Great Pinot Noir, medieval Kings and a grand German wine heritage - The Re-Awakening of Weingut J. Neus in Ingelheim

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By Gisela Kirschstein

Josef Neus watches from the wall, the founder of the famous winery looks demanding. "He always watches what we're doing", says Lewis Schmitt, and leads me to the art nouveau stone-fountain in the back room of this Victorian villa in the heart of Upper-Ingelheim. The dark panels on the side of the rooms are original, as well, yet, at the front of the building, awaits us a highly modern vinotheque. The new rooms, the fusion between old and modern, alongside with the beautiful park – that is why the Weingut J. Neus was awarded the Best Of Wine Tourism Award 2018 in the category architecture, parks and gardens.

"Alongside this fountain, Neus Senior created his cuvees, and we still work here, too", Schmitt tells me, the elegant drinking fountain runs water from a well within the winery. The old heating used to be the first standup-heating device in the whole town – they were up to the state of the arts here in the 19th century. "Neus senior was a Pinot Noir fanatic, that's why he came to Ingelheim", Schmitt says.

Weingut Neus managing director Lewis Schmitt at the elegant drinking fountain

The small city in the backyard of the Great Wine Capital Mainz has always been at the heart of a red wine hotspot. Here, Charlemagne the Great once built one of his famous royal palaces, and ever since, red Burgundy grape varieties were grown on the hills of sand and chalk around that place. "80 percent Pinot Noir", says Schmitt when asked, which grape variety is the most important in the Winery J. Neus. In the middle of the Riesling- and Silvaner-country of Rheinhessen, red wines are their true vocation in Ingelheim.

On the wall, an old certificate tells of a Bronze Medal, that Neus won at the 1900 World Fair of Paris. In Victorian times, when German wines were cherished among the best wines of the world, the Neus' creations were among them. They even owned the famous "Hock", the Queen Victoria vineyard in Hochheim from 1917 on. "Neus was the son of a rich cooper family from the Mosel", Schmitt tells me, in 1881 he founded a wine-trade in Ingelheim. The first vineyards found their way into the family, thus Neus founded a winery in 1894 in addition.

The beautiful Victorian villa, Neus had built in 1883, surrounded with a park and a vineyard, alongside with fabric buildings – and a huge cellar underneath. "You can walk in circles down here", Schmitt says, as we stroll through the vast cellar-rooms. An ages-old patina covers the ceiling, the rooms stretch far, oak barrels lining the walls, ranging from modern French barriques to decades-old barrels from the Mosel. One corridor has a pile of ages-old champagne bottles on the side, thickly covered with dust. "That's Rosé Champagne, decades old and no more to be drunk", Schmitt says, it's one of the many legacies that the old owners left, just as the old racks stuffed with mysterious bottles.

In 2012, the wine estate was bought by the Schmitz family from Mainz, owners of the big transportation company G.L.Kayser. Ulrich Burchards was the last descendant of Neus Senior, but the winemaker didn't have any successors in the family – the winery was for sale. The Schmitz' reached the estate in the nick of time, says Schmitt: "This was to become a housing complex with 26 apartments, the cellar a parking garage." The Schmitz family saved the traditional winery and started a massive renovation program. "The winery had sunk into a Sleeping Beauty slumber", Schmitt remembers.

The 27-year-old Bachelor of International wine Studies came two years ago to work as managing director – and to help bring the winery into modern times. His parents had a small winery in the Ahr valley, "it's pinot noir, that I live", Schmitt says. Now, they are working to bring back the Neus' wines to the high quality level that they once used to have. Already, their deep red Pinots richly taste of berries and wood, yet also reflecting the unique chalk floors of the Ingelheim vineyards with a high mineral structure. "We want them back in the old, shining light", says Schmitt, "the vinery deserves that – the walls here are much too historic for anything else."