A Life for Wine: „I’m from the Eifel!“ – How often has Wolfgang Junglas teased his listeners with that, but his origins and his roots, are important to him.
GERMANY (Mainz) – Growing up in the Eifel (The Eifel is the German part of a low mountain range up to 746.9 m above sea level in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, whose extension in Belgium and Luxembourg are the Ardennes. This cross-border mountain range is part of the Rhenish Slate Mountains) near Mayen, he went out into the world at the tender age of 18. His first stop was Berlin, then Wiesbaden. Here, he did his Abitur (high school diploma) at college and went on to study sociology, a trendy course of study in the 1970s. Young Wolfgang also looked trendy at that time, with long hair, a full beard and deep political commitment. As a young socialist, he supported Willy Brandt’s election campaign in 1972, and helped organize demos on education policy in Wiesbaden.
Inevitably, Wolfgang entered the adult world, took on family responsibilities and became a father for the first time at 22. „That changed my life decisively; from then on, family was the number one focus,” he says today. At 25, and still studying, he moved from Wiesbaden to the nearby Rheingau region as a single parent with his young daughter. Aside from his studies, he worked as a freelancer for ZDF – first as a floor manager, and from 1984 as a tv reporter and editor. In 1985, he joined SWF (now SWR).
Tracey and the beginning of a wine career
The next chapter in Wolfgang’s life was Tracey, his current wife, whom he met in 1984. A year later they were married, and today they have two sons. It was 1987 when Wolfgang opened the next chapter in his life. The subject was wine, for which he has been interested in ever since. As a permanent member of the SWF editorial team „Blick ins Land” (a daily evening tv show), he volunteered for the area of viticulture and agriculture. „The position was vacant and at that time, the topic was not very popular in the editorial department. The reason was the excesses and the glycol scandal, which was discrediting viticulture at the time. Young colleagues were more interested in socially relevant topics than in old-fashioned wine lordliness,” Wolfgang recounts.
That same year, he also took part in the election of the German Wine Queen for the first time. „A rather staid event in the style of a merry wine festival – “But I recognized the potential right away,” Wolfgang recalls. At that time, there was no talk of „casting formats.” He was able to implement his fresh concepts for broadcasting the election for the first time in 1997, and since 1999 it is broadcasted on tv every year. Today, the „Election of the German Wine Queen” is the most successful TV entertainment production on SWR television.
From 1990 to 2010, Wolfgang developed and produced hundreds of cooking shows with Johann Lafer: „Lafers Himmel un Erd”, „Johann Lafer kocht”, „Mit Johann Lafer um die Welt” amongst others. „We surfed the crest of the cooking wave on German television,” Wolfgang recounts. Along the way, he developed the extremely popular tv show, “Fröhlicher Weinberg” which focused mainly on wine. The show was on air until 2010.
Back to the roots
Everything about wine was based on initial skepticism. Nevertheless, Wolfgang found the topic very exciting because he felt that something was developing. Starting in the 1990s, and accompanying his vinophilic activities, the then young generation of winemakers reinvented German wine. The motto was „back to the roots.” Traditional grape varieties were replanted, quantities were reduced, and the vinification was oriented toward international styles. Wolfgang was sympathetic to the young winemakers ideals and knew that their stories could be told well – all this suited his modern television formats. „Young winemakers dare to do new things and are successful – a narrative that I helped to film in ever new variations,” says Wolfgang.
Wolfgang became more and more interested in wine. In the 1990s, he frequently took part in wine and press trips and began to co-write wine books. „I found the contact and exchange with other wine journalists refreshing and enriching,” he says. Through these contacts, he came up with the idea of founding an association for publishing wine journalists. „Jochen Bielefeld, who is unfortunately no longer with us, supported me in this. In 2000, Weinfeder e.V. was then founded,” Wolfgang recounts.
Since 1988, Wolfgang has lived with his family in Oestrich-Winkel, in the middle of the Rheingau and situated next to the vineyards below Castle Vollrads. Since 2005, he has been increasingly involved in the region. This includes moderating in the Brentanoscheune in Oestrich-Winkel as part of the regional talk show „Rheingau Live”. Since 2011, Wolfgang has produced around 30 events in the Brentanoscheune under the brand name „Rheingauer Weinbühne„ covering the genres of comedy, music, drama and talk show. „In 2016, together with two colleagues, I founded the ‘Rheingauer Kulturnetzwerk’, which now has over 300 active members,” Wolfgang tells us, without being boastful.
