Three questions for cellar masters Chie Sakata from Japan and Nicola Libelli from Italy

They've gained experience abroad and now work in the Palatinate: young wine experts are increasingly coming to vineyards in the Palatinate from California, Australia, New Zealand, Spain or Italy – either for internships or permanent work. They are enticed here by exquisite wines, the current trend for Riesling and the new, elegant Pinot Noirs from the Palatinate. Some of them stay; seduced by an appreciation for quality and the friendly, open discourse among colleagues.You've gained experience abroad and now work in the Palatinate: young wine experts are increasingly coming to vineyards in the Palatinate from California, Australia, New Zealand, Spain or Italy – either for internships or permanent work. They are enticed here by exquisite wines, the current trend for Riesling and the new, elegant Pinot Noirs from the Palatinate. Some of them stay; seduced by an appreciation for quality and the friendly, open discourse among colleagues. 

CHIE SAKATA from Japan, cellar master at the Weingut Bernhard Koch winery in Hainfeld

Ms Sakata, please tell us what led you to viniculture and the Palatinate. I didn't have anything at all to do with viniculture in Japan. After my final school exams, I came to Lake Constance to learn German. After an internship in viniculture in the Rheingau region, I knew straight away that it was for me. I then did an apprenticeship, worked in the Nahe region, in Styria (Austria) and South Africa before finally completing my technical studies in Weinsberg. Here at Weingut Koch, I was quickly able to take responsibility for the cellar and am delighted to play my part. I particularly love our wonderful Pinot Noir.

What does quality mean to you when working in the cellars? A typical and interesting feature of the Palatinate is that there are many different kinds of wine. I find it important to know what the wines from each region and the individual varieties taste like, but also to ask "What point is the winemaker trying to make with his wine?". That's why I'm glad that we do everything ourselves and try so many things out to make the style and character of our wines more prominent.

For Pinot Noir in particular, I think it's important that it's not as opulent as it used to be, but rather more elegant and delicate. Some benefit from having a little less alcohol; then you can coax out their finesse, counterbalance the fine acidity and pick up on the woodiness in the background. It also helps that I have a very experienced boss in the form of Bernhard Koch, and that our team works extremely well together.

 

You count amongst the most celebrated young wine experts in the Palatinate. What is your assessment of viniculture and Palatine wine today? The Palatinate is becoming more international. I find the people very open, appreciative of quality and also courageous. As someone who was changing career, this meant that I quickly gained a lot of responsibility. The customers are very varied and keen – and many young people are also interested in flavour, cooking and fine wine. Riesling is still very "German"; I'm curious about the experiences we will have here in the future.

NICOLA LIBELLI from Italy, cellar master at the Weingut Dr. Bürklin-Wolf winery in Wachenheim

Mr Libelli, please tell us what led you to viniculture and the Palatinate. I always wanted to be a farmer. There's no apprenticeship for that in Italy like there is here in Germany, so I worked in vineyards in Emilia-Romagna and then studied viniculture in Piacenza. After spending a while in Spain and California, I started my Master's and spent two semesters in Geisenheim for this purpose. During my internship at the Weingut von Winning winery in Deidesheim in 2009, I was the only foreign student. German wineries and colleges have since become very attractive study destinations. I came to Bürklin-Wolf in 2010 for an internship and took over from the previous cellar master, Fritz Knorr, after he passed away in 2012.

What does quality mean to you when working in the cellars? Good grapes are the foundation. Most of the work done to achieve this takes place in the vineyard, meaning we get perfect quality in the cellar. Bürklin-Wolf has already been utilising biodynamic methods for close to ten years, and has been very successful with this. For us, this method of agriculture is a means of achieving equilibrium and harmony in our production, not to mention maintaining vibrant vineyards with loose soil and rich life. Using our healthy and precisely harvested grapes, we then try to produce first-class wines from the basic segment right through to the top varieties. In the cellar, we press each lot separately, let much of the crop ferment spontaneously and don't need to do a great deal before filling in order to get complex wines. However, you sometimes need to have nerves of steel for the spontaneous fermentation process.

I'm very proud of our wine and equally proud of our team, which is allowed to test and experiment a great deal.

You count amongst the most celebrated young wine experts in the Palatinate. What is your assessment of viniculture and Palatine wine today? Riesling is definitely back on the scene; German winemakers have pushed ahead in many respects over the past few years and I sense a great deal of interest in German wines and viniculture itself. For me, this region here is like the "Bundesliga" of wine and I think it can have extraordinary success on the international stage under the Palatinate label. I find it very inspiring to talk to younger colleagues from the Young Winemakers' Association. We get together often, taste domestic and imported wines and discuss many topics. This active and open attitude helps us all to progress and is a great source of motivation.