Born in the village of Mayschoß in the Ahr Valley, Benedikt comes from a long line of grape growers and winemakers. His ancestors founded what is said to be the oldest wine cooperative in the world and growing up, Benedikt saw his family sell the fruits of their labor to the co-op where it was transformed into pleasurable yet simple wine. Benedikt always dreamed of making his own wine.
After viticultural school in Bad Kreuznach and apprenticeships in Germany, Portugal and Hungary, Benedikt began looking for a place of his own where he could push himself as a vigneron. It was impossible to find land close to home in the Ahr and Benedikt soon found himself scouring the country for a terroir where he could explore the singular potential of Spätburgunder. He eventually found himself in the historic town of Klingenberg with the opportunity to buy an ancient, “urban winery” (founded in 1601—clearly ahead of its time!), with holdings of old vines on the steep terraces, and he knew that he had found his new home.
Starting fresh in a new area offered Benedikt the unique opportunity to begin to enact his vision without being hamstrung by expectation and tradition. As he explains,
“It´s no family winery so it´s not the usual generational conflict. We are committed to honoring the historical roots of the area, working with 100% Pinot Noir like it was when the winery was founded.
Sustainability is very important to us, so we manage our vineyards in an organic way. In addition to the absence of herbicides and chemical plant protection products, we support our vines with natural plant starch agents such as teas, soils and oils. A dozen sheep also help us to control weeds and to stimulate the soil with their natural fertilizer. We are dedicated to the fostering of permaculture in which one does not have to intervene often and which the vineyard renews itself. By that we have to do nearly everything by hand because of the steep terraces. We need up to 2500 hours per hectare per year, which is really a lot. The manual work gives us the opportunity to work gently, vine by vine. That´s why we love to be winegrowers!”
The first written mention of wine growing in the steep terraced vineyards of Klingenberg dates back all the way to the 12th century. By the 1600’s there was evidence of the wine being consumed in the surrounding cities and exported as far as the Royal Court of Karl Gustav of Sweden. Today, though Churfranken is still quite obscure, even among serious connoisseurs of German wine, it is clear that there has long been an appetite for the unique flavors of the region.
Churfranken is a small “red wine island” in the northwest of Franconia composing only around 350 hectares of vines. The area is planted mostly to red varieties like Portugieser and, most importantly, Spätburgunder. Vines grow on the steep, terraced, red sandstone slopes where they soak up the warm rays of the sun. The stone retains a great deal of heat and this helps to moderate the temperature in the vines when nighttime temperatures plunge. This diurnal shift is crucial to the long, gentle ripening required for making world class Pinot Noir. These special vineyard characteristics are what originally attracted Benedikt Baltes to begin making wine in Klingenberg.
Today, working with his girlfriend Julia Bertram (also a Schatzi!) and a group of young, enthusiastic “wine freaks” from all over Germany, Benedikt has emerged as one of the rising stars of the German red wine revolution, bringing attention to the pedigree and aging potential of his unique terroirs.
To meet his desire for “maximum quality,” the fruit is 100% hand harvested, vinified with native yeast and aged in barrels made from oak forests all within 50 kilometers of the winery. There are never any chemical additives in the cellar and the wines are bottled unfiltered. Benedikt is working primarily on two different slopes:
Klingenberger Schlossberg (Große Lage / Grand Cru): 25-60 year old vines, red sandstone in the steep terraces with a tremendous diurnal temperature shift gives the wines a unique combination of elegance, herbal notes and a cool, minty minerality. These wines need time and patience to reveal their depth and elegance
Großheubacher Bischofsberg (Erste Lage / Premier Cru) : 20-40 year old vines, red sandstone on steep terraces. Unlike the profoundly rocky and stony Schlossberg, this site has a sandier topsoil but the mother rock is still pure, red sandstone. The wines from the Bischofsberg are a bit more fruit-driven and are more charming in their youth.
In the words of Benedikt Baltes “Our aim is not to “create” wines, but to conserve and preserve every facet of what our vineyards produce. In our opinion, each wine is unique, in which the vine documents its origin, its soil, the efforts of the winegrower, the weather and the details of an entire year. Authenticity can only be achieved by recognizing the strengths of a special vineyard site and to try to capture them in the wine. Our aim is to show long-lasting, characterful and uniquely authentic wines.”