2019 marks three anniversaries for Guy Krier and his wife Gaby (Krier-Welbes estate in Ellange-Gare). It has been 20 years since the cellar was established at its current address, 10 years since certification of the estate’s organic conversion, and 5 years since its wine bar opened. It was high time for a look through the photo album!
Guy Krier took over his father’s vineyard in 1993. This seemed a logical step for someone who represented the family’s 10th generation of wine-growers. However, things are not always as clear-cut as they seem. After all, what does such a long heritage actually mean? This is not such an easy question to answer… “While it’s true I am the 10th generation of wine-makers, that actually means nothing,” he claims. “Each time the business changes hands, the new generation must show what it can do and prove its potential and creativity. After all, not many of the older generation are around today.”
His father, François, passed on 3.5 hectares of vines to him with an equal split between Rivaner and Elbling grapes. It was clear in Guy’s mind that a complete overhaul was required. Not only did he need a new cellar (it was too small and it had not been passed on to him anyway), he was also unhappy with the grape varieties planted. “I remember telling my father to plant Pinot Grigio and he replied that it was just a passing trend. Twenty-six years later, I don’t have nearly enough to meet demand!”
The estate’s recent history provides us with a snapshot of the development of an ambitious business. Virtually nothing remains of the initial 3.5 hectares. Next year, Guy Krier will have 12.7 hectares of organic land and has just begun converting a further hectare of Pinot Grigio. “Nowadays, only 0.8% of the estate is devoted to Elbling grapes and 3.5% to Rivaner grapes,” he observes.
Previously, people bought wine by the litre based more on the price than the wines themselves. […] Those customers, They have stopped coming.
These changes perfectly mirror those seen in the Moselle region as a whole. The age of high-yield wine-growing and limited quality requirements is now long gone. Guy Krier tried it … and saw the effects on his customer base. “Previously, people bought wine by the litre based more on the price than the wines themselves,” he reminisces. Those customers were mainly Belgians who filled up their car boots after exchanging their coupons at the bank! They have stopped coming.”
This trend has been bolstered by the estate’s organic conversion certified in 2009. Since the production costs of organic cultivation are higher than those of conventional farming, the price of wine inevitably rose. This also lost him a number of old customers. “But others came who were more interested in the quality of my wines than the price,” he retorts. Nowadays, he has a shortage of wines rather than buyers, proof that he made the right decision! “It is only early autumn and we have already run out of several of our wines…,” he sighs.
Such circumstances call for further growth. Guy Krier is already working on plans for a new storage shed for his machinery behind the building, which will free up space in the wine-making area. The estate has not yet completely fulfilled its potential, so why stop while things are going so well?
“I took over my father’s vineyard in 1988, but not the cellar. I had to find a new building. In any case, I only had 3.5 hectares at the time and wanted to expand the estate. My father’s cellar in Mondorf was the right size for the estate as it was, but too small for what I wanted to do. There was not enough space for making crémant for instance.”
“I bought this building on 14 July 1993 from a wine merchant called Société Vinicole. The former owner made the purchase conditional on us keeping his business running, so my elder brother took it over until 2006. I was impressed by the potential of the old walls and the 5,000m2 of land that came with it. However, the building itself was in an appalling condition, so it had to be completely renovated. The floors were in poor repair, the electricity meter crackled so much it’s a miracle it did not catch fire, we had to fetch water because everything was connected to a well, the building needed three new roofs, etc. My younger cousin Bob Strotz drew up the plans for the fermenting room and the press room. I had already taken out loans to buy a new pneumatic press, stainless steel vats, a tractor and new vines. I also had to lease a shed for my machinery. It wasn’t easy to find several hundred thousand euros at the age of 26, and we had to make a lot of personal sacrifices.”
“In order to save money, we did a lot of the work with our workers. We did all the demolition work, so all that was left for the contractors to do was to rebuild! We removed skip-loads of rubble and empty bottles. The warehouses were full of them – it was a real mess! However, we did have one nice surprise when we stumbled upon 120 perfectly preserved bottles of anniversary vintage Henriot champagne. It was at least 25 years old and tasted wonderful!”
“The upstairs apartment was completely renovated and we moved in in 1995. However, the cellar was not operational until 1999. During the six years between buying the new cellar and moving in, we split our operations between the Mondorf cellar where we made the wines and the Ellange-Gare cellar, where we labelled and stored them. We did all this with old equipment that my father always managed to keep in working order. Fortunately, both he and his former customers supported me.”
“When we moved in, I brought five 1000-litre barrels and one 600-litre barrel from Mondorf, but left the large ones as they were past their best. I was happy to replace them with stainless steel vats, but when I tasted the wine, I realised that wood was still a good option … so I bought some 500-litre barrels. Although I do not aim to produce very woody wines, I’m very much in favour of ageing adding finesse rather than intensity.”
“The “Wäistuff” (wine bar) was the most recent addition built in 2014. In 2008, an architect who supervised work on Henri’s cellar (editor’s note: Henri Ruppert, his brother-in-law, a wine-grower in Schengen) told me I had a nice estate but lacked visibility. He was quite right! Later, over dinner at Jean-Paul’s house (editor’s note: Jean-Paul Krier, his cousin, an organic wine-grower in Bech-Kleinmacher), one of his friends showed us photos of his new house. I was so impressed that I called the architect the next day. That architect was Jos Bleser, a Luxembourgian living in Innsbruck, where he runs a company specialising in mountain hotels. He said it was perfect timing as he was about to build the new L’Écluse hotel in Stadtbredimus and would therefore be visiting Luxembourg more often. A lot has changed for us thanks to this Wäistuff. It attracts many customers and has encouraged business growth.”