Few wine regions in Europe can claim a history as rich and storied as that of Germany’s Rheingau. A commercial center of the global wine trade since at least the 12th century, it achieved international celebrity during the 19th century, when its top wines graced the tables of royalty and were regularly poured at the world’s most prestigious hotels and restaurants. Even Queen Victoria was a fan—her love for the region’s wines famously fueled their popularity in England, where they were referred to as “hock” and were highly coveted by the country’s upper classes.
Here, along the banks of the Main river, as it travels westward from the villages of Wicker and Hochheim, past the famous vineyards of Rüdesheim and over to the border of the Mittelrhein, reside many of the wine world’s oldest and most iconic estates. Which is precisely what makes a newcomer like Eva Fricke—a leader within a growing force of female winemakers working throughout Germany’s wine regions—somewhat of an unlikely ambassador for the Rheingau’s recent renaissance.
Unlike many of her peers, Fricke, owner of the namesake winery, Eva Fricke, isn’t an area native, nor was she born into an established winemaking family. The daughter of two doctors from Lower Saxony—beer rather than wine country—she first arrived in the Rheingau by way of the renowned oenological school at Geisenheim. But she didn’t stay put for long. Upon completing her studies, Fricke racked up experience in such far-flung destinations as Bordeaux, Piedmont, Ribera del Duero and Australia. So it was not by chance, but by conscious design, that she returned to the region, eventually settling in the lower Rheingau area of Lorch, where she has quickly emerged as a rising star.
“I’ve had moments over the last ten years when I thought, ‘Why did I choose the Rheingau?'” she muses, noting the challenges involved in biodynamically farming the precipitous slopes from which her astonishingly pure expressions of riesling are sourced. “I sometimes tell myself that I could have chosen someplace easier, but I’ve always believed in the potential of the Rheingau.”
It might seem odd to talk about a place as historically significant as the Rheingau in terms of “potential,” a term usually reserved for emerging regions. To be sure, the area has always been home to dozens of iconic producers who have kept its great 19th-century legacy alive. These include the historic Schloss Schönborn winery, for example, one of the oldest in Germany, which owns over 50 hectares of sustainably farmed vineyards throughout the Rheingau and produces a dazzling array of vibrant single-vineyard expressions. There’s also the celebrated Josef Leitz estate, located in the village of Rüdesheim, where Fricke worked for years as the estate’s manager. Overseen since 1985 by the intrepid Johannes Leitz, it’s now regularly recognized as one of the top estates in Germany, if not the world, thanks to its range of Grosses Gewächs holdings, among the top sites in the country, on the slope of the Rüdesheimer Berg.
According to Fricke, however, during the middle of the 20th century, the area underwent some of the changes that impacted many major wine regions in the name of modern progress. “In our more recent history, we gave up a lot of our traditions for a more industrialized approach to agriculture, relying on large quantities and higher yields,” she explains. “But that doesn’t mean the quality potential wasn’t there. I can’t think of any other region that has so many different faces in terms of geology, soil and microclimate, so there’s a reason why it had been so famous in former times.”
Inside the Winery With Eva Fricke
Today, she considers herself part of a new generation of producers who are not just restoring the region to its early glory, but bringing it into the future. In her view, this transformation involves a shift toward more sustainable farming—notably the embrace of organic and biodynamic methods. It’s a trend that she sees growing as more and more of her peers begin to reexamine their traditions and rediscover the true character of their soils. “In the past three or four years, a new generation has emerged and people are looking back into the historical power of the vineyards they have,” she says. “You have so many people shifting to biological agriculture, which is one of the most important bases for quality wine. It’s fantastic to see that times are changing, and to see the Rheingau returning to its former greatness.”
One such winemaker is Peter Jakob Kühn, one of the Rheingau’s biodynamic pioneers, who has arguably done more than anyone in the region to emphasize the importance of a return to organic farming. Using only the most traditional methods, including aging his wine in large, 600-liter oak casks and employing native-yeast fermentations in the cellar, he produces a range of riesling and spätburgunder (pinot noir) from some of the top vineyard sites in the village of Oestrich, such as Lenchen and Doosberg, which yield wines known for their purity, transparency and remarkable concentration.
Fricke also recognizes a kindred spirit in Theresa Breuer of the Georg Breuer estate, a young winemaker who has breathed new life into her family’s centuries-old winery after taking it over at the age of just 20. Dedicated to organic farming, extremely low yields and what the winery calls “traditional artisan methods of vinification,” the estate exemplifies the fresh spirit of transformation and innovation that characterizes the Rheingau today.
If this recent renaissance is reshaping the region at large, Fricke is responsible for bringing its energy to her own sub-area of Lorch, a part of the Rheingau that had largely been neglected, thanks to its perilously steep (i.e. highly labor-intensive) northwest-facing slopes of extremely old, low-yielding vines. If others had forgotten these sites, Fricke immediately recognized their promise, making it her personal mission to revive and re-cultivate a handful of ancient single-vineyard parcels.
Today, she produces three flagship expressions from the Krone, Seligmacher and Schlossberg vineyards, whose slate and quartzite soils yield elegant wines of intense minerality and bracing salinity. Together, these thrilling expressions have redefined the region of Lorch for future generations, attracting a new wave of growers to the area and renewing interest in its distinctive terroirs.
“We take on a lot of land that the others don’t want to work anymore because the slopes are steep, the work is hard and the yields are low,” Fricke explains. “At a bigger estate, it’s more of a hindrance to focus on those small tiny old plots that you can only harvest by hand like we do. But it’s the specialty of our winery to preserve those old sites, which are such an important part of our region’s heritage.”