When Caroline Diel was seven, she was old enough to wonder whether or not her father loved her as much as her older brother, Victor. After all, her father had been making a wine called Cuvee Victor for several years.
The question was clearly too much for her father, who capitulated immediately and began to make a Riesling named Cuvee Caroline.
“But then by 1990,” she recalls, “there was such a huge demand for Cuvee Victor, that my parents told me, ‘Unfortunately we don’t have enough wine to make yours anymore. We have to put it all into Cuvee Victor.'”
Never underestimate the power of sibling rivalry. Gracious and charming, with a humility that is quite endearing, Caroline Diel would never dream of suggesting that her drive to become a winemaker could be traced back to that moment. And to suggest as much would certainly rob her of a large amount of credit she is due for making her own way in the world.
But by the time her father came back to her, more than ten years later, with the idea of calling the family’s Pinot Noir “Caroline,” she was able to look him in the eye and make him promise that the wine would never be made without her input into the final blend.
Five years later, Diel was making that wine herself, and has made it every year since. Her brother Victor works on the marketing side of the family business.
In 1802, Diel’s great-great-great-great grandfather had finally saved up enough money to purchase the farm that his family had been working for at least fifty years prior to that date.
“The estate was like most at the time,” says Diel, as we relax in the shade of the tower that gives the property its name, “a mixed farm with animals, agriculture, vineyards, and everything we needed to get along.” Schloss, depending on who you talk to, means either palace, castle, manor, or some other equally impressive home fit for royalty.
The last royals to live in the house, which dates from the middle ages and is first mentioned in manuscripts dated to 1400, departed some time before Diel’s progenitor made his fateful purchase. But a schloss it has remained, its tower and a couple of the original walls still incorporated into the family’s home and small winery.
The garden, filled with ferns. topiary, and sculpture permits contemplation of how time layers upon time, and how families can set down roots that run as deep as their vines.
“It was only my grandfather that first focused one hundred percent on wine,” relates Diel, “and mainly my father further structured the estate on Riesling and Pinot varieties.”
“Originally,” says Diel, “I wanted to work in Gastronomy. I earned my first money working in hotels and restaurants. I really enjoyed being with customers and guests and talking and exchanging ideas about food and wine.”
“I always said to myself when I was younger, ‘if I go into the wine business and if I am a winemaker, I really want to be a winemaker, not just the person who hires the winemaker and tells him what to do. I want to learn myself the way of production, and about vineyards, and spend time in the vineyards and be in the cellar and turn all the little screws you need to turn. I wanted to focus on the small things, the things that are not always so evident in the beginning.”
Diel’s father, Armin (interestingly, for the longest time the most influential wine critic in Germany) always had professional help in the cellar — most recently Christoph Friedrich.
But at the age of eighteen, Diel made her decision, and went off to study at Geisenheim University, the famous German wine school across the Rhine. There were forty women studying winemaking at the time that Diel went to school, but she is one of only a handful that went on to work as a full-fledged winemaker.
Since 2006 she has been fully responsible for the winemaking at Schlossgut Diel, as well as the farming of the family’s choice parcels of several of the region’s most famous steep vineyard sites on its three primary soils: loam, quartzite, and slate.
Diel hasn’t changed much in the way the wines have been farmed or made. She continues to crush her Pinot Noir by foot in traditional open-top wood fermenters, for instance.
“I think it’s the most delicate way to do it. You sense so many things going on at the beginning of fermentation. You can fell how the temperature has spread through the must, and whether you need more turning. Machines can’t do that. And your body temperature can help warm up the wine when you need to get fermentation started after the cold soak.”
All the wines are fermented with native yeasts, and the reds, which are made with a significant portion of whole clusters, are neither fined nor filtered before bottling. Like most producers, Diel filters her whites, especially the sweet ones, to avoid unwanted things happening in the bottle.
Her father increased the estate’s focus on Pinot Noir, and Diel is quite happy to continue it.
