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Grape Collective: Weingut Roterfaden: A Bright Red Line Through Württemberg's Wine
About an hour northwest of Stuttgart, in the exact opposite direction of Swabian wine regions, a river called the Enz does that thing meandering rivers are so inclined: creating dramatic amphitheaters of vines and terraces. Located in this northern haunt of Wurttemberg is Rosswag. Make no mistake; this tiny village is a viticulture treasure, surrounded by an ancient amphitheater of staggering, towering, steep terraced vineyards lined with 23.61 miles of hand built stone walls.
Lemberger is king here (Blaufränkisch is what it’s called in Austria, where it’s more common); old-vines planted for decades (or maybe centuries) on shell limestone at about 1,000 feet above sea level. While off the beaten path, it is safe to assume that the wine made here was always good, solid; the kind of gutsy wine that would stand up to hearty fare, calorie-rich cuisine for the villagers who worked these steep terraces. As beautiful as the vineyards look, they are profoundly expensive to farm, and the majority of work must be done by hand.
And many villagers still do; nearly everyone in the region has at least a few rows of vines, though most are what we’d call “hobby farmers,” people who love their vines but don’t have that much time for them. While the last few decades have seen enormous changes to the way wine is made and sold in the region, as financial pressures pushed many younger people heading to the big cities, the local Rosswag cooperative, which farms 99% of the vineyards, has handled the challenges of the new wine market better than most. In this town, the coop has stepped in and created something like that idealistic thing we want a coop to be. A place where, “together,” people pool resources and get the things done they couldn’t do alone. And for the most part, it’s good; 99% of the fruit from the vineyards goes to the coop for the humble village wines.
Olympia Samara and Hannes Hoffman, Roterfaden, well… they are the other 1%. Literally.
The grandson of farmers, Hannes was born in Rosswag. His family has tended vines, had cereal fields and raised cattle. Hannes, though, liked the vines the most. He studied in Geisenheim and there met Olympia, the daughter of a Greek wine-exporter, who had come to Germany to study viticulture and winemaking.
After graduating, Hannes and Olympia proceeded to travel the world in pursuit of the perfect winery, a place where they could work together in the vineyards, work together in the cellars and spend time in their own garden. Olympia worked in Burgenland, Napa, Naousa and Santorini. With previous experience working for Jochen Beurer, Hannes worked in Carnuntum, Mallorca, South Africa and Sonoma.
Eventually, all this globe trotting helped them realize that they had everything right in front of them, in the dramatic, terraced, old-vine vineyards of Rosswag. Returning to Germany, they started Roterfaden, which translates to Red Thread, in 2014 with half a hectare of old vine Lemberger from a parcel planted by Hannes’ grandfather. Today, they have grown to about four hectares and farm a little bit of Pinot Noir and Riesling along with the Lemberger. Without preconceived notions of what wine from Rosswag should be, Hannes and Olympia have the luxury to do what they want, exactly the way they want it.
And how do they work? Quietly, thoroughly, in a manner that looks so fluid and natural that you almost don’t notice how considered it all is; how every step has been thought out and executed in the perfect manner. Yes, they are working organically; they incorporate many tenants of biodynamics, making their own teas and extracts. There is no tasting room to visit at Roterfaden - Olympia and Hannes would rather be in the vineyard. From pruning to harvest, everything is done by hand; the vineyards are beautiful and the cellar is minimalistic, a converted barn scarcely larger than your average mechanics garage with a few steel tanks and mostly old wood casks of various sizes lined up. Working without even a basket press their first year, Olympia and Hannes have gradually brought more equipment in each year. All fermentations occur naturally in open vats; the wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered with thoughtfully low levels of sulfur only at bottling.
Already, only a few years into their work, the very serious potential of this place is beginning to show. Committed to biodynamic farming, Hannes and Olympia are encouraging the local cooperative to consider more sustainable farming practices that could scale. They are consulting with the co-op to help make this wine—hopefully helping to bring more recognition to the area to ensure that these magnificent vineyards stick around for many centuries.