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Schatzel Pettenthal Riesling Kabinett 2016

Schatzel Pettenthal Riesling Kabinett 2016

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"“This represents the best [wertvollste] grapes we harvested in 2016,” insisted Schätzel, and as usual there isn’t much of it and it’s priced on par with his Grosse Gewächse. As usual, too, it comes from what Schätzel refers to as “probably my favorite part of the Pettenthal, where it turns north up against the Brudersberg,” a location that helps explain its suitability for Kabinett. Scents of orange zest, smoky black tea and crushed stone rise emphatically from the glass. The palate impression here is rich yet buoyant, silken in feel, and features a lusciously peachy component to accompany the wine’s bright, zesty citricity. Piquant, smoky hints of rosemary and marjoram, along with saliva-liberating salinity, add to the appeal of an impressively persistent finish that renders the next sip irresistible. Amazingly, this wine harbors 11.8 grams of acidity. No wonder its 44 grams of sugar register as only discreet sweetness! Drinking window: 2018-2030. 92 points

I first visited with Kai Schätzel on Tuesday, September 13, 2016 (resulting in my extensive and ecstatic report focused on his 2015s), and even though I had some advance notion of his practices, I was taken aback to hear him announce, “We’ll start picking Riesling on Friday,” and then add, “We pick the best grapes first.” That’s a measure of how seriously Schätzel takes a Kabinett program that depends on picking firm grapes at low must weight and high acidity. But when Schätzel refers to “the best,” it’s also meant to encompass his vines destined for Grosses Gewächs, which are cropped to far lower yields than those intended for Kabinett. This approach, insisted Schätzel, only works thanks to complete greening of the vineyards “to take out energy, and only after a few years, when vine growth has slowed down, can you lower the yields and reduce the canopy.” But he credits other labor-intensive, non-mechanized measures as well – some specifically biodynamic – with delivering ripe flavors under current conditions. He emphasizes that “you need to create a tunnel around the fruit zone,” for instance, so that air circulates but the grapes are still shaded. Schätzel is far from discounting the role of vine genetics. “Still,” he observed in summary, “it’s obvious that if you persist in employing the methods that were favored and written up in textbooks in the 1950s or 1960s, before global warming became an issue, you are going to end up with wines of 13.5-14% alcohol. So you have to do things differently.” Of course, with hindsight we know that both sugars and acids were remarkably stable during the chilly fall of 2016, but when Schätzel began picking on September 17, parched hillsides and daytime temperatures in excess of 95 degrees (Fahrenheit) were more than merely a vivid week-old memory; their effects determined his current circumstances. In the end, much of Schätzel’s crop benefited from hanging through at least some measure of serious chill. He insisted that his crop-thinning and picking strategies preclude the widespread practice of “pre-selection,” i.e., an early pass across the vineyards to gather grapes suitable for generic bottling. “No,” he explained, “we pick what’s optimum from the get-go, but then we go back into the vineyard four, five, six times, waiting for the rest of the fruit to eventually turn golden and develop optimal aromatics.” And clearly, autumn 2016 suited that strategy well.

Schätzel might have had very little 2016 crop to harvest if he hadn’t improvised in the battle against peronospora. As I have mentioned repeatedly in connection with 2016, spraying in a timely manner in the context of this vintage and of rampant peronospora meant almost literally spraying at the right moment and certainly not a few hours let alone a day late. What’s more, the constant late spring and early summer rain meant that whatever was sprayed didn’t stay on the leaves for long. As a biodynamic practitioner, Schätzel faces much more critical timing and a more labor-intensive regimen of spraying generally. So what to do when even on rocky hillsides like those of Nierstein’s famous “Red Slope” it’s so muddy that you can’t get into your vineyards with your usual tractor-sprayer? Many villages (especially on the Mosel) hire a helicopter service, but one is then hostage to a one-size-fits-all schedule. And many growers had to strap canisters on their backs and wade into their vines. But there are limits to physical exertion, and few growers can muster an entire troop of human hand-sprayers. “We managed to get by even in 2000,” related Schätzel, “and that experience had already gotten us thinking about a new solution to spraying. For a while we collaborated with Johannes Hasselbach in employing a small Caterpillar tractor. Then we tried using a winch and pulley. But I still wasn’t satisfied.” So Schätzel sold off his sophisticated, heavy tractor and rigged up a lightweight wheeled trailer tank with a long hose that does the trick. (See photo in the introduction to this report.)

Schätzel did not begin bottling even his generic 2016s until the following May. His Ölberg and Hipping Grosses Gewächs weren’t bottled until September 2017, shortly before I tasted them. Only after late-summer decisions are made about which lots will be so employed can Schätzel bottle what’s left from his top sites as “Reinschiefer Riesling” (officially albeit misleadingly, deemed a VDP Ortswein, i.e., “village wine”). The 2016 Pettenthal – which I have not yet tasted – will, meanwhile, like its recent predecessors, be bottled only after spending a second spring in cask."

David Schildknecht, Vinous (05/18)