Viti+Culture Interview with Johannes Selbach of Weingut Selbach Oster
In this episode we are speaking with Johannes Selbach, of Weingut Selbach Oster, one of the Mosel Valley’s most outstanding producers of world class Riesling. Johannes and I discuss the family’s long legacy of winemaking in Germany, the importance of his relationship with his father, his approach to picking, fermenting, and building a family wine brand in a daunting new world.
We also spend time discussing the recent German floods, and receive an update on his Finger Lakes wine project with Paul Hobbs, Hillick and Hobbs.
Watch on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/jb_dQ_HdB6s
Read the Transcript on Substack here: https://viticulturepodcast.substack.com/publish/post/39320966
Available on all Podcast Platforms, and on Substack here: https://viticulturepodcast.substack.com/publish/post/39320803
For the next few weeks, we will also be including copies of transcripts in the News section of this site.
Transcripts may contain some minor errors. Transcripts were produced before our call for supporting the relief efforts in the Ahr Valley, as a result of flooding. You can add 1 minute 30 seconds to the timestamp to correlate with the audio and video. You can watch the interview on our youTube channel here.
FULL TRANSCRIPT (with timecode)
00:00:00:07 - 00:00:23:14
Chris Missick: This is viticultural, where, we share conversations with makers, growers, thinkers and doers, folks who cultivate a good life. My name is Chris Missick and I'm a lawyer turned winemaker in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. And I'm sitting down with great people and wine and other walks of life to hear their stories, learn their lessons and take their advice on the perfect pairing.
00:00:32:26 - 00:02:10:28
Chris Missick: Today, we're speaking with Johannes Selbach of Weingut Selbach Oster, one of the Mosel Valley's most outstanding producers of world class resealing, Johannes and I discussed the family's long legacy of winemaking in Germany, the importance of his relationship with his father, his approach to picking, fermenting and building a family wine brand in a daunting new world. If you like this podcast, please be sure to read us five stars in Apple podcast and like our videos on YouTube, it really helps with the ratings and in introducing new folks to the show. Don't forget to visit our website at viticulturepodcast.com and subscribe to our Substack, where you'll get show notes, transcripts, musings and exclusive offers as we plan and prepare for season two are substantial. Subscribers will have the chance to hear some exclusive podcast delivered right to their inbox and some behind the scenes materials were also preparing. We'll also be unlocking a way you can support the show and help us keep producing high quality, in-depth content with makers and producers of all sorts. And though I'm not the best with social media. Please check us out on all the major social media platforms. Additionally, if you or a maker you know, is interested in being on the show in the future, drop us a line at viticulture podcast at Gmail dot com special thanks to Gabe Clarey of Skurnik Wines and Spirits, the importer and distributor of Selbach Oster here in New York, and Bob Madill, who was featured in Episode 13 of Viticulture, for helping to arrange this interview.
00:02:11:19 - 00:02:13:13
Chris Missick: And now there's the show.
00:02:26:16 - 00:02:53:25
Chris Missick: Thanks so much for joining us on viticulture, it's my rare honor today to have our guest Johannes Selbach in studio, of Weingut Selbach Oster, one of the premiere families and producers in the Mosul region in Germany. They've been at it since 1600. Johannes knows what he's doing. He's got a lot of knowledge of the Finger Lakes as well. And it's a real pleasure to have him here. So thanks so much for joining us. Thank you.
00:02:53:27 - 00:02:55:24
Johannes Selbach: Good. Good to be here. Thank you so much.
00:02:56:09 - 00:03:01:29
Chris Missick: And obviously, this isn't the first time you've been to the Finger Lakes. You've been coming here since 1985.
00:03:02:14 - 00:03:02:29
Johannes Selbach: Right.
00:03:03:01 - 00:04:15:05
Johannes Selbach: First visit to the Finger Lakes was in 1985. At the time, I was working for a PR firm in New York City who had, amongst many other consumer accounts, the accounts for German wines. That Bordeaux they had a couple of champagne brands in one of Germany was hosted by them, too, and they sent me to do some seminars. And as it happened, Cornell University Professor Makowski had the wine course, had asked for somebody to come up into a lecture and a small tasting of German wines for students at Cornell. And I happily came up, First trip was actually by twin prop plane and did that another couple of times driving up. So 1985 was I think it was much of 85. Still cold. Yeah, my first visit. And it was then why spend an extra night that I did a little tour of the region, fell in love with the region, actually met Herman Weimer at his winery back then, and he comes from Bernkastel, right around the corner. That's where I went to school in Bernkastel. And ever since I've been following the Finger Lakes was impressed back then and have continued to be impressed.
00:04:15:19 - 00:04:33:15
Chris Missick: Oftentimes people will compare the Finger Lakes to the Mosel.Obviously, the you know, the cliffs are nowhere near as steep. We have shale. You have slayed all similar Devonian era origin. Were you struck by the similarity of landscape to Germany when you first arrived?
00:04:33:17 - 00:05:17:11
Johannes Selbach: Very much so, yeah. It's a, um. There's water, there's hills, there is family businesses, it's rural. And so you have a lot of parallels climatically in the big context. I think the Finger Lakes counts as a cold climate region within the United States, certainly within the United States, growing wine, growing regions. And I think it comes the closest to the Mosul, even though there are differences in climate. You are, shall we say, more on the extreme as far as cold in the winter and precipitation and also heat spikes is although that is changing as we speak. It is, yeah.
00:05:17:13 - 00:05:25:07
Chris Missick: Speaking of extremes, we both deal with powdery mildew with hot and humid periods, not every summer, but some a lot of moisture.
00:05:25:09 - 00:05:25:24
Johannes Selbach: Yes.
00:05:25:26 - 00:05:28:09
Chris Missick: And you're in the midst of that right now.
