Erni Loosen Interview

Erni Loosen Interview Transcript

Dr Loosen winery is a typical old world family estate with a long, long-standing tradition of about 200 years in the family and 6 generations. Because we have traditions and 200 years of Riesling in this area, and 200 years more or less to produce only a single varietal, a white wine varietal, Riesling.

Old bourgeois wine estates, as we call ourselves, were more or less started here in the area 200 years ago by Napoleon Bonaparte. This area is very, very Catholic and so before Napoleon most of the vineyards, about 70-80% of the vineyards, belonged to the church, to clerical donations, to the monastery, to the bishop, or to the churches of the villagers, and so a lot of cleric donations and this kind of stuff. But then 200 years ago, 1804, Napoleon came, conquered Germany all the way going to Russia, and he confiscated all the church property because the richest “company “ in the world was the catholic church and it still is the one of the richest companies in the world. So, Napoleon confiscated all the church property, the monasteries, the vineyards, all these clerical donations and sold it at auction and sold it in a way that rich bourgeois people finally had the chance to buy old estates, old monasteries with the old vineyard sites. That was the time when all the bourgeois wine estates started here in the Mosel, 200 years ago with Napoleon. That’s how Dr. Loosen got started.

My great, great, great, great uncle, a solicitor for the Prussian notary, led these auctions, and all these vineyards were sold. It was a clever move of Napoleon because he made a lot of money confiscating church property and selling it away. And with the money he made on all these auctions he financed all his wars throughout Europe. We have to thank Napoleon because all the bourgeois wine estates that now exist started with Napoleon because he sold all the church property, and the rich bourgeois people were able to buy land and vineyards and estates which used to be in the hands of the church. So that is the background of the history of our estate.

When Napoleon came to Germany, he took control of all the vineyards from the Catholic Church. He then auctioned them to the Bourgeois to use the money to fund his wars. My great great great great uncle was a solicitor for the Prussian notary and led these auctions. That’s how Dr. Loosen started.

Well, the slate soil, or what we call the Devonian slate soil, because it’s from Devonian time 400 million years ago when this slate, that’s what we call our blue slate, was created. What makes it so special is that it’s a very stony soil, it has a lot of potassium, natural potassium, in the stone that means it’s a kind of a natural source of potassium. Potassium is quite an important mineral for growing everything, for farming, not only for wine, for wheat, for corn, for everything, potassium is very important. And the high content of potassium, this mineral potassium, in our soil gives this Riesling this mineral driven, this lively acidity.
Soils are very special in our blue slate, on the surface with stones it retains the heat during the day and gives them a warm environment in the vineyard because our northern growing climate usually is much colder, so warm soil is important for growth and for the life of the microorganisms in the soil. The vineyards will have a very lively soil of microorganisms, that breakdown all the organic material down to humus to nitrogen so that means a full life of microorganisms in the soil also tells you that you have a healthy soil, good soil, lots of microorganisms which turns organic material and humus into nitrogen. Nitrogen is very important for growing not only wine but corn and plants.

The other thing is this stony soil gives very good drainage to the soil and the good drainage means water can go through the soil easily and it doesn’t stay in the soil and keep it too wet, so the soil can warm up, again good for the microorganisms. And so for us very special, this extremely drained soil, for us it’s quite important because we are one of the very, very few areas here in Europe I think in this size, maybe even the only area, which are still on un-grafted vines, original root stocks. So, we still have a lot of vineyards which are built on the original rootstock, no American root stock, on their original root stock, so the oldest vineyards are 130-150 years old on their own roots because of the slate soil because phylloxera can’t live in the slate soil. So from this point of view, it makes our soil very special.

And the typical aroma structure for the Riesling coming from blue slate is what we call stone fruit aroma. Blue slate gives this beautiful stone fruit aroma to our wines, green apple, white peach, yellow peach, if its riper, its apricot. And that gives this typical aroma structure for blue slate in our Riesling is what we call stone fruit aroma, all kind of stone fruit aroma starting from apple to white peach to yellow peach and then it’s very ripe, all the way up to apricot. Which is also very typical for the blue slate soil.

