"I think [there were] no benefits," said Sybille Kuntz and laughed, triggering the equally hearty laughter of her husband Markus-Kuntz Riedlin. Speaking as a lone female winemaker in Germany in the late 1980's, Sybille said, "I decided to do my own thing and set straight ahead. I ignored what they said." Much like the pioneers noted in Eric Asimov's piece on wine in the Research Triangle, "Finding A Home In the Hills", Sybille, long the one-woman operator of Sybille Kuntz Estate in Mosel, also knows that "...the best sort of winemaking was itself an expression of agriculture."
"The steeper, the older, the later the harvest–the more quickly you move as you pick and separate the fruit–the more clarity you have, the more luscious the palate," said Sybille, who believes that precise vineyard management enables her to start in the cellar with 90% of the work completed. Practicing organic since 1990, in 2011 Sybille decided to start the certification process. "The market kept asking for certification. We wanted to clarify. The seal on the back provides the information for the customer. It's clear. We put all of this work into the organic practice, why not have the seal on the bottle?" she added. With organic certification starting with the 2013 vintage, the Estate started practicing biodynamic in 2011, with plans to certify at a later date.
Fermenting against the grain, Sybille made dry Riesling wines at a time when the the market desired sweet. When joined by Markus in 1995, the integration was organic. Of their combined vineyard management, she said, "maybe we defined it more with more fine tuning in the winemaking, and then we were two."
Much like Noel Sherr bringing a taste of Chambers Street Wines to Durham, N.C. with Cave Taureau, Sybille desired to bring her favored flavor profiles to the public by making dry Rieslings that are her interpretation of Mosel. "You have to be driven to come up with your own vision in Mosel in the '80's," said Markus. "I personally would have never thought of this, because it's crazy...Why would you want to go through all that pain," he added and laughed. "As a female, you need to be better than anybody else."
Deciding to restructure the vineyard in the late 1990's, Sybille changed her training from a one-pole tradition to a modern trellis vine-training system with short canes that allow for more sugar at harvest, yielding wines that are "zesty, lively and balanced" with "more complexity and acidity". In 2001, she altered the density of her newly planted vines by broadening the spacing, but the most important change, said Sybille, was in the canopy management. "More leaves per grape means more sugar through photosynthesis," said Sybille. "If the yield limit is at a certain level, you get perfectly ripe grapes."
Believing that balanced wines come from precise vineyard management, Sybille said, "There are no secrets in the cellar....The pressing, fermentation, barrel aging, it's only 10% of the quality. Balance is done by nature."
As to whether Sybille's vineyard practices have influenced or inspired her neighbors, she cannot really say. But she and Markus did catch another local winemaker checking the sugar levels in their vineyards. "He lives 20km away," said Markus, "we'd never met him, but he had told us that he'd walked through our vineyards. He knew the details of our farming; he knew all about the vines, the training system and the sugar, but his spying didn't change his wines!"
And though Sybille recently uploaded a video to YouTube titled, "Making of Sybille Kuntz Mosel-Riesling (Part 1)", we know that transparency doesn't always inspire mimicry.