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Germany’s new generation of winegrowers

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Germany’s new generation of winegrowers

There is currently a rather touching, to me anyway, ad campaign being run by the VDP, the association of elite wine producers in Germany.

It consists of an Instagram blitz and about 20 digital posters in German cities, each depicting a young(ish) winegrower, with a quote from each of them explaining why they have chosen their career.

Typically, they have taken over relatively small enterprises from their parents and are doing the hard work in the vineyard and cellar themselves. Julian Huber of the famous Bernhard Huber estate in Baden producing Germanic answers to red and white burgundy is disarmingly modest: “I probably wouldn’t have been good for anything else.”

Eleventh-generation grower Peter Jakob Kühn in the Rheingau was famously a pioneer of organic viticulture there, back in the early 1990s. His son Peter Bernhard Kühn waxes philosophical with his contribution: “I learn, love and hate, am king and servant, find freedom and connection.” Kai Schätzel in Rheinhessen is working in the family estate for the most altruistic of reasons: “I believe that good agriculture can save the world.”

It would be misleading, however, to suggest that only the sons inherit the earth at German family wine estates. Despite having three older brothers, it is Catharina Mauritz who has taken over the Domdechant Werner estate in the Rheingau from her father, Franz Michel. Katharina Prüm long ago succeeded her father, Manfred, at the famous JJ Prüm estate in the Mosel, making wines that are noticeably fruitier and more approachable in their youth. Upstream in the Saar valley Dorothee Zilliken has taken over the reins from her father, Hanno. She and her husband, Philipp, are deliberately making wines that are even lighter, and perceptibly drier, than those of the previous generation.

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The campaign may be partly in response to the labour shortage affecting wine production in Germany, as throughout the wine world. But according to the VDP, aware that there are many easier jobs than winegrowing, it is “a political message designed to generate enthusiasm and empowerment among nature, culture and craft lovers”. It reflects today’s spirit of co-operation among VDP members, something I was assured on a recent visit there was not that common a generation or two ago.

Part of what I love about winegrowing is that its appeal is strong enough to persuade young, well-travelled, well-educated people to adopt a physically demanding outdoor profession in which they are pitted against a more powerful, increasingly unpredictable force: nature. Winegrowing is an art, a craft and nowadays has to be a science too.

Younger generations of vintners not only routinely attend top wine schools but also intern at some of the world’s finest wine estates, where they soak up the latest practicalities of grape-growing and winemaking.

Wine writer and retired producer Armin Diel of Schlossgut Diel in the Nahe told me that his 2001 Christmas present to his daughter Caroline, now in charge of the estate with her French husband, Sylvain Taurisson-Diel, was a handwritten letter presented on a silver plate from Aubert de Villaine of Burgundy’s most famous estate Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, inviting her to intern during the 2002 harvest.

Nature can be a cruel adversary. At this year’s Weinbörse wine fair in Mainz, where almost 1,700 of the latest releases were shown by the great majority of the VDP’s 200 members, many of the producers were still reeling from especially savage frosts a few days earlier. The Zillikens reckon to have lost up to 70 per cent of their potential 2024 crop, so many buds were turned to ice on the vine.

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In the nearby Ruwer valley, the famous vineyards of the Maximin Grünhaus estate were also badly hit. But Maximin von Schubert, who has taken over from his father, Carl von Schubert, and continues the estate’s diversification into red wine production thanks to some rather lovely Pinot Noir plant material imported from Burgundy, has taken out a form of frost insurance. He has deliberately bought land round about the original estate vineyards with different expositions and elevations, thereby reducing the likelihood of their all being frosted at the same time.

If there were a stylistic generalisation to be made about the wines of the current generation of VDP members, it is that they seem to be following German consumer taste in making drier and drier wines. Sweetness in German wine is all too readily associated with the darkest days of the industry in the 1970s and early 1980s in the wake of the 1971 German Wine Law that promoted sweetness above all else, including true quality.

It has taken years of discussion, largely on the part of the VDP, to evolve a system that prizes geography and balance above the Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese categories defined by residual sugar levels. Today there is also a labelling system more like Burgundy’s in which the most admired wines, and the ones likely to benefit from the finest grapes, are those from the most specific locations: single-vineyard wines.

