ernstProfile of a Winemaker

Ernst Loosen was born into a great tradition of German winemaking. Since the Dr. Loosen estate on the Mosel River has been in his family for over 200 years, you’d think it only natural for Ernst to take up the family legacy as a profession. The truth is, though, that as a youngster Ernst was more fascinated by the numerous Roman ruins in the area than by the family vineyards. So he went off to college to study archaeology. In the mid-’80s, however, Ernst was faced with a decision. His father was ready to turn the estate over to the next generation and none of his brothers or sisters were old enough or interested enough to take it on. We could be melodramatic and say that it was time for Ernst to face his destiny, but really it was more of an odd-man-out decision. Happily, as it turns out, Ernst found his true calling among the broken slate of his family’s vineyards rather than the hewn stones of an old Roman ruin.

Ernst dove into winemaking with his customary fervor. He completed studies at Germany’s renowned winemaking school in Geisenheim and then launched into a self directed review of the great wines of the world. He traveled to Austria, to Burgundy and Alsace, even to California. He went wherever great wine was being made, seeking out the best winemakers to find out what they had in common. What he discovered was that they all share a dedication to producing intense, concentrated wines that boldly proclaim their heritage. They also have a worldly outlook that allows them to maintain respect for tradition while tempering it with reason. This gives them the freedom to acknowledge that not all traditions deserve to be doggedly observed, and allows judicious use of modern winemaking techniques when it will improve quality.

It is this global market view to which Ernst heartily ascribes. It is a philosophy that balances the old with the new. It is a way of thinking that has allowed him to move beyond the easy and familiar, the tried and not necessarily so true, to make wines that stand out as truly distinctive and world-class.

When Ernst Loosen assumed control of the Dr. Loosen estate in 1988, he recognized a lot of potential that was going unused. His father and grandfather had both been more involved in politics than winemaking, so nothing much had been done to maintain the vineyards or update the cellar. Ironically, Ernst saw that his forebears’ disinterest had given him exactly what he needed to produce the kind of rich, gutsy wines that he prefers. Because his predecessors had been unwilling to invest in new vines for what was essentially a family hobby, Ernst inherited a good number of vines that were well over 100 years old — vines perfectly suited to the low-yield, highly concentrated style he wanted to produce. And the estate hadn’t succumbed to the trends of the ’60s and ’70s, when many growers were replanting their Riesling vineyards with lesser-quality, high-yielding varieties.

His father’s neglect of the cellar also ended up working in Ernst’s favor. With no hightech equipment to tempt them, Ernst and his cellarmaster had no choice but to make wines in a minimalist manner, with very little handling and long, slow fermentations.

Since Ernst took over, Dr. Loosen wines have received countless awards and glowing reviews in the wine press. The estate has become a member of the prestigious VDP, Germany’s association of top-rated wine estates, and has been named one of the 10 best estates in Germany by nearly every wine publication worldwide. Ernst was named Germany’s Winemaker of the Year in the 2001 edition of Gault Millau’s Weinguide Deutschland and Decanter magazine’s Man of the Year in 2005. He was also the International WINE Challenge’s White Winemaker of the Year in 2005.

In 1995 Ernst and his younger brother, Thomas, launched a second label Riesling, called “Dr. L.” By contracting with local growers, they are able to procure high-quality fruit to make a flavor-packed, non-estate wine that is very characteristic of the region. Dr. L Riesling exhibits the clean, lemony slate flavors of the Middle Mosel at a very affordable price. It makes a wonderful introduction to German Riesling and to the Dr. Loosen estate wines.

Dr. Loosen estate information

Total vineyard area: 50 acres
Annual production: 200,000 bottles
Varieties: Riesling, 100%
First Growth Vineyards: Bernkasteler Lay, Erdener Prälat, Erdener Treppchen, Graacher Himmelreich, Ürziger Würzgarten, Wehlener Sonnenuhr