Who started the winery? “My family has been making wine for more than 200 years, but we cannot properly trace it back because there are no family records. In the early 1800s, when Napoleon conquered [the land] around the Rhine, the church records were destroyed. But my ancestors lived there before and they did agriculture in the flat lands, viticulture in the steep lands and shoemaking. During the second world war, the vineyards were abandoned but, afterwards, viti­culture started to boom so my grandfather, who had had a vineyard and was a shoemaker, set up a nursery for vines. Before the war, nurseries were run by the government, to prevent phylloxera, but after, private companies could sell vines. During this time, my family’s winery was in the middle of [Leiwen] town, near the church. We needed more space, so my grandfather sold his property to his sister and moved up to the nearby hillside, where he built his own cellar and nursery and named it after the patron saint of winemakers, St Urban.”

Was it a success? “With the money my grandfather made from the nursery, he bought more land. He was also involved in politics, working for the Christian Democratic Party, and was elected to the provincial parliament. His nursery helped build the viticulture industry, helping others make a good living. In the 1980s, my father took advantage of top vineyard sites for sale and laid the groundwork for me to produce premium wines.”

Describe your childhood. “The winery was my play­ground – I played in the cellar and with the equipment. As a kid I drank wine and no one stopped me because my parents didn’t have enough eyes to constantly watch me. By the time I was 16 years old, I liked wine so much I knew this was what I wanted to do. My younger sister went into hospitality and interned at Michelin-starred restaurant Zur Traube [now closed], in Grevenbroich, Germany. The day after my high school exam my parents took me there and I loved the environ­ment, where fine wines are consumed and fine food is served. I studied viticulture and after I graduated from wine­making school I got some experience in Canada, California, Champagne and the Nahe wine region in Germany.”

Why wine lovers need to rethink German rieslings – they’re not all sweetness and light

When did you take over the business? “In 1997, my father had a heart attack, which he survived, but he stepped back from the business. I was 26 at the time. He is my closest friend. He lets me do what I wantand is very tolerant. It’s important to have the chance to try things out as a winemaker and learn by doing. I took over completely in 2003. I was in charge of the winemaking and the viticulture philosophy from the beginning. My father made good rieslings for that time and they had good ratings, but he didn’t sell his wines outside of Germany. I changed that. In Germany at the time, people felt wines with residual sugar was something politically incorrect, and explicitly looked for dry wines called trocken. Everything had to be dry – but that’s not [right for] Mosel wines. It’s like telling people in Porto that they are not allowed to fortify wines, or going to Sauternes and saying you don’t like dessert wines. And in those days, I felt that if the wines made the way I wanted to make them – with some residual sweetness – were not appreciated in my country then I needed to go somewhere else. That’s how I started to build an export market.”

What is Mosel wine? “It is made with riesling and grown on slate soil. It has more or less natural residual sugar, and a low alcohol content, about 8.5 to 11.5 per cent. It has a great minerality and an almost saline finish. It’s like a margarita cocktail with salt on the glass – because of the saline taste, the riesling doesn’t seem as cloying and sweet; it has a savoury finish and the acidity doesn’t taste sour, it dances on the palate. The minerality comes from the slate soil you only get in Mosel [one of Germany’s wine regions]. It has complex flavours of smokiness, earthiness and spiciness.”

What’s the best advice your father has given you? “There’s always a way. He also said there is no Mosel wine that doesn’t get better with age.”

Three German wines from Lebenshilfe, which is much more than just a winery

What food is it best paired with? “Riesling is like a chameleon – it adapts to a lot of kinds of food. If you have a cross-cultural dish that has influences from East and West, and with complex flavours, you cannot match it with a high-alcohol-content, woody chardonnay. Don’t get me wrong, I love chardonnay, but you need a wine that can stand the flavours [of the dish], but which doesn’t have so much alcohol that it destroys those flavours. The acidity the riesling has is like the acidity of drizzling lemon juice on a dish. You don’t do that to make it taste sour, but to bring the flavours out.”

What do you do in your spare time? “I am a hobby chef. I’m self-taught and like to experiment and cook all kinds of cuisines. I also fly helicopters. It’s fascinating to be able to lift off and land anywhere. You can see the topo­graphy but it’s not the best way to examine your vineyard.”