Martin Hubacher, a hospitable knight on the Johanniter estate

Johanniterkeller, Martin Hubacher, Twann, Bielersee, Suisse
Laurent Probst | 27 octobre 2014 


Martin Hubacher is undoubtedly the most famous winemaker of the region. He spend a generous time with us at his winery in Twann. A conversation marked by its frankness and a rare honesty, along with humor and gravity.

The beginning of Martin’s life at the winery was hard. He had just completed his training in Changins (Swiss wine school), when he had to take over the estate after the unexpected death of his father, a man still in his young age. A heavy burden and many responsibilities for a young man who was not quite prepared yet for the task.

His first vintage in 1994, was « a disaster » he now recognises with amusement. The wines were bad and I was the only one responsible (he told us to have over extracted materials and the tannins were hard). But « customers forgave me and returned the next year ». 

Today, these loyal private consumers represent sixty percent of his sales. Regional and national gastronomy market thirty percent, and two Swiss German distributors sell the remaining ten percent. A balance that pleases the winemaker but he recognizes it was diffcult to achieve; rightly so he now holds on to it.

The vineyards of the Johanniterkeller as well as the neighbouring vineyards went through a consolidation process in the past decade. Although it was a difficult process, Martin Hubacher recognizes that it is beneficial to all. His six acres were profoundly transformed. The number of parcels decreased from forty to five! Martin Hubacher focusing primarily on specialties but in a limited number. For him, the abundance of grape varieties reached by the appellation is exaggerated and winemakers need to focus on the most interesting and qualitative varieties. Additionaly he buys a grape production equivalent of two acres; essentialy pinot noir and chasselas.
"My intention is to produce and sell dry wines with good acidity, with grapes that grow well on our land and our Bielersee microclimate" Martin Hubacher also told us about his recent biodynamic culture tests.

Those intentions have been confirmed during the wine tasting session in his well designed shop and tasting room.

We started with a chasselas one of the country’s most cultivated grape. After the 2013 hail strom, Martin Hubacher had to buy grapes from growers in Geneva to comlplete his production, a rare situation. Nevertheless the wine is delicate, delicious and fresh. 
Still young the pinot gris 2013 and pinot blanc 2013 are pure, precise and elegant ; though they will need a little more time to developp fully. The later was aged in barrel and the wood is already integrated giving it an additional structure. 
The chardonnay 2013 has the thinly chiseled body the winemaker was talking about. The mouth is of great finesse. The quality of barrel aging (just eight months and a moderate intake of new oak barrels) gives a noble character to this dynamic wine. 
My personnal favorite was the sauvignon blanc. With its characteristicly fruity notes, a touch of wood and blackcurrant, thgough not explosive. The palate is lively but balanced. A perfect wine to pair with seafood.

Among the red wines we will taste three pinot noirs. I have to admit I personnaly had a second favorite with the "classic" series. A pinot noir in tune with what I know and like in the region.
The pinot noir 2012 is a more "serious" reserve wine, that wouldn’t be opened every day. It has a complex nose with ripe elderberry and blackberry notes, it provides a good density and quality tannins on the palate. The vines are older, the clones are from Cortaillod and Burgundy. 
The third wine is called BeNe. It is the abbreviation of Bern and Neuchâtel. It is the fruit of a partnership with Lucas Hasler who has pinot noir vineyards in Landeron (the only Neuchâtel area facing the Lake of Biel).  This a typical wine from the Three Lakes region and it goes up ione step in quality. The mouth feel is simply outstanding. 

We will also taste a chardonnay barrel 2008, a very original St-Laurent 2009 and a gamaret 2004 and thus believe we had a very comprehensive impression of Martin Hubacher’s production and grasp his talented wine signature.