In Conversation with Wolfgang Junglas
A life dedicated to wine, one could say. Following the most recent board meeting of Weinfeder e.V., which took place in the SWR rooms in Mainz, we found time for a longer conversation.
Wolfgang, I would like to give my readers more background on Weinfeder e.V., on the cooperation with FIJEV and on your private life. Let’s start with the question: How did you come to found Weinfeder e.V.?
During my wine travels in the 90s, I was surprised to discover that there was no association of wine journalists. During that time, I visited an event of the DLG in Wiesbaden. The DWI’s press spokeswoman at the time was Petra Giegerich who recommended that I talk to Heinz Gert Woschek and Jochen G. Bielefeld about this topic, which I did. It quickly became clear to us where the problem lay: The competitive situation of the big wine magazines „Alles über Wein” and „Weinwirtschaft” hardly allowed a cooperation among the colleagues at that time.
Who are Heinz Gert Woschek and Jochen G. Bielefeld?
Heinz Gert Woschek, a wine expert from Mainz, today honorary member of the Weinfeder e.V., was editor of the magazine „Alles über Wein” at that time and who had unsuccessfully tried to establish a journalists’ association in the past. In the summer of 1999, I met with Jochen G. Bielefeld several times, who at that time was just launching the new magazine Wein + Markt.
So you were the founding fathers. What happened next?
We met to exchange ideas at the Klostermühle and in the restaurant „Haus des Weines”, we adopted a schedule and exchanged addresses of potential members. We organized the first attempt to establish an association at the ProWein 2000 in Düsseldorf. Unfortunately, this attempt was unsuccessful: More than 20 interested wine journalists met, but there were only debates and nothing was decided.
The next attempt …
… I started by means of a conversation with the publisher Peter Meininger, who offered me a written answer to the topic. His tenor was essentially as follows – and I quote: „A statute which – implicitly permits paid PR sideline work – albeit with the obligation of disclosure – already makes the inevitability of mingling intentions clear. Under no circumstances do I want to recommend to my employees from the corresponding editorial offices of my house, to present their professional knowledge about wine in a circle of partly commercial matted PR journalists.”
That was a shot across the bow …
… yes, indeed. I felt misunderstood, felt that pushing the idea was somehow naïve. Admittedly, I felt disillusioned.
What came next?
I didn’t want to give up, that’s not my style. I met with a dozen journalists at wine author Norbert Heine’s in Ingelheim. We discussed whether one can be a PR copywriter and a wine journalist at the same time. Two of the fourteen candidates present fitted the bill. We started with twelve members and I was elected as president.
I think, not because I was the most experienced, but because I was credited with having pushed and would continue to push the idea. And perhaps also because, as an editor at public television, I took a neutral position vis-à-vis the publishers.
Where does the association stand today?
We currently have 59 members, publish the online magazine „Weinfeder Journal” and award the annual „German Wine Critics Award” – it’s a vital association.
The „Weinfeder Journal” has developed and is much respected. What were the origins?
It started as a newsletter. Primarily, it was a matter of creating a reputation for the new association. This was quickly achieved because many well-known wine journalists joined us: Guy Bonnefoit, Rudi Knoll, Jürgen Matthäs and Werner Eckert.
When I joined the association in 2012 by means of mentor Rudi Knoll, the journal did not have a professional layout. My entry was accompanied by the proposal to transform the Journal into a modern magazine, which I then set about doing, with the blessing of the board. What is the significance of the journal for Weinfeder e.V.?
In times of digital change, it is an important product: It also shows journalists that they can find their own platforms to publish. We will continue down this path in the future with publications in social media.
Now the wine journal is just one part of the association. There are also highly regarded awards such as the „Wine Personality of the Year” or the „German Wine Critics Award” …
… Award ceremonies are a fitting communication tool and a good opportunity for journalists to produce news themselves. In the wine scene, the awards are respected and are renowned.
What are the future goals of Weinfeder e.V.?
Weinfeder e.V. has been around for almost 20 years. In the beginning, the stars of the scene with their huge egos dominated the discussion. Today, wine journalism, like the writing guild as a whole, is under the influence of digitalization – also a topic for Weinfeder e.V..
What are the pressing questions?
