October 24th, 2013
By comparison, the beginnings of the estate known as Dr. Loosen seems a bit more like a scene from Wayne’s World, especially when you meet the bespectacled, long curly-haired and voluble Doctor himself.
Ernst Loosen was chosen by his father and grandfather to take over the family estate from among his siblings and other members of his generation more by process of elimination than by destiny. Coming back from college at word of his father’s illness in 1988, he dragged his best friend Bernie Schug along to help him figure out what to do with his father’s “little hobby” that grossed $250,000 a year and carried $500,000 worth of debt.
Loosen described the scene a few years later, after he and Schug had managed to figure out where the estate’s 19 acres of vineyards were, and how to work all the ancient equipment in the cellar.
“My dad said, ‘here’s the winery, and here’s my debt, too’” laughs Loosen. “I studied archeology. Bernie specialized in tropical pig disease. We were old hippies. We got this other guy from Tonga to come with us, and he was great at logistics. He was in college and said that his whole program was paid by the German state to help develop Tonga. He had a great relationship with the King of Tonga and used to organize booze for the king. We all lived together here in the house, and it was a great time. We continued college here. The door was always open. Sometimes I came home at 4 AM and tried to find a bed in this 18-room house without any luck. Friends told friends told friends. There was always a bed, always booze, always a party. Frankly I didn’t know who these people were. It carried on that way until I met my wife in 1992. It became a little too much and my wife said ‘OK you have four weeks to get everyone out.’”
“Then only Bernie was left,” continues Loosen, “and my wife said ‘What is up with this guy?’ and I said ‘He’s the winemaker!’ and she said ‘OK, I don’t care.’ Bernie and me, we’re the old donkeys here.”
Loosen has not lost his reputation for partying, even after forty years. Indeed, several winemakers I know in the U.S. cheerfully warned me off going drinking with Loosen, which they said was a sketchy proposition at best.
But if Loosen has kept that reputation, it certainly has not been at the expense of what is now considered to be one of the best and most successful modern German wine estates, a reputation earned, as it were, with an equal amount of perseverance.
“In the beginning,” remembers Loosen, “with me and Bernie, it was easy. We didn’t have any money. We had an idea, but neither of us had been trained. My father was ill, and he was clueless anyway. He always had hired a winemaker.”
“We developed it fast, we developed it enthusiastic. We were very passionate, very convinced. I wouldn’t say we did everything right. In fact, it’s better if you get the chance to do things wrong. You have to have your own experience. We learned more every year. I think 1993 was our first break-even year. And things have looked up ever since.”