The Sitzius Family celebrates more than 450 years of continuous winemaking tradition
At 57 year young, Wilhelm Sitzius is an affable German winery owner who believes his English is poorer than it actually is. He is a delightful chap who is devoted to his small winery and its production of high quality wines from the tiny Nahe Valley is Southeastern Germany. His property, and, arguably the winery, dates all the way back to 1560, when his ancestors grew grapes and raised cattle and farm animals like many other families in the area.
Wilhelm Sitzius is the 13th generation of his family to live on his estate, which today comprises some 16 hectares (approximately 22.5 acres), about an average size for a Nahe Valley Winery. Weingut Sitzius produces around 8,400 cases each year, again about average for most small producers of the area.
Both Wilhelm and his attractive wife Sonja, 55, are winemakers and their operation is a family affair. Additional fruit comes from a number of vineyards around the small villages of Oberhausen, Neiderhausen and Langenlonsheim. Some of the vineyards have been in either Wilhelm or Sonja’s families for centuries.
‘The Nahe Valley (see Wine Region) is most distinct from the other wine producing areas,” Sitzius explained. ‘Our natural soils make us completely different. In the Mosel there is only one soil. So, too, is the Rhine---one soil. In the Nahe there are perhaps fifty different soils due to the volcanic actions over the last 450 million years. The turbulence has produced numerous pockets of great soils that allow us to grow varietals that prosper in such environments. The end result is that we have the ability to make some marvelous wines.”
While German only produces five percent red wine, the Nahe produces a bit more than 20 percent, thanks to the different soil compositions. This fact has caused Wilhelm to become a modern day pirate in seeking to make his wine quality even higher.
‘I have been able to travel to the likes of France, Italy, Spain and even South Africa. There, we were able to visit a number of each country’s wineries,” he added. I always take notes and watch closely how they produce their reds wines. I have really learned a lot from my travels. In Germany, it is unfortunate, but there is little red winemaking technique to learn from.”
The wines of Weinegut Sitzius have been very fortunate in wine competitions, particularly for so small an operation. If business continues well for his company, Sitzius intends to continue his current expansion to around 15,000 cases. He and his wife own family vineyards and also have excellent access to other top quality grapes in his region. Sitzius has singled out North America and Asia as potential targets for his winery’s expansion.
Winegut Sitzius also operates a wonderful small restaurant on the premises, one that specializes in local cuisine and wine pairings. The facility operates eight months a year, on Friday through Sunday. A local guesthaus is located less than a hundred yards away from the winery for anyone desiring an overnight stay in a completely idyllic setting.
While Weingut Sitzius trends more forward than most of its neighbors, the reason for its success can be traced to its communal approach to farming and wine production. Wilhelm Sitzius maintains a close relationship with practically everyone in the area that is in the wine business, even his closest competitors. When problems arise, each neighbor chips in to help the other, a tradition that originated many centuries ago. When Wilhelm’s father, also named Wilhelm Sitzius, began serious winery production at Weingut Sitzius sometime following the end of World War II, he instilled in the business a spirit of cooperation that has held through modern times. In the mind of present-day owners Wilhelm and Sonja Sitzius, it is a lesson that they will never forget.
A Brief History of German Wines
When the wine world discovered the friendly taste of German liebfraumilch (literally mother’s milk) during the period of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, it was generally considered a boon for German wine growers and producers. Many German wine companies turned to production of the semi-sweet white wine as a means of growth and profit. It is largely agreed that this decision was in fact, a serious blow to the quality ideals concerning German wines held at the time by worldwide wine consumers.
While the inexpensive category of liebfraumilch grew and prospered, this was not the case for the rest of the German wine industry. Sales of their higher quality predikat wines began sliding downward and have remained so for the past three decades. Also, in 1971, the German Wine Institute (DWI) installed a new set of regulations that was intended to aid Germany’s higher quality wines. The new rules dictated that certain restrictions regarding sweetness and appellation be followed, all intended to provide information for wine consumers.
