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Christian Wolf, Director Degustation at MUNDUS VINI GmbH, told the D+ Editor-in-chief about his career, organizational features of contest-tastings, innovations and plans.
Drinks+: Christian, you have been working in the international wine business for more than 10 years and most of your professional career as a Director Degustation at MUNDUS VINI GmbH. Tell us a few words about yourself. What attracts you in the wine business? Why did you decide to connect your life with the wine?
Christian Wolf: I grew up in the second largest wine growing region in Germany, the Pfalz (Palatina). My grandfather owned 1 ha of vineyards, planted with Riesling, Silvaner, Scheurebe, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Dornfelder as well as some Portugieser. He was a member of a small wine cooperative. During my school time I was working a lot in the vineyard to help my grandparents. On the weekends, I helped them as well working in the wine shop of the cooperative. My grandfather also produced his “house wine”, about 200 liters per year, not very tasty, but it was his own! This was when I began to fall in love with wine. In a professional sense I really started to plan my career in the wine business after finishing school and doing my social service at the wine school Neustadt, which is also a research center for viniculture. The head of it is Prof. Ph.D. Ulrich Fischer, who is today my colleague in the board of MUNDUS VINI. After finishing my study at Geisenheim University, I worked seven years in the wine trade, before I joined the team of MUNDUS VINI and Meininger Verlag.
After finishing my study at Geisenheim University, I worked seven years in the wine trade, before I joined the team of MUNDUS VINI and Meininger Verlag.
What wine makes so special and different from anything else I know, is three things: the people, the influence of the nature, the endless diversity.
I love the people in the wine business, those are different to the people from any other business I know. Of course, everybody needs to earn money with his business, but I love the passion and the collegiality you feel every day in the wine business.
D+: How did you become a part of Meininger Verlag team?
C.W.: This was quite funny. I worked for a major wine importer as the head product manager for the portfolio, which was mainly France with some famous wineries from Champagne, Burgundy, Alsace and some more. A member of the management of Meininger Verlag and one of my former lecturers at Geisenheim university phoned me in the office, asking me if I would be interested in a meeting with Christoph Meininger to talk about the position of Director Degustation at Meininger Verlag and MUNDUS VINI. Before I decided to start at Meininger, I had some really good meetings and discussions with Christoph Meininger and his sister Andrea Meininger-Apfel. As you know, this is the fifth generation of family business. We felt from the start that it will fit 100 percent. And Neustadt, where the publication house is located, is my hometown, so I was really coming back to my origins.
I love the passion and the collegiality you feel every day in the wine business.
D+: What were the first changes at MUNDUS VINI processes with your arrival at the company? Perhaps you developed a plan to improve the system of the competition, supplemented the team, attracted new participants, new wine regions?
C.W.: First of all, I have to say that my predecessors in this position really did a great job. MUNDUS VINI is a fantastic, a unique competition. All the team and the judges feel like a family. Of course, we did some major changes also at the beginning, like implementing a new marketing strategy, building new and more advantages to the participants and also focusing not only on the main wine growing regions, but taking care also about growing regions like Armenia or at the moment Czech Republic.
D+: Tell us more about your work as a Director Degustation at MUNDUS VINI GmbH. I would like to know more about the team, because organizing, conducting and summing up the results of the competition as we see year after year is a huge job.
C.W.: To be honest, sometimes I am really happy that nobody really knows how much effort we put in this competition. Some may say this is too much looking for the details, but exactly this is what I want to push and which differs us from all the others.
Our team is not as big as someone might think, but as we are working over the whole year with this team, it makes many things very effective and detailed at one time.
The organization for the competition start two years before, the main part about half a year before we start tasting. Inviting the perfect judges for the competition, checking the wine samples, building the flights and the right teams for the specific wines and origins is a part we are investing a lot of time. The communication after the competition is getting more and more important, as we see a lot of wine competitions out there and we improved and expanded our marketing activities and the support to the participants very much over the last five years.
The most important maybe is to have a very good team. This takes of course some time, as all the work for MUNDUS VINI has to be spread over several shoulders. We have people in the team taking care about the judges, other about the delivered wine samples, other about the development of our tasting system and marketing. More and more important is the contact to the wine regions and the winegrowers. If we do not listen to them, we will not be able to help them in the future.
First of all, I have to say that my predecessors in this position really did a great job. MUNDUS VINI is a fantastic, a unique competition. All the team and the judges feel like a family.
D+: From your point of view, what is the most difficult part in the MUNDUS VINI organization?
C.W.: Hard to say. As I mentioned before, we spend a lot of time in finding and inviting the perfect judges. Short time before MUNDUS VINI it is the most difficult to build the tasting panels and the flights for the competition. And you always have to take care to see “the whole thing”, if you get lost in too many details, it will not work.
D+: What is the dynamics of the growth in participants’ number over the past few years?
C.W.: At the first MUNDUS VINI Tasting about 20 years ago we tasted around 3,000 wines. With the start of the Spring Tasting in 2014, which is in perfect time short before ProWein, we increased to a total number of wines of 11,000 wines a year. MUNDUS VINI has established itself as one of the major international wine competitions.
D+: What new wine-growing regions, from which countries have been actively participating in the competition in recent years?
C.W.: Since two years we see increasing numbers of wine samples from China, but also from the Scandinavian countries like Denmark or Sweden. In times of climate change those areas are getting more and more suitable for wine growing. As a competition taking place on European mainland, I feel very happy that we are attracting more and more wines also from “New World” countries like Australia, Chile, New Zealand. But since five years we really see significant numbers of wines from Eastern Europe. In quantity but much more in quality. Wines from Armenia, Czech Republic and some others are coming more and more into the competition and the quality is very good. We will hear a lot more from this wines in the next years.
