Wine Advocate 96
"A riveting, high-toned aromatic diversity announces the Donnhoff 2011 Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese with themes that inform an at once creamy yet subtly tannic and vibrant palate: quince, pear, lychee, nut oils, fusel oils, distilled herbal essences, brown spices, and smoky black tea. This behaves as if a bit of Traminer had been blended-in. The rich nuttiness and glaze of honey as well as sheer succulence of fruit make for a more opulent performance than that of Brucke, but to say that this is less energetic or dynamic would be misleading. Its incessant interplay of elements is utterly kaleidoscopic – just more calmly harmonious than the Spatlese from next door. Like that sibling, this deserves to be followed for a good quarter-century." ~ DS
" The Donnhoff crew participated in a massive “pre-harvest” in late September to cull those few but pervasive bunches that had picked up vinegar from marauding yellow jackets or contracted early and unpromising-looking botrytis. “Immediately after that,” relates Helmut Donnhoff, “we picked the Pinots, and then started in on Riesling, but there was no stress thanks to the stable weather. We picked each vineyard twice more, once chiefly for botrytis and once for the rest. I’ve never seen more beautiful grapes – everywhere you looked, regardless of vineyard. Any mistakes I made could only be in their cellar upbringing. It got so warm during the day that some pickers went shirtless. There was no difficulty with fruit harvested in the morning, but in the afternoon – since we don’t have a cooling chamber – we had to rush each lot of fruit straight to the cellar to be pressed, so that we could then cool-down the juice.” As a group, this year’s dry wines are a surprisingly austere group especially for their vintage. They also display relatively full body, hovering close to 13.5% alcohol – half a percent over what Helmut Donnhoff says is his target. He offered a revealing comment this year in opining that “lots of young growers today are too eager and extreme in the pursuit of perfection in their fruit. Dividing of clusters and trimming-off any perceived imperfection at the pre-harvest stage is impractical, and in fact you need those ... call them little scars (Narben), otherwise the wine becomes too polished and glib (glatt), even boring. Each cluster can have a bit of under-ripeness and all manner of things (alles Mogliche). That diversity (Buntheit) is incredibly important.” Another insight-rich Donnhoff observation: “To interpret each of these sites as it is, requires that one operate with and produce wine of a certain restraint” – that remark apropos of his trio of Grosse Gewachse, but no doubt intended to apply across the board. “That is my responsibility,” he adds, “but of course also my great pleasure. (My son) Cornelius didn’t pay any special attention in managing the vineyards as to whether it was Hermannshohle or Kirschheck – they all got the same degree of attention and the same treatment. We do high-class work, and that’s that. So the differences you taste don’t reflect any favoritism.” I debated whether to publish my initial note on a highly promising Pinot Noir that is entirely Cornelius Donnhoff’s project, but since it is an inaugural effort and won’t be bottled before mid-2013 I’ll wait until next year and report from bottle. " ~ Winery notes
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The Dönnhoff family first came to the Nahe region over 200 years ago, and after establishing a modest farm slowly evolved into a full-fledged wine estate. Helmut Dönnhoff has been making the wine since 1971, and now his son Cornelius works alongside in the winery and in their 25 hectares of Erste Lage, or grand cru vineyards. Their holdings represent some of the best in the Nahe and all of Germany. Oberhäuser Leistenberg, the oldest vineyard held by the family, has slate soils and produces fruity wines with elegant acidity. The Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg is a very old site with porphyry soil. Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle, perhaps the most famous of all the Nahe vineyards, is a slate vineyard with many conglomerates of volcanic rocks, mostly porphyry and melaphyr. The Oberhäuser Brücke, the smallest vineyard in the Nahe, is a tiny parcel saddled on the Nahe River that Dönnhoff owns in entirety. The Brücke has grey slate covered by loess-clay and the vines ripen even later here than in the Hermannshöhle due to large diurnal temperature swings along the river. The Norheimer Dellchen is a steep terraced vineyard in a rocky hollow with porphyry and slate soil. Norheimer Kirscheck sits on a steep south slope of slate soil and produces delicately fruity wines with spice and race. The Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl vineyard has perfect drainage due its topsoil of pebbles over loam soil; characteristic are wines with a mineralic elegance. Due to the water table that flows beneath the vineyard's soil the Krötenpfhul has always been farmed organically, even before it was held by Dönnhoff.
Although the Nahe is a dry region, Dönnhoff does not water their vineyards as to encourage deep rooted vines. The soil is covered with organic material like straw and compost to preserve water and to avoid evaporation and erosion in heavy rains. The vines are all grown on wire frames, low to the ground to benefit from the warmth of the stoney topsoil, and at a density of approx. 6000 vines per hectare. The Riesling vines are old clones sourced from the sites in Niederhausen and Schloßböckelheim.
Grapes are always picked by hand at Dönnhoff over 2-3 passes through each vineyard. To preserve laser-like focus and clarity in the wines, the grapes are pressed as soon as possible – within 3 hours of picking. Wines are fermented in traditional German casks (1200 L stuck and 2400 L doppelstuck) as well as stainless steel with spontaneous fermentations. Donnhoff's cellar is unique in its capacity to hold all of its production entirely in stainless steel or in cask, allowing for the ideal elevage for any wine at any point during a vintage.
Vineyard area: 25 hectares
Annual production: 17,000 cases
Niederhäusen – Hermannshöhle (slate, sandstone, limestone)
Oberhäusen – Brücke (slate, porphyry, sandstone, loam) Leistenberg (slate)
Schlossböckelheim – Felsenberg (porphyry) and Kupfergrube (weathered volcanic soil with a high copper content)
Norheim – Kirschheck (slate, sandstone) and Dellchen (slate, porphyry)
Bad Kreuznach – Krötenpfuhl (löss, quartzite), Kahlenberg (gravelly loam)
Roxheim – Höllenpfad (red sandstone)