00:05:28:11 - 00:05:57:27
Johannes Selbach: We now have a vintage or growing season that we thought we we no longer would have, because in the recent years we've become a lot drier and warmer. And the last growing seasons were a piece of cake, relatively easy because of low humidity and plenty of sunshine. In fact, the set of problems of the past, which was, you know, humidity had shifted towards battling drought, something we never knew.
00:05:58:05 - 00:06:43:14
Johannes Selbach: And then comes 2021 and we have a very moist year. We actually were talking about hopefully we don't get drought. Hopefully we get rain. Maybe we should we should not have said that because we have a growing season, which is supercharging this year because it doesn't let up. You think you have a good day in the next day, you get a thunderstorm and some rain. You think you have your vines protected and before you know it's wet and it's pouring down. And yes, this year for us, downy mildew was the big problem, probably not so much. And we are not yet through. We have still rather unstable weather. And botrytis is next. Yeah. So we'll see what the next weeks will bring even here.
00:06:43:16 - 00:07:29:10
Chris Missick: I've been looking at future weather forecasts and we're recording this in mid-July and it seems like every other day is a thunderstorm and a lot of rain. And that is such a frustrating place to be in very much because it never lets up. You were also just showing me some of just the havoc that you're going through in Germany right now. Yeah. And for people who don't quite realize what it's like to make wine in the Mosel, I mean, you've got these incredibly steep hillsides. You've got the villages right along the banks of the river. Yeah. And your wineries are along the banks of the river, too, which means cellars are under that water. And unfortunately, a lot of cellars are underwater right now.
00:07:29:12 - 00:07:58:10
Johannes Selbach: Yes, and our I was underwater until six hours ago. Um, we only left for the airport, uh, very late on Thursday night because we had an early flight on Friday to come to the US. And up until shortly before taking off to the airport, I was in the water basically securing barrels and making sure that, you know, we didn't suffer damage because the water came higher than we expected. And so we we had prepared.
00:07:58:12 - 00:08:23:25
Johannes Selbach: But the preparations weren't good enough. And so we need my my son and I actually had to swim in the cellar and take care of some things that were still in need of being taken care of. The good thing is we're along the river and we know floods. Yeah. And we get flooded many times. So you have a certain routine. You know, when a certain amount of rain falls or when you get the flood warning, you need to act fast, which we did.
00:08:23:27 - 00:09:29:06
Johannes Selbach: And so we were the one item amongst the blinds, so to speak. Many people in Germany, a little further north of us who live on little creeks, brooks and creeks that normally don't flood or don't flood high, they became torrents. And so they were unprepared. And that's where the damage is the greatest property damage, loss of life and everything. So the river to the retrieve of the rain not too far north from us and our north is even more narrow and normalise like a creek or a little river. And it had swollen to like seven meters. That's 22 feet high. And it took away solid structures and cars and everything. And they are still finding, you know, or assessing the damage because they can't get to the places that have been destroyed. This is something we've never seen. They say it's a thousand year flood that we've had really, really bad. So I'm grateful that we were spared. It was a mess, but it was manageable. Yeah.
00:09:29:28 - 00:09:49:06
Chris Missick: One of the things that you were doing to ensure the security of the wines in the cellar, the barrels of wine are sitting on wood. Yes, that wood will float with waterfloods. And so you were literally taking large beams, putting them on top of the barrel and securing them to the ceiling.
00:09:49:08 - 00:09:49:23
Johannes Selbach: Correct.
00:09:49:25 - 00:09:56:22
Chris Missick: The cellar. Yeah. I mean, an incredible amount of work. You know, lumber prices have been through the roof this year.
00:09:56:24 - 00:10:31:27
Johannes Selbach: So we have those poles custom cut already there in the attic there in bundles. And we also have the little pieces of wood they're going between. So this is part of the of the deal of living along the river. You know, you need them. And so when you have the warning, you start moving early in the morning, which we did. And then if you snooze, you lose. That's that's the problem. If you're not at home and you don't have neighbors, then that's a serious problem. So the authorities are very good in allowing you know, everybody also calls camping grounds and what have you.
00:10:32:03 - 00:10:36:22
Johannes Selbach: Everything needs to be evacuated. That really worked well. And again, we were lucky.
00:10:36:29 - 00:10:37:14
Johannes Selbach: Yeah.
00:10:37:16 - 00:10:52:12
Chris Missick: Yeah, it's it's amazing. You hear the words thousand year flood and it puts things in context for whether it's climate change, how things are changing. Also the history of the Mosel Valley, which your family's a big part of.
00:10:52:26 - 00:11:19:12
Johannes Selbach: Well, if you live in the Mosel, there are three things to do. Historically, it's a steep, narrow valley. It doesn't have good soils to farm crops. It's very rocky. So it's perfect for viticulture. And so viticulture was the thing for more than 2000 years and then hunting and fishing in the old days, maybe as a profession, in the modern days as a hobby. So the
00:11:19:14 - 00:12:26:02
Johannes Selbach: Mosel is a very beautiful viticultural with a region which has been settled and actually has seen viticulture pre Roman times. So we have a lot more than 2000 year old tradition and the families who lived there were involved with viticulture one way or the other. And in our family, we have records going back to 600, which may sound like it's like it's a big deal. But most everybody who lives in the area has had some wine context in the family for more or less several generations. Um. There was not much else to do. Yeah. And the interesting thing, like the olive trees in the Mediterranean, the vines in the Mosel, was something that every ruling party very quickly realized. It's very valuable. So viticulture never took a break, no matter who was ruling the area. So the value of the vines was recognized and the people who made wines intended the vineyards sort of protected. And so the tradition could continue unbroken until today.
00:12:26:24 - 00:12:53:12
Chris Missick: It's amazing. You know, I think of. The third generation businesses and there is a value if that third generation can keep things going, too, to just the historical knowledge that a family possesses to keep that business going, there are things that you can learn from somebody who's passing down knowledge that you'll never read in a book. Have you experienced that personally, Johannes?
