One of the [many] perks of living here astride three borders (France, Germany, Switzerland) is that we’re within striking distance of some fine vineyards, each with their own distinctive grape varieties and winemaking styles.
When stocks of Riesling, Gewurz or Muscat dip below danger levels, we head up to Alsace’s Route des Vins. To top up on the Pinot family (Blanc, Gris and Noir, aka Weissburgunder, Graubunder and Spätburgunder) we cross the Rhine to Baden. And when we get homesick for Swiss wines (Petite Arvine, Cornalin, Humagne or even Chasselas), the lack of world-class vineyards in the Basel region is amply compensated by the trusty Coop, which has a good selection of all of the above (go armed with the latest ed. of Chandra Kurt’s Weinseller).
The best way to discover what makes a winery tick, how/where the wine’s grown and how it was made is – of course – to meet the wine maker and taste his/her wines sur place. This is easy around here. For some you can just fetch up on the doorstep; better still, ring to make an appointment. Others have open days when you can taste the full range.
Recently it was the turn of Weingut Dr Heger in Ihringen in the Kaiserstuhl to open their doors. Heger (whose wines are listed in top restaurants all over Germany and stocked by enlightened importers worldwide) is large by Baden standards, with different labels/bottlings, each corresponding to a different market segment: Dr Heger wines are top of the range, named after the eponymous founder of the family business who started building up the vineyards as a hobby in 1935. The wines come from two prime Kaiserstuhl vineyards (Winklerberg and Schlossberg). Next in the pecking order come wines from the historic Gebrüder Müller vineyards in Ihringen and Breisach.
The Weinhaus Heger range, created by grandson Joachim to meet the ever-increasing demand for Heger wines, offers great-value, everyday drinking. Similarly priced are the Fischer wines (three neat little fish on the label), grown in the somewhat cooler Tuniberg vineyards east of the Kaiserstuhl, towards Freiburg. The big hitters throughout are Weiss-, Grau- and Spätburgunder (Pinots Blanc/Gris and Noir); Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Lemberger also feature.
The open day is super-well organised (this is Germany; you’d expect no less). You have to sign up and say which day and roughly what time you’ll pitch up. Spiegelau glass in hand, you cruise around tasting the range, starting with Weinhaus Heger, followed y Fischer, graduating to Gebrüder Müller and climaxing with Dr Heger himself (well, the wines named after him). Every year they invite a couple of winemaking friends from other regions/countries to bring their wines. A bonus this year was an appearance from the sparkly, sympathetic Martha Gantenbein to present their legendary wines from Graubünden in Switzerland (they make just two wines each year, white (Chardonnay) and red (Pinot Noir)).
It’s the opportunity to taste the top Heger wines (stars were the Grauburgunders and Spätburgunders from the Winklerberg and Schlossberg vineyards, prices ranging between €26.50 and €68), and to file away the taste memories for another year and/or when money is no object (hmmm). It’s also the moment to buy. We majored on Spätburgunders from the more affordable Weinhaus Heger and Fischer range (loved their exuberant Sauvignon Blanc) with a mild splurge on Spätburgunders from the Eckartsberg vineyard. We’ll be cracking open the first any time soon; the rest is slumbering in the cellar, ready (perhaps) for our next Pinot Noir taste-off.