Although its Alexandre de Musset crémant was first made back in 1995, the Schumacher-Knepper estate never really defined itself as a sparkling wine specialist. All that has now changed with three new cuvées added to its portfolio since 2018, the latest of which came out in May!
Winemakers with land in Felsberg – that unusual, premium-quality terroir on the southern stretch of the Luxembourg Moselle near Wintrange – generally aspire to make great Rieslings rather than sparkling wines. That is why the Schumacher-Knepper estate has taken a little while to start producing fizz. “Our first bottles were produced in 1995, so we weren’t one of the pioneers,” smiles Frank Schumacher, who manages the family business with his sister Martine. “My father was at the helm at the time and was not immediately convinced that making crémant was a good idea,” he adds. However, he eventually changed his mind when he saw the success of fellow winemakers who were delighted by the local market’s ecstatic response to these new sparkling wines. “Thankfully, we didn’t miss the boat, which is just as well, as crémant quickly proved very profitable for us too,” he comments with satisfaction. It now represents around 25% of the estate’s total output.
For many years, the cellar only produced one cuvée christened Alexandre de Musset after the man who built the 16th century Château de Wintrange, which stands just opposite the estate. The blend of Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Riesling grapes is just right and the length of time it is left to mature on the lees (a minimum of fifteen months rather than the nine months required under regulations) gives it great finesse.
However, regardless of how good that lone crémant on the estate’s books may be, it ultimately proved insufficient given the diverse range of varieties produced on the Moselle. “There was demand for other cuvées among our customers, but we were not equipped to produce them,” acknowledges Frank Schumacher. “For a long time, our crémant was produced using another winemaker’s facilities, so in order to diversify our range we were left with no choice but to invest.”
Given the price of bottling, disgorging and corking machines, this required a significant outlay. The estate invested a total of €150,000 between 2015 and 2018, enabling it to operate as a standalone sparkling wine producer. “To ensure a return on such a significant investment, at least 15,000 bottles must be produced per year and we now supply about 50,000 under our own name and also on behalf of other independent winemakers with whom we collaborate,” he points out.
During this time, the bubbles decrease in size, the aromatic range expands, and the wine gains good length in the mouth.
The release of a Riesling cuvée in 2018 marked the first step in the estate’s moves to embrace sparkling wine. The Moselle’s king of grapes was chosen to reflect the estate’s identity: “Felsberg is ideal for growing Riesling grapes and producing wine from this variety is one of our very long-standing traditions. Since it somehow embodies our identity, it made sense to release a Riesling crémant.” This fresh and elegant cuvée sets the tone for a series of wines that progress like movements in an exquisite piece of music.
Last year, the Schumacher-Knepper estate added a crémant christened “Noblesse” to its range, which, as the name suggests, is unambiguously targeted at the premium market. Although its basic ingredients are the same as for the Alexandre de Musset crémant, using a blend of Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Riesling grapes, it is clearly distinguished by two key features. The first is Areo Riesling, which is used as an expedition liqueur. This is added after disgorging to top up the wine after removing the frozen lees from the neck of the bottle and also to provide a finishing touch. The expedition liqueur brings balance to the cuvée by adding new notes refining its flavour.
The Areo Riesling used is actually something of an oddity specific to this estate. Although not eligible for designation of origin as a straw wine (since Riesling grapes are prohibited for this type of wine in Luxembourg), it is made based on the same principle. Once harvested, the best grape clusters are dried on racks in the open air. Due to evaporation, the grapes dry and the juice reaches levels of concentration transforming it into true nectar. “We tried several different expedition liqueurs, but Areo provided the best results,” says Frank Schumacher, showing his appreciation. “It adds more volume and a very different flavour.”
The second factor that makes Noblesse worthy of its name is the patience the winemaker shows during the maturation process. “It matures for at least 24 months on the lees, enabling it to be classified as a vintage crémant,” explains Frank Schumacher. During this time, the bubbles decrease in size, the aromatic range expands, and the wine gains good length in the mouth.”
The investment in equipment and labour has paid off as these new offerings have quickly proved popular among customers. In fact, they have been so successful that the Schumacher-Knepper estate is having to further expand its facilities. “The crémants take up a lot of storage space and we don’t have much room left, so we have just started work on building a new warehouse in Wintrange.” Such is the price of success!