Many believe that, in the long run, these new regulations actually hindered German wines in that they required too much information and therefore cluttered wine labels with semi-important information. In any event, wine sales slowly drifted downward and German wines began to be excluded from conversations concerning truly great wines.
This was unfortunate, because the greatness of German wines could always be found at the top of its production. This factor has not changed one single bit during this entire scenario. Great auslese, beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese wines continued to be produced that were among the finest dessert wines in the world. The immaculate eiswein sustained its limited annual production and was still considered one of the great wines of the world.
It is only recently that German wines have begun to regain their rightful place among the world’s elite wines. With the liebfraumilch explosion petered out, German producers have returned to the art of making fresh marvelous tasting wines that have suddenly bounced back in favor among the world’s wine connoisseurs. Happily, the downfall of German wines was not limited to all German wine producing regions. Many small regions were simply excluded due to their compactness and limited production.
This month’s International Wine Club Selection Region, German’s Nahe Valley, was one such case. It made no sense for its producers to change their winemaking methods, they were simply too small to benefit from the craze that engulfed the poor liebfraumilch wine.
Nahe Valley’s small producers were mostly family run operations and this additional fact saved them from the fate of their Mosel and Rhine brothers. Their wines continued to be extremely high quality and were almost all consumed within the borders of their country.
Today, a few Nahe Valley vintners have begun the process of exporting their wines, a timely decision given the reemergence of better quality German wines. It is a delight to offer our International Wine Club Members the wines of Weinegut Sitzius, one of Nahe Valley’s premier growers and vintners.
The Flag of Germany
Germany’s flag is a tricolor, consisting of three horizontal bands of the national colors: black, red and gold. The colors can be traced back to the Napoleonic wars, in which the soldiers wore black coats with a red braid and gold buttons. It is rumored that the colors also have symbolic meaning, yellow standing for generosity, red standing for bravery and strength, and black standing for determination.
The German flag was officially adopted in 1918 by the German National Assembly, only to be abolished in 1933, and then reintroduced in 1950 by the German Parliament. East and West Germany had identical flags until 1959, when East Germany added their Coat of Arms to the center. It remained as such until the reunification in 1990, when the original tricolor was named.
Germany: Fun Facts!
• Germany is Europe’s largest economy.
• There are over 300 kinds of bread in Germany.
• Germans are the second largest beer consumers in the world, after the Irish.
• There are 35 dialects of the German language.
• Munich is further north than any major U.S. city (excluding Alaska).
• German is the official language of 5 countries: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. It is also spoken in Northern Italy and the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.
• Beer is officially considered a food in Bavaria.
• Germany is the first country to adopt Daylight Saving Time (DST) in 1916.
• The first Oktoberfest was a wedding celebration for Prince Ludwig of Bavaria.
• German is the third most commonly taught language worldwide.
• There are over 150 castles in Germany.
• Germany shares borders with Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland.
• There are over 82 million people in Germany, making it the most densely populated country in the world.
• 70 percent of German highways have no speed limit.
Wilhelm and Sonja Sitzius - Husband & Wife Winemaking Team
It is somewhat unique to have a husband/wife tandem serve as winemakers at a particular estate. This is the case with Weinegut Sitzius, where both Wilhelm and Sonja Sitzius have degrees in winemaking. Both attended the renowned university at nearby Bad Kreuznach and received their winemaking degrees after six years of study.
Both must agree on the final blends for their wines. Also, Wilhelm declared in a recent interview that his wife has an excellent palate for what they desire in their wines.
Reading a German Wine Label
Although German wine labels may seem confusing at first glance, they actually provide a wealth of information on the wine and the quality one can expect. Although not required on the label, many German wines state their level of ripeness (refers to the sugar levels at harvest), whether the wine is dry (trocken) or off-dry (halbtrocken), and the vineyard or village name from where the grapes were grown.
German wine labels also usually include the grape varietal name (such as Riesling), which is an anomaly in Europe where wines are typically classified by and named for their region of origin.