Our soil is special because it is full of potassium. Potassium is important for growing many different things and it’s what gives our Riesling.

You know what I always say? For 30 years I’m in the wine business, 35 years now in the wine business. A great wine starts in your head because I think making a wine is very exciting as long as you know what you want to produce, if you have a clear idea of the wine you want to produce. Because if you have never drunk a great wine, if you’ve never experienced a great wine of the world, how are you going to create a great wine? I mean you need to have a certain idea what you’re looking for. Sure, there is this idea, especially with the natural producers and the orange wine producers, “I don’t want to do anything, I don’t want to touch anything, I leave it to God to make the wine, I’ll leave it to nature to make the wine”, but in my experience if you leave it to God and nature the only thing you are basically ending up with is vinegar. Nature is not a great winemaker, I tell you. If you leave it to nature, at the very end you get vinegar and not wine. I’m sorry, I don’t like to make vinegar. If you want to make great wine, you have to interfere. I don’t understand this philosophy from these people “Oh no I don’t want to do that”. 

Sure, less is more, we don’t want to use too much, or to interfere the whole time, but it’s like raising kids, you have to give advice and sometimes you have to be strict, otherwise they’re dancing on your head and dancing on the table like the monkeys. We all know they need some discipline. And making wine is the same. I mean you have to interfere sometimes because if you don’t interfere, if you don’t do anything exactly what I said, the final result is vinegar. It’s volatile, its vinegar, I’m sorry this is not great wine. And so from that point, to make a great wine, first is to have the idea “now what do I’m looking for, what do I want to do?”
Sure, everybody has different ideas, some people are going in this direction, or that direction, keeping it longer in the barrel, etc. You have a lot of tools and instruments to go in different directions. At the end of the day there are always some inputs to do. Either you leave only a short time on the yeast or long time on the yeast, but if you leave it long time on the yeast you still have to watch it. You have to top the wine up. But if you don’t top up for two years, then you get oxidation. Nobody wants to have oxidation in the wine. But if you top it up every month when you keep it fresh, if you don’t do anything you get oxidation. So, from that point of view, if you take little steps, you have to care about and watch during the winemaking certain steps. And if you want to avoid oxidation, top it up, if you want to have a little more oak, put it in your oak barrel. If you want more micro oxidation, put it in a bigger barrel, an older one. You have enough tools. And sure, less is more, you don’t have to filter the wine every month, or whatever, or put chemicals on it. You can do without chemicals, but still you have to care about it. And that is winemaking.

Winemaking to me, rather to care about the barrel, you have an idea of what you want to produce, and then step by step caring about it, surveying it, tasting the wine every month to check on it. Is it still good? Is it going in the right direction? Is it the direction where you want to go, or do you have to have to interfere a little bit and to correct it a little bit or whatever. So, from that point that is my enjoyment in winemaking. But winemaking is a procedure which I need first a clear idea of what I want to produce now and then I’ll start to do all these things which I think you need to do to end up with the wine I want to I mean achieve.

No, no. I think specially to make a great wine you need a lot of experience. I think that is the whole … that is extremely important because you can’t do a great wine… I can’t start it and say I will give you a great wine tomorrow. I have my idea and then you work on these ideas so every year you try to get better. I always I always compare it with exponential curves. 70% of winemaking now everybody can do it that’s pretty simple but then the last 30% of winemaking to get better is exponentially more work than the first 70%. So that means 70% it’s pretty simple, you do everything right. You clean the must, you do this other simple steps which are basically all you have to do to make a nice wine. That is 70%. The next percent varies from 70 to 90% to achieve even better quality. The next 20% costs you the same work as the first 70%. To get the last 10% it’s getting more and more work to achieve.

