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At the northernmost reaches of the Pfalz (Germany's second largest winemaking region), the vineyards look akin to the vineyards of their neighbor to the north, the Rheinhessen, with long stretches of rolling hillside terrain. The soils here range from limestone to sand and gravel to loam and loess, and the hills give the opportunity for various cooler microclimates to be found.
In the tiny town of Bockenheim, big things are happening. Brothers Daniel and Jonas Brand officially took over their family's vineyards in 2014, with plans to not only go organic, but to venture out into their own style without losing sight of their region and roots. One major impetus to go organic in the vineyards came from Daniel's interest in his own health; if one eats organic food, why wouldn't one drink organic wines? Jonas was on board. This notion was developed and refined as they went to school to study winemaking, and staged all over the world, including with Lise & Bertrand Jousset, longtime friends of Chambers Street. Their family was keen to support this decision as long as the proof was in the vineyards; basically, they wanted to make sure that with this change the vineyards would flourish—and flourish they did! Speaking to Jonas this past June, he was happy to report that other vintners in the area have taken inspiration from the family's success and organic methods are on the rise around Bockenheim. Their 18 hectares of vineyards are slowly growing, as the brothers continue to set their sights on older, more auspicious parcels. Walking through their vineyards in the summer, bees and butterflies lazily flit through the thigh-high wild flowers and grasses, and you can feel the health of the ecosystem already. We spoke about biodynamics and Jonas was quick to opine that they are very interested, but have to work with patience and in tandem with their vineyards, so they are working with biodynamic treatments when needed, but don't think it's essential to convert right away. In the few years I've been able to visit, I've been impressed with the maturity and intuition the brothers show with their decision making. They have a clear sense of how they want to move forward with their influence both in the vineyard and the cellar.
As years have passed, the brothers have turned a dedicated focus to pét-nats and their 'Pur' series of wines: naturally-fermented, unfined, unfiltered wines with no added sulfur. We've been lucky to get to taste the wines at their winery, and feel privileged to have followed the collection for a few years now, watching the encouraging evolution of these young winemakers. We've been slowly accruing most of the current collection (and have sold out of a few along the way), from sparkling to red, and hope you find something to discover and delight in. The pét-nats now only exist in Magnum, but don't worry, it's best to have enough to share these beatific sparklers! Not to be overlooked are the red wines: the decision to use grapes not often found on their own is laudable. Grapes previously used to color and support a blend now stand on their own merit. Dornfelder, Portugieser, Cabernet Mitos: all grapes that through the brothers' lens, deserve this undivided attention. The Wilder Satz is a sophisticated, skin-contact blend of five white grapes, that has just the right amount of texture and balance. Wildrosé continues to fascinate with its evolution into an inspired winter rosé to pair with roasted game, ramen, gratins. Sylvaner 'Elis' is a true treat, sourced from 78-year-old vines: elegant and a must for Sylvaner fans (you know who you are). We raise a glass to Daniel & Jonas Brand, and look forward to many more 'Pur' wines from the Northern Pfalz! Prost! Cari Bernard
'Elis' is short for Elisabeth, the previous owner of this parcel of 78-year-old Sylvaner, grown on gravely, sandy soils; 50% of which was hand-harvested early and allowed to ferment on the skins for one week. Fermentation and aging in used barrel, no fining, no filtration, no problem (also no sulfur added). A very, very tiny amount made, and we've ended up with just a case. If you love Sylvaner (and you should), this is mandatory drinking. White tea, pear, quince skin on the nose, elegant and concentrated notes of apricot, quince, and white strawberry on the powerful, lengthy finish. An incredibly sophisticated wine from such young winemakers, we eagerly look forward to future vintages! Cari Bernard
Cabernet Franc from the northern Pfalz? Hell ja! Daniel and Jonas got their hands on a clone with slightly looser bunches, which works well for this hot vineyard site (the vines are now five years old). I was able to try a new bottle and one that had been open for one and a half weeks, and both were stunning. Starting with cherries and salty capers on the nose, black and red plum on the medium-bodied palate, the wine proved to be deeply layered and elegant. The pre-opened bottle was still great, settled and soft, more black currant and plummy. A fascinating look into Pfalzer Cab Franc! Cari Bernard