“I have a big passion for Pinot Noir and Burgundy in particular,” she says. “I love the style of Burgundian wines, but I have no desire to imitate anything. I want to make the best possible wine from our soils and terroir. But I’m very aware of the fact that we’re not in Burgundy. We don’t have limestone in our soils. But Pinot is still fun to make.”
Diel farms about 40 acres of grapes and produces around 10,000 cases of wine each year, including several dry and several sweeter Rieslings, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and both a rosé and a full-fledged Pinot Noir. Until this year, the family also made an absolutely stunning Scheurebe Spätlese, but its flagging sales led Diel to rip it out in favor of a few more rows of Pinot Noir.
When I express abject dismay at this fact, Diel smiles in sympathy. It was one of her favorite wines as well.
“Things are always changing,” she muses, pointing at her belly, distended from her eighth month of pregnancy. “I will have my third child at the beginning of August. There are things I cannot do in the winery at the moment. I always thought to myself, well, I’m a girl, but I can do this. But then you see how life is developing and you cannot do it all yourself. Being pregnant means I cannot treat my vineyards, I cannot carry things. I need a good team, and it is an illusion to say that I can do it myself.”
When I tell her she has exceptionally good timing to have the baby before harvest, she shrugs and laughs the kind of laugh that sounds of fullness and satisfaction in the face of anything that life might throw at you, and I can’t help but also taste it in my glass. Her wines are as delicate as they are self-assured.
No word yet as to whether there will be a wine named after the child.
2006 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim Goldloch” Riesling, Nahe, Germany
Pale gold in the glass with very fine bubbles. This wine smells a little of honey and black sesame. In the mouth bright apple and pear flavors have a nice sesame note to them along with crisp tartness in the finish. Dry. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5.
2012 Schlossgut Diel “Rosé de Diel” Rosé of Pinot Noir, Nahe, Germany
Pale pink in the glass, this wine smells of rosehips and wet leaves. In the mouth bright raspberry and hibiscus flavors have a tangy sour cherry bite to them. Great acidity makes this wine juicy and mouthwatering while more savory notes and a saline character enter the finish. More than half of the wine is whole cluster pressed. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5.
2011 Schlossgut Diel “Caroline – Barrel Sample” Pinot Noir, Nahe, Germany
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of briery red berries and wet earth with a hint of cinnamon. In the mouth the wine has a bright berry sweetness tinged with the toastiness of oak that lingers with vanilla notes in the finish. Pretty and bright, this wine shows a bit more wood influence than I’d like, but it is so well integrated it will likely fade quite quickly with some time. Despite this flavor profile, there is actually no new oak used in this wine. Lightly tacky tannins linger in the long finish. Some whole cluster pressing may be in part responsible for the woody component. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.
2012 Schlossgut Diel “Nahesteiner” Riesling, Nahe, Germany
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of tart green apple and a hint of wet chalkboard. In the mouth, tart green apple and wet chalkboard flavors have a bright crispness to them thanks to bright acidity. Notes of lime juice linger in the finish with green apple skin bitterness and a hint of salinity. Somewhat austere. Dry. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5.
2012 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim” Riesling, Nahe, Germany
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and ripe golden apples. In the mouth, flavors of lemon peel, green apple, and wet chalkboard mix with a nice brightness. Tart lemon pith and pink grapefruit linger in the finish. Somewhat austere. Dry. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??.
2012 Schlossgut Diel “Eierfels” Riesling, Nahe, Germany
Light gold in the glass this wine smells of honeysuckle and green apple skin. In the mouth, tart green apple skin and wet chalkboard flavors are snappy and bight with good acidity and deep mineral aspect. Chalky notes linger in the finish. Somewhat austere. Dry. 13% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $46. click to buy.
2012 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim Pittermännchen Grosses Gewächs” Riesling, Nahe, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and wet chalkboard. In the mouth beautiful honeysuckle and wet stone flavors take on a slightly tart green apple sourness that is quite mouthwatering and slightly chalky. Beautiful acidity and great balance. Wonderfully long in the mouth. Dry. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $70. click to buy.