I think the last percent going up to 99% is exponentially more work in attention and many, little, little, little details you have to do. And a lot of people say what is it, I mean, I could achieve 70-80% but people don’t taste this little bit of 5% more. I have to invest so much more effort and work into it and most people don’t see it. But if you have the goal to make a great wine, the best wine, you have to go for the last that last mile. And this mile I know it’s not I mean this mile for a lot of people said this isn’t worth all the work for this last mile. It’s all much work and 99% of the people would probably not even recognize it. But this is not … you don’t do it for the customers. You do it, I do it for myself and I want to achieve it. It is my goal to go there and to see to get this. Possibly that’s the reason that it never gets there, there is no 100 point wine. Because if there’s a 100 point wine, you can’t get better anymore.

This is the whole thing… you need the passion to get better and better every year. Even if it’s only a little, little, little, little step. But you want to be better. And if you have a 100 point wine that means you can’t get better anymore. Then you have no goal anymore. That isn’t possible. You always can, trying to get better. It means you need a lot of experience too.

Like my GG reserve wine. That’s something I’m doing now after 15 years. I have the impression I’m just in the beginning. If I had the chance to talk to my great grandfather who had a 50 year experience he could tell me so much more. For me I just started something and I’m looking for 20 years. As soon as I have 20 years of my GG reserve I can put them all on the table next to each other and then I think the fine tuning starts. Because then I learned in this vintage the two years was absolutely perfect, and this vintage the two years was probably a few months too long, and this vintage if we should have been going longer. This is only way I can find this out only if I look back. And I have these wines on the table. In this vintage and this vintage a little over 15 years old now that is already getting a little tired but why is the 20 year so much fresher.
And then I can start and think about the fine tuning. Ahh, in these kind of vintages I have to do it a little bit differently. In this kind of vintage I have to adjust here. This kind of fine tuning now. on this I can start after 20 years. and then I need another 20 years to do the fine tuning. I mean another 40 years on the table and then I can taste them all and then OK I need to get 100 years old to complete the project. My goal in 100 years is to finish my ideas. You can’t change it every year, no you have to stay with this kind of tradition and try to get better and better and better every year.

The problem is I had only one bottle that means we don’t have the wines anymore. We were in the occupied zone by the French and the French confiscated all the wine. My great grandather was allowed to use and keep the ’47 and so I had the ‘47 GG reserve and it’s 60 years old and so and that was so fascinating that was the reason this one bottle this one bottle I mean turned my whole perspective about dry wine from the Mosel that is this bottle I mean gave me that I mean gave me the initiative for me to change the whole winemaking for my dry wine. But then I had this bottle but I thought holy moly this old man did he made dry wines which I still can drink after 60 years enjoyed the matured wine but it was perfect and mature but not oxidized and was not three months premature oxidation like a lot of the burgundies now like it was so enjoyable it was delicious. It was great and then and that gave me an effect and I’ve been going the next day to my winemaker and said Bernie we have to make wine as my great grandfather did in 50 years of wine like this wine I tasted a wine a dryer Riesling which you can drink after 40-50 years and enjoy it and you are absolutely fascinated.

And this we are working on. I’m not sure where we are because I have all these 50 I mean 50 years ago when we started I don’t have yet these kinds of things but we are working to achieve our goal to achieve this kind of model which I have in my head. I have this model in my head I have this kind of idea of a great dry wine as my great grandfather because I could only once in my life and I will of this wine and that gave me the whole motivation to go for that and to I mean to hopefully to seek but this I can’t say now we have to wait another 20-25 years and then we will see.

But we are still adjusting every and you know we see when we learn and we learned a lot and we see that the fine tuning we see here yeah there you have to do a little bit of fine tuning. Barrel management for such a long time is also very complicated thing to learn more about big barrels because we do only everything with big barrels now so from that point of view so we have to just discussing this yesterday with winemaker about barrels and we saw the different sizes of the barrel I mean 1000 thousand, 3000 thousand liters makes a huge difference especially for certain vineyards for a certain lightness of the trades, acidity. I should I tell you we know it’s complex it’s very complex you know. You learn a little bit more and you still try to improve everywhere and that is unless I mean if you if you lose it if you lose the ambition and the passion for getting better every year then then it’s then it’s over. I think then then you lost also the passion for wine making.