D+: As for the jury members. Professionals from all over the world several times a year come to take part in the international competition and do tremendous work in a blind tasting of all around the world wines’ (many of them more than for 20 times already). What can you say about judges? Did you update the list? Perhaps, the jury members have been supplemented in recent years.
C.W.: As mentioned before, MUNDUS VINI feels like a family. Over the 20 years we built up a unique team of judges from more than 50 countries at the moment. They all have different background, come from different cultures, are different age and so much more things. But when we meet in Neustadt/Germany, we are one family. Just to give you an example: we all know about the situation in Israel and Lebanon. Since so many years we have some in the jury from both countries. I do not want to say that we are the “United Nations of Wine”, that doesn’t really fit. But we are a place where politics doesn’t mean anything, just the people that we are.
At the first MUNDUS VINI Tasting about 20 years ago we tasted around 3,000 wines. With the start of the Spring Tasting in 2014, which is in perfect time short before ProWein, we increased to a total number of wines of 11,000 wines a year.
In my five years there were a lot of changes in the group. Some, as you mentioned in your questions, were part of MUNDUS VINI since the beginning and we are so thankful that they believed in our idea at a very early stage. But of course, we have to change the group year by year. For the Spring Tasting in February 2020 we accepted 270 judges, 40 of them are with us for the first time.
To say it in one sentence: over the last five years MUNDUS VINI is getting more female and younger.
You know, still most of the people in the wine business are men, but this Spring Tasting 40% of the group is female.
D+: Last year, MUNDUS VINI expanded the geography of the competition. German winemakers presented their wines in the Scandinavian market at the MUNDUS VINI NORDIC competition. Why Northern Europe? Are there any plans for further expansion on other continents?
C.W.: The MUNDUS VINI NORDIC competition is organised in cooperation with the German Wine Institute – Wines of Germany. Most of the German wine export goes to the US, Netherlands and Great Britain. But if you sum up the export volume to Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, the Nordic countries are number 2 after US. The aim of the competition is to have more attention to German wine in the Nordic countries. Special about the competition is, that we only invited judges from those four countries. MUNDUS VINI always wants to give an international judgment on the wines, which is perfect. But with this competition, which only aims to a specific region, we wanted to give the “Nordic” taste into. And I worked very well.
For the year 2020 we decided not to do it in the “Nordic” countries, because we believe that a biennial rhythm makes more sense.
This year we are going to organise MUNDUS VINI EAST, which focuses on the Eastern European markets, supplemented by countries like Belarus, Russia and some others.
Some people in those countries know very well about German wine, but we see a lot of more potential for German wine. Those countries are growing and it is not very far to go there.
The current economic situation with the US, a decreasing Chinese market, a lot of regulations and tariffs is not very satisfying for the German wine growers. With MUNDUS VINI EAST we believe to “open the eyes” of the German wine growers for high interesting consumers and the chance to have German wine more and more well placed in those countries.
D+: What would be your advice to those who plan to taste wine blindly, how to develop the necessary skills, is it worth relying on knowledge and experience, trust only sensations, or use all this together?
C.W.: First of all, it is very important to know the different aromas. If you have never smelt and ate a banana, how can you find it in your description of a wine??? The easiest way is to find some friends, buy some bottles of wine and taste them. In a second step, buy a “neutral” wine, get some apple in one glass, some banana in the other, some cherries and so on. This is how we train sensory skill on our consumer wine fairs.
If you are interested in getting more knowledge, I know so many wine merchants all over the world offering wine tastings, wine dinner and some also wine courses. Don’t be shy, if you don’t taste, you will never know.
D+: When you are not in a process of organizing a tasting, what do you like to do most – is there a hobby?
C.W.: We are in the lucky situation to have the vineyards and the forest (Pfaelzer Wald) in front of the door. I love hiking with my family through the vineyards and especially on the Pfalz forest. There we have the so-called Waldhuette (forest cottage), which are offering wine, small snacks and typical Palatinate food. You always meet friends or you find some new.
Before I started at Meininger Verlag, I loved skiing, but as I have full program with the Spring Tasting in February and ProWein in March, it is impossible now.
I love hiking with my family through the vineyards and especially on the Pfalz forest. There we have the so-called Waldhuette (forest cottage), which are offering wine, small snacks and typical Palatinate food. You always meet friends or you find some new.
D+: What kind of wine do you drink with your family? Favorite wine region (Germany, World).
C.W.: OK, I am German, a grew up in the Pfalz region, which is famous for its great Riesling wines from some of the best single vineyards in the world. But during my work at a fine wine merchant, which focuses on France and German sweet wines, I really felt in love with German Riesling sweet wines. If you ever tasted a matured Mosel Spätlese or Kabinett, you will understand.
Some of my favorite red wines come from Burgundy, I love the fineness of Pinot Noir. But for my private consumption, the most important thing is the story of the wine. I want to know and to understand the soil, the vineyard, the vintage, the idea of the wine maker, the history, let us call it the “terroir”, which is much more than only the geography. If you want, call me an “intellectual wine drinker”.
MUNDUS VINI was founded by Meininger Verlag 18 years ago and has been one of the most important wine competitions in the world. A highly qualified international jury comprising oenologists, wine-makers, professional wine traders, sommeliers and expert journalists, among them Editor-in-chief of Drinks+ magazine, taste the wines, sparkling wines and fortified wines in ‘blind’ tasting rounds.
The 11,000 wines that are submitted every year are clear proof of the importance this competition has now achieved in Germany and all over the world.
Photo Credit: Ad Lumina