Et is shortly before noon when the atmosphere in the former freight depot at Bernkastel train station brightens even more than it used to. Almost unnoticed, the man entered the room that the winegrowers of the Bernkasteler Ring had expected more than any other when they presented the wines of the 2021 vintage on the Tuesday after Pentecost. The longer the seemingly concentrated visitor walks from stand to stand with a tasting glass in hand, the more often he selects wines with a sure eye in order to taste them, the more he makes short notes, the more eyes are drawn to Karl-Josef Krötz .
It’s been a long time since “Kalli” was one of them and worked after school in the family winery in Neef. In 1977, at the age of 20, he returned to the narrow valley as the youngest graduate of what was then known as the Viticulture Teaching and Research Institute in Geisenheim am Rhein. As a cellar master, he then braced himself against the almost overwhelming “sweet and cheap” wave with which the big wineries were supposed to ruin the reputation of this wine-growing region as well. The wines that Krötz vinified in the Lenz-Dahm winery in Pünderich got by with little or no residual sugar. They tasted all the more like Riesling and slate.
Off to the north
But after 32 years he said goodbye to the homeland of wine. The graduate viticulture engineer from the Moselle had applied for a position in northern Germany, albeit for one that is hard to find anywhere else in the world of wine. In name alone it is as exclusive as the office of Bishop of Rome, who only has to share his papal title with the head of the Copts. Aside from Lübeck, there is only a “Ratskellermeister” in Bremen, where a municipal wine cellar was first mentioned in a document in 1406. But as much as the move to the Weser was a journey into the unknown, Krötz has remained connected to his homeland to this day. After all, his job, which is more of a calling, always brings him back to the Rhine and its tributaries.
As in the past, only wine from Germany is served in the Ratskeller. And as always, the spectrum ranges from simple Zechwein to the finest crus from world-famous locations. The Ratskellermeister makes sure it stays that way. In the huge labyrinth that stretches from the basement of the town hall under the market square almost to the cathedral, no wine is stored that the master himself has not approved of. “You have to build a collection from the bottom up,” says Krötz with the experience of a man who can’t be fooled when it comes to wine, neither in Bremen nor in Bernkastel nor at the annual preliminary tasting of the Große Gewächse of the Association of German Prädikat Wineries (VDP). He has experienced too much for that: starting with the wines of the 1982 vintage, many of which were damaged by the pesticide Orthen, through the wild times when the first winegrowers in Germany experimented with barrique barrels, to the return to the great tradition of the top German wines, which in the 1960s made them appear as the best white wines in the world.