What makes wine ageable? It’s very simple; it’s low pH. You know lower pH is better the wine will age, and that is very important. So from that point of view, I just recently had a 1978 Bordeaux and I’m looking at the label and said Holy Moly. Bordeaux, 1978 was a very good vintage and the alcohol was 11.5 percent! A Bordeaux Meritage. Wow, 11.5 means also low pH. I’m sure the first 20 years it was very difficult to drink. Probably very harsh from tannins. but now no 78 but you’re talking about; we’re talking about 45 years or 44 years old . It’s beautiful now, isn’t it amazing. One of the reasons that Bordeaux’s age that well in the old days was it was not that high in alcohol, the pH happy much lower. Nowadays we all know alcohol levels are around 14 14.5% in Bordeaux. Now, the age is much higher than it used to be 30 or 40 or 50 years ago. So, that’s the change and that is the reason why reason Riesling can age so well. Riesling has a fairly high acidity, total acidity in the finished wine because we’re not going malolactic fermentation, and therefore with this high total acidity in the wine you always have a low pH. Our pH’s are between 1.95, and 3.1 and 3.15 which is a fairly low pH. The very low pH is due to the high acidity give these wines a great ageability.

Ageability comes not only from the pH, there’s also certain winemaking which gives wines ageability. For example, one of the reasons is new oak barrels. I know it’s just like a young wine it’s like prominent, not up yet. But in the old days in Bordeaux or burgundy they put the wine into new oak because they sold you know the wine in the barrel so you had to replace the barrels each year. They had to buy new oak for the new vintage because everything was sold in bulk in the barrel. So the new harvest had to go into a new barrel. But you know, tannin is nothing else as an acidity so basically the new oak added tannins which is an acidity to the wine and that gave them ageability again. Because the acidity lowered by the malolactic fermentation plus the tannins is an acidity of different kinds. The oak acidity gave the wine more ageability and therefore that the wines have been anyway in the old days trend old they never drank a Bordeaux or Burgundy that was not minimum 20-25 years old. The new oak was gone but it preserved the wine. You can’t produce wines anymore which you can’t drink or when you can start drinking wine in 20 years. But that was pretty common 50, 60, 70 years ago. People still aged the wines. But that is definitely the acidity of the Riesling that gives the ageability to the wine.

I started my first little joint venture project you know with Chateau Ste. Michelle where we produce a Riesling together which is called Eroica, and because Washington State is possibly the largest Riesling producer in the USA. Washington State has a reputation for Riesling and so we started this little Riesling project together with Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1999 and then in 2005 I started my little, because I always loved Pinot Noir, always love Pinot Noir from Burgundy. But if you look at these prices it’s definitely more affordable to do something in Oregon than in Burgundy and I love Oregon and I love the Oregon Pinot Noir and is supposed to be also in these days a more cooler climate area and so we started 2005 Oregon projects, I mean Pinot Noir project, we bought some land in 2009, 40 acre plot, we have been planting vineyards there and have been building a nice winery in the old world style, underground cellars, no air conditioning, isolated walls where you don’t need air conditioning and natural climate down in arch cellars down in the soil. Here we do we do we Pinot Noir, 90% Pinot Noir, we do one barrel of Riesling, we have the oldest Riesling vineyard in Oregon planted in 1976. There’s also this one barrel made in this GG reserve style, it stays two years in the barrel, it’s called Appasionata Riesling.

We do a little bit of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, which works very well in my opinion in Oregon, and then at 90% is Pinot Noir. It’s a really fascinating project, it’s also organically grown. And there we also go a little bit of the old world direction. We just introduced a new Line which we call Appasionata wines. That’s our top, top wines and they get released with age. The top Appasionata Pinot Noir, we call them after music pieces. The top wine, Appasionata top wine, is released after 10 years from being bottled. We just released the 2012. The middle tier Appasionata is released after five years. Then the other one is released after three years. So three, five, and ten years is aged in our cellar so that’s the reason we can do it only now because I started planting 2012 so it’s released now, this year, ten years old, five years old, and three years old, the Pinot Noir.
We produce the chardonnay style of Burgundy 100 years ago. Because they didn’t do they produce it in bigger barrels on the full yeast, much more reductive. Our chardonnay is produced in the style as they did 100 years ago in Burgundy, very much the same way I like my Riesling and the same way my great grandfather made the Riesling. Very similar note. A Burgundy producer told me, look you know my grandfather produced his chardonnay exactly same way you do your GG reserve Riesling. It was the same kind of wine making. Quite interesting project and I love it. We age it not only in the barrel but also in the bottle and then we release it to customers. And the 2005 was the first high end Appasionata we produced, and it will be released on my 25th anniversary in 2030.

