Spätburgunder Walkenberg Trocken
We struggled with a more elegant way of introducing this estate, some poignant lines contrasting the manicured lawns of the aristocratic estates with the dirty-fingered, weathered-skin, mess-of-a-tasting-room aesthetic at J.B. Becker.
Yet Hans-Joseph’s (call him “HaJo”) winemaking has less to do with a condemnation or critique of the noble establishment (even if it deserves either or both) and more to do with a vision that is so singular and steadfast that it feels totally irrelevant whether you or I or anyone thinks Becker’s “aesthetic” is genius or folly. It just is.
The wines have an in-your-face, love-it-or-hate-it sensibility. They are unfailingly honest. They present a bizarre vocabulary: dried earth and rocks, herbs, something vaguely subterranean, a savory, briny, smoky atmosphere that slowly reveals fine layers of bright citrus. For all this depth and mysteriousness, Becker’s white wines are like Becker himself: angular, tensile with awkward elbows and muscle and sinew pulled tightly over a lean frame. They flaunt a rather prominent acidity that recalls the more nervy wines of the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer, though there is a weight, a density that speaks of the Rheingau. They seem to have more to do with great Chablis than with what we often think of as German Riesling.
The overall effect, one must say, is bewildering and inspiring. Becker seems to relish the paradox. If there is any grand system here, it is inscrutable.
Consider, on the one hand, that Becker (and his father before him) has worked the vineyards organically for many, many years (they have been certified since 2011). On the other hand, this rather important fact is mentioned exactly nowhere so far as I can tell. Not on the labels, not at the estate. HaJo mentioned it to me exactly once, almost as an aside. The life of the vineyard, at all levels, is profoundly important to Becker and he thinks about it deeply. He just doesn’t talk about it much.
Becker is a strong advocate of wild-yeast fermentations. This practice puts the graying wild-statesman of German winemaking right next to the young German hipster-growers, as obsessed with natural yeasts as anything else. On the other hand, since vintage 2003 Becker has bottled his wine with glass closures, which of course alienates him from this same population.
Becker prefers to use pressurized tanks for fermentation, relishing a quick, warm fermentation (a similar method is used at places like J.J. Prüm, Keller, etc). Then he racks the juice into the traditional barrels of the Rheingau for at least two years of barrel age before bottling. In other words: Gun the shit out of it and then slam on the breaks and wait out all the others.
Nearly 50 years later, Becker’s glorious wines are finally getting the attention and the praise they deserve. So far as I can tell he anticipated the dry wine movement in the Rheingau a few decades before anyone else. I asked him how all the new-found attention made him feel. He said, rather quietly and matter-of-factly, “it’s nice.”
Hans Josef Becker makes some of the most particular Pinot Noirs in Germany – as if you’d expect anything less. His technique, elaborated a bit above, is curious. The grapes are fermented in pressured tanks, so a semi-carbonic fermentation begins within the grape before they burst open and then, under the pressure, ferment very warmly and very quickly. The process pulls everything – everything – outta the grape so even in light years, even with a Kabinett Trocken, you get a wine with the color of a Amarone Nouveau – if that existed. These are meaty, dark-toned wines with soil and spice.
The Spätlese Trocken (Pinot Noirs) can be full and fruity, something like curious Oregon Pinot Noirs filtered through the soil and soul of Becker; the Auslese Trocken (Pinot Noirs) are truly epic adventures in red wine. Yet, this will not shock you, the Kabinett Trockens are what I gravitate to, though they are not delicate beings… this 2014 is among the most finessed and agile I’ve tasted, yet it remains meaty and herbal – like a slab of beef wrapped in rose petals and savory herbs and thrown on the grill. In the right context, it will likely be just an amazing bottle… in other contexts, it will be more of a curiosity. These are very serious wines, I don’t want to downplay this – but they are their own animal. This is very rare and direct from the cellar so… give it a whirl? Or don’t.