Who: Jan Matthias Klein
What: A broad range from the Mosel, Germany
When: Since 2014
Jan Matthias Klein is based in Kröv, in the middle of the Mosel just a few kilometres east of the famous hillsides above Ürzig and Erden. It’s pretty much halfway between Trier and Koblenz which bookend the Mosel wine region. More important to Jan’s development as a winemaker, however, is the neighbouring village of Kinheim for it’s there that winemaker Rudi Trossen is based. Trossen went fully and publicly organic on taking over his family estate as a young man in the early 1980’s when it was thought physically, chemically, literally and financially impossible to farm Mosel vineyards organically – although, of course, historically they had been, and with greater biodiversity and more polyculture. Trossen also became the first in the region to make wines without sulfites in around 2010 encouraged by his Danish customers. Jan was influenced by Trossen and began his own project with different vineyards from his family estate.
The Klein family estate is Staffelter Hof which was founded in 862, making it one of the oldest wineries in Germany if not in Europe. The Klein family has been here for a couple of hundred years and today make beautifully pure and classical organic Rieslings. Jan’s father had started working basically organically in the 1960’s in a typical turn of distrust for the then-touted benefits of pesticides and insecticides.
Jan completed the evolution of his father’s work towards organic and the winery has been certified since 2012. He also worked to reduce the sulfur levels typical in Mosel Rieslings. And then launched a completely alternative range of natural wines in 2014. These wines are made without any additions of sulfur, without fining or filtration, and with native yeasts. Stylistically they’re radically different from mainstream Mosel. While some are made from Riesling, others are made from grapes including Muller Thurgau, Pinot Noir, Pinot Madeleine, Sauvignon Blanc, Kerner, Sylvaner as well as crossings like Bacchus, Regent; there’s even a blend of Portuguese grapes Arinto and Fernando Pires.
The wines, and blends, reflect Jan’s tireless quest to find the best solutions for a fast evolving situation in the vineyard on two levels. One is abandonment and lack of interest by an older generation, the other is climate change (at very least instability, with drought one year and floods the next, and regularly much higher temperatures than thirty years ago).
Jan’s solutions also include encouraging and nurturing young people around him. Until 2021 he had a young female Peruvian cellar master. Several young winemakers make their wines in his cellar. He supports a complex land exchange programme where young people can take over vines from locals who are no longer interested to work them.
He wears all his hats with a light touch, a twinkling eye, great humour, and curiosity for the wider world around – witness the political or pop references on his utterly alternative wine labels.
Hat-tip to his very savvy British importer Nic Rizzi of Modal Wines for getting us into these wines in 2017 when they were still new and relatively undiscovered.