It is common to say that a winemaker will produce wines that tends to reflect his personality. With Stefan Vetter, it could be described as an almost perfect match. His celebrated production is happening in a region often overlooked, Franken, and gives notoriety to a grape that’s rarely the start of the show: silvaner. Both the grape and winemaker share this soft-spoken yet reassuring voice. The peaceful landscape of the region adds to this pastoral picture.
It’s an add in the local newspaper — because in Europe you can buy vineyards while drinking your first morning coffee — that caught Stefan’s attention, listing a small plot of old vines silvaner planted in steep terraces in Gambach, east of Frankfurt. A grape that is known very moderately in the present times, but has still been the local pride in the region, where Vetter grew up. Franken is pretty far east in the winegrowing part of Germany, and the climate tends to drastically become more continental around there. Because the seasons are more defined and winters are a bit ruthless, this is not a prime place for growing riesling. Which has given a chance to other grapes to shine, and silvaner took it, when it arrived from Austria in the 17th century.
While acquiring a collection of small pieces of land — often in old crumbling terraces — and giving them enough love to put them back in shape, Stefan Vetter has made this grape variety a star. Particularly in the world of natural wine, where he soon established himself as a leading German figure. He farms 3,5ha today (+a bit of fruit that is purchased) of silvaner of course, but also spätburgunder (pinot noir), müller-thurgau and riesling, planted in limestone or sandstone or a mix of both.
Making silvaner the centerpiece was a risky bet, but Stefan Vetter’s wines are often cited as being some of the most exciting produced in Germany these past few years. It is a complex grape, not at all exuberant in its aromatics, with an alcohol potential that can jump quickly if one is not careful. Vetter opts for the finesse approach: he harvests early, and is sometimes done picking before his neighbors have even started, in order to highlight the delicate acidity of silvaner. This is followed by long aging on the lees, in various neutral oak containers. His devotion to careful viticulture — organic sprinkled with biodynamic principles — and the enormous amount of handwork he dedicates to his old vines shows in the mineral tension and the fantastic texture of his finished wines. Wines that gives you the impression of drinking a health elixir, for that they are so vibrant, thirst-quenching. Wines that tell the history and the culture of a special region, if you lend an ear. Some rebels move silently, and Vetter let his wine speak for themselves.