As its famous monasteries, deep cellars, old vineyard sites and countless stories testify, Germany's great tradition of winemaking started with the ancient Romans. Discover treasures such as the oldest wine in the world, Götz von Berlichingen's vineyard, the world's biggest wine barrel and many more highlights of wine culture.
Traben-Trarbach, art nouveau centre of the wine trade
The art nouveau town of Traben-Trarbach on the Middle Moselle is a true monument to the importance of the Moselle wine trade. Around 1900, this small Moselle town was the most important wine trading town after Bordeaux in France. Cellars were built under large parts of the town to provide sufficient storage space.
Bacharach, centre of the wine trade and home of Bacchus
This town takes its name from Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. The name Bacharach is said to be derived from the Celtic word Baccaracum meaning 'farm of Bacchus' or from the Latin Bacchi ara or 'altar of Bacchus'. Wine heritage dominates the townscape and is reflected in the numerous old timber-framed houses around the market square.
Bad Sobernheim open-air museum: the history of wine brought to life
Nowhere is the history of wine growing from the Middle Ages to the present day illustrated so vividly as in the Bad Sobernheim open-air museum by the river Nahe . Established in the beautiful Nachtigallental valley in 1973, the museum occupies 35 hectares and attracts around 60,000 visitors a year, making it the biggest of its kind in Rhineland-Palatinate . The everyday life of vintners is brought to life in the buildings they lived and worked in, as well as in the museum's own vineyard.
Bopparder Hamm, the name of the biggest loop in the river is also the largest single area under vine in the Middle Rhine. 'Hamm' is thought to derive from the Latin word hamus, which means something like 'hook' and alludes to the S-bend in the river Rhine. Around 600,000 litres of wine are produced here per year – almost all of it riesling.
The latter is the oldest named vineyard site and the former is Germany's oldest wine estate owned by a charitable foundation. Wine from the Stein vineyard has been made by the Bürgerspital zum Heiligen Geist winery for centuries, and the two places remain closely connected today. One of the oldest wines in Germany that is still liquid is stored at the Bürgerspital estate – and it is a 1540 vintage Stein wine.
A milestone in the history of the Franconian village of Castell occurred on 6 April 1659 when the Count of Castell's bailiff, Georg Körner, had new vines planted at the foot of Schlossberg hill. They were not just any vines, they were '25 Austrian cuttings' which a messenger from the village of Obereisenheim had delivered the previous day.
Disibodenberg abbey ruins where the oldest vines grow
Made famous by Hildegard von Bingen , Disibodenberg in Odernheim on the Nahe also plays a part in ancient viticultural history as the oldest site in Germany where vines are grown. Traces of Roman vines have been found on the southern slope of Disibodenberg hill and grapes have been grown continuously in the abbey vineyard since the 11th century.
The art of wine-making has been practised for centuries at Eberbach Abbey near Eltville in the Rheingau . Thanks to its wines, the abbey quickly developed into one of Germany's biggest, most influential monasteries. The pinot noir grapes that the monks brought with them from Burgundy became the first major export from the Rheingau wine region.
Where outstanding riesling grapes now grow, copper ore was once excavated. Until 1901, the Kupfergrube vineyard in Schlossböckelheim was just what its German name means – a copper mine. The Prussian state established the Niederhausen wine estate and bought the land belonging to the Hermannsberg farm on the river Nahe in 1901. The first riesling vines were planted two years later.
Crowds flock to see the gigantic wine barrel at Heidelberg Castle . Four such vats were made between 1591 and 1751, but only the last can still be seen. Following a visit to Heidelberg, Anton Praetorius, a German theologian and opponent of witch hunts, praised one of the four barrels. The oldest was known as the Johann Casimir barrel and it could hold 127,000 litres of wine.