Caroline Diel, for instance, is now making wines that are bone dry and distinctly chewy in youth so that she has completely changed the estate’s release timetable. Today’s Schlossgut Diel wines enjoy much longer ageing in bottle before being put on the market. Unlike most other producers in Mainz she had no 2023 whites to show and even her 2022s were still tightly textured.

The same phenomenon is evident in the wines being made by Sebastian Fürst, son of Paul of the Rudolf Fürst estate in Franken. Paul was a pioneer of fine Pinot Noir, called Spätburgunder in Germany. Sebastian, who joined him in 2007, is typical of his generation, having studied viticulture and oenology at Geisenheim university and having worked in wineries in Burgundy, Alsace, Spain, South Africa and other top addresses in Germany. His 2022 Spätburgunders are particularly youthful, yet clearly very promising.

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Sebastian Fürst also displays the environmental awareness of his generation, a phenomenon vigorously promoted within the VDP by Johannes Hasselbach, who worked in finance before coming back to his family’s Gunderloch estate in Rheinhessen. On his watch there seems to be new energy and polish to the wines from their famous vineyards on the Rhine.

Like so many of his contemporaries, Hasselbach treasures the flavours that result from the yeasts naturally present in the vineyard and winery above those that result from specially cultured yeasts that have been bought in.

Jan Eymael came back to Weingut Pfeffingen in the Pfalz from interning at Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Bordeaux with his wife, Karin, and realised he really liked the smell of their blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon in the fermentation vat. As a result he developed a new, much more opulent style for the white they make from their mature Scheurebe vines.

As a result of all these outside influences, German wine may be more varied than it was in the 1970s sugar-water era, but it is so much better.

Favourite recent releases of wines tasted in Mainz

In the UK, Howard Ripley will be offering wines shown in Mainz next month. The Germans see 1Gs as their Premiers Crus and GGs as their Grands Crus.

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Rieslings

  • Peter Lauer, Ayler Kupp Auslese #10 2023 Mosel (7.8%)

  • Maximin Grünhauser, Abtsberg Spätlese 2023 Mosel (7.5%)

  • Fritz Haag, Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett 2023 Mosel (8%)

  • Dr Bürklin-Wolf, Wachenheimer Böhlig 1G 2023 Pfalz (12.5%)

  • Dr Bürklin-Wolf, Wachenheimer Rechbächel 1G 2023 Pfalz (12.5%)

Reds

  • Meyer-Näkel, Dernauer Blauschiefer Spätburgunder 2022 Ahr (13%)

  • A Christmann, Königsbacher Ölberg Spätburgunder 1G 2022 Pfalz (13%)

  • Jean Stodden, Recher Herrenberg Frühburgunder GG 2021 Ahr (12.5%)

  • Jean Stodden, Bad Neuenahrer Sonnenberg Spätburgunder GG 2021 Ahr (13%)

  • Dr Heger, Achkarrer Schlossberg Spätburgunder GG 2020 (13.5%)

Tasting notes, scores and suggested drink dates on Purple Pages of JancisRobinson.com. International stockists on Wine-searcher.com

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Vietnam’s ‘bamboo diplomacy’ triumphs with visits from Biden, Xi and now Putin

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Vietnam’s ‘bamboo diplomacy’ triumphs with visits from Biden, Xi and now Putin

Over the past nine months, Vietnam has hosted Joe Biden, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, balancing geopolitical rivalries with an élan that has eluded other countries.

The string of visits shows how a country adept at attracting manufacturing investment from companies eager to diversify their supply chains is adroitly managing its foreign policy.

By hosting Putin this week for his first visit since 2017, Vietnam, which has a long-standing independent and diversified foreign policy, joins the ranks of North Korea, Iran and China in opening its doors to a leader shunned globally after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Putin’s visit, which follows his trip to North Korea and comes less than a year after Washington and Hanoi upgraded their ties, has irked the US but is unlikely to disrupt relations. “Vietnam has played this game quite well,” said Nguyen Khac Giang, a visiting fellow at Singapore’s Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Vietnam has been “actively neutral” unlike other countries that have been more passive, he said. “Hanoi knows it must actively balance different powers . . . because that’s the way for Vietnam to gain benefits from all three powers. Otherwise it would be drawn into political games without any ability to change the direction of the game.”

