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  • Kathrin Otte — The Ghost in the Bottle

    Herr Mehling, I presume?
    Herr Mehling?
    You must be Herr Mehling.

    A little step back to the beginning. It is 2019, the hot summer months are in full swing, and we stagger through the gates of the Mehling estate, slightly elated and clueless, stopping directly by the tables where fine vintages are being presented. Slurp left, slurp right, and we still don’t have a clear picture of who is responsible for these delicious fermented grape juices. It would be quite a while before we got the chance to arrange a first meeting with the energetic Kathrin Otte and her mischievous smile and learn more about her story and her wines. But we kept persisting, and this pleasurable encounter did not disappoint.

    Kathrin and her boyfriend Christoph are the fourth generation to run the Mehling Winery in Deidesheim along the Mittelhaardt, in the Palatinate. Her great-grandfather was an estate manager at the Reichsrat von Buhl winery for 50 years when he founded his own winery in 1952. If you stand in Mehling’s courtyard and let your gaze wander, you will be transported a few centuries into the past — it could well be that the stagecoach has just rushed past your shoes. This is where the horses were changed and the town’s mail was delivered in the old days. Today’s Tasting Room housed the horse stables and watering trough, which can still be seen in the old ceiling hooks and the room construction.

    Close up of grapes / people resting next to vines / Mehling courtyard

    Her grandfather started to work without artificial fertilisers in the ’70s. Fast forward to the end of the ’80s, and Kathrin’s parents began to convert the farm towards an organic one. Many different soils (lime, clay, and red sandstone), old vines, and careful, gentle cultivation increased the amount of work, but the result can be seen and tasted. Since 2010, the winery has a Bio certification, and the trust in these organic methods is rewarded with superb individual wines as a result.

    For Kathrin, the central theme in the vineyard is biodiversity. A stable 10 hectares in size, which is small by Deidesheim standards, determine the growing area from Forst to Königsbach, with many single vineyard sites in and around the town. Their main focus is on Riesling, or “the little Diva”, as Kathrin sometimes calls the grape.

    A healthy soil is key. Natural composting aided by greening mixtures of leguminous and flowering plants with deep and shallow roots, welcoming all kinds of beneficial insects, create a biodiverse microcosm of flora and fauna that opposes the monoculture of the vines. The wine is created in tune with nature from beginning to end, in a slow cycle of time. There is certainly the one or other screw to adjust, a slight nudge to optimise the vine, but even the harvest is determined by feeling and experience, rather than a refractometer. Tasting the grapes, the stems, the seeds — alcohol is not the conclusive goal or even a quality factor, and this shows in the lean wines that Kathrin makes. Hand harvesting is the way, everyone with grapes in hand, working together in the vineyard, laughing and bringing the good mood along with them. It’s a non-negotiable part of the deal.

    Kathrin and the Mehling Winery are involved in an interesting casual collaboration in local viticulture: WineChanges. In 2009, eleven wineries from the Deidesheim municipality joined forces on Jan Hock’s initiative for closer coordination and cooperation. All of them young, all of them with fresh ideas and similar visions for the future of winemaking. Let’s put it this way: in the beginning, they all knew about each other, but only a few knew each other personally. That was about to change. But where should they meet for the first time? Father Braun came to the rescue and offered his parish cellar in Deidesheim as a location.

    The rest of the story continued in exciting and successful turns. All members quickly realised they got along great and could learn and benefit a lot from each other. The first joint wine tasting was sold out after two days. Events such as VinOchs and the 8tel Meile in the Deidesheim Schlosspark were organised every year since at Pentecost. Theme tents presented different grape varieties together, independently of each winery’s affiliation — a wonderfully multilateral idea and implementation. Boundaries were torn down and broken up, and the sense of community through vines and varieties was pushed. It doesn’t get much better. All estates have developed in quality through the cooperation, and seven wineries go to ProWein together every year, sharing the costs of participation between all. WineChanges is about mutual support, understanding that they are better and stronger together, as opposed to constant competition.

    When speaking about Kathrin, we cannot avoid the topic of women in viticulture. Why? Because it is important and because unfortunately it still touches on problems that should no longer exist. In general, we can say that the Palatinate is very open-minded and has many successful women winemakers in viticulture. Past sentiments bordering on bullying such as “women don’t have the strength to cope with the heavy physical work” or “can you even work the tractor?” have become less prominent, and many vintners have helped to bring the industry along. Unfortunately, this has not quite yet reached the sales counter, where many prejudices still seem to be the order of the day. How do you keep your composure? Sentences such as these still abound: “Can you cope as a woman?” “Wow, not bad for a woman in the wine business!” “I guess women are better at tasting because they are more sensitive!” The constant drop wears away the stone — enlighten, enlighten, enlighten, even if it becomes tiring sometimes.

    These assumptions, prejudices, and combinations of ancient mental flatulence stand in contrast to the different attitudes and talents of women, which could and should be a source of inspiration and power. This inherited assumption of their almost physical “disability” brings us unfortunately once again to the classical “old white men” syndrome — gentlemen whose outlook goes no further than the dusty experience box of their lives, mostly beaten into them with the righteous hand of their oppressing forefathers over time. To move forward, the treasure of experience works only in combination with the reflection of its past, paired with a receptiveness to learning new things. We’re not looking for tolerance. We’re looking for acknowledgement that such divisions should no longer exist. Fortunately, a change is felt in an educated, younger generation, so that this is no longer an issue for a certain age group.

    Kathrin & Christoph sitting under a tree / bottle of Herr Mehling

    Christoph and Kathrin eventually had enough that they thought of a clever countermeasure towards this attitude. After the constant assumption that Christoph, not Kathrin, was The Man in Charge — the widely praised Herr Mehling, the producer, the winemaker, the creator at the estate — the ghost in the bottle was born: Herr Mehling. You’ll find him on the label of this excellent bottled Riesling, surrounded by sprouting herbs, plants, and buzzing insects, a nod the biological balance in the vineyards. And in this way, too, a nice and cheeky way to give misogyny the middle finger. We approve 😉

    How do you get the feeling of Life in a bottle? Can you capture emotions, pair them with good food, and release them again? Can you taste a region? How about certain ideas that swirl around the mind? Kathrin knows. It must be that ghost in the bottle, we’re sure. Or perhaps a Faustian deal with the devil. We are convinced that her spectacular skills, progressive thinking, and joyful and vital energy as a winemaker merge to bring you the smooth end result you savour on your palate with the eyes closed.

    Like many of us, although not all openly act on it, Kathrin would like to see a social change towards more sustainability. We have everything growing and thriving on our doorstep, so why go far when the goods are so close? Do you know your neighbourhood and the small valleys behind the hill, and what waits there to catch your eyes? And do you know the values behind expertly produced goods, the hard and elaborate care it takes to make them available to you? Let go of your stinginess and embrace a new local hedonism. Forget the formal relationship to wine and enjoy a more personal connection with its flavours, history, and makers.

    We are proud to work together with Kathrin and the Mehling Winery, and invite you to taste the same delicious wines that have become a central part of what we do.

    05 March 2021 Reports

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    08 February 2021 Reports

    Where the money goes #3 . Jan 2021

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