2012 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim Goldloch Grosses Gewächs” Riesling, Nahe, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of ripe golden apples and honey with a nice wet stone aroma in the background. In the mouth, pear and Asian pear flavors mix with a hint of honeysuckle but the dominant feature is the wet chalkboard minerality that is quite compelling. White flowers linger on the finish. Brilliant acidity and great balance. Dry. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $72. click to buy.
2012 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim Burgberg Grosses Gewächs” Riesling, Nahe, Germany
Light gold in color, this wine smells of cold cream, pear skin, and poached pears. In the mouth, poached pears and pear skin flavors have a creaminess to them that is quite interesting, and there is a touch of spiciness as the wine finishes, Good acidity and brightness, and quite an unusual character compared to the estate’s other single vineyard wines. Dry. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $72. click to buy.
2012 Schlossgut Diel Riesling Kabinett, Nahe, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle, golden delicious apples, and Asian pears. In the mouth notes of Asian pear and honey mix with a vibrant acidity and wonderful underlying stoniness. Lightly sweet, with bright zingy acidity, this is a mouthwatering wine. Lightly sweet. 10% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2012 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim Goldloch” Riesling Kabinett, Nahe, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of the ripest pears and bright clover honey. In the mouth gorgeous pear and Asian pear flavors have a nice brightness which when combined with a woody pear-skin bitterness make for a very pretty package. A deep wet chalkboard minerality lingers underneath the fruit, making for a somewhat more serious finish. Lightly sweet. 9% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $42. click to buy.
2011 Schlossgut Diel Scheurebe Spätlese, Nahe, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of freshly peeled lychees and honeysuckle. In the mouth beautiful lychee flavors are exotic and wild with notes of honeysuckle and Asian pear. Bright acidity makes the whole package bouncy. Lightly to moderately sweet. Sadly this is the last vintage of this wine, as the vines have been pulled out. 7.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2012 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim Goldloch” Riesling Spätlese, Nahe, Germany
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of Asian pear, mandarin orange liqueur, and a hint of lemon oil. In the mouth brilliant honeyed mandarin and pear flavors mix with crackling acidity and a light sweetness that is quite compelling. Balanced and beautiful. Light to moderate sweetness. 8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2012 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim Goldloch” Riesling Auslese, Nahe, Germany
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of bright pear and mandarin oranges. In the mouth, juicy mandarin and mandarin zest mix with notes of Asian pear amidst bright acidity and a nice minerality. This wine is not markedly sweeter than its spätlese counterpart, tasting only lightly to moderately sweet in the mouth. Gorgeous acidity and minerality. Concentrated but not heavy. 8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2011 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim Burgberg” Riesling Beerenauslese, Nahe, Germany
Medium yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey, candied apricots, and the barest hint of paraffin. In the mouth, candied apricots, peaches, and dried mango flavors shimmer into more exotic tropicals. Flavors of apricot and peach and finally clover honey linger for a very long time in the finish. Excellent acidity keeps the very sweet flavors from becoming cloying. 7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??.
2011 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim Goldloch” Riesling Beerenauslese, Nahe, Germany
Medium yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of acacia blossoms and honey layered over freshly baked peach pie. In the mouth peaches and acacia honey have a wonderful sunny brightness. Bright notes of honeycomb linger in the finish which is quite long. Very sweet. 9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??.
2011 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim” Riesling TBA, Nahe, Germany
Light to medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of acacia honey and dried apricots with a hint of dried orange peel. In the mouth the wine has a bright apricot and peach quality that is quite compelling. The texture is quite silky. Bright, honeyed and quite confected, the wine is kept from being cloying by bright acidity that is perhaps not quite as intense as I would like. The finish is very long. Very sweet. 7.5% alcohol Score: around 9. Cost: $??.
2009 Schlossgut Diel “Dorsheim Goldloch” Riesling TBA, Nahe, Germany
Medium to dark gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied orange peel, dried apricots, and canned peaches. In the mouth, the wine has an unbelievably creamy quality, tasting like caramelized peaches in cream. Gorgeously smooth and silky on the palate, the flavors last for a very long time on the finish, swirling between honey and apricot. Very sweet. 7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??.