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Communist party-ruled Vietnam’s independent foreign policy dates back to the end of the cold war, when Hanoi decided to be a friend to all countries. Long-standing party chief Nguyen Phu Truong, the most senior political figure in Vietnam, calls this “bamboo diplomacy”, citing the plant’s “strong roots, stout trunk and flexible branches”.

Workers in Hanoi manufacturing Russian flags ahead of this week’s visit by Vladimir Putin © Thinh Nguyen/Reuters

Under his leadership, Vietnam has upgraded relations with the US and allies such as Australia, Japan and South Korea to “comprehensive strategic partnerships”, the highest level of diplomatic ties afforded by Hanoi.

When Biden visited Hanoi last September, the US president hailed the move to upgrade the partnership as part of the 50-year “arc of progress” between the two former foes.

In recent years Vietnam has become a favoured destination for companies such as Apple as they look to diversify their supply chains away from China. Foreign direct investment in Vietnam hit $36.6bn last year.

Yet Vietnam has managed to achieve this without disrupting its ties with China, its largest trading partner, and Russia, its biggest arms supplier. The two have been strategic partners with Vietnam since 2008 and 2012, respectively.

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Three months after the Biden visit, Xi followed in his footsteps and the two communist neighbours agreed to build a “shared future” to strengthen their ties — despite disagreements and regular stand-offs between their ships in the South China Sea, where Vietnam and Beijing have overlapping claims.

Vietnam has been astute in navigating the relationship with China by striking the right balance “between defiance and deference”, said Susannah Patton, the Lowy Institute’s director of south-east Asia programme.

Vietnam has used its relationships with the US and Russia as a balance against China, she said. “Vietnam has benefited from its omnidirectional foreign policy stance and has made itself relevant to many partners.”

Vladimir Putin being greeted at Noi Bai International Airport
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is greeted at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday © Nhac Nguyen/AFP

Vietnam’s foreign policy direction has withstood recent domestic political upheaval — a result of a long-running corruption crackdown — and is unlikely to change even as geopolitical tensions rise.

Analysts said the Communist party was pragmatic about its foreign policy and understood the importance of having western allies, especially as it looked to cement its place as a crucial manufacturing hub.

At the same time, hosting Putin is a “matter of principle” for Vietnam to show the balance and diversity in its foreign policy, said Le Hong Hiep, senior fellow and co-ordinator of the Vietnam studies programme at Iseas.

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The US has expressed disappointment at the visit but said its relationship with Vietnam would continue to strengthen.

“We reiterate that no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalise his atrocities. We cannot return to business as usual or turn a blind eye to the clear violations of international law Russia has committed in Ukraine,” a US state department spokesperson told the Financial Times.

Russia, the biggest supplier of military equipment including submarines to Hanoi, has been a close partner of Vietnam since the cold war. The two countries have run joint exploration projects for oil and gas in the South China Sea.

Vietnamese media has reported that Hanoi is seeking closer co-operation with Russia in natural resources, artificial intelligence, life sciences and energy. Putin is expected to meet Nguyen and other senior officials, with talks focusing on trade, economic and technological prospects, along with international and regional issues. It is unclear if any deals will be announced.

This week’s visit may ultimately prove more beneficial for Putin than for Vietnam, said Iseas’ Le, as it shows that doors still open for him. Vietnam might be cautious in announcing any major deals with Russia as it seeks to remain on good terms with the US and its allies.

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“Vietnam will be wise enough to make sure that the visit will not harm its relation with US and western partners,” said Le. “It has been able to maintain good ties with all the major powers, and that plays an important role in helping Vietnam attract investment from different partners.”

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Louisiana will require the 10 Commandments displayed in every public school classroom

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Louisiana will require the 10 Commandments displayed in every public school classroom

Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom under a bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry on Wednesday. Above, workers repaint a Ten Commandments billboard off of Interstate 71 near Chenoweth, Ohio, on Nov. 7, 2023.

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Carolyn Kaster/AP

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom, the latest move from a GOP-dominated Legislature pushing a conservative agenda under a new governor.

