Weingut Sybille Kuntz, Lieser Niederberg-Helden, Mosel

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Weingut Sybille Kuntz label

Country & RegionGermany, Mosel
ProducerSybille Kuntz and Markus Riedlin
FoundedKuntz family history in winemaking and cooperage goes back centuries.

G osh! So chock-full of wild-flower (biodynamic) flavours. Really beautiful. Gorgeous already. Vital and unlike the Mosel Rieslings of old (more potent and drier) but such a well-balanced joy.        —Jancis Robinson, August 2021

The Kuntz family history in winemaking and cooperage goes back centuries in Lieser (lee-sir), one bend upriver from Bernkastel, in the heart of the Mosel Valley. As might be expected, Sybille grew up working in the vines, a travail she frankly resented as a kid. Even so, studying business administration at university, she operated a wine shop to help with expenses because keeping a hand in wine was second nature. Following her degree, she returned to the Mosel, having come full circle…to believe that she could make Riesling from the Mosel as well as any she had come to know and sold in her store. Her taste had developed, and her roots went deeply into wine, so why not?

Sybille Kuntz in the vines

Sybille started with just over an acre of vines in 1984, a dreadful vintage. From the beginning, her wines were made in her preferred drier style. This had been the tradition in much of the Mosel Valley before the two world wars, when grapes with ripeness levels corresponding to QbA, Kabinett, or Spätlese fermented more or less dry, and the wine was left to age for a couple of years to ensure stability before shipping to market. Following the wars, the practice of making wines with residual sugar took hold and was cemented with the superlative, and very ripe, 1959 vintage. Even today, most of the Mosel’s producers remain firmly in the sweeter camp.

Consequently, Sybille had a hard time of it despite her family’s history in viticulture, being not only an outcast who made dry wines, but also doing so as a woman. To add insult to injury, she was a winemaking woman without an enology degree.

In 1990 she quit the use of herbicides and pesticides. In 1995, she married Markus Riedlin (an enologist!—from the Geisenheim University, no less), who had spent eight years managing a vineyard in upstate New York overlooking Lake Erie. He returned to Germany to become managing director of the large State Domain Friedrich-Wilheim-Gymnasium in Trier. Soon thereafter at a tasting he met Sybille, who proved to be no shy retiring flower but a woman of formidable character who, on their first date, brought a bottle of her bone-dry Spätlese to drink. He found himself quitting the state domain not long after to join forces with her in Lieser. Subsequently, they stopped using synthetic fungicide in the vines, and earned organic certification in 2013. In 2016, she gained biodynamic certification from Demeter, and in 2018 Markus gained Demeter certification for the small estate in Baden that he inherited from his father some years earlier. Wines from both estates are made at their winery in Lieser, and the two of them make every decision together.

Sybille Kuntz and Markus

It’s worth noting that even today, throughout the entire Mosel Valley, there are less than ten certified biodynamic estates.

Stylistically, Sybille settled firmly on making dry wines in 2011, going with one wine per category, and making the first three levels decidedly dry, with her auslese feinherb marking the turn into sweetness. This was logical because it follows the ripening cycle of the grape. With that vintage she also revamped her labels to indicate the level of ripeness by the color of the label, corresponding to the color of the grape at each stage. The exception to that rule is the Kabinett label of blue, which points to the Devonian slate of her vineyards and the minerality it imparts.

Sybille Kuntz colors of nature

The estate’s best vines are in the grosse lage (literally great site, or grand cru) of Niederberg-Helden, already recognized as such when Napoleon sent vineyard experts to rate sites in the Mosel (then part of France) and gave it an A+ ranking. The vineyard grows on Lieser’s steep south flank overlooking the river—locally known as Lieser’s gold coast—at an incline of as much as 70%. At its base are remains of the largest of the 12 Roman wine presses uncovered so far in the Mosel Valley. The cru covers 62 acres, and the Sybille Kuntz estate farms nearly 19 of them, some of which are selection massale vines from the 1920s. These old vines have roots going as deep as 45 feet in the blue Devonian slate soil. That’s Lieser and the Neiderberg-Helden Vineyard below.

Sybille Kuntz and the Lieser River

From those 19 acres come all of her Spätlese and later ripening wines. Depending on the year, some grapes may go into the Kabinett, which tends to be sourced primarily from her vines in the Pauls Valley, contiguous with the Niederberg-Helden slope but turning corner at Lieser to go up an ancient, now dry, path of the Mosel. The QbA also comes from the Pauls Valley, as well as from vines in the communes of Bernkastel and Kues, but Sybille is sourcing more and more strictly from vines in Leiser for the QbA. The estate owns 45 acres of vines in total and over 90% of her grapes come from her own vines; the reminder come from long term rental contracts.

Sybille Kuntz looking downriver

Watch a video here: “Who is Sybille Kuntz?”

The Wines

Qualitätswein (QbA)
RieslingThis comes from Sybille’s vines in Lieser's Pauls Valley as well as from vines in the neighboring communes of Bernkastel and Kues. It’s always the first picking of grapes during the first two weeks of harvest. Ferments are done naturally without yeast additions in steel, malo normally doesn’t take place because the pH levels are too low to permit it, cold stabilization occurs naturally, and the élevage goes for 5-6 months (shorter with warm vintages, longer with cold vintages). In addition, none of the wines are fined, only lightly filtered. This is true across the board for all of the wines, save for the orange wine, which isn't even filtered. The QbA is bottled with screw caps and represents around 50% of the total production.
KabinettRieslingThe second picking, mostly from her old vines on the steep slope of the Pauls Valley, a beautiful, arcing side valley formed by the Mosel 35,000 years ago. Today it forms a large part of the Lieser-Schlossberg vineyard, one side of which abuts the Niederberg-Helden. Bottled under screw cap, this represents around 25% of the estate’s total production.
RieslingThe third picking, all from old vines—many 1920’s era—in the grand cru of Niederberg-Helden. This is bottled under cork and represents around 10% of the estate’s total production. It’s also Sybille and Markus’ pride and joy.
Orange RieslingRieslingA recent addition to the Kuntz range, and a bit of an outlier in that it's the one wine raised in large barrel (all old, some made by Sybille's father) and that undergoes ML. It's picked at Spätlese ripeness and fermented on the skins for three weeks. Production is 825 cases, previously gobbled up by Sweden.
Riedlin Baden SpätburgunderPinot NoirBaden is Markus' homeland ("It's another country," he said, in relation to the Mosel Valley). His family has been there since at least 1656, and he farms 3 acres of Pinot Noir, including a parcel of massale selection vines planted by his father in 1965 (one of the oldest parcels of Pinot Noir in Baden). The grapes are hand-harvested, and the wine is made in older French barrels. The label is a painting done by his grand uncle Adolf Reidlin (1892-1969), a renowned painter.
Riedlin RoséPinot NoirThis is an age-worthy rosé of fruit and soil. In Markus' words: My Rosé is made like a Saignée and just before fermentation we take the juice off the skins. That's why the color is deeper and the taste more intense. It is 100% Spätburgunder and the quality level is equal to the juice for the RIEDLIN ROT. We ferment in a stainless steel tank and after 5 months on the lees the Rosé is racked and filtered.