Just a few miles from the French boarder, in the region of Baden, Joachim Heger farms the extraordinary Grand Crus (Grosses Gewächs) of Ihringer Winklerberg and Achkarrer Schlossberg. On these steep, volcanic slopes, Joachim gives voice to some schockingly unique, delicious expressions of pinot noir. He is constantly pushing to maximize quality and his work has revolutionized the way we can interpret the potential of this ancient wine producing region. Today, Joachim Heger is considered one of the finest producers of red wine in Germany.
When Joachim took over the winemaking in 1981, he began his life’s work, dedicated to redefining the potential of spätburgunder in Baden. Working tireless hours on the ancient, sun-baked volcanic terraces of the Kaiserstuhl, he has labored to maximize the vitality of his vineyards by employing sustainable techniques and replanting with selection-masalle. Walking the vines with Joachim, you can feel his passion for the land as he breaks down his terroir for you not just parcel by parcel but vine by vine. He is a gregarious, quick witted and intensely spirited tour guide, tearing through the vines in his van with no remorse.
The results of his work are supremely fresh, energetic wines with unmistakable depth and character. Unlike the dominant fashion for oaky, extracted spätburgunder, Joachim is focused on capturing clarity of site expression and freshness. This is achieved by hand harvesting at the peak of physiological ripeness. In the cellar the fruit is de-stemmed and given a cold soak (inspired by the work of Henri Jayer). The Grosses Gewächs wines ferment in 100% new, extra lightly toasted barriques, preparing the wines for a long life in the cellar yet making them hard to resist in their youth as well. In addition, Joachim also makes some ultra-delicious whites including the Erste Gewächs weiss- and grauburgunder from both the Winklerberg and Schlossberg. These selections re-define the potential of these varietals—dry, mineral-driven wines—and they are among the most delicious, unique whites of Germany.
Heger is located in the Kaiserstuhl region of Baden—a small, compact area boasting 4200 ha of vines which are planted around the stump of an extinct volcano that rises above the Rhein River Valley, just east of the Alsace border. Geologically speaking, the Kaiserstuhl is a rare place indeed. Volcanoes in the Kaiserstuhl formed here during the late Tertiary period, at the end of a long succession of eruptions, starting in the Cretaceous. Heavily eroded volcanic vents mark the landscape and the rocks that remain are of the Miocene, dating between 16-19 million years of age. These volcanic rocks are of alkali-carbonate structure and contain elements of magnesium iron silicate, which can be found here as the gem peridot—a crystalline material meaning it has the ability to weather slowly and provide good drainage. Adding to the uniqueness of the region, prior to volcanic activity in the Jurassic, sedimentary layers formed in the eastern part of the Kaiserstuhl that resulted in the creation of two distinct neighboring geological formations. On top of this diverse mother rock, to varying degrees from 0 to 40 meters, are loess soils that were blown here after the last Ice Age from the northern Limestone Alps in modern-day Austria.
The climate here is equally intriguing. The Kaiserstuhl is the warmest place in Germany and boasts the largest selections of native orchids in Europe. Among the vines, wild grape hyacinths sprawl and iris plants blossom. Figs and apricots grow well here while rare butterflies, sand lizards and praying mantis are found in abundance—species most commonly found in Mediterranean climates.
It’s a magical place and Joachim knows how to let it speak through his wines. The awards and accolades lauded to this estate are too numerous to mention here, but two of the most recent include “Winemaker of the Year” in 2013 by Gault Millau, and in the same year, Eichelmann’s Wine Guide also awarded Heger “Wine Estate of the Year.”
As for the estates, Dr. Heger is the original estate founded in 1935 by Dr. Max Heger. All of the Grosses Gewächs and Erste Lage wines are made under this label. Weinhaus Heger is a bigger estate with more flexibility. Joachim has worked with us as a Schatzi to find the best range of wines to offer in the US as many of these selections were not previously available. Heger is able to produce a wide spectrum of wines, from quality entry levels of great value to some of the best GGs in Germany. The estate names will be noted in the wine descriptions below.
This will be somewhat of a re-launch for Joachim’s wines in the US, having left his former importer in 2013 without another option in mind. Needless to say, we are lucky to have met him in the Motel One Bar in Düsseldorf this March.