A Rising Star from Rheinhessen: Katharina Wechsler
Have you ever wondered whether the heirs of a traditional winery were able to freely choose their profession? Is it a pride and passion or a burden and obligation to carry on the family name and continue doing what your ancestors have been doing for generations? Did they used to argue as teenagers with their parents: “no, dad, I don’t want to have anything to do with your stupid wine!”
Sometimes it takes a tad longer to realise what is it you really want to do. This was the case with Katharina Wechsler whom I met recently. Rheinhessen is now booming. The previously ill-reputed region suddenly bustles with young, talented winemakers who want to make things differently than the previous generations. They want quality rather than quantity. They experiment with new grape varieties and pay attention to terroir. One name keeps on appearing on the lists of the young winemakers from Rheinhessen to watch. That name is Katharina Wechsler.
She grew up in a winery in Westhofen but could not wait to leave the quiet village behind her and explore the wide world. The next 11 years she spent in Paris, Stuttgart, and Berlin, studying French literature and political history, and working in the media. But in the course of time, roots started to weigh more. Holding on to traditions does not mean that one has to be traditional, she realised as she got to know young winemakers. And so she decided to make a career shift and take the path that was destined for her. In 2009, after wine studies and internships, Katharina returned home and made her first vintage.
Doing things differently meant for her making less wine in quantity but higher quality. Katharina concentrated on the classical grapes typical for the region: Riesling, Silvaner, Scheurebe. She bought smaller tanks, held on to old vines, and started again to pick the grapes by hand. Currently, she has 17 hectares vineyard area and produces 80 000 bottles per year. Gutsweine, the entry-level category contains single-variety wines from Riesling, Scheurebe, Silvaner, Grauburgunder, Weißburgunder, and Sauvignon Blanc. They are simple, fresh and delightful wines, definitely worth the under 10 euro price tag. Throw in a couple of euros more and you get Ortswein. Riesling Westhofener trocken has such purity and harmony that I had to order a case of it right away. Then there’s Lagenwein, single vineyard Rieslings Benn, Kirchspiel, and Morstein, all of which have slightly different soils. They are Katharina’s versions of “GG’s” although she can’t call them such, as she is not a member of VDP.
Lagenweine are the ones on which Katharina focuses her ambitions. She wants to get more out of the terroir, more precision. But she also likes to make experiments. “Every year I want to create something new. Once I tried to make Pét-Nat but that didn’t turn out well…” And what does she personally like to drink? “Something completely different than what I make. Sweet Mosel Rieslings or naturally farmed red wines from Roussillon.”
I could not help to ask that how is life in Westhofen after years in metropolises? “Boring”, she replied, “as you can imagine”. Following your dream may mean that you have to give up something. But what you get in return, is much more valuable.