00:12:53:19 - 00:13:52:12
Johannes Selbach: Um, I think it's a very important statement. The family and the generations is in this business, say agriculture. Viticulture is super important because if you, uh, you dwell on this on the land, you need to know your land and appreciate your land and safeguard your land and make the best of it. And if those values which are also your livelihood, are instilled in you by your forefathers, and if you do it with a conviction because you like what you're doing, it really nurtures the business and enables you to pass it onto the next generation. And I was fortunate to be born into a family where my parents both had a vineyard or winery or winemaking background and where we weren't pushed into the business, but rather lured into the business.
00:13:53:20 - 00:14:46:24
Johannes Selbach: And in the end, and I was the one of three brothers, I was the one who was interested in it and the passion for wine and everything that comes with wine, wine brings people together. Wine means good food. Wine means quality of life was something that intrigued me. That is not to say that I didn't hate the slave labor as a teenager. Yeah. When my father sent me to the vineyard to pull weeds and and do all the work because he said, you need to know every step and you need to appreciate what what I was left us as a 16 year old. You rather hang out with a swimming pool, Gauld with friends, then on a summer day in sweltering heat, pull weeds or, you know, have a hole in your hand and turn the soil. That was something I detested, which is why I didn't tell my parents that I really secretly planned on coming home.
00:14:47:08 - 00:15:40:13
Johannes Selbach: So it was only later you wanted to try and get out of the labor of your youth and have the benefits in your slightly older age. Yep. And. Well, we're on the subject, if I may, was something that was part of daily life. If you come from a a wine growing region, it's not alcohol per say. It's it's something that smells good, tastes good. It's the fruit of your land and the fruit of your labor. And so come age 12, we got little sips, just little sips with an explanation, what it smells like, what it tastes like to you. You get guidance and appreciation for fine wines, which is super, super helpful. And I feel sometimes sad about wine being thrown in the same bag like hard liquor and stuff, because in my opinion, it's a different thing.
00:15:41:06 - 00:16:22:01
Chris Missick: It is an incredibly different thing. And it's it's unfortunate where that isn't the culture that most of the first experience young people have with alcohol is with rum and coke or bubblegum vodka. And it isn't about the elevation of life. Yeah. And the elevation of family at a table. Yeah. It is about an entirely different sort of life decision. I am with you. My children are still really young, but I have every intention of the finger in the glass or the calling out of aromatics from a young age to start to train that muscle memory and that that recognition of the value of what it is.
00:16:22:03 - 00:16:22:21
Johannes Selbach: Yeah, yeah.
00:16:23:27 - 00:16:47:27
Chris Missick: You have at different times mentioned that you had just a great relationship with your father, that he was your best friend. And it's interesting because I'm taking some notes. You mentioning that you weren't pushing your children or they weren't pushing their children into the business, but trying to lure them. I'd love just to hear some words about your father, his winemaking and.
00:16:47:29 - 00:18:51:11
Johannes Selbach: Oh, he was. He was. Yeah, difficult to describe. He was greater than life, but with both feet on the ground, he was really super knowledgeable and very passionate and very sharing. He could fill the room and everybody would listen. And so he was a great so we see in Germany, we see football. It's somebody you look up at and in a positive way. So he spent a lot of time with us like he was never old, always young at heart. And for sons. No, no daughter. Right. My mother had a hard time, but it was great bonding. And he instilled in us the the the the thirst for, you know, knowledge about the world of wine and obviously tasting one's drinking one's meeting people. Both parents were very open minded. My mother was an exchange student in 1953 in Geneva, Ohio, for one year and came to Watkins Glen or Finger Lakes in 53 and on a like a vacation with her host family from Ohio. And but so they were like friends. And my father was like a best friend. He also taught me respect, nature and respect other people, respect other people's wines, be open minded, which is very important. Even if you happen to have the good luck of making excellent wines, don't don't get full of yourself. In the end, it's mother the nature. We need to cooperate. Those are very essential things. And if you learn them as a young adolescent and you see proof of it, it really becomes firmly embedded in and helps you, shall we say, stay grounded and also get other people interested or excited about, you know, in this case, wine and viticulture, which I think is a fabulous profession to be in. It is.
00:18:51:23 - 00:19:25:12
Chris Missick: It's interesting because especially if you're at, you know, a small family winery and especially if you're growing your own grapes, the respect extends beyond the beverage in the glass. You recognize that it takes 100000 years to make that inch of soil. You recognize how important, you know, the plants, the animals, the entire ecosystem is. Absolutely. And often you're drinking out of that river or near the lake. It is it all becomes you. This is a lesson that I feel like it's just sad.
00:19:25:14 - 00:20:41:18
Johannes Selbach: But a lot of people don't have the fortune to learn today. Yeah, and being in the business as a family business is different. So I say being an investor in like a corporation, owning a vineyard or a farm, you have a much more emotional connection to the land, to the the products, quote unquote, and also to the people, the team. And this is something I can't stress enough. And it's also something my father told me. It's not you. You happen to be the owner, but you can't make it all yourselves. It's the team. So respect every member of the team because without them, you can't do what you do, which is very important. And sometimes you're in the glare of the camera or you get a nice ride up and it's your name. And I feel very humble because it's not me, because it's, you know, a whole team who's working hard to make this this happen. And in a family business, in a good family business, this is very, shall we say, deeply ingrained. And this is why as a team work, we can do what we do. And yeah, labor is is super important. Yeah. Especially in an area like where we are, where you depend on manual labor because there is no mechanization.
00:20:41:20 - 00:21:28:00
Chris Missick: Yeah, it's interesting talking about the the supporting cast, I guess you can say one of the growers I work with, his name is Jeff Morris here on Seneca Lake. He purchased the farm in the mid 90s and ultimately took over managing the farm in early 2000s. But he bought that farm with an employee. He'd been working it since 1969. Well, and he knew he could not do what he was doing without the help of that institutional knowledge that came with it. It is true that oftentimes they aren't on camera, they aren't in the Write-Ups, but what we do couldn't happen without them. Very true. Some of the supporting cast of cellblock roster right now is your own family.
