards by tractor – if they have to do handwork, or if the yields are a bit low – they’re straightaway losing a lot of money, and not earning anything.  So, they’re trying to get rid of steeper vineyards that aren’t profitable for them. Those are the vineyards we started with and are still finding. It’s not easy as it’s all manual work, but they’re the best vineyards in the region.” 

As they’re located on the slopes, the vineyard soils are more interesting, there’s a better orientation and often the sites are home to older vines, as replanting on slopes is difficult. But for Alex and Christoph, this was exactly what they’d been hoping to find. They had all been chemically treated before they took them on, but bit by bit they’re being nurtured back to health. 

“We treat all of our vineyards organically from the start. Little by little you start to see the vines find their balance again. They become less vigorous; it just takes time. We suffer, however, when it comes to the soil. I’m convinced that the reason we don’t see a pH difference in our wines across our different soil types—limestone, volcanic, sandy and granite—is due to the chemicals still left in the soils. Soil can eat a lot of sh*t quickly, but it takes a very long time for it to go away again.”

Alex recalls that several domaines in Burgundy who’d ditched chemicals in the 80s still didn’t have the soil analyses with the balance they’d been hoping for by the end of the 90s. So it’s a long game, but luckily Alex and Chrisotoph aren’t in a rush.  

From starting with just 0.5 hectares in their first vintage, they’re now almost at three hectares. The fruit from their own vineyards is supplemented by fruit they buy from other growers (all of which are organic or biodynamic). 

“We want to make sure we’re always on a level where we can do everything ourselves, so we don’t need to hire more people. Wasenhaus isn’t about volume, but rather to grow in quality. Of course if we find nice new vineyards that really fit what we want to do, we won’t say no, but we won’t take vineyards on flat ground just for the purpose of making more wine.” 

They’re also fortunate to be in a region that’s known for its environmental credentials. This means it’s easy for them to find great fruit from organic and biodynamic vineyards. 

“Baden is one of the greenest regions; not just for wine but agriculture in general; we have the Green Party in government here. Working organically is very much what the people do here, and what they like.”

The Wines 

Although the two have almost two decades’ joint experience working with some of the top Burgundy domaines, they remain ever-humble. Alex says,

“You’re always adapting and learning. What we learnt in Burgundy isn’t necessarily the truth here in Baden. Of course you begin with what you know—what you’ve learnt—but as you get to know your vineyards and the climate better, you begin to adapt little by little. Since day one it’s been clear to us we want to work organically and with as few products as possible in the cellar; that won’t change. Rather it’s the little details that change; whether with pruning techniques or cellar adjustments.” 

One of the key differentiators in Baden is the different type of Pinot Noir found in the region. While genetically it’s the same as the Pinot in Burgundy, often the German clones have very different properties. As they were typically planted with quantity in mind, they can be very productive, with giant clusters. As such, the stems are often also very big, and hence very green at harvest time. This means these types of Pinot aren’t ideal for whole cluster fermentation; so depending on the vineyard and the type of Pinot found there, they make the decision whether to destem or use the whole bunch method. 

The whites – made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder) and Riesling – are all treated the same. The only one that gets slightly different treatment is their Gutedel (Chasselas), for which one third of the fruit is skin-macerated for ten days. 

Their most prized possession is in fact nothing fancy: an old screw press. 

“Even if we had the money to buy a new press, we wouldn’t. It’s a mechanical press with chains in it, which kind of grinds the skins and stems. It means you get a very turbid must, with lots of solids. That’s what we’re looking for.”

These thick sediments created in the press are added back to the barrels, where they create a reductive environment while at the same time giving the yeasts a kind of ‘superfood.’ It means they generally never have problems with their natural fermentations, and ensures a healthy environment meaning they can keep their sulphite use very low (generally not above 40ppm).

Sometimes our forefathers knew better than modern technology, after all.  They’re an open-minded duo who never stop thinking; if ancestral techniques make for a better wine; that’s what they’ll do. Alex continues, 

“You constantly reflect on how you can create the wines you like to drink. It’s a permanent state of adaptation, according to what you’ve learnt and seen. If you stop, you’re dead!”

He laughs, only half-joking. But they’re also entering a new era of Wasenhaus; previously Alex had continued his work at De Montille and travelled back and forth, but at the end of 2020 he made the final move back to Germany to join Christoph full time. 

Spätburgunder

Chasselas (rose, it would seem!)

Weissburgunder

“We’re getting more professional now, you could say. Back in 2016, I couldn’t come as often to help Christoph as maybe necessary. It’s hard to start something on your own – managing both the vineyards and the cellar. Now I’m here full time, and it means our priorities are totally different. We can become more detail orientated. 2020 was a great harvest – lovely people, perfect weather and beautiful grapes, so it was the perfect start.”

Considering their wines are already regarded as some of the most exciting wines coming from not just Baden, but the entire country, we’re waiting with bated breath to see what comes next from this talented double act. 

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