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Hans-Joseph Becker (call him “HaJo”) produces incredibly age-worthy, dry Rieslings from the Rheingau. They are unflaggingly honest and present a vocabulary that few Rieslings can match: dried earth and rocks, herbs, something vaguely subterranean, a savory, briny, smoky atmosphere that slowly reveals fine layers of bright citrus. Becker’s white wines are like Becker himself: angular, with muscle and sinew pulled tightly over a lean frame. They flaunt a rather prominent acidity that recalls the nervier wines of the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer; though there is a weight and a density that speaks of the Rheingau. They seem to have more to do with great Chablis than with German Riesling.
Overall, the J.B. Becker estate is one of many paradoxes. If there is any grand system there, it is inscrutable. Consider, on the one hand, that HaJo (and his father before him) has worked the vineyards organically for many, many years (certified since 2005). On the other hand, this rather important fact is mentioned nowhere–not on the labels, not at the estate. The life of the vineyard, at all levels, is profoundly important to Becker, and he thinks about it deeply. He just doesn’t talk about it. Becker is a strong advocate of indigenous yeast fermentation. This practice puts the graying, wild statesman of German winemaking right next to the young German hipster growers, as obsessed with natural yeasts as anything else. On the other hand, since vintage 2003, Becker has bottled his wine with glass closures, which of course alienates him from this same population. Furthermore, Becker prefers to use pressurized tanks for fermentation, relishing a quick, warm fermentation (a similar method is used at places like J.J. Prüm, Keller, etc). Then he racks the juice into the traditional barrels of the Rheingau for at least two years of barrel age before bottling. Even with these very long élevages, Becker seems to release wines willy-nilly. He keeps older vintages around because, in a way, the wines demand it.
Certainly there are no easy answers to anything at Becker. So here are the facts.
The estate, which now covers 13 hectares, was founded in 1893 by HaJo’s grandfather, Jean Baptiste Becker. He was a cooper who began accumulating some vineyards. J.B. Becker was started. J.B. Becker died in 1944 at the age of 73. HaJo’s father Josef grew the estate and in the 1930s befriended a young importer by the name of Frank Schoonmaker. They became good friends, and Becker acted as Schoonmaker’s consultant and consolidator for some time.
HaJo himself went to Geisenheim University in the 1960s. His great revelation, however, came in the cellars of Schloss Eltz in the early 1960s. Schloss Eltz made some of the greatest wines of the Rheingau from the 1950s through the 70s. Schloss Eltz is rather unknown these days because the estate sold its land in the 1980s. In any event, Becker was studying with the Cellar Master Hermann Neuser when he first tasted dry Rieslings fresh from the cask in the cellar before any süssreserve was added. The wines were a revelation to him. When he took over the family estate with vintage 1971, at the risk of losing his customers (which he lost almost all), he began focusing heavily on dry Rieslings.
Hans-Joseph Becker anticipated the dry wine movement in the Rheingau decades before anyone else. Nearly 50 years later, Becker’s glorious wines are finally getting the attention and the praise they deserve.