On those occasions when Aumüller, who grew up in Bavaria, drinks beer, he does so out of a wine glass: “Because of its bulbous shape, it allows the bouquet to develop much better.” He believes that beer should be enjoyed in the same way as wine.
Brewer André Winkelmann finds the ceremonial aspects slightly over the top. He tells of studies that show beer has even more flavours than wine.
Aumüller’s job is not only to produce the best possible wine and sparkling wine on one of Saxony’s largest estates. After a chequered history, in which it went through various changes of ownership, a couple of wars and most recently collectivisation in the GDR, Schloss Wackerbarth is now owned by the Saxony State Ministry of Agriculture. Its mission is to raise the profile of Saxony as a wine-growing region.
Here the „Societé des antisobres“ has its roots
What characterises the local vineyards is the cultivation of extremely steep slopes, a feature that is gradually disappearing from the other winegrowing areas of Germany. Today, it also functions as a living museum and venue for hire, with daily tours, tastings and other events.
The estate was first planted by Count August Christoph von Wackerbarth, Minister of State and confidant to Augustus the Strong. Together, they founded the ‘Gesellschaft zur Bekämpfung der Nüchternheit’ (“Society for the Abolition of Sobriety“) which regularly convened in Dresden.
A society in which the brewers of Vier Vogel Pils would certainly have felt amongst kindred spirits. We have arrived in the cellar, and the tasting session is about to begin. Aumüller opens several bottles of the finest Wackerbarths. Erik and André Winkelmann expertly suck the wine through their teeth and then spit it into the vase-like spittoon provided.
In the subsequent search for taste associations, the brewers turn out to be as imaginative as wine expert Aumüller: Does the wine taste like brioche or yeast? Is that a citrus note, or rather banana? Passion fruit, lychee, pear?
The cellar master explains how a cuvée is blended from different grape varieties and from different vines. He explains the characteristics of his vines, talks about the soil, the grape varieties and the amount of work that goes into getting a wine to taste right.
The brewers tell how they experimented with different types of hops, until finally they had found exactly the taste that they wanted for their pilsner: a full hoppy flavour and fine-pearly lustre. “We didn’t want to simply tip a hop extract from the canister into our beer,” says Erik Winkelmann. “Actually, our beer is also a cuvée,” adds his brother.
Next stop: Klaus Zimmerling, self-taught winemaker
Klaus Zimmerling’s estate is located south of Dresden. Zimmerling started out the same way as the Winkelmann brothers: without much expertise, but with all the more idealism for that. Klaus Zimmerling did not like the wine that was produced in the GDR, so he started to plant vines and make wine himself. Self- taught like the creators of Vier Vogel Pils. “We had no idea about brewing before,” recalls Erik. “Only about drinking. In that particular discipline, we were professionals.”
Klaus Zimmerling laughs. For him, those days are long gone. After thirty years as a winemaker, he is one of the top two or three in Saxony. The critics have heaped praise on his wines which he grows on nearly four and a half hectares. By comparison, the Schloss Wackerbarth estate extends over 92 hectares. Zimmerling’s vines are all on the hill known as Pillnitzer Königlicher Weinberg and mostly on one of the famously labour-intensive steep slopes: “This is an absolute top location, but we have to do almost everything by hand. I am able to achieve what I want from life here, and having more doesn’t necessarily make you happier.”
In the middle of the vineyard are his family home and the cellar, a small wine shop and a bar via which more than half of the annual production is sold. It’s diffcult to decide what is more spectacular: the view across the Graupa valley, the award-winning wines or the intricate works of art sculpted by his wife, Małgorzata Chodakowska. They also adorn the labels of the wine bottles. “So people have three reasons to come to us,” says Zimmerling, “the panorama, the art and the wine.”
Beer from the washing machine
Beer is too bitter for him, says Zimmerling. Nevertheless, the top winegrower and the two craft beer brewers quickly find common ground. Both wanted to produce for themselves in the first instance, then for friends, and thereafter the demand grew. The two brewers recount anecdotes from their early days. For example, how beer escaped from a washing machine that had been converted into a brewing vat and flooded rooms in a shared flat, and how they later expanded a small garden arbour to become a microbrewery. Nowadays, Vier Vogel Pils is made by a professional brewery according to a proprietary recipe.
Klaus Zimmerling opens a bottle: “This is our simplest variety.” André and Erik Winkelmann put their noses into their glasses, then they sip. There is no spittoon here; the two brewers swallow the wine and nod with satisfaction. So, what is the answer to the age-old question: wine or beer? “When you have wine, you have friends,” says Zimmerling. “It’s no different with beer; everyone gets thirsty,” says André Winkelmann.
Not every question has to have a definitive answer.