2022 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer: Old Vines and Steep Challenges


“Challenging” is the one word that sums up the 2022 vintage in Mosel, Saar and Ruwer. These three river valleys used to be the most marginal in Germany’s former cool climate. In 2022, however, water stress was a challenge posed by the topography and geology that once enabled the slow ripening of Riesling. The lack of water, caused by the well-drained steep slate slopes and the dry summer, impacted the vegetation significantly and necessitated careful sorting at harvest.  The best estates were able to make very good and even outstanding wines marked by moderate alcohol levels and freshness. This came down to three things: the resilience of deep-rooting old Riesling vines, the ingenuity of Riesling’s ability to self-regulate its metabolism and sorting at harvest.

Looking downstream towards Graach from high up in the Bernkastel vineyards.

The Dry and Hot Summer

The German Wine Institute’s annual regional summary is blunt: “With July temperatures up to 40°C and a water deficit of up to 240 liters per square meter, summer was relentless in the Mosel, so characterized by steep slate slopes.” The one advantage of the dry heat was little disease pressure throughout summer, and weeds often withered of their own accord. Rains arrived in September and provided both welcome respite after an unprecedentedly dry summer but also spelled fears of splitting grapes, especially in the warmer Terrassenmosel. Further rain in October meant that the remaining harvest had to be swift.

Two thousand and twenty-two was a year that did see much botrytis development. Only one estate I visited harvested a Trockenbeerenauslese, and only two harvested Beerenauslese, while a handful harvested Auslesen, which in 2022 are less marked by botrytis. This meant that winemakers could show their mettle with Kabinett and Spätlese, pulling off thrilling wines with vivid acidity. The dry wines offer much pleasure, showing the broad stylistic spectrum in which Mosel, Saar and Ruwer wines are made while still bearing their unmistakable regional signature.

A Hair-Raising Year with Late Relief

The always frank Erni Loosen in the Mittelmosel, in typically emphatic fashion, assessed the vintage: “Two thousand and twenty-two was as hot as anywhere else. Theoretically, we thought it might be a catastrophe – and for the young vines, it was indeed a catastrophe.” Thomas Haag at Schloss Lieser, also in the Mittelmosel, put forward an equally candid analysis: “One thing is clear: it was the driest summer ever. It was extreme, and thank heavens there was a weather change in September, cooler nights, cooler days, and three rain days over three weeks.” Oliver Haag of Weingut Fritz Haag in Brauneberg noted: “It was really important in 2022 to reduce yields. There was the fear that it [the dryness] would be too much, so we sacrificed yields, and in late July and early August, we decided to cut fruit. It was a hot game of poker. Had there been rain, it would have been really bad.”

Peter Griebeler of Weingut Heinrichshof in Zeltingen observed: “In the end, we harvested Riesling from mid to end of October because it turned cool. The rain came around 10 September and rescued us. The weather turned completely. In a way, it was too hot, so things stopped happening in summer, but in the last quarter of the vegetative period, it turned cool and rainy and somehow, things were arrested. The grapes continued synthesizing aromas; the berries went from green to yellow, but the must weights stayed where they were. We had three very difficult years, but the one thing we did not have was overripeness: neither in 2020, 2021 or 2022. Riesling, with its late ripening, relativized things. This is not something we expected with this hot, dry summer.”

Thomas Haag noted that rain, when it finally arrived in the Mittelmosel, was not a problem: “Nothing split [referring to the grape skins], and you could taste it. After the rain, the grapes did not really accumulate sugar but continued developing physiological ripeness. That was just perfect. This is how we have this relative lightness in the wines.” Relief came a little earlier in the Ruwer where Maximin von Schubert at Maximin Grünhaus said: “I expected a dry-stressed year, but then, late in August, a refreshing rain came and clarity and freshness were preserved, that had not been expected at all. The vegetation had indeed stopped, but with the rain, everything continued. This is how we had ripe but fine acidity without the must weights climbing any higher.”

Andreas Barth with his long-aged Rieslings from the Lubentiushof.

Dialing Down

The moderate alcohol levels and real freshness of the resulting wines are not just down to the late rain and cool September. Rita Busch at Weingut Clemens Busch in Pünderich said: “We really felt the dryness in 2022. Development just halted; the vines stopped around mid to the end of July. Not much was happening, and they only continued developing with the rain that came in early September. This was just in time. This had the effect that there was not too much sugar accumulation and still enough acidity. Tasting the wines, you would think it was a cool year.” Florian Lauer of Weingut Peter Lauer in the Saar said: “Dry stress was the determining factor. For about eight weeks, from mid-July to mid-September, the grapes did not really develop.”

