Another triumph for Keller (and Dönnhoff)

The importance of being Keller, or what happened at this year's Bad Kreuznach auction.

Everybody would agree that Julian Haart from Piesport on the Mosel is a good winemaker [hear, hear, say Julia and Jancis]. In actual fact, a lot of people probably wouldn’t, because they think he is far better than that. There is general consensus in the informed wine world that the former star pupil of Klaus Peter Keller is one of the greatest talents of the German wine industry in the last 20 years. And yet, he couldn’t make ends meet.

But before we start bemoaning the cost of quality wine production and begin sending him food parcels (I don’t think wine parcels would be appropriate), fortunately this applied to only one of his wines. In 2017 he and his wife Nadine made their last Kabinett wine from the Schubertslay, an extremely steep site on the slopes of the famous Mosel village of Piesport. Even after having acquired a certain proficiency in mountaineering, they found that 550 litres from 0.7 ha (less than 8 hl/ha) at between €14 and €20 per bottle just did not warrant the extreme effort required to make this delightful wine.

Enter the mentor. Since Julian’s days as a trainee at the Keller estate, he and his wife Nadine had become close friends with Klaus Peter and his wife Julia, and when the Haarts decided that enough was not enough at the Schubertslay, the Kellers, who had been looking for an opportunity on the Mosel, stepped in and took over the lease. In 2018 they made their first wine from the 120-year-old vines. In 2019 they entered 360 bottles of 2018 Schubertslay Kabinett at the auction of the VDP Nahe in Bad Kreuznach a week last Sunday where the wine was sold for €550 ($600) per bottle. Six magnums even fetched a price of €4,550 each! Our picture, taken by Klaus Peter Keller, is of those 2018 Schubertslay grapes bursting with health, overlooking the Mosel.

This would have been the record bid of the day, had it not been for a magnum of 2015 Hermannshöhle Trockenbeerenauslese from Helmut and Cornelius Dönnhoff, which, with a bid of €18,000 ($19,700), cost a Californian wine merchant dearly, €22,491 including sales commission and tax. A half bottle of the same wine fetched €1,020, a full bottle €2,750. But as we are talking singles here, at takings of €225,300 for the Schubertslay lot, Keller would have been the envy, some of it possibly green, of all the other producers. The Kellers also received €430 per bottle for their Morstein Felix Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs 2016, the highest price of any of the red wines entered at the auction.

The only two other growers who managed to get anywhere near these bids were Schäfer-Fröhlich with 48 half-bottles of 2017 Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Beerenauslese at €260 each and Emrich-Schönleber of Monzingen with a magnum of  Auf der Ley Riesling GG 2018 for €270 and a double magnum of the same wine for €720.     

At the end of the day, 35 different wines had been sold for €1,389,000, or €1,735,000 ($1,898,870) including commission fees and taxes. 48% of the takings went to VDP Rheinhessen producers, 22% to the Nahe, the rest was shared between Ahr and Pfalz.  

The Kellers' healthy 2018 Schubertslay grapes overlooking the Mosel