Every other month, ‘Whose Wine is it Anyway?’ profiles a German winemaker to give you a behind-the-vines look at the world of German wine. This month, we’re highlighting Sofia Thanisch of Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Erben Thanisch. Located in the Mosel, Sofia and the Thanisch family are carrying on the family’s traditions of elegant wines and women in leadership.
Whose *Wine* is it Anyway? Meet Sofia Thanisch
Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Erben Thanisch (“Dr. H. Thanisch”) was founded by Dr. Hugo Thanisch in 1636, lasting 12 generations to this date. The tradition of female leadership at Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch began when Dr. Hugo passed away in 1895. The estate went to his wife Katherina and was named for her with the addition of “Witwe” (“Wwe.”), meaning widow. Katharina was just 29 years old with three children when she entered the historically male-dominated wine industry. She helped carve a space for women in the wine industry and began the tradition of female leadership at Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch as she built the estate’s reputation and became a founding member of the VDP in 1910.
The current owner, Katharina’s great-granddaughter Sofia, became the 11th generation overall and the 4th generation of women owners when she took over in 1996. Born in Bernkastel, Sofia studied winemaking at the acclaimed Geisenheim Institute as well as in Japan. She has been involved with the estate since 1983, inspired to carry on the family’s tradition in winemaking and committed to continuing the high-quality standards. While honoring her family’s centuries of winemaking experience, Sofia also acknowledges the need to constantly adapt, taking inspiration from their location on the Mosel River: “If you stop rowing on a river, you drift backwards.”
While four generations of women is already impressive and rare in wine, the fifth generation is preparing to take the reins as Sofia’s daughters have joined her team. Juliane supports marketing and Christina acts as junior manager of the estate and will one day take over the family business as the 12th generation and 5th female leader. Like her mother, Christina studied at Geisenheim and gained experience at renowned wineries in Germany and abroad.
If you grow up in a winery, you get to know the rhythm of the wine year from an early age. The decision for the profession then matures slowly, like good wine.
— Sofia Thanisch
The Dr. H. Thanisch estate values sustainability and terroir as guiding principles in managing its vineyards. The estate follows this simple, yet effective motto: the less interfering in the winemaking process, the better it is. The family believes natural processes nurture healthy vineyards for future generations. To ensure optimally ripened, high-quality grapes, the estate harvests by hand.
The Thanisch vineyards span nine hectares of steep slopes and slate soil in and around Bernkastel, and are planted 100% to Riesling grapes, delivering minerally-rich wines with a balance of sweetness and acidity. Many of the estate’s vineyards have been owned by the family for generations, most famously the “Bernkasteler Doctor” parcels that have remained in the family for more than 200 years.
The Doctor vineyard, bordering the town of Bernkastel, is known worldwide and considered the most expensive piece of agricultural land in Germany. With south to south-west exposure and steepness between 60-70%, the vines (on average more than 60 years old and predominantly ungrafted) soak in optimal sunshine all day. The ideal climatic factors and grey slate soil produce full-bodied, spicy, and mineral-driven Rieslings that reach high quality standards.
The Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Erben Thanisch estate prides itself on making unique wines with a light, elegant style combined with deep complexity. With vibrant acidity, minerality, long aging potential, and lower alcohol levels, they reflect classic Mosel characteristics. Dedicated exclusively to Riesling, Thanisch wines mirror the grape’s versatility, producing styles from bone dry, to off-dry, to noble sweet. In fact, the estate claims that their 1921 Bernkasteler Doctor TBA was the first trockenbeerenauslese Riesling produced in the Mosel!
Dr. H. Thanisch relies on spontaneous and natural fermentation. The premium wines are vinified in traditional oak Fuder barrels, all 50 years old or older, which allow the wines to become softer, balanced, and more receptive to aging. With as little intervention as possible, the estate allows its wines to develop the unique characteristics of their respective vintages and vineyards.
For wine drinkers new to Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Erben Thanisch, Sofia recommends first tasting the Thanisch Kabinett Gutswein and the dry style Bernkastel-Kues Alte Reben – or of course, any wine from the Bernkasteler Doctor vineyard! To differentiate Sofia’s wines from other Thanisch estates, just look out for “Thanisch + VDP sign” on the label.