On a Hill in the Mosel...


“If you plant a vineyard, it’s not for 10 or 20 years. It’s for 60, 80, 100 years."

The hill of Thörnicher Ritsch graces the labels of Weingut Hermann Ludes: skillful, acid-laced bottles that feel truly elevated, yet still familiar to lovers of traditional Mosel Riesling. But if you really look, it’s quite a unique place. And the wines – unforgettable.
Below, Carolyn goes behind the label with (young!) winemaker Julian Ludes. And FYI, ‘22 is online and on Fulton. 🤫
Carolyn: Have you always worked on the family estate? It sounds like you have grown up at the winery, with your Uncle Hermann as a big inspiration of course.

Julian: So, I don’t call it a classically “family winery;” I grew up in the neighbor village. I started to be involved, I think it was 6, 7 [years old] – just going to harvest, eating some grapes and so on…driving the tractor and getting a bit more knowledge about what’s going on. Then started with tasting around 15-16, very late in the Mosel. 

Early in the US!

Yes, officially…I knew I wanted to do it. My father is a general doctor…and I said one family business has to go on, becoming a doctor or a winegrower. And I thought being a winegrower was much more interesting, Seeing a product from the beginning to the end…seeing people around the world drinking the wine you’ve produced is something great.

Fun job for a kid, eating grapes in the vineyard.

Drinking the must is also fun, after directly pressing it! But yeah…when you’ve really grown up with it, you know how it is. I wanted to do it, and there was no one saying you have to do it, or not, I'm just doing what I want... [With my uncle] in the style of the wines, we have nearly the same idea of it…We both love the steep slopes and seeing what the future brings us.

So your uncle is still making wine as well or mostly retired?

The life of a winegrower is very simple. You’re going to the vines ‘til you die…You need to be there. If you plant a vineyard, it’s not for 10 or 20 years. It’s for 60, 80, 100 years. I’m working the vineyards my grandfather planted, and that’s something you always want to see the development of. As a winegrower you never retire – you always want to see what’s going on.

[Ludes is the largest single owner in Thörnich’s Grand Cru Ritsch vineyard.] A lot of the vines are older right, around 75 years? So how did the family come across this place originally?

So the estate how it is today – Hermann Ludes – is a very young estate. My grandfather founded it after returning from WWII from Russia; but in the family, we have viticutlure since ever. My grand grandparents…had a lot of land on the flat part, which was used for agriculture. And on the steep slopes, which was used for vines…[they] had 12 children and everything was divided into 12 pieces. My grandfather started with 1.5 hectare or something, not very much, then he married very well…and bought vineyards from his siblings step by step. So today we have 90% of the old vineyards.

It’s a very unique place; not what people picture when they think about the Mosel, with steep, continuous slopes along the river. You’re on this hill with valleys on either side, the wind whips all around.

It’s a unique place…a very small site. The Ritsch is about 20 hectares, which is medium size, but compared to Piesporter Goldtröpfchen which is 180 hectares, still very small. And I think it’s unique in the way we do the wines. We like the acidity. We don’t like to concentrate on one top wine or GG, but we like this Kabinett style, very filigreed wines. I think these are timeless wines...sweetness is a balance with acidity. That’s our task in a way – to show people that there’s more than dry [white wine].

Even as a younger winemaker in the scene, you still seem very committed to the Prädikat system. Your Kabinett – they don’t feel like they have much sugar because they are so balanced. So satisfying to drink.

The off dry style…it’s a style that other regions of the world can’t do. We should focus on it. If we don’t focus on it, it’s a style that will be lost. We are one of the most northern regions for winegrowing and can focus on this very low alcohol style…I like wines from 10% [ABV]. That’s where you can drink two bottles.

Exactly! Now Kabinett vs Kabinett Feinherb – you’re making both from the ‘Monster’ site. Kabi Feinherb, it’s not something we see much…is that very intentional, to do a different take every vintage? Or depends on how the fruit is looking?

‘Monster’ is the name of the parcel because it’s 1.1 hectare, which is a very huge parcel in the Mosel, 85 year+ vines. It depends on the yield we have; normally we have about 40-45 hectoliters per hectare…but like in ‘23, we only have a Kabinett Feinherb because we only had about 20 hectoliters – so, nothing [laughs]. Normally we try to get a Kabinett Feinherb and a Kabinett. They can be a bit sweeter or dryer depending on the vintage – it’s always depending on the figures, the acidity and sugar levels, it’s something we can’t plan.

