Stefan Vetter Sylvaner
'Steinterrassen Sandstein' 2017
I carry with me the essence of dry and dirty martinis. I carry with me the glistening sludge of domestic back garden pond water where small colonies of tadpoles romance one another. I carry with me the unctuous kiss and textural curiosity of oysters, of tongue, of unusual fruits you only find in off-the-beaten-track food markets where vendors shout and steam rises and colours dazzle. I whisper of passionfruit and pineapple, of green apple skin and white pepper. I do not shout. I do not scream. I whisper. And if you’ll let me, I might even sing a little.
I’m not as famous as my siblings. I’m not as well loved, as aromatic. I’m certainly not as revered. I was once. In fact, I was more widely planted than any of them a long, long time ago. I was much lauded. I was much drunk. Some time in the 1960’s I fell out of favour. I was over-used. I was the victim of my own success in a way and as the tastes of the masses changed I went from being a kind of work-horse, from being a kind of reliable friend to a mere bit-player in blends or an occasional favourite to the discerning dry-white drinkers of Franken and Rheinhessen. I was kept around in small pockets in Czechia and Slovenia. I was grown and gathered in small quantities in Alto Adige and Alsace. And though I watched my siblings live more fruitful lives, gain in popularity, in success, I was (thankfully) saved by those rare few that were fond of me. And at the hands of a few producers scattered across central Europe I’ve seen that fondness, like a vine curling against the sun and the rain, grow.
To sniff me you wouldn’t be overwhelmed. You wouldn’t pull your nose out of the glass and pause to savour. You don’t find roses and watermelon, you don’t find kerosene and hard cheese jumping out at you. I’m shy. I’m slight. I’m often thought of as being neutral. I’m like Switzerland—like one who waits for others to start wars. In the wrong hands I can be bland. In the right hands I can flourish. In the hands of Stefan Vetter, who toils some old and some very old terraced vines (ungrafted and planted as early as the 1930’s) of me in Franken/Franconia in central Germany, I can be a goddamn glass of liquid revelation.
Vetter picks early, macerates a little, presses slowly (using basket and old screw) and ages in old oak with the occasional top off. (Some newer barrels have found their way into his winery, though even these are used delicately, cleverly, without excess.) The ‘Steinterrassen Sandstein’ is a blend of three different plots of just me with a vine age ranging between 20 and 40 years, that then saw élevage in used barrels of various sizes for 23 months. I am, like this cuvée, a product of patience that asks the same of the drinker.
To the nose I am subtle, I am soft. I say something of bergamot, of wheatgrass, of waterfalls and the foam that gathers at the surface. In the mouth I feel like salad dressing. Like the kind of golden or green olive oil that tastes at its best in foreign cities or when your southern European friends bring you a little bit back from their families summer-house groves. In the mouth I’m like snake oil or cough syrup. I carry with me tiny mysteries that unfurl and yet fail (thankfully) to fully reveal themselves, and the drinker is left wondering how something so thick in the mouth, so viscous, so full can still be so electric. It is thanks to the cool German climate and Vetter’s early picking and the excess of sandstone and lime that my acidity, that the thin wire of it, prevails. It prevails over white peach and breakfast radish. It prevails over jasmine flowers and citrus peel and lyrical wax.
To drink me is to take that refreshing dip (naked or not) you might indulge in upon coming across a natural pool where sandstone and limestone rocks coalesce and orgy at the base of a small fall of water; cooled by the earth and warmed by the sun, where weeds lick your ankles and moss gathers at the fringes and unknown creatures circle the mud after your heavy splash; your quick freestyle disrupts their paradise, and only the fading ripples remain when the memory of your fat human bodies have escaped the wet. There’s an intense loveliness and purity to me—like I might be just the sort of liquid to baptise small humans with or fling across your chest in the shape of an X on those particularly repentant Sundays or use as a defence against vampires or even add to your arsenal when attempting to compel a potty-mouthed spirit to take leave of a vomiting teenager. To drink me is to be surprised, is to find joy again in something you’d forgotten could so surprise and delight you.
I am Sylvaner. I am a grape. I am a grape with a chequered past. I am a green-skinned white varietal. My lineage involves Traminer (Savignan) and Österreichisch-Weiss. As the main contributor to Liebfraumilch I was responsible for many a sugared-hangover for folks in the middle of the twentieth century, picking pig knuckle and schnitzel from their teeth. I am often under appreciated. I am occasionally championed. I am grateful to have been kept flowering by the curious and the devout. I am grateful that Stefan Vetter answered an advertisement in a newspaper and returned to Franken to find the forest-like patch he would turn and till and from which he would eventually make me. Not just me. But my comrade cuvées too. We are Sylvaner. We are slow-pressed, long-aged, old-vine beauties. We are, like salt-marsh undergrowth, like sleek fish dancing cool streams, like the long-toothed monsters of our trans-homeland. We are survivors. And we will sate your thirst.
tasted July 2021