00:21:28:05 - 00:21:28:20
Johannes Selbach: True
00:21:28:26 - 00:21:35:07
Chris Missick: Barbara has been your wife. Yeah, a key part of the operation. And your children are involved now as well. Yes.
00:21:35:24 - 00:22:23:27
Johannes Selbach: And my my eighty six year old mother still takes an interest and she's actually no longer actively involved. But it's great to be able to go to her for advice. If you have something that's unusual out of the norm and you go back because she she can draw on. Memory and experience that we have yet to make, and I forgot to mention that if if you're in a certain place and the knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, the knowledge also about, you know, about things that don't normally happen. But if you can draw from that knowledge, it helps you navigate some difficult situations and. That's I would say the the the value that that you don't see in the balance sheets, but it's called experience.
00:22:23:29 - 00:22:48:15
Johannes Selbach: Yeah, and my children right now cleaning the cellar and taking care of the house. I get some phone calls early this morning waking us up. Where's the key for this? And I was at that the other thing. But a very good feeling to know they're there. And one of my brothers, too, and they are holding down the fort while I'm sitting here doing this interview, participating in the NFL excursion.
00:22:48:17 - 00:23:31:24
Chris Missick: Well, thank you to them as well. Experience goes to one of the broader themes I talk about when we're not just talking about wine on this show. Experience does not get you a certificate. Most of the time it doesn't have a credential, but it can be as important as that credential. It too often, I think we've become so focused on somebody having the piece of paper but not having the actual knowledge and ability to work hard to achieve the results. Very true. So I, I look for people who share that mindset because I know they're going to work hard and they may not have read it in a book, but they're going to figure it out or I can talk with them and they'll probably enlighten me on something.
00:23:33:09 - 00:23:37:20
Chris Missick: So what what roles did the family play in the family business?
00:23:37:29 - 00:25:47:00
Johannes Selbach: Oh, well, if you're a small family business, which we are, and the family members need to know every aspect aspect of the business, they need to be able to do everything. So for all of us, it was important to learn from scratch. And in the old days and I belong to the old days. Yes, it was I called it slave labor. You had to work because you were made to work and. You learn from scratch, like in the kitchen, you chop vegetables and do everything, and you have the bonus of being taught and to avoid mistakes, you still make mistakes. Then it is important to find and bind good people like the ones you just spoke about. I think it's super important to have a crew or a team of dedicated people who like what they're doing, who know you care. You need to take care of them and their needs and you need to motivate them. This is what you, in my opinion, need to do in the small family business. So I am the captain of the ship, but there are many, many crew members and eventually, hopefully, Sebastien, son will become the captain. I become part of the crew. And we both know that we need to do everything to keep the crew happy. Yep. Which has worked well so far. We have people who like to drink wine. They enjoy making great wine. They enjoy even making it better every year, and they're proud when it works. So it's a wonderful team. And I mean, it's never, you know, a given. You always have to work and keep working at it. And we make mistakes and we learn from the mistakes. And it's a very open, shall we say, a relationship where everybody can have their word and make suggestions and proposals and. Well, we're fortunate.
00:25:47:15 - 00:26:25:09
Chris Missick: You know, speaking of some suggestions and proposals in the Finger Lakes, we will do multiple picking's, but it's nowhere near as intensive as I'm seeing in in Mosel. Yeah. Where oftentimes you'll do, you know, a pass with three buckets. Yep. You'll have multiple passes of the same blocks in order to make your different classifications. And for anyone who hasn't kind of discovered the difference between a Kabinet and you know. Exactly. A lot of that is dependent upon picking the correct. Very much so.
00:26:25:16 - 00:28:19:22
Johannes Selbach: And that has to do with tradition. And every region has a different tradition and a different forte of what, you know, certain styles are better in certain areas than others in the Mosul. Again, it goes back to the long tradition. If you do this for 2000 years, you know where to go for a specific ripeness. And so over time and also the peculiarities of the German wine or where we have different from the French system,different ripeness levels, we make a distinction between is it early harvest or is it regular harvest or the late harvest because the fruit has a different texture, has a different flavor expression. You capture that fruit at the stage where you pick it and we thrive on this, whereas in France everything comes together and there's the great wine and the second wine and that's it. Yep. And. That makes it a bit more complicated, on the other hand, you have the means to make different styles and different wines from your land, which otherwise would be just one wine if you were to pick everything and throw everything in one big pot and say, if you're monogamous to Riesling. Yep, like most of us are in the Mosel, it could be boring, put it this way. So to be able to make a crisp, dry wine and a juicy, medium dry wine and then maybe some lush, sweet wine from your land, depending on when you pick and how you pick is great. And there is not many grapes that enable you to do these different styles. Riesling is unique in the sense that you can make everything from bone dry to lusciously sweet in between as long as you do it right and there is balance. There are not so many grapes that do it. And this is why I think also here you have a great future ahead, because I think in the Finger Lakes you could do that, too. Yeah.
00:28:20:29 - 00:29:34:14
Johannes Selbach: So early harvest Kabinets, greenish yellow grapes. We want these wines because you can guzzle them. Spatlese later picked means more bricks or more degrees. If you fermented dry, you're in the twelve and a half or 13 percent range. If you make it medium dry, you're in the eleven point five. If you like it with some sweetness, you're below 10 percent and certain places are better for certain styles and others. And this is again the the beautiful mix of knowing your land and then also having some experience, depending on how the vintage goes, what what to do. But it's complicated. And obviously you need to make a visual selection. Not every fruit is equal. Everybody who has a garden knows you have strawberries or you have some a cherry or an apple tree or more certain fruits to better in a certain season. And if you're too late, maybe they started rotting. If you picked early, there is not enough flavour. So you need to be on. Time for what you want, and this is where the selective picking and the multiple parties come in, and if you go the extra length, you can make beautiful wines in a variation that is mind boggling.
