I just found one last bottle of 2011 Zimmerling Riesling “R” in the back of our wine fridge- a delightful and unexpected windfall! Just seeing the beautiful label again has inspired me to dig up some pictures from a couple of years ago when we visited this enchanting place in the Saxony wine region of Germany. Magic lies just outside of Dresden.
About 25 minutes due south, down the Elbe River is the town of Pillnth and the gorgeous Schloss & Park Pillnitz, a Renaissance palace and garden with museum and grounds. While definitely worth a visit – that is not the magic I refer to. If you continue about a mile further out of town, and up a twisting mountain road, you will find there the enchanted world of the Klaus Zimmerling winery and vineyard.
With vines clinging to the steep hillsides and breathtaking views overlooking the countryside and towns, this spot is truly magical. And so is the wine. The winery and cellar buildings are guarded by ethereal sculptures created by Małgorzata Chodakowska, Klaus’s wife. Chodakowska is a renowned sculptor who sculpts otherworldly, lifesize female forms from wood and bronze. Her sculptures grace the property in the most unexpected places. Her works also provide the art for all the wine labels. The feeling created there is bewitching – a stunning combination of wine and art/eroticism and fertility. On a cloudy day, it’s like a beautiful, melancholy lost world on the verge of being taken back by lush vegetation.
Our discovery of the Zimmerling winery came about during a trip to Dresden a couple of years ago. As is our habit when exploring the food and wine of a new place, we like to find out what the locals are eating (and drinking) so we ask lots of questions. The one name that kept popping up was Klaus Zimmerling. The chefs and sommeliers we queried told us that Klaus produced some of the very best Rieslings in the Saxon region, and we should seek it out. Indeed, it turned out to be some of the best Riesling we’ve ever had.
We arrived at the vineyard in late afternoon on a cloudy and atmospheric day, and despite my call ahead, it was deserted. As we climbed the terraced hillsides and wandered among the lush, green vines, we spotted a lone man with a trimmer as he made his way slowly and deliberately through the rows clearing the tall grass. This it turned out, was the winemaker. Klaus, soft-spoken and earnest, is absolutely passionate about what he does. He took us on a wonderful tour of the property; the vineyards, processing space and the cellar. Settling into a small cafe table just outside the cellar, we tasted about 10 wines, Rieslings mostly from different vintages and different vineyard blocks. It was a Riesling education for us. Such elegant, dry Rieslings with nuanced flavors and aromas. Until then, we had no idea how different Rieslings could be, and what a wide range of characteristics they could have. Malgorzata joined us for the tasting and then explained her process for creating the haunting female forms in wood and bronze that we saw around us.
The terraced vineyards of the northern Saxon wine region, clustered in the Elbe river valley, endure cold winters and hot summers, not the ideal climate for growing elegant, dry Riesling. Because of the short growning season, the wines produced there have traditonally been tart and highly acidic. It’s been said that Klaus Zimmerling has changed that by producing refined, full-bodied dry Rieslings from organic grapes, tended and harvested by hand in small batches. The vineyard land, once part of Communist East Germany and before that the royal Saxon court, was reclaimed and it’s ancient terraces cleared and replanted by Klaus and friends nearly 25 years ago. Now, he cultivates just under 10 steep acres on which he grows Riesling, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Kerner, Gewurztraminer and Traminer.