The story of the Rings vineyard in Freinsheim is deeply intertwined with the belief that only healthy soil can produce wines that clearly reflect their origins. Thirty five hectares of vineyards are cultivated by hand and continue their journey into the bottle organically and with respect to the ecosystem. The brothers Andreas and Steffen, alongside their dedicated team, are craftsmen who like to experiment with different processes, learning from their mistakes and becoming stronger with every year and every vintage.
We had a chance to chat with Andreas about organic winemaking, their new winery building and spontaneous fermentation.
You took over the business from your family in 2001. How did you manage to increase the wine quality and produce excellent wines?
Through diligent work, especially manual work in the vineyards themselves, a kind of instinct to make natural wines, and the ability to give the wines time. These values are on the decline, much more than one would think. We try to produce the wine like it used to be made. That means as little machine usage as possible and many hours working among the vines. So that the vineyard is well organized and the grapes have enough air circulation and that the grape quantity is not too high. We cultivate the vineyards biologically and this is the basis for good wine.
This means refraining from herbicides and instead using natural solutions such as whey or nettle extract. So that the plant becomes strong from the inside out, just like with human beings. When the human body is healthy it has a strong immune system, which makes it resistant to diseases. It’s the same for plants. This also means relying on vegetation that creates natural nitrogen, rather than mineral fertilization, and promoting beneficial insects such as bees. It’s all a cycle.
The new winery was established in 2018 and possesses very sustainable elements. Why was it important for you to change the production to organic terms?
It just adheres to our own personal beliefs and lifestyle. We now partially create our own electricity and around two thirds of the winery is built into the ground in order to benefit from the earth’s natural insulation. As such, we don’t need any artificial cooling. I think when you build something as a young person, you have to inevitably think of the future. That’s why it all functions in unison, including the use of wood, which is a renewable raw material, rather than steel.
And how does this ecologically-friendly process manifest itself in the taste of the wines themselves?
The wines are very idiosyncratic, they have a very clear signature, which belongs to its origins and winemaker. They have their rough edges, are not fruity but rather aromatic. They are just very unique, they possess their own very bold character, and this is something that’s very important for us.
I’ve read that you use the process of spontaneous fermentation. What is this exactly?
This means that the grape juice begins to ferment on its own without the addition of yeast. I could initiate fermentation by adding yeast, but that means that the wines will always be subject to a certain type of effect, and that’s not something we want. We want the juice to ferment with its own yeast, which it already possesses from the vineyard. This is something that fits into the themes of self-reliance, heritage and origin, which are all very important for us. It’s a process that takes longer and has its risks, but it’s a means to an end and a risk we’re willing to take.
You’re known for your Cuvée “Das kleine Kreuz,” and the Riesling Kalkmergel. What are some of your own favorites?
I’m a big Burgundy wine fan, white and red, as well as Chardonnay. We have a wine called Kalk und Stein, a Chardonnay from Kalkstadt and Umstein, which are two different terroirs; one limestone and the other terra rossa. It’s an exciting and vivid wine that leans toward the natural category, which means it’s unfiltered.
How does the taste change when a wine is unfiltered?
It’s just like with naturally cloudy or clear apple juice, it’s just a bit more well-rounded. You have more from the juice itself, more from the fruit, because the fruit doesn’t give off a clear juice, it naturally contains some of the pulp and everything else that belongs to it. And that’s how it is with wine as well. When you don’t filter them, the wines remain smoother and have more character, sometimes even stronger, and just more interesting. That’s why my brother and I have never filtered a red wine in our lives, I actually have no idea how to do it.
That’s a great thing, isn’t it, the experimenting?
Absolutely. That’s the great thing with this profession, that you can implement your own ideas, and when they happen to function it’s really a great joy! Of course, during the initial years a lot of things didn’t work, but you have to learn from your mistakes and you have to avoid making them again. You only have one chance per year, and then you have to wait a year for the whole process to start from the beginning.
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Words: Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
Photos: Rings Weingut