The legislation that Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signed into law on Wednesday requires a poster-sized display of the Ten Commandments in “large, easily readable font” in all public classrooms, from kindergarten to state-funded universities.

Opponents questioned the law’s constitutionality and vowed to challenge it in court. Proponents said the the measure is not solely religious, but that it has historical significance. In the language of the law, the Ten Commandments are “foundational documents of our state and national government.”

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The posters, which will be paired with a four-paragraph “context statement” describing how the Ten Commandments “were a prominent part of American public education for almost three centuries,” must be in place in classrooms by the start of 2025.

Under the law, state funds will not be used to implement the mandate. The posters would be paid for through donations.

The law also “authorizes” but does not require the display of other items in K-12 public schools, including: The Mayflower Compact, which was signed by religious pilgrims aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and is often referred to as America’s “First Constitution”; the Declaration of Independence; and the Northwest Ordinance, which established a government in the Northwest Territory — in the present day Midwest — and created a pathway for admitting new states to the Union.

Not long after the governor signed the bill into law at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Lafayette on Wednesday, civil rights groups and organizations that want to keep religion out of government promised to file a lawsuit challenging it.

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The law prevents students from getting an equal education and will keep children who have different beliefs from feeling safe at school, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation said in a joint statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Even among those who may believe in some version of the Ten Commandments, the particular text that they adhere to can differ by religious denomination or tradition. The government should not be taking sides in this theological debate,” the groups said.

The controversial law, in a state ensconced in the Bible Belt, comes during a new era of conservative leadership in Louisiana under Landry, who replaced two-term Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in January. The GOP holds a supermajority in the Legislature, and Republicans hold every statewide elected position, paving the way for lawmakers to push through a conservative agenda.

Similar bills requiring the Ten Commandments be displayed in classrooms have been proposed in other states including Texas, Oklahoma and Utah. However, with threats of legal battles over the constitutionality of such measures, no state besides Louisiana has succeeded in making the bills law.

Legal battles over the display of the Ten Commandments in classrooms are not new.

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In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a similar Kentucky law was unconstitutional and violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says Congress can “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The high court found that the law had no secular purpose but rather served a plainly religious purpose.

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Officer on Sunak protection detail arrested over alleged bet on timing of UK poll

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Officer on Sunak protection detail arrested over alleged bet on timing of UK poll

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Police investigating bets on the timing of the UK’s general election have arrested an officer from the team guarding Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over the claims.

London’s Metropolitan Police said an officer from its Royalty and Specialist Protection command had been held over “alleged bets”, without identifying whom the officer had been guarding.

A person familiar with the situation confirmed he had been part of Sunak’s protection detail.

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It is the first reported arrest since the Gambling Commission opened a probe into betting on the timing of the surprise election.

The investigation was launched after Craig Williams, a Conservative MP and aide to Sunak, admitted he had placed a wager on a July election shortly before the poll was announced.

The Met said on Wednesday that the Gambling Commission contacted it on Friday saying it was investigating “alleged bets” by a constable from the specialist unit “related to the timing of the general election”.

The force added: “The matter was immediately referred to officers in the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards, who opened an investigation, and the officer was also removed from operational duties. The officer was subsequently arrested on Monday 17 June on suspicion of misconduct in public office.”

The Met said the arrested officer had been taken into custody and bailed “pending further inquiries”. The matter had also been referred to the force watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, it added.

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The Met did not name the officer, in line with normal practice before anyone is charged.

Sunak aide Williams insisted when admitting laying his bet that the Gambling Commission’s investigation of the matter amounted to “some routine inquiries” with which he would “fully co-operate”. He remains the Conservative general election candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr in Wales.

The Guardian reported he had bet £100 on May 19 at odds of 5-1 that the election would be in July, at a time when it was not expected before the autumn. Sunak made his surprise announcement of a July 4 election on May 22.

The police officer is the only person known to have been arrested.

The Gambling Commission said it was investigating the “possibility” of offences concerning the date of the election.

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“This is an ongoing investigation, and the Commission cannot provide any further details at this time,” it said.

Additional reporting by Eri Sugiura

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