RIP Fritz Hasselbach

Agnes and Fritz Hasselbach

Annegret Reh-Gartner is not the only prominent German vintner we have lost recently. Fritz Hasselbach of the renowned Rheinhessen wine estate Gunderloch at Nackenheim died at the age of 70 from skin cancer on Tuesday last week. 

Together with his wife Agnes, he took over the reins at the winery from his parents-in-law in 1986. They made it their goal to take the estate back into the elite of German winegrowers, a place it had occupied in the early twentieth century. Its founder Carl Gunderloch was one of 16 wine estates and members of the wine trade who got together at a meeting in Wiesbaden on 19 February 1910 to agree the principles for a joint sale of ‘natural wines’ (wines to which no sugar had been added) by auction. The loose association they formed is generally regarded as the cornerstone and original predecessor of what many years later was to become the VDP association of German premium wine estates.

Fritz and Agnes found themselves in possession of holdings in Niersteiner Hipping, Niersteiner Pettenthal and Nackenheimer Rothenberg, three of Rheinhessen’s most prestigious vineyards in the district called the Rheinfront. It did not take them long to achieve their aim, as borne out by some legendary Beeren- and Trockenbeerenauslesen, which achieved the dream score of 100 points several times in the American magazine Wine Spectator

Although Fritz was equally proud of his wines from these three supreme vineyards, it would not be wrong to say that he had a particularly soft spot for the Rothenberg with its unique red soil called Rotliegendes which imparts a special spicy flavour to its offspring. The first time I had the opportunity to try a Nackenheimer Rothenberg at a tasting in London, I mentioned to Fritz my perception of pink grapefruit sprinkled with cinnamon, and I will never forget the enthusiasm with which he explained to me the implications of the special soil on the taste of this wine.

This enthusiasm was obviously not reserved for me, as the successful sales of Gunderloch’s dry, fruity and noble-sweet Riesling wines in the US, UK and many other countries of the world prove.

Fritz and Agnes had the foresight to involve their son Johannes early in the running of the estate, and he has already been responsible for the last few vintages, so that continuity of the high standard of winemaking at Gunderloch is assured. But mention that special vineyard Nackenheimer Rothenberg in the national or international wine scene, and it will always be associated with the name Fritz Hasselbach.

The picture of Ages and Fritz is taken from the Gunderloch website.