Every year in the fall, the otherwise rather quiet cellar becomes the pulsating heart of the wine estate for several weeks, beating day and night during this time. Music plays in the cellar all day long and many an employee spends the night on an air mattress in the winery during this time, because he or she does not dare to leave the barrels and tanks alone for long due to excitement and concern for the precious musts, whose fermentation must be started and then monitored. This proves the passion with which the Balthasar Ress team virtually "fights" for its wines.
"We want to produce the finest, characterful and authentic wines, away from monotonous aromas and uniform tastes, even bold wines that are clearly and noticeably different from traditional Rieslings and Pinot Noirs. Every single wine should taste like the site and the place where the vine grows. We want to bring out the real, unadorned site. We want the wine to come into the bottle just as it was created in the vineyard, consciously influenced by the peculiarities of the respective vintage," explains cellar master Stephan Sänger, adding, "Our vineyards and our artisanal work philosophy form the basis for this."
"Our work in the cellar consists largely of preserving the quality of the grapes that we have worked and cared for outside throughout the year and accompanying the wine on its journey. Interventions should remain the exception whenever possible. This starts with the fact that we harvest very carefully. Our harvesters are people with a lot of feeling, knowledge and experience. The grape harvest is mostly done by hand. Even when we work with machines, we make sure that a selection is made beforehand by our hand pickers, so that we only harvest the healthy and physiologically ripe grapes with the machine," explains Stephan Sänger.
The harvested grapes are then carefully further processed in the winery. In the modern presses in the Balthasar Ress wine press hall, the grapes are pressed very gently and the must is collected. Some of the grapes are crushed before pressing. This extracts aromas, phenols and much more from the berry skins. The wine is then even more distinctive and typical of the vineyard.
Wines can basically be fermented with pure culture yeasts from the laboratory or with wild yeasts from nature and the always present yeast flora from the cellar. Stephan Sänger, the winery's cellar master, decides whether pure yeasts are added depending on the vintage and the condition of the grapes: "Usually, the estate wines are inoculated. Starting with the local wines, the wines are fermented spontaneously with their own natural yeasts, which sit on the grape skins. The Great Sites and the First Sites are always spontaneously fermented."
The actual fermentation is temperature controlled under strict observation and accompaniment. The aim is a slow and uniform fermentation. This promotes the development of the typical aromas. The importance of the influence of fermentation on the final result is illustrated by the fact that many of the aromas that can be tasted and smelled in the wine are not formed by the vine, but are actually created by the biochemical processes of alcoholic fermentation.
Strength lies in tranquility
The rest of the work in the cellar at Balthasar Ress is strongly characterized by an artisanal approach supplemented by modern processing methods - a fine combination. The human senses are probably among the most important tools of the trade.
Cellar master Stephan Sänger often has to hear himself say, with a twinkle in his eye, that he has the "loosest job" in the winery, characterized by "controlled idleness." Of course, this does not do justice to his task and function. After all, once the harvest is in, he alone bears the responsibility for the wages of a whole year's work and thus also of very many people. The entire subsequent full year's harvest, and thus in every respect the entire yield of a year, is stored in his cellar, waiting to be refined and ripened. All the more this work demands prudence, concentration, calm and precision. This is precisely what Stephan Sänger radiates as cellar master.
For Stephan Sänger, taste is simply the most important thing: "We rely entirely on our senses. We make every wine the way we imagine it and the way it tastes to us. We don't work on the basis of analysis data from the laboratory. It's easy to be deceived by such key figures. That's why this data is more of a supplement for us."
As little as possible - as much as necessary
Time and patience are indispensable. After fermentation, Balthasar Ress wines remain on the full lees for an unusually long time. "They thus gain their structure, density and complexity. After all, good taste only develops over time. The slower the aging process from fermentation to bottling, the more complex and ageable the wines become. And so our wines get the time and rest they need to develop into fine wines. Sometimes it's as long as 60 months," explains Stephan Sänger.
Another advantage of the full lees is that they remain in suspension and thus protect the wine from oxidation. It preserves the wine in a completely natural way. The use of sulfur can thus be reduced. This, too, is to Stephan Sänger's taste: "Old-school winemaking. As little as possible, as much as necessary."
The wines rest and age either in stainless steel tanks or in wooden barrels. Once vinification is complete, the wines are bottled in-house. A modern drop-pressure filling system ensures that the wine flows gently into the bottle. As soon as the bottle is sealed, the wine is given its unmistakable exterior: the Balthasar Ress label, which to this day still features in the background the historic family crest with the roughly century-old maxim: "Fein Sei Der Wein!"
And so the circle closes. "In the cellar, as in the vineyard, we are only the helping hand and follow the natural course of things. We are not the ones who set the tone, but the ones who accompany the wine and let it develop. Everything else is done by nature.", the entire Balthasar Ress team agrees on this.