How old were you when you had your first "wine moment" and what was it?
Three [laughs]. No really, when I was three we had a big family gathering and I remember tasting, too much, sweet wines. That definitely was my first memory and introduction in wine.
How many years have you been working in wine and can you tell us a little about your career?
I am the youngest of two brothers and at the time our family’s estate vineyard was really small as we had only 12 hectares so, according to my parents, I wasn’t destined to become a vigneron. It was my older brother who would inherit the family business. My parents told me “Okay Jochen, you are the younger one, you have an older brother so you lose. Go do something different.”. Even though I really wanted to be a winemaker, at that moment I didn’t have the possibility at our family estate.
My parents encouraged me to pursue something that was, in their opinion, better than being a winemaker. So through one of their friends, I started an education in accounting and began working in a Tax Law Firm, knowing the whole time that I really wanted to be a winemaker. After a while, I couldn’t ignore my strong desire to make wine so I apprenticed at a few different cellars to learn the job, working with the iconic Klaus-Peter Keller, a Riesling producer, and Bergdolt, a producer in the Pfalz using Burgundy grapes. After, it was time to set out to revitalize the family’s property.
I went to my parents and told them I was going to be a winemaker. I began working with them in 2001 when I was 20, and started immediately in the winery with two old vineyards. I converted them to organic farming and did a lot of the work by hand in the vineyards, basically changing everything.
Today all of this is perfectly normal in Rheinhessen but this wasn’t the case when I started. In Rheinhessen everything grows, we have easy quality and a lot of different grape varieties. When I started we had 60 different wines on our wine list in a 12-hectare family estate, which is crazy. My parents produced everything, a lot of different grape varieties and a lot of different wine styles.
Since I started, we changed everything to concentrate on Riesling as a main variety in the winery with a dry style of wine and organic farming. We practice natural methods, skin maceration, do a lot of the work by hand in the vineyards and limit the yields to have higher quality and have more concentration in the wines.
Also, as you know, we in Germany are a Northern country so in general we have cooler climate. But Bechtheim is one of the warmest parts in the south Rheinhessen and it has been a traditional place for winemaking for over 1200 years. We even have one of the oldest classifications but no one was using this up to a few years ago. Everyone was trying to bring freshness in their wines but no one used the natural ripeness we find here. And it is exactly this what we are doing. We look at our soil types, the unique mineral composition of our vineyards, the local climate and try bringing this in our wines. This was the foundation of our idea to create a new style of German dry Riesling. Bone dry, powerful with a mineral character but not too acidic.
In the first few years my parents thought this new approach had no chance of succeeding but after a while we noticed that people were curious and we found that a lot of restaurants and sommeliers were interested in our wines. From that moment on they handed me the reins of the family estate, from one year to another. Luckily, my brother bought a neighbouring winery, so we could both practice the professions we love. Today, both wineries work closely together. Both of our vineyards are organic but we do each have our separate cellars, which is very important because two brothers also means two different sets of ideas.
In the first three years we lost about 80% of our customers. Luckily my parents were really open minded and they weren’t scared of my mistakes. We changed really quickly but we did end up changing everything, from our wine style to the labels, … We hired people to help in the vineyards and invested a lot. At first people didn’t understand the change, sometimes customers came to me and said that they couldn’t buy our wines anymore as our wines were too expressive. At the time the wines were simply too complex for them, too dry, too mineral and this was something they weren’t used to. Since then, 16 years ago, the winery has grown a lot and it still is growing.
How would you describe your wine style?
Dry with a mineral character and a little bit of yeastiness. Our wines need time to open up but when they do, they are much more complex and richer.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
To handle everything. I think you have a certain idea in your head, but as a winemaker in a family estate you must be everywhere at the same time. It is very important to be both in the vineyard and to control your cellar, control but not influence too much. The challenge is to look at your wines but not to do so much. The goal is to bring the taste of the grape into the bottle. Today, a lot of winemakers think they have to influence in order to create something. My opinion is to protect your wine, stay on the line but do not too much.
What are your ambitions for your domains?
We want to bring the German dry Riesling style back on the world’s wine list. Our goal is to show the German potential, where we work in a very high quality way with organic farming. Germany is such a small wine country, it really is a niche product and we made our mistakes throughout history, thinking we could be a huge, bulk, easy drinking wine industry.
When you look at Berry Brothers’ wine list’s from about 100 years ago, some of the most important and expensive wines were the German Rieslings and these wines were dry. It is exactly this quality that we want to create again.
Who are your favourite winemakers in history, through personal account?
I am a big fan of my teacher Klaus-Peter Keller. Keller is a small family estate in Rheinhessen and today I think he produces the most important and expensive wines in Germany and they brought Germany back in the world wine business. They work with a lot of passion but are still focused on the quality and that is what I admire. You can have nice labels and bottles but I think that when you have a clear way of working, you’ll have a bigger chance to succeed.
I am also a big fan of Burgundy which certainly has influenced my wines. I love to taste these wines and the idea behind them. Give the wines the time they need, give them the potential in the bottle and have a lot of fun when they are the right age to drink. In Burgundy wines you find the mineral character with a harmony between fatness and flavours; they are not loud, yet very stable, elegant and pure and I love this idea.
What is your favourite vintage from your wines?
I love the cooler vintages such as 2002 and 2004, my second and fourth vintage but from the more recent ones I would say 2013 and 2015. Actually, I prefer all the vintages which were a bit more tricky being a winemaker. These wines need more time but when they come up they are so much bigger than other ones. On the other side you have some very ripe vintages that show you a lot from early on but after some years they are less interesting. I personally love the vintages that grow slowly.
When you are not enjoying your own wines, what are some of your favourite wines of the world? What is your cellar like?
I actually don’t drink my own wines that often. What I do drink more often is Burgundy and Champagne, but then the smaller estates where the wines have more personality. We all know that it is important for the wine business to have some sweet and fruity wines on the market, but I prefer drinking wines where you can feel the idea of the winemaker and where you can notice that they have a light touch and allow their wines to develop on their own. This is what I enjoy drinking.
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
It might seem crazy but I can’t see myself doing anything else. When I worked at this Tax Law Firm I was looking at my watch the whole day, counting down the hours. Since I have been a winemaker I have never looked at my watch. That is how I know this is the only thing I want to do. I definitely am a happy guy, doing the thing that I love to do. You only have one life so you should do what you love.
Click here for an overview of all the wines from Jochen Dreissigacker.