00:29:36:05 - 00:29:46:07
Johannes Selbach: Obviously, where you run a harvest over a big field or a big vineyard becomes very uniform, economically easy, but in the end, maybe less exciting.
00:29:46:12 - 00:30:11:23
Chris Missick: Yeah, well, two things. There'd be almost no way you could get a mechanical harvester going to your vineyard. No way to. I encourage anyone who is just someone who loves wine. If you want to understand wine, better plant a garden. Yes, we've got a master gardener we're going to be interviewing because it draws you into understanding agriculture on this like micro backyard level. Absolutely. That you can translate. Absolutely.
00:30:11:25 - 00:30:24:21
Johannes Selbach: And I think everybody who lives in the countryside, who walks the fields or the forest knows the smell of the fields in the forest. Many city dwellers only know concrete and asphalt and maybe gasoline.
00:30:25:26 - 00:31:14:07
Johannes Selbach: But if you till the soil, if you if you spade your garden, you open the ground. It smells very intense, especially after rain, a summer rain on parched ground. There is a particular smell and different soils, humid versus dry, have different smells and all these things you can relate to, especially in gardening or winegrowing. So when we speak about terroir using that French term, yes, certain soils do different things to your fruit, into your grapes and bring out different flavors. This is not nonsense. It's actually there. If you grow onions on Maui, or Vidalia, Georgia, and you put them in the ground in your backyard, they don't even it's the same bulbs. They don't produce the same results. And that's if you do it yourself as a hobby or professionally, we very quickly recognize that.
00:31:14:17 - 00:31:20:02
Johannes Selbach: And if you build on that and you respect the land in nature, you can make fantastic wines.
00:31:20:08 - 00:31:34:24
Chris Missick: Definitely, you know, drawn back to that old story I've heard you mention is your your dad said to you, well, if we talk about terroir, you should make a single block. Right. Let that block sing.Correct.
00:31:35:15 - 00:32:49:01
Johannes Selbach: Since we have this tradition of selective picking and with the selective picking, you can, in a sense, sculpt the wine by leaving a certain, you know, grade ripeness on the vine and you only pick whatever the less ribeau, the more ripe. So how you pick and how often you pick helps you make a certain style of wine, but you tend to override what thevineyard brings if you want the true colors of the vineyard, my late father said. And that was at the heydays of terroir. He said, Look, everybody speaks about Taiwan. Not everybody understands Taiwan. And if you want the vineyard to express itself, then pick it. Optimum brightness in one, picking one. Don't make a selection. Bring home every grape that's on the vine except for the the soil stuff which needs to go. And I said no. I think the better wines are the ones where I take only the best grapes and said, OK, let's make a contest. That was in 2003. You can do your multiple selections. And I choose a vineyard and nobody touches it until I say go. And then we pick everything that was in 03 and we have a possible Schmidt, which is the best piece of the Schlossbach. So it's like the cherry in the pie.
00:32:49:03 - 00:32:49:18
Johannes Selbach: Yeah.
00:32:50:09 - 00:33:43:15
Johannes Selbach: And he said that vineyard remains untouched. You can go in every other part of the Schlossbach and graze and take the best grapes. And when it's time we pick everything and then we'll see when the ones are finished. So long story short. February, the wines were through fermentations, we had the first tasting and we didn't even have an argument, his one was better. Yeah, because it was more wholesome, because it included the green grapes that hang behind the vines and all shaded and they have more acidity and they provide structure and they balanced the ripeness. But I had a monstrous wine with super ripeness, but not so good acidity, so was heavy and not so much fun drinking. That was the the starting point of a single puzzle. But things of these three best parcels called -----. Schmidt in the Schlossbach sloping road lined the southern way and we always make them sweets.
00:33:43:17 - 00:33:54:04
Johannes Selbach: The question often comes because they are so ripe they would bring too much alcohol as a as a dry wine, 13, five, 14 percent. That's no fun. You don't go to the Mosel that have been high alcohol, wine.
00:33:54:27 - 00:35:02:12
Chris Missick: It's interesting because obviously there are so many different stylistic approaches. It depends on where you are, what you're growing and what that fruit can hold. You know what? Here's a story. I've told it on the podcast, but I don't think I've told you so. It was 20 2012 dry Riesling of ours that we fermented bone dry. And the fruit, quite frankly, it didn't benefit entirely from that at that point. At the young age, right in Stuart Piggot tastes it. And he says, congratulations, Mr. MRG, you've taken the joy out of this Riesling, you know, and you liked a lot of the other wines. Yeah, but that specific one and you know it to me, I, I realized he was right. Right. That wine would have been better with even five grams. Yeah. In a young age like now, it's actually coming into its own and it's showing really well. But I think sometimes as winemaker's people get addicted to doing what will either rate well or what they've read, people want them to do, and there are there are some grosses gavechs that I've had that are amazing at 14 percent.
00:35:02:26 - 00:35:06:18
Johannes Selbach: You're right, they aren't always a wine. You can drink very much.
00:35:07:05 - 00:35:14:08
Chris Missick: And then somewhere I'm like, this is just so out of balance. It's difficult. It's one of the reasons I've always loved Selbach wines.
00:35:15:00 - 00:35:16:17
Johannes Selbach: Balance is always pristine.
