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 the Michel family of Weingut Schlossmühlenhof. Located in Rheinhessen, the Michel family has worked to express the region’s cool climate, distinct minerality, and old vines for six generations – now led by Winemaker and Managing Director Nicolas with support from his girlfriend Janine, mother Gabriele, and father Walter.
Whose *Wine* is it Anyway? Meet Nicolas and the Michel Family
Meet Nicolas and the Michel Family
Focus: Riesling, Grauburgunder, Weissburgunder, and more (Chardonnay, Spätburgunder, Müller-Thurgau, etc.)
U.S. Importer: Savio Soares Selections
Weingut Schlossmühlenhof came from humble beginnings, when miller Johann Michel purchased a rye and wheat “Schlossmühle” (castle mill) in Kettenheim in 1846, which happened to include a small vineyard. The family eventually shifted their focus from grains to grapes in the 1920s, when the vines became the Michel’s most valuable venture and they started bottling and selling wines.
Yet it wasn’t until 1985, when Walter Michel took over the business, that Schlossmühlenhof earned its name and fully transitioned to winemaking. Walter grew up on the estate, studying agriculture at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, while his wife Gabriele studied Business Administration and joined the estate in 1978. Together, the couple kept up the family tradition of viticulture and built Schlossmühlenhof into the esteemed estate it is today.
Walter and Gabriele’s son, Nicolas, studied viticulture and oenology at Geisenheim before officially joining the family business in 2007 and taking the reins in 2015. His girlfriend Janine joined the team in 2014 and participates in sales, trade fairs, and tastings, as well as work in the vineyard. Enjoying semi-retirement, Walter and Gabriele remain involved as Vineyard Manager and Company Manager, respectively. The newest additions to the family are Nicolas and Janine’s two daughters, as well as their dedicated canine companions, Emil and Cuno.
Today, the family works to combine six generations of the Michel family legacy, “ecologically healthy” winemaking, and modern methods to capture the pure expression of the Rheinhessen region and their high-altitude vineyards.
The Schlossmühlenhof estate consists of about 30 hectares spread across the slopes above Kettenheim, with vines as old as 45 years. Located in a high valley known in the region as “Der kühle Grund” (the cool ground), Schlossmühlenhof’s vineyards are about 250 to 350 meters above sea level, lending their wines a unique, mouthwatering minerality and freshness.
Schlossmühlenhof’s main focus is on white grapes including Riesling, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay, and Müller-Thurgau, but they also grow Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Dornfelder, and other red varieties.
Nicolas has continued the Michel family’s tradition by operating organically. While not held to a legal standard, Schlossmühlenhof does not use any herbicides and follows ecological farming practices. With his eye always on quality, Nicolas and the Schlossmühlenhof team work every year to remove nearly one-half of the vineyard’s young grape bunches (known as “green harvesting”) to balance the vines and produce premium wines.
Once grapes make their way from the vineyards to the cellar, Nicolas works as gently as possible with a combination of traditional and modern vinification methods. Above all, Schlossmühlenhof’s priority is giving wines the time they need to naturally stabilize through long aging on the yeast.
Schlossmühlenhof’s wines are firm and lean; fruit, full flavor and finesse are the center of attention instead of the alcohol content. For wine drinkers who haven’t tried any of Schlossmühlenhof’s offerings, Nicolas recommends “Das ist keine Orange,” an orange wine made from Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner and fermented for 12 weeks before grapes are pressed.
Perhaps Schlossmühlenhof’s most recognizable offering is “Boden Funk,” a line of low intervention wines produced ecologically and without any additives. These wines, which were created alongside Schlossmühlenhof’s U.S. importer Savio Soares Selections in 2019, are unfiltered and unfined, and enjoy extensive skin contact to provide the purest taste of the original juice, no matter the variety. Roughly translated as “sound waves,” the Boden Funk line transmits terroir from roots to vines and from grape to glass.
Whether branching out with “Boden Funk” or sticking with Schlossmühlenhof’s traditional offerings, drinkers are sure to taste the “Michel family difference” for six generations and counting.