Meadow fruit apple, Lad’s love, Red Mustard, Sweet Woodruff, Douglas Fir Tips, Chokeberry, Blackcurrant twigs…..not to mention all the ancient pear varieties whose names still remain unpronounceable! This was not going to be the usual Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir trip!
The early flight to Stuttgart had been slightly delayed, it was early June and I’d just been picked up by Jörg Geiger at the airport. I was about to enter a different and unknown world of drink experiences at first hand.
We drove from Stuttgart towards the small village of Schlat in southwest Germany, which took us alongside the foothills of the Swabian hills which stretch north for over 100 miles (I’d never heard of them either!). The scenery was enchanting in a cosy, lush, rolling kind of way. Lots of small farms and villages, castles perched on hilltops and meadows everywhere, full of ancient looking apple and pear trees.
This is the setting for Jörg, whose family can be traced back at least to the 1600s in the village of Schlat. Jörg is ‘of this place’ and ‘from this land’, and his ancestors would have been making plenty of apple and pear spirits (schnapps), sparkling wines from Bratbirne heritage pears as well as ciders and liqueurs. Whilst Jörg still does produce these, he has taken the family tradition in an innovative new direction, adding ‘Pri Secco’ non-alcoholic sparkling juice drinks, using the fruits, herbs and spices that grow in the Swabian hills.
Apparently, to be Swabian conjures up a unique combination of traits: ingenuity, precision and patience, and the ability to make enjoyment from whatever you have nearby. This is of course Jörg all over.
BIODIVERSITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Many small farms populate the hills, where the heritage fruit varieties grow, scattered across the meadows. Of course these farmers are only able to maintain these meadows and fruit trees within (and get their organic certification) if it is financially viable. To help save and preserve the meadows and wider environment, Jörg pays a very good price to the farmers for their rare apple and pear varieties that grow on their land. All varieties have to be sorted and identified, and each has a price, with Jörg’s team confirming quality at delivery point. Amazingly, he now works with over 600 farmers! Consequently, Jörg is well known in the region (bordering on local celebrity), and is helping to preserve the landscape structure and biodiversity, as without demand for the fruit, many of these majestic fruit trees would disappear.
Of course the trees are an important part of the overall ecosystem, and the whole area, which covers seven different counties, is also now a bird sanctuary. Anticipating future demand requires forward planning, as the trees take at least 15-30 years to become fully established, and with climate change bringing milder winters, and more intense summer heat, Jörg is also planning for this, by grafting some heritage fruit varieties from warmer regions onto his fast growing rootstocks.
PRI SECCO – NO ALCOHOL, BUT WHAT IS IN IT?
Heritage meadow apple and pear fruits of particular varieties, take centre stage. Importantly these varieties have less sugar, but are rich in tannins, and have plenty of lively acidity. The juice blends once made, are rounded off, enhanced and complemented by adding herbs, flowers and blossoms gathered from the wild, in those same meadows. For example, additions such as Douglas fir tips, rosehip, juniper, sloe and blackcurrant twigs are but a few used in the organic Pri Seccos we buy. As with every good recipe, there are few additional and secret, spice enrichments! Link to products
The final juice mixes are then ‘pearl carbonated’, a special technique meaning that the bubbles added are kept small and fine (think good Champagne kind of bubbles, rather than fizzy water). This fine carbonation is important in lifting the flavours and for livening the mouthfeel too.
Pri Secco speciality drinks have been made for over 12 years, with continuous development and research. Recipe combinations have been extended and refined and there are now seasonal Pri Seccos too. Only since 2015 and partly due to the complications of certification, the first organic versions were launched, and Jörg has erected an impressive new building for all the in-house production. Unbelievably, Jörg and family also run a hotel and restaurant back in Schlat (highly recommended) and it is here we get to taste all 30 or so Cuvées from his Pri Secco range. I have to say I was massively impressed with the purity, balance and unique flavour combinations on offer, some of which have been specially developed to match with local food dishes. Particular highlights for me being the Cuvée 23 with Rhubarb (great match for sweets and desserts), Cuvée 17 with Celeriac, a fantastic pairing with root vegetables, and braised meats. The list goes on with beetroot, cucumber, cherry, strawberry, parsley, nettle, gooseberry leaf and more….. a liquid three course meal!
Being able to visit the region with Jörg and to hear his story, see the ancient trees, walk in those meadows and taste the flavour creations was a real pleasure and privilege. He is a true craftsman, some might say alchemist even, working his magic mixes from what flourishes in his environment. Make no mistake, these are unique, sophisticated sparkling drinks, which we are delighted to list and have available for you to try, and you won’t miss the alcohol either! We recommend you enjoy them chilled from a wine glass. Absolutely everyone can, and should enjoy these. Just one sniff, one taste, will transport you straight to the Swabian meadows!