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Müller-Catoir is among the best wine producers in Pfalz, currently offering a portfolio of 39 different wines. Many were reluctant when the young David Phillip Catoir and winemaker Martin Franzen took over responsibility for the estate in the early 2000s, but the skepticism turned out to be unfounded. Here you can read Müller-Catoir’s interesting history and tasting notes on the vintage 2018.

Riesling – a historic grape

Riesling – a grape for frustration and desire. Photo: Müller-Catoir.

Ahh, Riesling! Few – if any – grapes are as highly appreciated and deeply despised as this one. At its best – dry, mineral, white or yellow fruit – with a piercing acidity that makes your ears tingle. At its worst – sweet and bland mass-produced wine which can evoke nightmarish memories from a youth long gone. Thanks to its long growing season, Riesling is a very versatile grape. It can be picked both late and early, depending on what the winemaker wants to achieve, and the finished wine can have varying degrees of sweetness – from crisp dry to liquid nectar. And few grapes convey the soil in which it grows as well Riesling does.

Riesling is a historical grape, the oldest written reference is dated 13th March 1435, and in the 19th century its popularity was right up there with the finest and most expensive Bordeaux wines. All was going well both for Riesling and its native Germany, but then the two world wars came and ruined everything. Post-war Germany – and the rest of Europe – was characterized by poverty, and for the farmers who struggled to survive, quantity became more important than quality.

Riesling – from frustration to desire

Vines. Photo: Müller-Catoir.

Advances in winemaking technology enabled farmers to halt the fermentation before it was completed, resulting in wines that were both sweet and easy to drink. This struck well in a sugar-craving Europe, and thus the road to commercial success was short. Even though these cheap wines mainly were made of grapes such as Müller-Thurgau (a cross between Riesling and Madeleine Royale) and Silvaner, Riesling was also widely used and the seal of approval that the grape was previously associated with was thoroughly shattered.

Still – in the shadow of this, some winemakers, especially the smaller and family-owned castles, continued to make dry Riesling – it just wasn’t sold on the international market. Over the last three to four decades however, the trend has reversed, and led by an enthusiastic wine press, dry Riesling is again gaining recognition and increasing demand. So far, the Scandinavian countries are most enthusiastic, while the major markets in the US and the East are still somewhat restrained. Those who have discovered Riesling’s qualities should be pleased by this, as it an important reason why prices are still quite favourable.

Müller-Catoirs history

Müller-Catoir. Photo: Müller-Catoir.

Müller-Catoir, located in Pfalz, has during its three-hundred-year history been through both ups and downs. The producer has been nearly invisible in the Norwegian market for a long time, but in recent years sales have increased significantly, aided by ever better wines that have received very good reviews. After having tasted and become very impressed with their wines, we decided to find out more about this property. We took a phone call to Martin Franzen, Müller-Catoir’s winemaker for the last 20 years.

But first, some dry facts: Müller-Catoir is located in the village of Haardt in the Pfalz region, southwest of Germany near the French border. 21 hectares of vineyard yield an annual production of approx. 150,000 bottles, where Riesling is the most important grape with 65% of total production. The local grapes Rieslaner, Scheurebe and Muskatell are also important grapes for Müller-Catoir, as well as the French grapes Pinot Noir / Spätburgunder, Pinot Blanc / Weissburgunder and Pinot Gris / Grauburgunder. The export share is 25-30%, with the United States being the most important market over time. In recent years, however, northern Europe has become increasingly important, especially the Scandinavian countries. Sales to Norway, for example, have doubled over the last three years.


David Phillip Catoir and Martin Franzen. Photo: Müller-Catoir.

Müller-Catoir was not among the producers who took the fast track to commercial success in the 1960s and 1970s. While the market was flooded with mass-produced, sweet and simple riesling, the proprietor of the time – Jacob Heinrich Catoir – along with winemaker Hans-Günther Schwartz, chose to go the opposite way – with the introduction of what is now known as organic farming principles: no use of chemicals , neither fertilizers nor insecticides, focus on the quality of the vineyards, and not least – low yields by employing green harvest. The result was fresh and fruity dry wines with high acidity, and among the enthusiasts, the house was recognized as one of the very best wine producers in Germany. Schwarz attained almost legendary status, and many young winemakers went to him to learn the craft.

These were shoes that the young and fairly unknown Martin Franzen was set to fill, when he almost out of nowhere was hired as a new winemaker at Müller-Catoir in July 2002, one month after Schwarz left the ship. He was joined by Jacob’s son Philipp David, who after working alongside his father for five years took full responsibility of the estate in 2006. Wine critics and customers were sceptical of these new guys, but it quickly turned out that the scepticism was unfounded. Not only did they maintain the high quality of Schwartz’s days, they arguably managed to lift it further.

Terroir-driven style

Müller-Catoir wants to show terroir in his wines. Photo: Müller-Catoir.

«I had one goal when I took over as a winemaker at Müller-Catoir, and that was to focus more on terroir,» Martin says. «The wines should have a clear address.» This means that the soil and microclimate in which the grape is grown should be reflected in the finished product as much as possible. This view on winemaking was inspired by his upbringing in the Moselle and, not least, his apprenticeship in Burgundy. To achieve this, he continued to work with his predecessor’s organic cultivation methods, with an extreme focus on the work in the vineyard. «90% of the job is done in the field,» he says. “It’s about being present at all times and keeping track of what’s going on. If you do that part right, the rest goes almost by itself.