They all speak of Riesling’s ability as an isohydric grape variety to self-regulate its metabolism and water use when faced with a combination of heat and drought. Riesling can narrow and even close the stomata on the underside of its leaves and either slow down or shut down to preserve itself. The old vines are past masters at this. They can slow down into an emergency economy mode, making the most of whatever water is available to their deep roots. Vines slowed down even in vineyards noted for water availability via underground aquifers, like Bernkasteler Doctor, for instance, or reserves held by forested tops. This was seen by both Christina Thanisch of Witwe Thanisch in Bernkastel and Christoph Schäfer of Willi Schäfer in Graach, who said: “It was hair-raising. We had never experienced anything like it before.”

Young Vines and Desperate Measures

Virtually everyone pointed to the marked difference between young and old vines. As Christoph Schäfer said: “Old vines were fine, but even vines that were 12-13 years old just shut down.” Oliver Haag noted that “the years get more extreme, but we also observe that the old vines, of a certain age, can absolutely deal with it. They had a few yellow leaves, that was all.” It was the young vines that struggled.

Many, like Anna Reimann, resorted to cutting off all fruit from young vines to relieve them – because this was about survival. Erni Loosen reported that grapes from very young vines were not harvested; those from 12 to 15-year-old vines had to be stringently selected. Dry stress means the set fruit does not ripen, never gets soft and tastes bitter. Christoph Schäfer instructed his crew to taste berries in case of any doubt and to drop everything that was dry-stressed, leading to about a 20% yield loss. Dominik Völk at the Karthäuserhof in the Ruwer noted the “enormous effort required in selection” to discard dry-stressed grapes, resulting in 20-30% less yield in 2022. Loosen quoted 30% less yield than his ten-year average.

For the first time, Dorothee Zilliken of Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken in Saarburg considered watering a whole parcel of vines. She devised a way of doing this manually, welding a special pipe that could be attached to a water tank so that it could be pointed for exactly 45 seconds at each vine – but this enormous effort was quickly abandoned. It proved ineffectual and was too cumbersome and costly. Ultimately, Zilliken decided not to harvest these 1.3 hectares of six-year-old vines in the Saarburger Rausch because these dry-stressed grapes were not up to her standards. Irrigation systems are not installed – this is down to the fragmented nature of holdings, even though some temporary irrigation systems are in place to help newly planted vineyards get established. Irrigation also goes against the very grain of Riesling growers, who see the juice of their grapes and the resulting wine as one of the clearest reflectors of place.

Thomas Haag said: “Water is the hot topic. We do not irrigate; you cannot do that with 220 parcels.” Without irrigation systems, he and his team had to manually water the very young vines to ensure their survival. Loosen spoke of the expense of driving thousands of liters of water to vines planted over the past five years. This might work in parcels that are of the same age. However, establishing young vines in existing vineyards in the way of “perpetual viticulture,” as practiced by Oliver Haag of Weingut Fritz Haag in Brauneberg, is another matter in such dry and hot seasons. This is the case despite planting with drought-resistant rootstocks and years of building humus on his slopes with compost and straw. The competition from older vines is just too much. Haag said that around 6,000 new vines were planted in existing vineyards in 2022, and 80-90% of these were lost. He spoke with indefatigable good spirit, “But that is the good thing here. It never gets boring.”

Catherina Grans of Grans Fassian with her collection of racy, clean-cut 2022 Rieslings.

Slow Ferments, Fresh Wines

A further consequence of the year’s dryness is a lower accumulation of elements and minerals in the grapes. Less water throughout the year means less sap flow and less depositing of nitrogen and potassium in the grapes. Some winemakers spoke of very slow ferments since nitrogen is an essential yeast nutrient. Less potassium in the grapes means less buffering of acids. Sebastian Selbach observed: “Despite more moderate acidity than in 2021, it is more palpable and pH levels were not high.” The 2022s do not have the elevated yet buffered acidities of 2021, yet the winemakers were able to capture freshness in the wine, many even thrillingly so. But this is down to farming and experience.

Nik Weis of St. Urbans-Hof in Leiwen said: “In spite of the extreme dryness, we still had a relatively good vintage. A vintage, or the result in the form of wines, is not just the result of the vegetative period but the result of the work of numerous preceding years. If soil management over the years is aimed at soil health and life, then the vines seem to have a resilience and vitality that allows them to master such years.” This, plus selective harvesting, explains how these wines are as expressive as they are.