Hoflössnitz: sachsenkeule bottles and wine festivals
Hoflössnitz wine estate is truly the cradle of wine culture in Saxony. The Saxon Electors used to celebrate the wine harvest here and it is where the sachsenkeule, the elegant, skittle-shaped bottle typically used in the region, was invented. Not to mention the fact that wine has been made here for 600 years!
Götz von Berlichingen, the legendary Franconian knight with an iron hand, lived at Hornberg Castle near Neckarzimmern for 45 years. He became famous for his battles in the Swabian Peasants' War but also made wine at his castle which was so successful that his Neckar wine found buyers as far away as the imperial court in Vienna.
Juliusspital wine estate: home of the bocksbeutel bottle
What could be the oldest depiction of a modern bocksbeutel bottle can be found in a relief on the Juliusspital hospice's foundation stone. A bulbous bottle can be seen between the visitors' feet. It may well contain medicine, but it is regarded as the oldest evidence of the use of this type of bottle in the modern age.
Kessler in Esslingen: the oldest German sekt winery
Georg Christian von Kessler founded Germany's first sekt winery in Esslingen on the river Neckar on 1 July 1826 after learning how to make sparkling wine at the Veuve Cliquot estate in the Champagne region. In the first ten years, Kessler sold around half a million bottles.
Kupferberg visitor centre in Mainz: sparkling sekt
The production of sparkling wine has a long tradition in Mainz . Sixty cellars across seven underground levels belonging to the former Kupferberg sekt winery in the Kästrich area of Mainz form the deepest sparkling-wine cellar in the world. Artefacts dating back 2,000 years were unearthed during works in the Kupferberg cellars.
Worms has been a wine-making town since the Romans came to the Rhine. In the Middle Ages, the 'Song of the Nibelungs' praised the good wine at the royal Burgundian court in Worms. In the centuries that followed, all of Worms' spiritual and secular leaders developed a liking for these wines, a taste that spread far beyond the region. Wines made from the grapes grown on the Liebfrauenstift-Kirchenstück estate are particularly well known.
Lorsch Abbey in the Hessische Bergstrasse region has probably done more to preserve the history of wine-making than anywhere else in Germany. Countless places in Baden , Franconia and Rheinhessen are able to trace their viticultural history back to the early Middle Ages because of Lorsch Abbey , which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site .
This former Augustinian convent near Dernau was once the oldest abbey on the Ahr river. Marienthal Abbey was established in 1137 and the nuns certainly had a hard life. The convent's records speak of legal disputes and troubles with neighbouring communities, and the nearby river was prone to flooding.
Mayschoss-Altenahr: home of the first wine cooperative
The very first winegrowers' cooperative was established in Mayschoss on the Ahr river. Eighteen vintners got together on 20 December 1869 to set up the first wine cooperative in the history of viticulture. Today, it has 320 members who grow grapes in an area of 121 hectares. Sixty per cent of the land is planted with pinot noir and forms part of the Ahr red wine region , while 20 per cent is planted with riesling vines.
The museum takes its name from the Holy Spirit wine press it houses. It was established in Meersburg's former Holy Spirit Hospital in 1961. There is documentary evidence that wine has been made in Meersburg since 1324. Nowadays, around 120 hectares are under vine and about a million bottles of wine are produced. The region lies up to 500 metres above sea level, but its mild climate influenced by the lake makes grape-growing possible.
The 'Glöck' is one of the most famous sites in the Roter Hang vineyard and it is also the oldest in Germany. A deed of gift dated 742 AD is proof of its age. The vineyard's name undoubtedly comes from the church and its bells (Glocke is German for bell) – but whether it refers to the chimes or whether the church bell ringer was paid in wine, nobody knows.
The historical crane, part of the local wine heritage, is the signature attraction of Oestrich-Winkel, a wine town and cultural centre. This early example of technology used for loading and unloading wine from ships is housed in a dark-panelled building on the banks of the Rhine. For 350 years, Oestrich was the site of the Elector's central office and crane, so it was from here that barrels of Rheingau wine were shipped around the world.
