13 Sept 2010

Fur, Carbonara and African Maps at Friedensplatz

WINEMAKING ‘Bavarican’ Anthony Robert Hammond is the 46 year-old salt and pepper pony-tailed son of a US ‘ski bum who came to Europe and married a local’. Clad in a ‘Kulturefest 2010’ T-shirt with fly’s half undone, I must admit I misjudged his seriousness initially. However, as the 16 wine strong tasting unravelled over lunch of Catalan Carbonara prepared by adopted cook, Esther, it transpired his adherence to the riesling cause is relentless.

Via entry level wines under the Technicolor ‘Garage’ label, including formats like glass lemonade bottles, Hammond and wife, Simone lull newbies. ‘My winery’s not a monastery’ he said of the blue cube broken by African maps liberated from an old school. ‘And as soon as people start to laugh, that’s when you get them!’ His philosophy has made him friends, hence the recent steel drum grill for 600 at the winery.
Beyong a label depicting a beckoning pin-up by a painter of prostitutes is ‘Sugar Babe’, a ripe, accessible riesling from Rüdesheim. Laced with residual sugar, Hammond explained: ‘we like to tickle out a little kick at the end of ripening.’
Hammond believes making wine should be straightforward and democratic: ‘When I was working in a wine store in San Francisco, I saw guys carrying buckets of grapes from Sonoma to make their own wine, which was cool.’ Inspired, after a decade of his own efforts, production stands at 55,000 bottles drawn from five hectares (his first winery was an old ice store beside the river). But with a fourth child en-route, Hammond and Simone dream of doubling that. He said: ‘We can’t be the cool Garage in 20 years – we’re moving into fine tuning.’
After glancing to a sleepy rabbit which twitched its nose in its two floor hutch (macabrely, it takes its name of the previous occupant who expired from a heart attack) Hammond indicated incredulity towards the domestic market. ‘Germans won’t touch sweet wines - unlike the Norwegians who see you as a rock star!’ I feel his frustration at this form of sweet snobbery and was surprised to learn that rather than really treasure its own output Germany is the biggest wine importing country by volume according to Wein Markt wine writer, Werner Engelhard. 
But in taste there is truth. Named to honour the birth of son, Jacob, ’07 Beerenauslese Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck riesling from the more subtly packaged ‘Hammond’ range proved the jewel in the crown. Under a  crown closure was a ripe, nuanced, clear honey scented, succulent, princely, lengthy conduit to the same terroir worked by Johannes Leitz. It proved an eloquent match with freshly stolen diced peaches dabbed with pineapple jam. ‘It’s easy to make something big, but difficult to achieve subtlety,’ said Hammond, more to himself than me.
It had been a long, but interesting liquid journey during which I hadn’t ever been bored enough to check my Blackberry (Crackberry). Indeed, I began to appreciate how a recent party of Scandinavian journalists were so keen to remain in situ that they very nearly missed their flight home. I was dangerously close to their predicament...
Garage Winery: Friedensplatz 12, 65375 Oestrich-Winkel