How will the journalism business model develop further? What payment systems will there be for qualitative journalism in the future? I advocate actively participating in digitalization and being a driving force rather than a victim.
Let’s switch to the FIJEV organization.
FIJEV – Féderation Internationale des Journalistes et Ecrivains des Vins et Spiritueux – has been around since the 1980s. An important international association of wine journalists. Until 15 years ago, it played a major role in the heyday of wine journalism and since then it has been undergoing a structural change.
You recently became president of FIJEV.
Yes, In May 2019, I was elected as the new president at VINEXPO Bordeaux – at a time when it was all about the digital transformation of the association. What is true for Weinfeder e.V. is also true for FIJEV. Digitalization seems to me to be an opportunity rather than a threat for a globally positioned association with members from over 60 countries.
What are your plans?
With a talk show in English at the VINEXPO in Bordeaux, I have initiated a new era in the association: For decades, the lingua franca at FIJEV was French – now the association is becoming more international, and English will also play a big role. We are currently building a Youtube channel and will be present on all social media channels.
So far, readers have been able to get to know an overview of your diverse tasks, in addition to the acquisition-dominated parts, also your soft spot for wine. What’s still to come?
The digitalization of communication keeps me very busy: since October 2019, I have been lecturing at the University of Geisenheim. In the field of „New Media”, I also offered the seminar „Storytelling in Social Media”, as a one-day seminar at the DHBW in Heilbronn.
What is the content?
How I can tell which story in which social media channel? I find the task very exciting – communication skills in social media have become very important, especially for young winemakers.
The private Wolfgang Junglas
Congratulations – a nice continuation of your successful activities in the wine scene. But now let’s take a look at the private Wolfgang Junglas. Where do you see yourself now and what do you still want to achieve?
I am now in my mid-60s and a grandfather four times over. This is a phase of life in which I’ve become a bit quieter but still full of drive. With my retirement approaching, my personal and professional freedom will grow – and I’m looking forward to that! I want to try out new projects & to stay curious. I’ve already written over a dozen books, but I’m still hoping to write a novel: that’s one of my dreams.
What are your passions besides TV formats and wine?
My family, my wife, my children, my grandchildren and my dog mean everything to me. I have over 40 cousins – I’m a family man! I also love to travel with my wife – hiking and biking trips are my favorite. We’ve already hiked on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, we love the mountains and find even active holidays relaxing.
Which wines do you prefer for personal enjoyment?
Over the years, I have developed a taste for Burgundy varieties, in addition to Riesling. I like a wine to be dry but to retain its subtle fruit notes.
What do you prefer – going out to eat or cooking yourself?
I love both – I really enjoy food, it’s part of my zest for life. Cooking at home and eating together with the family is a special joy for me – but I also enjoy going out to eat just as much – both in the wine taverns and in country inns and star restaurants.
You are also a food critic …
… yes. In the past for Gault Millau, for SWR in the series „Landgasthöfe„ and as the author of the book „Weinkompass Rheingau”.
What does your wife love about you?
My dependability and my calmness. She says I radiate calm without being boring. And she also likes my sense of humour.
What makes you unpopular?
I tend to come across a bit boastful, and I’m unfortunately not always punctual.
What character traits do you value?
Reliability, modesty, honesty and above all humour.
What kind of music do you like to listen to?
Current pop music, pop music of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Classical music. French chansons.
What do you read?
Too little. And if I do, then thick paperbacks from Dan Brown & Noah Gordon, as well as political biographies.
Do you have a favorite place?
There are many wonderful vantage points on the hiking trail, Rheinsteig in the Rheingau. It’s just one beautiful view after the next. When in the Eifel, I like to sit on the shores of Lake Laach or the Daun Maars. And the alpine region of South Tyrol.
Which travel destinations appeal to you?
All of them – Germany, Europe, Asia, Australia, USA, Africa – the diversity of the world fascinates me!
What would you like to try out?
I would like to produce a feature film – I haven’t had that experience yet.
What would be a perfect day?
A nice breakfast with a view, together with the family (wife, children, grandchildren), a long hike and in the evening a nice candlelit dinner in the open.
Are there any heroes in your life?
There are always people I admire for their individual deeds. I have a great sympathy & respect for „everyday heroes” who courageously cope with everyday life. I don’t really have any specific heroes.
Thank you very much for the detailed interview.