[In ‘23] we decided to do a Kabinett Feinherb which is lower on the sugar because we didn’t have enough acidity to do a Kabinett. For us, it’s very important to have sweet wines where you can drink the next glass, and not say ‘hey good wine but I need a water!’

It’s amazing that 1 hectare is a large parcel. I’m looking at a map here, there are so many parcels on this one hill and as you mentioned those are historically combinations of even smaller parcels.

That’s the reason we have about 25% of ungrafted vines in the estate, but we can’t say where they are. In this combination of small vineyards into one very big vineyard, we have 5 or 6 rows of ungrafted vines, the next ten rows are grafted, and so on. Because each 5 or 6 rows were different growers, different age of the vines; [in one parcel] there can be vines 100 years [old], there can be vines 50 years. Today it is forbidden to plant with ungrafted vines, we have to plant with grafted vines.

And the vines are still pole-trained?

Yeah, so that’s typical for Mosel…it’s a lot of work because you can’t mechanize it. And where we have our vineyard, we have a lot of walls; we don’t want to rip them out [to mechanize] because you would have to rip out the old vines. And the roots of these vines can go up to 50 meters in the slate…we saw vintages which were very dry, and we didn’t have very big problems because the roots were so deep.

Has the winemaking changed much in your time there? Or is it the same as when you were 6 years old in the vineyard?

I would say yes. Still the same treatment: whole bunch pressing, sedimentation, spontaneous fermentation; long on the yeast but not very long, no battonage, everything is stainless steel…I think maybe we are getting dryer, focusing a bit more on acidity.

The acidity really shines through.

[In the Mosel] we are still where we can get some natural acidity, we don’t need to add it. We don’t do an interruption in the wine, we don’t de-acidify the wine. You just have to wait. And waiting is very important, I think of course you can drink the wines in their youth, they are shining; but for the full advantage, I would wait 5 or 6 years minimum. [Because of the high acidity] we have to search for our clients in the world, not in Germany. I think we know some people who like acidity here ;) Yes. Buy them in their youth, see the development of the wines. We’re not thinking about how the wines are tasting in the moment. We’re thinking about how are the wines in 10, 20, 30 years. When thinking about a favorite vintage, I like ‘21; but is it a good vintage? I don’t know – we’ll meet in 10 years and then we can say.

How are you feeling about ‘23 now that it’s settled a bit? My first impression is that it has a very generous feel to it, even when so young.

We just bottled it a few weeks ago. I'm very happy with it, it’s not as racy as the last vintages…more gentle, easy to drink; it’s a very open vintage. It reminds me a bit more of 2019, a very ripe vintage - but looking very promising. Harvesting ‘23 was very challenging, because it was very humid, very hot, a lot of botrytis – and bad botrytis – we had to select very precisely.

Who knows what this year holds.

The weather is changing completely. It’s not that it’s getting hotter; the extremes are getting more problematic. So the rain on average we have the same. But it might be raining one day 70, 80L, very much – and then we have 3 months no rain. But the average is the same.

We were affected by frost this year…with the warmer temperatures bud break is earlier, that’s getting more problematic. Because we are having some frost nights in April, and normally we don’t have bud break then; but with it getting warmer we have more bud break and the frost is creating problems. And then harvesting the grapes, normally we would have started in mid-October; today we are starting mid-September, more than a month earlier.

But like in ‘21, we started in mid-October. It rained and rained, maturation was very slow, ripening was in September and we had a late harvest. So there is still a possibility for everything.

What is your favorite wine to drink?

It’s a bit different depending on the vintage, but I like the Monster wines if they are aged a bit more...I like the wines which are on one end very filigreed, but on the other end having a very deep character…normally I drink below 2000 – I like it really aged.

How would you describe the personality of your wines?

Timeless. Racy. Doing what they want…..letting them do what they want.

Independent vines! Anything else you want to share?

Drink more Mosel wines! And, I think what Vom Boden is doing to support the Mosel, it’s so important, for us young growers…every day there are young Americans coming to visit the Mosel.

We hope to see you soon. Thank you, Julian!