00:35:16:19 - 00:37:37:05
That we go at great lengths. That's also something my grandfather passed on to his father and he to me and Sebastian seems to have the same liking. The Mosel as a wine region has been known and still is known for making wines that are poised, filigree, have great elegance, draw you in for more. This is really the forte of the region, not the Olympics. You know, bigger, wider, faster, but rather stunning, elegant and entertaining, multifaceted. That's something that's drawing people in. It's also academically very interesting if you're into wine. And my late father always said there's a certain phrases that I'll never forget the best bottle. At a reception or party is always the one that goes empty the quickest. No matter what the label on the bottle, but you watch people and you watch and drink and what goes the fastest is the best one. And he also said, don't make museum pieces that make wine for people to enjoy. And he said nature will always provide for more. He also said you can't make gold more golden if it's perfect. Leave it. Don't mess with it. Which is also why we firmly believe and this is also for Riesling winemakers, you don't need seasoning for Riesling. It's a grape that has so much flavor. If you grow it in the right spot, if you take care of it, because it's a very fickle grape, um, you can make fantastic wines that speak for themselves. So no enzymes, no cultured yeast. We don't fine, no bentonite, no gelatin. We've never had a problem with, you know, cloudy bottles, even though the lab always tells you you need to do this, you need to do that. We do not. Again, this comes from experience. My father said, don't worry, just wait. And if you do the right things and that means good farming and meticulous, you know, harvest work, which means only good fruit, if it's in if in doubt, throw it out. That was another sentence. You bring home good fruit. You process it very gently, lightly. And then obviously there are certain things you need to do, but basically for the flavor that the wine make itself.
00:37:37:07 - 00:37:37:22
Johannes Selbach: Yeah.
00:37:37:24 - 00:38:03:03
Johannes Selbach: And we like long lees contact. The beauty is Riesling has good acidity, so the winds are relatively stable. We have with slates and you do too with the shell YellowPages. Yeah. Which is an added benefit for stability in the wines. There's not much you need to do and and then you come up with ones that are not, you know, heavy hitters like the baseball bat hit you, but rather something that draws you in.
00:38:03:15 - 00:38:42:22
Johannes Selbach: They are fantastic and and they are unique. Yeah. So the style is really that of, you know, elegance. We don't go super sweet in on a relative scale. So but also ones will be less sweet than most of our colleagues ones. We tend to have a little less alcohol basically because we like to drink wine. Yeah, we are wine consumers like everybody else, and we like to drink wine and we like to have wines that we open the next bottle and possibly the next bottle because it's so delicious. Rather than have a monument where you need six people to the bottle and you all analyze but you don't finish your glass. Yeah.
00:38:43:29 - 00:39:26:15
Chris Missick: I love that, you know, it actually goes to what I talk a lot about in the show, which is looking at viticulture, looking at wine and then other makers as ways to cultivate a good life. And, you know, one sort of tweak on what your dad said, you know, in terms of gold can't be made more golden. You can't make a diamond gold, you know, so in the sense that they they both have extraordinary value. They're both beautiful and then in themselves, let them be what they want to be. Absolutely. And it's like that with us, like find what you're capable of, pursue that and do it the best you can. And that is just one of the many keys to a better, happier life.
00:39:26:17 - 00:39:55:27
Johannes Selbach: Absolutely. And it's also do what you do best. I mean, this is why the region has, shall we say, credibility for region for resealing, because in the 17th, it was actually decreed by the last principalship rule, the area, Clemence Wenceslaus those who actually because the church owned much of the vineyard and didn't farm everything, they they got the tenth part of the harvest. I don't know how that's called in English, but they were tied.
00:39:56:00 - 00:39:56:15
Chris Missick: Yeah.
00:39:56:21 - 00:41:18:17
Johannes Selbach: And so he recognized Riesling was way better than what was in those days, like a mix of grapes in the beginning. And they said, OK, from now on, only recently we planted everything he said, the inferior grapes. Must go. And this became the, shall we say, the starting point for the most, becoming the world's largest Riesling area. Except for six or seven years ago. The faults overtook us, was you helped us out and so do what you do best. The climate being a moderate climate with a long growing season simmering the fruit to ripen rather than boiling to ripeness made it a haven for for Riesling. And this is why also red grapes were basically pushed out in the Middle Ages. We had a lot of pinot noir grown, which has just come back 25, 30 years ago, only I think twenty six or seven years ago we could plant Pinot Noir. Before then, it was not legal to hunt red grapes in the Mosel. So do what you do best. Certainly is also something not to say that you have to only stick to one grape, but don't try to do everything. Like you said, there is diamonds, there is rubies, there's emeralds, there's gold and silver that all have their place. And if you know something very well and if you have the land that is suitable for something, maybe concentrate on that. You can play around with some other things. But to do everything can be very challenging.
00:41:18:24 - 00:41:33:01
Chris Missick: It can be, you know, in the Finger Lakes, we're talking about Riesling being planted in mass more in the 70s than the seventeen hundreds. And I, I agree. I think Riesling does have a I mean this is it's home for I think North America.
00:41:33:03 - 00:41:33:22
Johannes Selbach: I would agree,
00:41:34:19 - 00:41:53:20
Chris Missick: but I'm also in agreement that we should be trying some stuff. It's one of the reasons why I chose to plant some Chenin blanks because like Riesling we can do great sparkling, we can do great dessert and everything in between. But Riesling does have your heart. I think if you grow and make Riesling that becomes one of your passions.
00:41:54:18 - 00:41:55:07
Johannes Selbach: I would agree.
00:41:56:17 - 00:41:58:03
Chris Missick: Do you have any plans to plant some pinot.
00:41:58:05 - 00:43:13:21
Johannes Selbach: We do. We actually we strayed from the path of virtue. We we planted some pinot blanc in 1999 to make bubbles because Barbara and I are great fans of champagne. Yeah. And our importer, US importer has a fantastic champagne portfolio, which kind of like spawned our admiration and also consumption. So we we planted penumbral we were a little naive because we put it in too good a place so it got too ripe, too early. Ripens way earlier than Riesling so we could only make champagne or sacked twice. Meanwhile, it's become a very popular still wine. So our problem is it's quite nice as a still one. We basically slid into making Pinot Noir in 2016 when my longest or oldest stepfamilies, my my vintage and his work working for us since age 14 is from and his wife comes from setting in. They had a Pinot Noir vineyard in setting. And then he got tired of making the trip for that one vineyard and said, come on, be honest, would you buy my pinot noir vineyard behind the church in the Arctic? And I said, well, what do you say to them?
