The Terroirist in Pfalz

Text & photo: Lena Särnholm

He has left the Predikät-System. He rejects RAW.
Alexander Pfluger trusts in his own gut feeling instead.
– When I toke over after dad, we made 45 different wines.
Now it’s 15. I can’t do less, if I want to show all the varitions in our Vineyards.

Let’s make it clear from the start. I wanted to meet Alexander Pflüger from Pfalz, Germany’s second largest wine region with a reputation like my beloved Lambrusco country, because he works with horses. The labels are elegant beauties of a farmer plowing behind his four-legged friend.

Halfway into the conversation we start to talk about the horses. Alexander says as in passing:

– We don’t have horses anymore.
But instead of leaving, as I was there to talk about the horses, the discussion gets more deeper; we get into the complexity of everythings being.
Of course he can work according to the same philosophy regardless of horse or not.
– We would like to continue, because the soil becomes more porous with hoofs than with tractors, but the woman who had the horses stopped working.Alexander has a substance for his own statement. He refers to a study from the University of Geisenheim, which showed that the composition of the soil would be up to 35-40 percent better if you work with a horse instead of the standard diesel-powered solution on wheels.

And what about Prädikat and RAW?

Prädikat is the German system where the wine is classified according to maturity and must weight, which Alexander thinks pushes away the structure from the terroir, the sense of feeling of the place.
RAW is the natural wine fair that has grown up from its childhood in London and now is a touring circus with tastings also in North America.
Natural wine is an imprecise and strenuous concept for Alexander, although his wines could be classified as such.
But how did it become in the case of Pflüger? As so often, we have to look in the rear view mirror.

After the war, it was mostly bulk wine that was produced in the large region of Pfalz.
The tradition here was to make dry riesling, but when the air went out of the market, the farmers looked towards Mosel and the Rheinhessen – which sold well – and tried to copy their concept.
– Many also planted new varieties, such as Huxelrebe and Müller-Thurgau. The 60’s and 70’s were the dark years here, says Alexander and kind of pinches with his mouth.
The turnaround came in the 90’s when the focus changed from quantity to quality. Today, Pfalz is Germany’s largest Riesling producer.

Weingut Pflüger was not only one of those who got their act’s together. They were also in the forefront of organic farming.
– Dad started already in the 80’s. Then no one talked about that the earth be alive. But our family has always been farmers so we know how important the composition of the soil is. In addition to the wines, we grew vegetables and had animals.
Alexander tells how the neighbors shook their heads at their green direction.
– They said the quality would be worse and that we would go down in five years.
The result was the opposite. Pflüger now exports 50 percent, which is unusual for Pfalz.
Alexander smiles:
– In the United States, many still believe that the wines from here are sweet and cheap.

For almost 20 years they have been working biodynamically.
– We tried some vineyards and saw how the soil changed, got more life. It also had a positive effect on the maturity. Not that there was more intense aromas in the grapes, it became better balanced.
With climate changes, it becomes increasingly important with a living soil that is capable of coping with the rain that may – perhaps – come. Or throwing down a lot.
– It can get really hot here in the summer, 30-35 degrees, and with sandstone it easialy becomes too dry. We must get the soil to retain the water.

Pflüger are Demeter certified, which they think is important. They want to show that their statement is for real.
– People must be able to trust us, that we are not just talking. In our region, more and more are starting to work biodynamically, but they do not certify. It’s a shame, because we have to support the organization. They do a good job – even politically. They lobby for greener production in general.

Pfalz has a good climate for viticulture, but Alexander emphasizes that every year has its challenges. What can cause problems here are mainly oidium and mildew.
– I’m happy about the forest we have all around us. It keeps the temperature down during the night and preserves the acid in the grapes. It fits well, because I want elegant wines.
However, all wines get some maceration for the sake of complexity. Sometimes it is only about six to eight hours.
– Everything depends on the vintage. I’ve tried for a week, but the tannins in the Riesling became way too pronounced, the wine became too rustic for my taste. I want to make terroir wines. Wines unique for our place.
Therefore, he cannot make less than 15 different cuvées.
– We have different vineyards and different grapes.
The majority is Riesling, which is done in everything from ”business card wines” to vineyard wines. In addition, Pinot Noir is important. Pflüger has French clones that are a bit more elegant than the German ones, which according to Alexander have both more fruit and color and are difficult to make really good red of.

We get into the vinification and the risk of using too much barrique on the delicate Pinot Noir.
– You could say that there are three types of Pinot Noir in Germany. First the old school – quite heavy with high alcohol. Then the type with far too much oak. And then the Burgundy Pinot – barrique, yes, but with sense.
Pflüger’s Pinot Noir is matured in Stockinger tonneau and French barrique. The wine we try is from 2018 and has not yet completely integrated the oak, but has power in both fruit and acidity and great potential. A good proof that high-quality Pinot can be made in more places than in Burgundy.
Another relatively unknown area that makes excellent Pinot Noir – sparkling of the same level as Champagne – is Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardy. Just returning from a trip there I can say that the Pinot made by traditional method is an undiscovered gem. Especially big impression on me, was made by Tenuta Belvedere with 40 months on the lees. But that is another story in its own. See you later!

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