Delicate wines

Martin Franzen works in the cellar. Photo: Müller-Catoir.

» In line with this philosophy, all grapes are harvested by hand, which is far from common to the area. The grapes are checked as they are picked, so all the fruit that goes into the cellar is top quality. In the cellar, fermentation takes place in steel tanks, but unlike his predecessor which primarily worked reductively, Martin allows for a little oxygen to play part in the process. He also recently started experimenting with putting some Riesling and Pinot Blanc on 500 litre used oak barrels to see how they develop. When asked about the main difference between current day’s Riesling from Müller-Catoir and those produced 20-30 years ago, Martin is clear:  they have lower sugars, leaner yet riper fruit and more minerality and salinity. And this is how he thinks Riesling from Pfalz should taste; slightly richer and riper fruit than the Rheinhessen, but not as acidic and rich as the Moselle. This combination should make Pfalz a perfect area for dry Riesling.

With the wide selection of grape varieties at hand, Müller-Catoir currently has 39 different wine for sale. The main emphasis is on dry wines, which Martin makes from all the grape varieties, but off-dry wines are also made on Riesling, Scheurebe and Rieslaner, as well as Beerensauslese and Trockenbeerensauslese on Rieslaner and Weissburgunder. A few rosè and a sparkling sect is also offered.

Member of VDP

«Im Breumel». Photo: Müller-Catoir.

Müller-Catoir is a member of the VDP, so the quality of the Riesling vineyards follows the hierarchy of Gutswein – Ortswein – Erste Lage – Grosse Lage. Several different wines are produced at the lower levels, both dry and sweet, and Erste Lage wine is produced from the three vineyards Bürgergarten, Herrenletten and Mandelgarten. At the top of the hierarchy is the GG-classified parcel «Im Breumel,» which is the best part of the Bürgergarten. This monopoly plot is probably over 700 years old, making it one of the oldest plots in the area. Im Breumel is located in the upper part of the Bürgergarten, close to the forest, and surrounded by a high stone wall. This creates a unique microclimate, where the southeast-facing location allows the plants to warm up early in the morning, while the altitude and proximity to the forest contribute to rapid cooling in the afternoon. The parcel was purchased by the family in 1994, and completely re-planted the following year.

Climate changes

It is not possible to talk to a winemaker these days without getting into the topic of climate change and global warming. Is this also felt by Müller-Catoir and in what way? «Of course we notice it,» says Martin. «Everything happens earlier now. 15-20 years ago, spring began in mid-April, now it arrives in early March. Flowering occurs 2-3 weeks earlier than 20 years ago, and Riesling is harvested in September instead of October.” The main challenge with early flowering is that the plants are more prone to night frosts. Müller-Catoir has solved this by moving the vines higher in the terrain, as frost is mainly a problem at the floor of the valley. This is because, unlike the other important Riesling areas in Germany, Pfalz does not have a river that heats up and moves the cold air.

The right time for harvesting has become critical

The right time for harvesting has become critical. Photo: Müller-Catoir.

Early ripeness, on the other hand, is a little more difficult to handle. «Once the Riesling has reached the right level of maturity, it benefits from staying on the plant for a couple of weeks before it is picked. This enables it to calm down and stabilizes, ”says Martin. “In the past, this happened naturally as the fall came around the time when the grapes were ripe and we could leave them on the vine for a few more days. Due to the early ripening we have now, the grapes must be picked at exactly the right time so as not to become overripe. At this point we are still in September which can be very warm, and so the grapes do not get this “resting period” on the vines that they received 20 years ago. »

How do you deal with these challenges? Martin believes that the answer lies in the organic farming methods. «Thanks to organic farming, the plants are more robust now than they were before,» he claims. «They seem to cope with this just fine. But, as I said, we must pay attention. Overripe fruit was never a problem until 2007, now there is a potential risk every single fall. ”

Cellar worthy

The GGs can be stored in the cellars for many years. Photo: Müller-Catoir.

Finally, we touch upon a topic that many wine lovers are concerned about: storage and drinking windows. What is Martin’s view on this? Not surprisingly, the simplest wines are intended for early consumption. However, he would like to highlight the Riesling which bears the property’s name – M-C – as a wine that may benefit from two to three years of ageing before it is consumed. Erste Lage and GG wines can also be drunk early, but these will be noticeably better if they get 4-5 years of ageing before they are opened. «After this, they will continue to develop until they reach their peak after approx. 10 years,” he says. «But there is still no hurry, they will stay at this level for many more years,» he concludes.


And now to the wines. We have tasted through parts of the 2018 vintage, and are impressed with the quality they show – especially in relation to the quite modest price tag. Martin himself was very happy with the vintage. «2018 was a very good vintage for us,» he says. “The summer was hot, so the challenge was to keep the yield down and we had to cut grape clusters several times.” September was also hot, and the harvest took place under perfect conditions. «Generally, the wines of the 2018 vintage have good ripeness, balance and depth, but they are not as acidic as in 2016 and 2017.»

What about the 2019 vintage that is currently settling on the steel tanks? «They are surprisingly good, considering that 2019 was even drier than 2018,» says Martin. “They are healthier, more mineral and with a more normal acidity level. At the same time, the fruit is a little richer than the previous year, and the alcohol is a little lower.” All in all, he characterizes 2019 as a classic vintage for Riesling.

Tasting notes

Smaksnotater Müller-Catoir