00:43:13:23 - 00:45:18:18
Johannes Selbach: I said, said, yes. And then there I was with a Pinot Noir. And I thought, oh, great, we can make bubbles. And I told my team, now we have this video. And they said, oh, no, no, no bubbles. We should we should make red wine. No, let's make red wine, OK? So we started making the 2016 into a red wine, which was quite nice and it was convincingly good so that in 2017 we were set on making more Pinot Noir. We actually were offered some old vineyards for lease and the 17 turned out beautiful. So was the 18. And then we decided we'll go deeper into Pinot Noir now. So we have a little project going, though, which is very exciting, because with the climate change for one and also, you know, a little better knowledge nowadays, and that's where education comes into my son is fully trained. He in turn that turned off. And we look at why he went to Geisenheim. And so he's he's he went to Traminer in Italy, making the Gewurz and so forth. So that all comes together. And so now we have some very nice people in the making and we're very pleased with it. And the last little piece of, shall we say, playing in the sandbox was Sameena. At the age of 17 18, I came upon a bottle of Zind Humbrecht, which was an eye opener to me. In the end, it came in a long table. I thought it was Mozart. And it struck me like, wow, this is not Mozart. This is fantastic. Ever since I had a liking for good Gewurz, which was difficult to find. And I know it polarizes and it's also not so easy to make it. But I thought, let's make a Gewurz in Slate in a cooler climate and let's see whether we can make a crisp, dry, not oily and not in your face. Gewurz which is food friendly and it works. So we we are very happy with a tiny, tiny amount of goods. Let me know that we make.
00:45:18:20 - 00:45:37:22
Chris Missick: So yeah, we go, we're still 92 percent Riesling and the rest is those other. So yes, look beyond what you know and what you do and try and be but be humble. I mean obviously one makes mistakes and from the mistakes we learn and then eventually you get it right and it's it's fun and it's delicious.
00:45:38:11 - 00:45:41:17
Chris Missick: The mistakes only become regrets if you don't learn from them.
00:45:41:19 - 00:45:42:04
Johannes Selbach: True.
00:45:42:19 - 00:45:56:03
Chris Missick: And speaking of Gewurz, it it's another grape I absolutely love. And it's difficult to be a winemaker that loves converts because you have a difficult time selling it. One of the bottles I set aside to send with you today is our sparkling Gewurz.
00:45:56:05 - 00:45:56:24
Johannes Selbach: Super cool.
00:45:56:26 - 00:45:57:11
Johannes Selbach: Thank you.
00:45:58:19 - 00:46:18:03
Chris Missick: You need to be in the right place to make sparkling Gewurztraminer. One of the things I do is monitor the fermentation. Sometimes I'll pick it at twenty one brix, but I'll cross flow, filter it when I have my 24 grams per liter. So we end up with this really different exotic but nice bubbles with moderate alcohol.
00:46:18:05 - 00:46:25:03
Johannes Selbach: But what you need, which is something you don't find very often. So it's really in a niche, I think what you can do. Well, yeah, yeah.
00:46:25:05 - 00:46:30:12
Chris Missick: It's done really well for us. So, uh, yeah, that's great to hear. I can't wait to try those.
00:46:30:14 - 00:46:39:27
Johannes Selbach: I never actually I actually it's on the skurnik list of new wines, so we will see some coming this way probably in the fall.
00:46:40:03 - 00:47:02:28
Chris Missick: That's fantastic. The good thing about having a wineries, you can also purchase direct from distributors. So we'll get to that one. You know, I want to just revisit a couple of things. What covid has meant for your business, what you think it has changed about your business?
00:47:03:04 - 00:49:42:27
Johannes Selbach: Well, um, I can't say it often enough. Uh, it humbles me because it shows you the limits. Uh, it had a huge impact, obviously, on everybody around the globe and also on us. We were very, very fortunate that none of the family, uh, or I should say none of the immediate family, um, nor staff at a problem with covid health wise. Uh, obviously, our business was impacted big time and it was a very difficult time, like for so many businesses. We lost sales, we lost customers. And many of our customers who bought a lot of wine weren't operating. We. They couldn't because of the restrictions, we supply some airlines, we supply some cruise lines. I mean, that business just ever so slowly coming back. We sell a lot to restaurants and hotels and resorts that were closed. Um, um, we made up some by direct sales and and some of our retail customers had a field day. But by and large, the way our business was structured or is structured, we had more of the negative impact than the positive impacts. And so. Again, this is where it's good to have a good team and it's good to have a family in a family business where you plan long term and where you can with a difficult time. So we made that, you know quite well through the season and kept all our staff and now our stocks are a little bigger than they normally are. But, you know, that's the beauty, wine doesn't go bad. I mean, if you have you know, produce, it's a whole different story. I mean, many people meet produce who supplied restaurants. They were stuck. I mean, they were stuck. And so with wine, again, we weren't on the bright side, so to speak. We just put them to the side and the ones would improve and eventually we'll sell them, you know? So it was a big challenge and it was very difficult times. We're glad now with the vaccinations available, with the people, with sane minds getting vaccinated, lowering the risk for everybody else and also, you know, providing for the opportunity to do business again and return to a normal life again. Um, I see, you know, more than just the light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, for us on top, where the tariffs, the airplane tariffs, which wine has nothing to do with, we're still stuck with that punitive 25 percent tariff, which thank goodness is gone since February.
00:49:43:15 - 00:50:02:06
Chris Missick: I think what some folks fail to understand is that it wasn't simply a 25 percent increase, that the customers paying for the bottle, it's probably closer to 50 percent because there are, according to U.S. law, so many middlemen, middle people that you have to increase it every step along the way.
