In 1620, Sontag Spindler moved from Burgundy to the Pfalz where he began to purchase vineyards and became a viticulturist. He purchased the Kirchenstück in 1656, one of Germany’s most revered parcels, from the old hospital in Deidesheim. Like many German vineyards, the family’s holdings were splintered in the early 1800s, by law of the Napoleanic Code, and Johann-Josef Spindler’s holdings were divided evenly amongst his three sons: Heinrich, Eugen and Wilhelm. Each son established a separate winery— hence the birth of Weingut Heinrich Spindler. The estate is a very traditional winery located in the village of Forst in the Pfalz. Today the winery is run by Markus Spindler, great-grandson of Heinrich Spindler, who is carrying the estate through its 11th generation of winemaking. Spindler is blessed with all of the top Forster sites, and his style is very nuanced and pure with more attention given to detail and finesse than to power and richness.
Markus began his winemaking career in 1996 where he spent three years as an apprentice at the following estates: Dr. Deinhard (now von Winning), Egon Müller and Friedrich Becker. Markus was not convinced he wanted to lead the life of a vigneron after these internships, and after eighteen months in civil service, he embarked on a year-long stage at Schug Winery in Sonoma, California. Moving abroad and taking some time to reflect on his family estate helped put things into perspective for him. “I needed the distance to realize what a treasure we have at home,” he said. After California, Markus enrolled in Germany’s leading winemaking institution in Geisenheim, Rheingau. During this time he ventured to the Languedoc to apprentice at Château Capion and to Austria where he worked for the esteemed FX Pichler in the Wachau. Markus wrote his final thesis about aroma development throughout the aging process of riesling, after which he graduated and returned to Forst to take over the Heinrich Spindler estate in 2007.
The village of Forst is charmed with some of the most dynamic vineyards in the Pfalz—if not in all of Germany. The vineyards cover the slope between the village and the Haardt (Voges) Mountain forest, which offer a good amount of shelter from inclement weather. The top sites tend to be in the middle of the hill, much as in Burgundy, at 120 to 150 meters, facing south and southeast. Here the soils are rich in potassium and basalt, and they rarely suffer from drought because the soil structures are deep. There are several basalt quarries in the area which have long been mined for roads and construction, the shards of which have been scattered in the vineyards since the 1800s to retain heat and improve quality.
Riesling is the main variety here, comprising 83% of the estate’s holdings. Other white varieties include pinot blanc, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris and the top vineyard sites are located in the villages of Forst, Deidesheim and Ruppertsberg. Heinrich Spindler has been farming sustainably for nearly twenty years (i.e., no herbicides, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, etc.). Markus decided to officially convert to organic viticulture in 2012, what was an easy and natural transition because the groundwork had been laid in the preceding decades. 2015 will be the first vintage where all the wines will be legally recognized as “organic.”
“I think if you want to make top level wines with character, the basis is healthy soil with a great variety of microorganisms, insects and a high humus. It’s important to me to have an ecosystem in my vineyards with variety, both above and below the soil.”
Markus plows his soils, plants cover crops and uses compost fertilizers that he makes himself. All of the top sites are harvested by hand, with the picking crews making two and sometimes three passes for quality. Maceration is short, pressing is gentle and everything flows via gravity. Fermentation starts with ambient yeast, but sometimes cultured yeast is used in order to ensure the rieslings finish fully dry. Markus prefers long, cool ferments that take place in stainless steel tanks and neutral Stück (1200L casks) and Doppelstück (2400L casks). The wines remain on the fine lees, with occasional batonnage, until they are bottled between February and June.
“We think the goal of German wine is to express its fruitiness and minerality—its deepness in conjunction with its finesse.”