Sunday, November 13, 2011

Award-winning wine maker Peter Weis

Eventful Woman and Peter Weis with his award winning wines (All text and photos are copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011)
This is the third interview in a series of award-winning wine makers in Zell an der Mosel. 

The first interview was with Herr Albert Kallfelz and the second was with Herr Stephan Fischer. Both of these interviews required a translator.

For my third interview I tracked down Herr Peter Weis who not only makes award-winning wines, but who also speaks excellent English.  They're a talented bunch of people in Zell an der Mosel.

Interview with Herr Peter Weis
(Note: The vineyard has his father's name - Franz Josef Weis)
Shop front of Franz Josef Weis winery
Herr Peter Weis was awarded three gold and two silver medals for the five wines he submitted this year to the Rhineland Pfalz Landwirtschaft Kammer (the Chamber of Agriculture for the Rhineland Palatinate area). His awards were all for Riesling wine, which is famous in the Mosel area and, as such, there was a lot of stiff competition.

Like the other wine makers I interviewed, Herr Weis loves the Riesling grape. He describes it as very versatile as it can produce dry to very sweet wine. He loves the anticipation of the first taste of each year's vintage as it can vary so much.  In 2003, he said that he had a wine that tasted like pineapples.

The steep slopes of the FJ Weis vineyard
Clearly, no pineapples grow this far north in Germany. However, the slanted hillsides alongside of the Mosel River change the sun's angle to the land, making it more like the tropics. This means lots of sun on the area's vineyards. Herr Weis says, "If you want to become brown in summer then I tell people to come and stand on our steep slopes."

The wine's taste and aroma changes due to each season's weather conditions and also because of the minerals the soil. If there's a lot of rain the grapes pick up more minerals [from the slate on top of the soil] and that determines taste much more than sunshine.

While there are advantages with the sun's angle, there are some disadvantages with the sharp slant of the vineyards.  Mechanisation is almost impossible and a lot of manual labour is needed to tend and harvest the grapes, which raises the cost of the wine when compared with that grown in flatter areas. 

Herr Weis is the ultimate positive thinker.  He says, "For me there are no disadvantages, I love my vineyards." 
Herr Weis pruning his grapes.
(Photo from FJ Weis website)

Like other wine makers in the area, he has trained his vines onto individual wooden stakes (called Einzelpfahlerziehung) instead of the more traditional wires. This allows him and his workers to walk horizontally across the sometimes perilous slopes, making the work safer and less arduous. The stakes (instead of wires) also enable him to use a monorail trolley up and down his slopes, instead of having to carry everything by hand.

Herr Weis on the monorail trolley in his steep vineyard
(Photo from FJ Weis website)
He ensures that only the best grapes are picked at harvest time. He has hired the same workers every year for the last 25 years, and he provides good accommodation for them and great food.  He says, "They know the work and they know what to do. Over the years, they have become friends."

Here's a summary of some of the questions I asked Herr Weis:

How long have you or your family owned this vineyard?
1710. While my family have made wine since then, I am only the 3rd generation who has worked full-time in this career. I have been a winemaker all of my [adult] life.  I started to learn after - I think it is "A" level in your school system - when I was 19.  I am 45 now.

How big is your vineyard?
7 hectares and 95% of them are very steep. The main grape variety is Riesling, our area is well known for this.  I have a little bit of Rivaner (which is Müller-Thurgau) and in red grape I have Spät Burgunder (Pinot Noir) and also Dornfelder which is a German grape.

Barrels of wine in the cellar
What is the age of the vines?
The youngest is half a hectare and was only planted this year.  The oldest were planted in the 1970s so they are around 30 - 40 years old. My family has constantly replaced the vines [on a rotation basis] over the years since the 1700's. 

How many bottles of wine do you produce per year?
It depends on the weather. The Riesling is a small grape and is grown on steep hillsides so I am happy if I get around 50,000 litres [around 66,000 x 750ml bottles].

How did you learn wine making?
I learned at a [wine making] school. When I was there it was in Bullay, just 5 km from here. It is now in Bernkastel [around 25 km away].

Corks versus caps
I use both but mainly caps.  It's a very good cap with a tin sealing inside and the manufacturers promise that the wine will last 10 - 12 years.  The manufacturers have no experience on whether the caps will be effective longer term, but hopefully we will get longer storage times in future.

I use synthetic corks, but just for wines that I tell my customers to drink within 5 years. After that time, the synthetic cork becomes weak and lets oxygen into the bottle.

I use natural cork for wines I want to store for a long time. I spend a lot of money for these corks in the hope they are good and I put them on wines which should keep for 10, 20 or even 30 years.

If you like to age a wine then it should be a sweet Riesling.  When the dry ones become old nobody likes them. If it is sweet the wine becomes more and more like a liqueur, which is very nice in tiny sips.

Aim for quality, not quantity. Think long term, not just one year. Share your knowledge with younger growers and that way everyone can learn more.

While I want to pass the vineyard onto the next generation, I will never be a pensioner.  I love what I do.

Advice for new wine makers:
You need passion and to love your work because the work is rather hard.  When the result is perfect ... everything is perfect. 

Note of thanks:
I am very grateful to Herr Peter Weis who took time out of his busy harvest schedule to talk to me and answer my questions.
The interview in action
Thanks also to my husband, TH, for taking the great photos. (Note: two of the photos were from the F J Weis website

All of TH's photos and text are copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011

Find out more about:
  • Zell an der Mosel and the area (click on the Union Jack flag to get the page into English).
  • Peter Weis wines (trading as F J Weis) Note: The website is only available in German but "Google Translate" is easy to use for a quick translation
  • Interview with the first two wine makers in this series, Herr Albert Kallfelz and  Herr Stephan Fischer
  • My Europe Base, an ideal place to stay to explore Zell an der Mosel. It is only a few minutes walk from the Franz Josef Weis vineyard and has studio, one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartments available for either a couple of days or longer term.  
Herr Peter Weis is one of the few winemakers in Zell an der Mosel who speaks fluent English (as well as German, of course)


  1. Very nice article. I lived above the winery in 1985 and 86, while in the Air Force. Peter and his Father, Franz, were wonderful people. I have been back twice since to visit them. The have some of the best wine on the Mossel.

  2. Thanks for your compliment about my article. Peter was an absolute pleasure to interview and was very helpful during my writer-in-residency in Zell an der Mosel (as was everyone). I'd love to go back and envy that you've been there 3 times. Yes, that Mosel wine is fabulous.

  3. Anonymous6:38 am

    Hi EW! Very nice article about my Friend Peter. I grew up and lived in Zell and we, Peter, his Father Franz (Futzi) his Mother and two brothers were neighbours and they lived on the opposite side of our residence in Notenau. My brother Helmut is as old as Peter.
    Again, great Article about a very nice guy!!
    Karl-H. Bauer (Vermont USA)

  4. Thanks so much for your comment. I agree about Peter being a really nice guy. I so appreciated how he made time for my interview when I was so busy with the harvest.


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