00:50:02:08 - 00:51:03:11
Johannes Selbach: Now, you have the many states you have look at prescribed markup. And so the 25 percent are only based on the seller price. So the inland freight to the seaport, then this the terminal charges than the ocean freight than the terminal charges the U.S. side before. You know, it's 35 percent. And then you have the you know, the I don't see in the U.S. sort of the impact price wise was horrific. Yeah. And we're so glad that that's history. It makes no sense to slap tariffs. One side hits the other because it's it escalates. And in the end, the little man is suffering because what turns out to be an airplane dispute hits the distilleries and the wine people and the restaurants and the groceries and what have you. So a greater number of people was negatively impacted. Just put some money into the state's coffers from from, you know, duties and tariffs.
00:51:03:27 - 00:51:20:28
Chris Missick: It's a general problem, I think, of politicians. They like to they like to position themselves as making decisions, but they're rarely the maker. They're rarely the small family business that has a stake that suffers.
00:51:21:07 - 00:51:36:04
Johannes Selbach: Many politicians live in the clouds. Yeah, high up in the clouds. They don't know dirty hands and they talk, but they don't understand. The people on the ground and I wish it would come down from the clouds.
00:51:36:08 - 00:52:17:15
Chris Missick: Yeah, yeah, yeah, obviously this isn't feasible, but and we're not going to go to political. But I do wish, like everybody who had to make decisions over armed forces wore uniform at some point, everyone or at least was the spouse of someone who did. Right. Or the same thing that impacts businesses like just to get to know what your people actually go through. And I think we live in a better world. Absolutely. Um, you know, shifting just a little bit. Folks may not know. Some folks definitely know. But you are part of a venture here in the Finger Lakes to make Riesling. I'd love for you to share a little bit more about that. Yoni's.
00:52:17:17 - 00:53:41:27
Johannes Selbach: Well, in 2013, we embarked on a project in Burdette's together with Paul Hopes To. Reclaimed slope, shale slope to plant Riesling, Paul's family comes from upstate New York, and he had always wanted to do something here wine wise, and he's a great fan of racing. He's visited us a few times before and knows and likes racing. And he was looking for somebody to do this together. I mean, California Chardonnay and Cabernet Pinot is one thing, Riesling is another thing. And we had a joint venture in starting in 2013 building the vineyard in Burdette's. And, you know, we helped with some of our team and myself to. With the grafts and, you know, the planting, the the lay of the land a bit and I'm still involved, I'm not 50 percent anymore with a minority share, but fun to see how the project is evolving. It's really actually becoming very nice. And this is a first commercial bottling. And hopefully in the next few years, there will be more now bottling and another, shall we say, ambassador for Finger Lakes, Rieslings. And Paul, obviously, as you know, reputation and an international network which can only be beneficial.
00:53:42:19 - 00:53:45:09
Chris Missick: Yeah, the brand is called Hillick and Hobbs.
00:53:45:11 - 00:53:51:09
Johannes Selbach: That's his his mother's maiden name is Hillik. Yeah. And obviously Hobbs. Yeah.
00:53:51:27 - 00:53:59:27
Chris Missick: The wines are just starting to come out. I actually have been so busy I haven't had a chance to try a bottle yet, but I'm looking forward to it.
00:53:59:29 - 00:54:39:22
Johannes Selbach: Same same with me. You wouldn't believe it. We had huge problems getting samples over to Germany because German customs was going crazy. And we last year had arranged for a tasting in the city in February of last year. And somehow because of Colvert, the whole thing fell apart because in March everything was was locked down. And I actually flew home earlier on, literally the last flight out before before for all the travel was stalled. And so I haven't tasted and I'm really curious myself, hopefully tomorrow. Well, you're in the neighborhood.
00:54:39:24 - 00:54:47:03
Chris Missick: Yes. You know, with that, do you have any other plans for projects anywhere else or.
00:54:47:18 - 00:56:25:21
Johannes Selbach: No, we actually one. Mhm. Yeah. We. Um, we are taking over another small producer in the motel not far from us was once we've been, you know, selling for many years, um, well-known small winery, which will be my last project. Everything else will be Sebastien. Yeah. Because there's only so much you can do and you shouldn't bite off more than you can chew. So for the future, obviously, we'll be active in the family business. And with that little new projects across the river, which is fun, we will have some fun. I can say that, but I think it's time to consolidate. We've we've grown and we've built a new, uh, prospect, uh, storage, tasting room, what have you. Um, and now we need to fill it with life and keep it going. And especially the crisis, the covid process, the tariffs and everything have taught us the sky is not the limit. I mean, we've been spoiled for many years of a smooth sailing and everything was swell. And you tend to take it for granted and we can't take it for granted. And so growth is good, but you need to measure it carefully so that you don't go overboard with the investment and with things you need to tend to, which you physically can't do with the day has 24 hours on 25 or 26.
00:56:25:23 - 00:56:27:02
Chris Missick: Yeah, unfortunately.
00:56:28:00 - 00:56:28:15
Johannes Selbach: Well, thank
00:56:28:17 - 00:56:31:12
Johannes Selbach: you so much for being here, Johan. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.
00:56:31:14 - 00:56:33:28
Johannes Selbach: Wonderful. Thank you so much. So good to be here.
00:56:34:00 - 00:56:36:14
Johannes Selbach: And it's a little bit like homecoming.
00:56:36:18 - 00:56:37:03
Johannes Selbach: Yeah.
00:56:37:06 - 00:56:56:26
Chris Missick: Well, we're happy to have you. Thank you. This has been viticulture with Johannes Selbach. He's learning that he cannot take the future for granted, but he's working hard to ensure that the baton of a family history spanning hundreds of years and winemaking is passed to the next generation. Thanks and see you soon.
00:56:59:02 - 00:57:19:27
Chris Missick: I hope you enjoyed the show, this has been viticulture where we share ways to cultivate a good life. Don't forget to visit our website and viticulture podcast, Dotcom, subscribe to our substory, where you'll get show notes, transcripts, musings and exclusive offers and check us out on all the major social media platforms. Thanks again for stopping by.