The main grape varieties grown in the Rheingau are riesling and pinot noir. The Rheingau has a long tradition of wine-making, started by the abbeys many centuries ago. This reputation opened the doors to all the big stately homes for the Rheingau wineries as suppliers of premium vintages. The Rheingau also enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide as the home of the Centre for Viticulture and Oenology in Geisenheim.
The Rheingau has approximately 3,000 hectares of vines. The classic grape variety grown here is riesling (78.5 per cent of the area), although pinot noir is also gaining ground (12.5 per cent). Varieties such as müller-thurgau, ehrenfelser, pinot blanc and pinot gris, as well as dornfelder, portugieser and pinot madeleine are also produced in the region, and winegrowers are also increasingly turning to international varieties such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The average yield over the last ten years has been 78.7 hl/ha.
The Rheingau soil types were formed from shale, quartzite, phyllite, sediments from the tertiary period and loess – dust from the ice ages. The soil contributes to the overall quality of the wine. The diversity of terroir resurfaces in the wine glass and sends connoisseurs into raptures: wines with mineral overtones from grey shale (Lorch); the famous Assmannshausen red wines from red shale; racy, robust wines from quartzite (Rüdesheim to Martinsthal); strong wines from clay marl, (e.g. Erbacher Marcobrunn or Domdechaney and Hölle in Hochheim). The loess found throughout the region produces mild, fruity rieslings.
The Rheingau is characterised by a very mild, almost mediterranean climate. Over the last 30 years, the mean annual rainfall was 582mm, of which 361mm fell during the growing season. The average temperature is 10.6°C, or 15.4°C during the growing season. The region enjoys 1,600 hours of sunshine a year, including more than 1,300 during the growing season. These facts speak for themselves.
Like most places, the Rheingau is seeing a drop in the number of wineries – over the last twelve years, the number has fallen by a third to just under 1,000. More than half of the vineyards are cultivated by 63 growers owning an area of more than ten hectares. 283 growers owning between one and ten hectares cultivate an area of around 1,300 hectares, while around 100 hectares are owned by very small independent growers. Sixty per cent of the wine is sold in bottles, 25 per cent is sold by the barrel and the remaining 15 per cent is turned into 'must', a partially fermented wine. The cooperatives are only involved in marketing 6.3 per cent of the wine.
Rheingau people love to party and almost every town and village has its own wine festival where everyone can enjoy good food and savour the wonderful wines from the region. Naturally, these can also be enjoyed in the local restaurants and bars, which include everything from traditional inns selling home-produced wine to exclusive gourmet restaurants. Along the way, you are sure to encounter many charming locals who certainly know how to live life to the full and share the pleasure of wine with others.
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?