The North – Pietershof Belgium

This is the first entry in a series of posts following award winning Domein Pietershof in Belgium throughout 2017, from winter to harvest and beyond, describing the challenges of making wine in Northern Europe. What does it take to fill bottles with wine after a year of hard work, hopes and despairs?

The entry on Belgium in Jancis Robinson’s latest The Oxford Companion to Wine has the same length as French oenologist Michel Rolland. A whole country, historically known for importing large amounts of Bordeaux wine, equally important to the man who convinced numerous Bordeaux estates into producing overripe, deep-coloured red wine?

Winegrowing is still small scale business in a country that hardly hits the news headlines, except for Brussels becoming more known for terrorism than tourism. With a population of over 11 million people, exports account for over 80% of the total economic output. And wine is certainly not one of them.

Although Romans already planted vines and tried cultivating grapes this far north, Belgium’s position at 50 degrees latitude is on the very edge of what is considered as suitable winemaking country. Despite climatical challenges, the national vineyard area keeps growing, while at the same time the quality of the wine keeps improving.

The vineyards of Domein Pietershof are situated near Teuven, in the triangle of cities Aachen, Liege, Maastricht, surrounded by nature in the quiet Voerstreek. The vineyard is beautifully situated on a slope, wedged between a local county road and a small forest. On a sunny day, it is easy to forget you are in the low lands.

It is a small winery with approximately 2 ha planted with vitis vinifera only, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc. There are also other varieties planted in smaller amounts, like Pinot Noir and Riesling, to be able to creatively expand the range of wines with e.g. a rosé or sparkling style.

Founder Piet Akkermans has built a reputable winery, whose wines make it to many restaurant tables in the BeNeLux. Recently, the dream of Dutchman Albert Meijer and his wife Rianne to join the ranks of winegrowers came true when they took over Pietershof. Meijer, an early retired cardiologist, fell in love with the location and the fact that the wines regularly win awards certainly helped in deciding to buy it. In order to smoothen the ownership transition, Piet Akkermans will help out for a couple of years.

Curious to know what it feels like to grow grapes in a country without viticultural heritage, I agreed with Albert to write on his work in the vineyard and cellar. What are the challenges, especially compared with warmer climate winegrowers?

The next post will focus on the winter months, when the all-important and drastic winter pruning takes place.

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