The Knebel family has been growing grapes in the village of Winningen since 1643 but the current incarnation of this estate is relatively young having been established by Rheinhard and Beate Knebel in 1990. Now led by their son, 34 year-old dynamo Matthias, the Knebel name has become synonymous with the revolution of quality winemaking in Germany over the last 15 or 20 years. Today, Matthias is working 6.5 hectares of vines in some of the steepest, most foreboding terraces in the world of viticulture. In Winningen, nearly every terrace has its own terroir, influenced by the high variation of soil types and varying microclimates. Here, the estate is focused on 4 distinctive parcels: Hamm which is herbal and spicy, Brückstück what is concentrated and elegant, Röttgen: fruity and forceful and Uhlen—the definition of minerality. These sites are legendary among lovers of steep slope riesling and Matthias Knebel is producing resonant and vibrant wines from each of these unique terroirs.
The Mosel Terraces have formed a unique cultural landscape allowing winemakers to grow grapes on steep hillsides that would otherwise be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to farm. The terraces help ensure the vines’ development by guiding their root systems into the slope. Additionally, the drywalls serve as a heat source by retaining the sunshine’s warmth, which helps moderate the natural diurnal shift by preventing the vines from getting too cold overnight. Together with Bremmer Calmont, Winningen defines the essence of terraced vineyards in the Mosel Valley.
“We see ourselves in charge to maintain this legacy, that our forefathers bequeathed to us.” –Matthias Knebel
As a child, there was no doubt in Matthias’ mind that he would become a winegrower like his father, though in his adolescent years he had second thoughts witnessing first hand just how laborious working the steep slopes of the lower Mosel could be. Though in the end, Matthias was convinced by the magic of wine itself and made the decision to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a winegrower. Sadly and unexpectedly, Rheinhard passed away in 2004 just as Matthias was getting ready to begin his studies at Geisenheim. These were incredibly sad times for Beate and Matthias and for everyone who knew Rheinhard Knebel. Being the strong woman that she is, Beate trudged on in his absence and took charge of the estate for the next four years. In 2008, Matthias returned from his studies and together with the help of alternating interns and temporary staff, they have worked in conjunction with one another to carry out Rheinhard’s legacy. Today, Matthias Knebel is among the most dynamic young growers in Germany. He spends hours working his overwhelmingly steep slopes in the lower Mosel by hand to reveal wines that are naturally riper and contain a distinct savory quality that distinguishes them from their more famous middle-Mosel neighbors.
Blessed with a collection of top parcels and 40-70 year-old vines, many of which are un-grafted, Matthias is dedicated to farming with minimal intervention and relies on small yields, fewer canes, natural competition and old vines. In 2012, he eschewed all chemical herbicide in the terraces and the estate hasn’t used fertilizer in over 25 years. “My parents did a great job, so I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel,” said Matthias.
During harvest, grapes are picked by hand and a rigorous sorting takes place both in the vineyards and at the winery. Only perfectly healthy, ripe grapes are used for the top wines; this serious selection process is the reason hardly any wine was made in the 2013 vintage. Preferment skin contact is occasionally employed depending on the site and the quality of the vintage and all of the wines are vinified spontaneously with wild yeasts. Matthias prefers stainless steel as the primary vessel for vinification and aging as he feels it best expresses his nuanced terroirs (and for a guy working on his own are very easy to clean!). Generally speaking, malolactic fermentation is avoided but much like maceration, is determined on a case-by-case basis. The primary goal is to make his wines as naturally as possible; they are never de-acidified, adjusted with süssreserve or clarified with fining agents. As a result, Matthias’ rieslings deliver an unadulterated intensity of the Mosel Terraces defined by texture and minerality.
If there’s one thing we are certain about it is Matthias himself. He is a true Schatzi and we could not be more thrilled to represent his wines in the United States.