We are excited to be shining the light today on the Christmann Winery in Germany in particular Sophie Christmann who, alongside her father Steffen, run this magnificent estate situated in the beautiful Gimmeldingen village.
Q) Tell us about the Christmann estate, the family history, and the different wines you make?
We are a true family winery. At the moment, I run the winery with my father. We are still supported by my grandfather who, at the age of 92, still helps us with many small errands. We are the 6th, 7th, and 8th generation in a long chain of winegrowers who have been running the winery since its foundation in 1798. Each generation has its own challenges and priorities, but we all share the same understanding of the winegrowers’ profession: work and everyday life are determined by nature. The focus is always on the vine.
Together with our team we cultivate 18 ha of vineyards. These have now been farmed organically and biodynamically for over 20 years. Only healthy soils can produce great wines, which is why biodiversity is a top priority in our vineyards. Because we want to personally accompany all the decisive elements of production, we have just downsized our winery a bit. We want to focus even more on what makes us special: Riesling and Pinot Noir from the best vineyards in Pfalz on a par with the best wines in the world. This also means that we have given up all the vineyards that are not in classified sites. So, we can now proudly say that 100% of our vines grow in classified VDP.Erste and Große Lage vineyards (similar to Premier and Grand cru).
Q) What makes the village of Gimmeldingen so special?
Our vineyards are located in Gimmeldingen, Königsbach and Neustadt and thus in the traditional part of the Mittelhaardt in the Palatinate. The Palatinate lies on the Rhine between Frankfurt and Strasbourg and thus connects to Alsace in the north and to Rhinehessen in the south. Climatically at the ideal intersection: warm enough for full ripeness, yet cool enough for mineral freshness and precision. At the edge of the Haardt – the transition from the Rhine plain to the Palatinate Forest – our vineyards are blessed by a great geological diversity, but above all by limestone soils from very different geological eras.
The region was significantly shaped by the collapse of the Rhine rift 45 million years ago. At that time, the Black Forest and the Vosges Mountains rose up, creating a fertile plain between them, through which the Rhine flows today. Our vineyards all lie on the edge of the Palatinate Forest, which adjoins the Vosges and slope gently down towards the Rhine valley.
In general, the Palatinate is very much characterised by red sandstone. In Gimmeldingen & Königsbach, however, a slab of Tertiary limestone came up. This is very similar to the limestone of Burgundy and is the basis of our spicy, mineral, and precise wines.
Q) What is your favourite part of the wine making process and why?
Basically, I like every step in the process. Nowadays, it is something very special that we represent almost the entire value chain, from growing the grapes to turning them into wine and selling the finished bottle ourselves, and do not just specialise in a very small part, as is common in almost all production processes today. I appreciate this variety very much.
But my favourite time is definitely the grape harvest. Of course, the whole season is important for the quality, but you can still lose everything in the last few months. In this respect, it is a time when we are incredibly focused on the vine in order to really harvest everything at the perfect moment. I like the thrill and stress of this time. The days fly by, we work from dusk till dawn, and in the evening, we just go to bed tired after a beer together. All with the aim of bringing the best possible quality to the cellar again.
Q) Did you always want to be a winemaker? And if you hadn’t become one, what alternative career path might you have taken instead?
I know it sounds very cheesy, but I could never really imagine anything else than working with wine. Unlike my father, who often had to help in the winery after school, my siblings and I only experienced the bright side of growing up in a winery. The estate was a great adventure for us. During the harvest, we rode on the grape wagons, nibbled grapes and drank fresh juice from the press. At the same time, we were taken to tastings and dinners by our parents and saw early on how our wines delight people all over the world. In this respect, this world has always been fascinating to me, which is why my path led me directly to the winery. After graduating from high school and doing several internships, I studied viticulture and have been part of the team since 2017.
After 5 years, I can say that I can’t imagine a better job. On the one hand, we have our feet firmly on the ground and know how humbling working with nature makes us, but at the same time we always experience the great joy that our wines cause all over the world. It’s the perfect balance.
Q) What advice would you offer to someone interested in becoming a winemaker?
Well, it’s a tough job, so I would say: Only do it if you really love wine. We see young people all the time who imagine the life of a winemaker to be romantic and beautiful. But the reality is that most of the time you’re not standing in the vineyard with 22 degrees and blue skies. Making wine is a real craft, nature doesn’t always make it easy for us, it sets the pace and we have to adapt. Great wines are only made when you go the extra mile. You have to have a real passion, a vision of what kind of wines you want to create and the ambition to realise them. You can only do that if you really love it. Wine is our hobby and our work. It takes up our whole life, but that’s what makes it so great. If you have that enthusiasm for the product, there is no better job.
Q) What are your plans for the Christmann winery over the next 5 years?
We have made an incredible amount of changes in the last five years. We are people with a very concrete idea of how we want to work. We only want to make wines that we stand behind 100% and that have a long tradition here. So Pinot Noir became our important second pillar, we downsized the winery and are now rebuilding our range with this vintage. Instead of 6 grape varieties, we now only have Riesling and Pinot Noir. We have given up vineyards and now only work on classified VDP. Erste and Große Lagen. So besides our single vineyard wines, up from this year we produce only one more wine of each vintage. Al classic “second vin”. The grapes only stem from classified vineyards and the wines stand for our standards and our way of making wine. With this change we are streamlining our assortment from 28 to 12 wines. This was also a reason for us to slightly revise our labels in order to emphasise the terroir focus of our wines even more. This means that more has changed in the estate in the last few years than I would ever have imagined. In this respect, as of today, all the big ideas have been implemented and we are now looking forward to taking our customers along with us on this journey. However, we will certainly come up with new projects again soon.
At the same time, we have started a second business in 2019. Our neighbours, who have no successor, offered us their vineyards. From a joke among friends, the idea was finally born to set up a sparkling wine estate together with Mathieu Kauffmann. Mathieu, who was responsible for the production of Bollinger for 10 years as Chef du Cave, is our partner in this project. Artisanal, biodynamic sparkling wines are now being produced from Riesling and Burgundy varieties. A few first bottles will be released this summer. An incredibly exciting project in which we want to bring the movement of winemaker champagnes from France to Germany. So, I’m sure it won’t get boring.
Q) When you are not making wine what might we find you doing?
Well, at the winery I’m always looking for new challenges at work and I just built our new website completely myself. That was an exciting challenge and I learned a lot about SEO, servers and web design. At the moment, I’m also spending a lot of time with coffee in my private life. On office days, I brew flat whites for the team and practice my latte art skills. It’s a lot of fun and I’m slowly getting better, but I’m glad we don’t get Parker points for it! 😊