And then I have a Riesling project I do with Peter Barry, Jim Barry Wines, in Australia. He’s a very famous Riesling producer, we do a Riesling together which is called Wolta Wolta. It’s the same idea. The Riesling winemaking from 120 years ago, doesn’t work in Australia doesn’t work in Washington state. Doesn’t work in Oregon. We had this kind of idea to make a GG reserve style also outside of Germany and see how the wine with this kind of old wine historic making how does it work with an Australian Riesling, how does it work with a Washington state Riesling, how does it work with an Oregon Riesling? How does it work with a Mosel Riesling, as I did it? So, this is quite an amazing project.

And a similar project I have together for over three years with one of the most famous winemakers in Spain where I do a wine together. I do a Rioja with my ideas, and Telmo Rodriguez is doing a Riesling in Mosel. And he makes the wine with his idea with the white wine making idea of Spain, he does a Riesling with me here in Germany. Interesting little project.

And so, this is more for fun and to learn. We learn so many things. And all this learning procedure you can integrate into your other knowledge and what you want to achieve for your own wine. There’s always little things you can use. There’s always things which you can try and sometimes it doesn’t improve it but if you never try it, you never find out. Learning by doing is still a big thing for us. We never stop trying to get better.

Yes! We started to do two years ago now, when the pandemic started, we started a Vermouth. And that’s a quite interesting idea. Vermouth is an herbal wine. But we use a lot of herbs to aromatize the wine but usually vermouth is a cheap product, the Cinzano, Martini you take the cheapest wines, and then you do the extraction of all these herbs, you do it in pure alcohol, and then you use this different alcohols, many alcohols with the extraction of the different herbs we use and then you make a blend and add it to the wine and then you sugar it up with cane sugar, or with a beet sugar, enough so it’s usually cheap process. But we said look we have a vineyard, which is called spice garden, and herb garden, and the Gewurtzgarden, spice garden and herb garden vineyards, so why are we not taking the wine because vermouth is an earth wine, and why we not taking a wine, but produce a Riesling in our earth garden, and our Gewurtzgarden and the herb garden, at the cabernet estate is 100% Riesling because vermouth is never a single varietal. It is the cheapest crap which they can buy very cheap.

And so we have a high end vermouth by having a single vineyard from the earth garden vineyard, that is a traditional cutting edge basis with a natural sweetness of the grape juice by stop fermentation so we don’t add any sugar, and the herbs for this project, the herbs for this one wine, we grow in the vineyards. So, the herbs which we use to extract to make the vermouth out of this wine, all the herbs, at least 80-90% of the herbs are also grown in our vineyards. We grow the herbs which we use in the vermouth and the wine are from the Riesling herb garden vineyard. There’s a natural sweetness from the grape juice. Then we mature the vermouth for one year in a big old Mosel barrel. It’s really interesting. We have a lot of high ratings now from the drinks magazines, magazines going more for liquor. Very interesting and a very nice little project.

Yes, Gewurtzgarden, Dr. Loosen’s Spice Garden Vermouth. All the herbs which are in the vermouth are on the label.

Well, I mean it was so great to meet you guys last year for the first time, so I think we had a wonderful time and I think it is a great thing. And you see, if you if you meet passionate winemakers there’s always the right people love each other, they love to talk about wine and so there’s an immediate friendship. With wine lovers in the world, a wine freak, there would be no wars anymore. With wine lovers I find they want to enjoy their life, they want to eat and drink and talk. And if they’re drunk they fall asleep.