Andreas Stanita / translated by Dorothée LanghoffJulian Beekmann

Palatinate spirits

There are about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way and there are exactly 44 in the district of Südliche Weinstraße (Southern Wine Route). In the town of Hochstadt close to Landau each of the 44 stars stands for an ingredient of a beverage that is clearly a rarity in the local wine-growing area: Palatinate Gin.

 

Palatinate mornings are vibrant on Saturdays. Visitors from across the region flock to the little villages in search of excellent wine. Some of them target certain locations; others let themselves be guided by name boards decorated voluptuously with vines on the façades. “May I offer you a taste? A St. Laurent for example? A tangy red wine with cherry and cassis aroma and pleasant notes of chocolate and oak.” Dominic Stern is an old hand at describing wines from his own cultivation. Naturally—because the 35 year-old started to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps already at the age of 19, when he entered the parental company.

Winemaker and founder of 44 Star Gin: Dominic Stern.

“The quality of our region’s wines has increased tremendously over the past decades. My grandpa was a cooper; he made wooden barrels and tubs for fellow winemakers. Hard to imagine this today.” Dominic knows the stories from the time, when Palatinate wines were not showered with international prize medals yet. “Palatinate Riesling has gained an excellent standing internationally. I want to achieve this reputation with our red wines as well. I travel a lot with fellow wine growers: to Spain, across France, and lately through Hungary. We visit wine-growing estates and exchange experiences. They are usually surprised when I tell them that I concentrate on my red wine. Clearly, there is room for improvement, but we have come to keep up with some of the established drops already.”

Just imagine foreign colleague’s astonishment when Dominic pulls out a colourless half-litre bottle filled with a liquid clear as glass from his luggage: the 44 Star Gin. “Gin is a real winner. There are new varieties on the market every month and German distilleries have tried their hand at gin for a while. I was one of the first wine growers in the Palatinate to take this bold step in 2014.”

The red and white wine bottles have disappeared form the bar. Two glasses with ice cubes took their place. Skilfully slicing some lemon zest with a peeling knife, Dominic turned from a wine grower into an experienced bartender. Five centilitres for each glass, lemon peel on top, an adroit stir and filled up with Spanish tonic water from a little can—Dominic’s guests seem to be teleported from tranquil Hochstadt to a trendy, urban bar in Berlin-Kreuzberg.

“Gin production started offas a crackpot idea. There are not many bars here, but I pick up these trends during my trips. I got more and more enthusiastic about gin and started to taste various sorts. In 2014 I came up with the idea of creating my own sort, give it a try at least.”

“As much as I am fascinated by gin, wine remains my first love.”

Today, production of the about 100,000 wine bottles per year is mainly Dominic’s sphere of responsibility. His father, Wolfgang, therefore attends to his own second passion: the production and refinement of fruit brandy. Cherry, apple, peach, Zwetschge plum or mirabelle—no Palatinate fruit is safe from being mashed, fermented and carefully distilled by him. With the same attention, the senior master produces pomace brandy, distillates of lees and other brandies. “I had the equipment for gin production from my father’s work. I was only lacking the know-how about gin.” According to the motto ‘nothing is impossible’ Dominic started to familiarize himself autodidactically with gin in 2014.

“I knew form the beginning that I wanted our gin to be based on flavouring ‘Botanicals’ from the region: Palatinate ingredients such as sweet chestnuts, figs and citrus fruits growing in our gardens add a distinctive aroma to the spirit. As the name 44 Star suggests, we apply a total of 44 Botanicals. The secret of the aroma composition is, however, the ratio of the ingredients rather than the ingredients themselves—and I won’t give anything away!” Traditionally, there are a variety of permitted production methods, two of which are combined in the Stern estate: maceration and percolation. “Explained in a simplified way, maceration means that the Botanicals are soaked in alcohol whereas in percolation the Botanicals are in a filter through which the alcoholic vapour moves.”

The gin lovers at the bar follow along with Dominic’s explanations attentively and they hardly notice how the wine grower tops up their glasses inconspicuously. “The first attempt had a fairly strong finish, but gin production is a learning process. Today I am very satisfied with the result. We have already won some prizes with this product. And I find myself constantly thinking about a second gin type or about the idea of refining gin through maturing it in oak wine barrels. Unfortunately I just don’t have time for these projects at the moment—much as I am fascinated by gin, wine remains my first love.”

For Dominic, the number of Botanicals used in his gin was crucial for the choice of its name. The figure 44 is, however, also the alcoholic content of the citrus-fresh juniper brandy. So, if you are heading for the Palatinate for a wine-tasting session, look out for drink mixing if you don’t want to see even more stars. One new star is born indeed in the German gin sky, way up in the municipality of Hochstadt, above the vines of the Stern wine-growing estate.


www.44stargin.de

www.weingut-stern.de