The easiest and most breathtaking way to explore the Palatinate wine region is along the German Wine Route. Geared towards visitors, the scenic route links numerous towns and villages associated with wine between Bockenheim in the north and Schweigen on the French border. It is the oldest route of its kind in the world, and cycle and walking trail versions of the German Wine Route allow you to explore the vineyards between the Palatinate Forest and the Rhine on foot or by bike.
Half of the Palatinate vineyards come under the Mittelhaardt German Wine Route, half find themselves in Southern Wine Route territory. The region as a whole ranks alongside the Moselle as the largest producer of riesling in the world with more than 5,000 hectares devoted to the grape. Pinots are especially prominent at the Southern Wine Route vineyards. White wines specialities include gewürztraminer and scheurebe. Around 40 per cent of the Palatinate vineyards are planted with red wine grapes, mainly dornfelder, portugieser, pinot noir and regent. As such, the Palatinate is the largest red wine region in Germany.
The rich variety of soils found in Palatinate vineyards provide the right conditions for a wide range of grapes. Around half of the terrain has Bunter sandstone as its key constituent, with high proportions of stone on the edge of the Haardt hills and sand in the somewhat lower lying terraces: conditions that make for wines with a light and elegant character. Vineyards underlaid with loess soil produce wines for everyday drinking, such as müller-thurgau and dornfelder. Those with weathered chalk soil, meanwhile, are better suited to growing full-bodied reds of the pinot variety. Rarer wines are produced from vines grown in the slate soil near Burrweiler, on the basalt rock outside Forst and on the Rotliegend sandstone by Birkweiler.
The fact that the wine festival season begins so early in the Palatinate – with the almond blossom festival in March – speaks volumes for the mild climate. But it's not just pinot noir, rieslings, figs and chestnuts that flourish here. The conditions are also right for wine grapes originally from the Mediterranean, from cabernet sauvignon and merlot to tempranillo and syrah. Only extremely rarely are harvests ruined by the frost of a harsh winter or the heat and aridity of an exceptional summer. Mother Nature has blessed the Palatinate with a generous 2,000 hours of sunshine a year and an Indian summer. Average rainfall per square metre also amounts to only 500 litres.
Tucked away between the Palatinate vineyards are more than 140 towns and villages, including the two largest wine centres in Germany, Landau and Neustadt. No fewer than 3,000 families carry out the laborious work on the vine-covered slopes, either as their main job or on a part-time basis. Many of them deliver their harvest to the nearest wine cooperative, of which the Palatinate has around two dozen. A winery might also take collection of the grapes. Half of the family-run vineyards in the Palatinate, most of which have more than ten hectares under vine, produce their own wines and sell them directly. But wherever you go, you can always find somewhere to stop off for a wine tasting.
People in the Palatinate really enjoy living out in the country or in small towns. They value the familiarity of the village communities. Everyone knows everyone else and they love to celebrate together. No town or village worth its salt gets by without a wine festival – up to 200 offer a friendly wine-themed experience. In time-honoured fashion, you sit down at long tables with the locals and drink riesling from oversized glasses.
The German Wine Route, running through the Palatinate countryside from Schweigen-Rechtenbach to Bockenheim, certainly doesn't stint on its delights. Simply follow the signs showing a bunch of grapes and enjoy 85 kilometres of pure joie de vivre, fine wines and award-winning cuisine.
The cyclists' version of the German Wine Route is rather self-explanatory by name – it runs through the Palatinate, which is one of the largest wine regions in Germany.
The Rhine is steeped in myth and legend. There are tales of heroes and dragons and of sunken treasure. True or not – who can really say?
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