It's no secret, the wines of Daniel and Jonas Brand are getting better with every vintage and their pét-nats continue to be a solid go-to for pure drinking delight! I have blazed through many bottles since their arrival, and don't see myself stopping any time soon. France may take the credit for popularizing the style in the States, but pét-nats from Germany and Austria have been some of my favorite bubbly bottles to date! Their Pét-Nat Blanc comes from 30-year-old vines of Sylvaner and Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and has no sulfur added, and has just a bit more ripeness this vintage, with notes of Fuji apple, lees, pineapple, green strawberry and mango, white cherries, and a creamy mousse. Cheers to a job well done! Cari Bernard
The Brothers Brand have taken over the family vineyards, working organically with some biodynamic treatments, using natural yeast fermentation, and low or no sulfur additions (none is used with their pét-nats or 'Pur' line). Their 2017 Pét-Nat Rosé is a blend of mostly Pinot Noir, with about 10% old-vine Portugieser (vine age is about 40 years-old). A pleasing, deep magenta, jewel-toned rose in color, with a sprightly mousse and a mélange of tart and juicy red fruits: raspberry, watermelon, sour cherry, red plum all burst forth and wash over the palate, and the bright acidity primes you for the next sip--incredibly thirst-quenching! This would be fun with a wide range of hors d'oeuvres, from gougères to potato chips to roasted beet crostini. Cari Bernard
2017 spelled trouble for the Holy Chapel vineyard, from which Daniel and Jonas produce a single vineyard wine in favorable vintages. Sadly there was too much lost to hail and what remained ended up in this more 'entry-level' bottling. Grapes are foot-trodden and age in old fuder. When we first tasted the wine in June, the bottle had been open for a few days, the result being creamy and soft and round, with ripe apple, white cherry, and a savory finish. Tasting many months later, and on the same day of opening, the wine showed much more verve and herbal, floral notes balancing the creamy concentration. Cari Bernard
The cherubic, young Bacchus is a nod to an old, carved-front barrel in town, lovingly drawn for the label by Daniel & Jonas Brand's Oma (grandmother) without color to delineate the series from other projects at the winery. The main difference being that all 'Pur' wines have absolutely no sulfur added during winemaking. Chardonnay, Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner (pre-harvest of Elis vineyard), Scheurebe, and whole bunch Riesling spend six months on the lees in stainless steel before bottling. This wine is incredibly delicious with just the right amount of texture to balance the flavors of salty yellow apricot, juicy yellow apple, white blossoms, yogurt, young ginger, and sour orange zest. Cari Bernard
'Wildrosé' has returned: your favorite 50-year-old vine Portugieser rosé that looks like a light red! I'd venture to say that fall/winter rosés are some of the most fun (and interesting) rosés out there, made for pairing with a slew of cuisines, heartier dishes like gratins, and, of course, pensive alone-time in front of a fireplace. Please invert the bottle for a few moments to let the lees integrate, and enjoy the resulting texture, swirling with red florals, raspberries and pomegranate, and slightly overripe wild strawberries, the kind that taste like lemons, strawberries, and sunshine. Cari Bernard
Are you drinking enough Dornfelder? Did you have to think too long on that answer? Did you wonder, what is Dornfelder, and why am I missing out? Well, easy fix—'Cuvée Flora' has returned! This release is a blend of 2016 and 2017: '16 fermented on the skins for three weeks, '17 was semi-carbonic maceration. Fun fact about this Dornfelder is you're going to pour it into the glass, and as you swirl the deep, opaque liquid around, you'll notice it's practically staining your glass. Then you're going to wonder why we told you to put a slight chill on the wine as you gaze into its inky depths. Then you're going to try a sip and it will all make sense. Dornfelder was made to act as a blending grape to (mostly) add pigment to the lighter German red wines back in the mid-1950s and onward (it also happens to have great acidity and structure). When you break it down, Dornfelder is a crossing of Helfensteiner (Frühburgunder/Pinot Noir Précoce × Trollinger/Schiava Grossa) and Heroldrebe (Blauer Portugieser × Blaufränkisch/Lemberger*)—all those parent grapes rule; and Dornfelder deserves its time in the spotlight! As the chill wears off a touch, scents of bramble fruit, red flowers, cantaloupe, cucumber, and raspberries proliferate. The palate has just enough structure and grip, balancing crunchy, red cranberry and strawberries, plums, savory herbs and white pepper. Cari Bernard ((*grape parentage information taken from Wikipedia))
Cabernet Mitos, a crossing of Blaufränkisch and Tenturier du Cher (a red-fleshed variety), was developed in 1970 partly to add color to blends and stand up to oak aging. If I'm deciphering my notes correctly, the Brand brother's parcel once belonged to a monastery with vines around 25 years in age. I really enjoy that Daniel and Jonas are taking the time to make these red wines that focus on overlooked varieties, often lost to blends. After twelve hours of maceration, the grapes are directly pressed and both fermentation and aging is in neutral barrique. As is standard of all their 'Pur' wines, the wine is unfined, unfiltered, unsulfured. A surprising note of herb-infused pickle brine perks up the nose and continues on the palate, along with juicy black plums, black pepper, and a savory meatiness framed by elegant texture and structure. Cari Bernard