Weis noted that the stellar vintages of the previous century, 1921, 1959, 1971 and 1976, all were very hot and dry years. Egon Müller at the Scharzhofberg in the Saar made the same point: “The vines tend to manage unless they are newly planted and when they don’t have too many grapes. It all depends on how you work the soil, and you have to adapt this work to each year.”

A Different Optimum

But Egon Müller also drew a comparison to the hot 2003 vintage: “Then, we still thought that ripeness was better. In the meantime, we have learned that ripeness is not necessarily better and that there is an optimum. This is not only the case in Germany. You read about Bordeaux 2022, which is a similar story. All the world wonders how such fine wines came to be despite heat and dryness, and I believe that this can be explained by the fact that now there is a different approach. If I had told my father that we started harvest on 17 September, he would have told me I had gone mad.”

Oliver Haag said the same: “In the past, I was a great fan of late harvests, but today, speaking of classic Kabinett, if there is density and ripeness, I prefer it earlier to get this crunch.” Thomas Haag echoed this: “To address these climatic changes, the main instruments we have is timing and selection: we can vary the harvest point, the parcel and what grapes we select; these three things are of key importance.” He quickly emphasized that acidity and lightness need ripeness to make a great Kabinett. As in all preceding decades, this is possible in great sites.

Rita and her son Florian Busch smile happily after presenting outstanding Rieslings harvested just across the river from their old villa.

The Wines

The 2022 Rieslings have freshness throughout. They do not taste like wines from a hot year. There is finesse rather than opulence. Compared with 2021, when tasting wines side by side, the 2022s have slightly less substance and resonance than the 2021s. The feeling amongst growers is that 2022 is a vintage for the medium term, approachable earlier than 2021 and not as long-lived – even though the best wines will no doubt age well. Oliver Haag summed it up: “I would never have thought that the vintage would turn out this well, even though we do not have this final depth, but a great deal of finesse.”

Pinot Noir on the Rise

Pinot Noir is the Mosel’s most planted red grape variety and now accounts for 429 hectares or 5% of the Mosel vineyard. I tasted only a handful of Pinot Noirs. Still, as of 2022, Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder as it is known in Germany, has been admitted as a variety for Grosses Gewächs by the VDP in the Mosel region. There has not been a press release yet, but the Grosser Ring office confirmed the news. Few wines are eligible since to qualify, estates have to show a vintage depth of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. At the same time, this is a big, welcome and progressive step for the Mosel.

Maximin von Schubert at Maximin Grünhaus in the Ruwer, who broke the news to me, has been a driving force in this respect, with the first plantings of Pinot Noir in the Abtsberg dating to 2007 and 2011. Von Schubert noted that “all the colleagues now have a Zielrichtung, a goal, to work towards.” No doubt, the quality and seriousness of Pinot Noir put forth by non-VDP members like Markus Molitor and Daniel Twardowski has much to do with this move. Nik Weis of St. Urbans-Hof spoke of new Pinot Noir plantings in the Dhroner Hofberg. Those who see Mosel slate and Riesling as an inviolable composite need to look at the history books. For me, it simply means another combination of world-class sites and a world-class grape – especially as all those who make both Riesling and Pinot Noir see these two varieties as the most faithful translators of place, one in white, one in red.

One other grape variety turned up sparingly. Pinot Blanc now accounts for 372 hectares or 4.3% of the Mosel vineyard and is made in two styles: as easy-drinking entry-level wine that caters to those who shy away from Riesling’s aroma and inherent acidity and an oak- and lees-aged style that has more body and texture. Both work in the Mosel due to freshness, but these wines won’t set the world on fire.

This report covers my producer visits to the region over the last two weeks in July 2023, where all the wines were tasted in situ. Further visits in September to Joh. Jos. Prüm, Markus Molitor and Van Volxem complete the coverage. More tasting notes of the region appeared in a separate article resulting from pre-tastings of the auction wines of the Grosser Ring in late June 2023. Where more than one wine of the same Prädikat was made in the same vineyard, numbers have been added to avoid confusion.

© 2023, Vinous. No portion of this article may be copied, shared or re-distributed without prior consent from Vinous. Doing so is not only a violation of our copyright, but also threatens the survival of independent wine criticism.

You Might Also Enjoy

2022 Rheinhessen & Nahe: Rain in the Nick of Time, Anne Krebiehl MW, September 2023

Germany Pre-Auctions Report: Trier and Bad Kreuznach, Anne Krebiehl MW, September 2023

2021 Mosel and Saar – Tantalizing, Tingling, Thrilling, Anne Krebiehl MW, June 2023