Pfedelbach: royal barrel and Herrschaftskeller press
Wine presses are at every turn in this region: there were once eight between Öhringen and Pfedelbach. They had names such as the priest's press, the bird's press and the juniper press. Although most have vanished and their pressing stones are all that is left, a walking trail links their former locations.
The biggest Roman wine press north of the Alps, where the Romans trod the grapes to make Moselle wines, was discovered in 1985 during a vineyard restructuring scheme. The fourth century site, which measures 44 by 20 metres, came to light at the foot of the famously steep Piesporter Goldtröpfchen vineyard.
These are truly veteran vines. The 'Rhodt rose garden' already has over 400 years under its belt – and it is still producing wine. According to local legend, the vineyard in the wine-making village of Rhodt unter Rietburg has been in existence since before the Thirty Years' War of 1618 to 1648.
It is the oldest wine made from grapes in the world, and it is still liquid. The Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer houses one of Germany's greatest viticultural treasures: a wine from the year 325 AD. It is bottled in a greenish-yellow, cylindrical glass flask set with two handles in the shape of dolphins.
Named after the red seal on its bottles, Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood) is one of Germany's most famous brands. Brothers Moritz and Julius Kloss with their friend Carl Foerster jointly founded Kloss & Foerster wine merchants in Freyburg an der Unstrut on 26 September 1856. The first corks popped on 17 June 1858.
Schloss Johannisberg: birthplace of late vintage wine
The Schloss Johannisberg estate near Geisenheim in the Rheingau was the destination of the legendary messenger whose late arrival delayed the harvest and created the first spätlese wine. Wine has been made here since the year 817 AD and riesling has been the predominant grape for about 300 years, so the estate is a great reminder of how far riesling has spread. The vineyard is right on the 50th parallel of latitude, which is indicated by a marker among the vines.
Schloss Wackerbarth: Europe's first visitor wine estate
'Saxony's finest' has always been Schloss Wackerbarth's philosophy. The estate was established by General Field Marshal Count Christoph August von Wackerbarth and it was Europe's first wine estate to be opened to the public. Its fame extends well beyond Saxony – not only for its still wines, but also for its premium-quality sparkling sekt.
Staatlicher Hofkeller, Würzburg: a maze of cellars
The wine cellars beneath the prince bishops' Residenz Palace in Würzburg cover what is thought to be a record-breaking 4,557 square metres. The magnificent building above ground is the most remarkable of all baroque palaces, with a mirrored hall and ceiling frescoes by Tiepolo above its staircase. The palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981.
In the rococo period, there was a craze for souvenir albums containing illustrations or written pieces on the subjects of wine or hunting. Probably the most unusual album was created on the outskirts of Naumburg, in the Blütengrund region near Grossjena. It consists of twelve life-size sandstone reliefs on a 200 metre long rock face.
Even on the Moselle , slopes do not get any steeper than this. The Calmont is the most precipitous vineyard in Europe with a gradient of up to 60 degrees. The cliff face between the Moselle villages of Bremm and Ediger-Eller is over 290 metres high. It was formed 400 million years ago in the Devonian period and consists of denuded slate, quartzite and greywacke rocks.
Germany's Roman heritage is tangible here. The origins of Germany's oldest wine cellar at the Vereinigte Hospitien (United Hospices) estate in Trier date back to the year 330 AD when two huge warehouses, known as horrea, stood here on the banks of the Moselle. Their walls with layers of decorative brickwork were up to eight metres high and still remain intact.
Huts among the vines are the hallmark of the Saale-Unstrut wine region . No other region in Germany has so many huts, cottages or sometimes actual villas in its vineyards. Several hundred are dotted around the area and some are true gems of their respective architectural period.
Reichenau Island: Germany's southernmost wine area
Reichenau Island in Lake Constance is the most southerly wine-making location in Germany, although today it is better known for its vegetables. Viticulture was the economic mainstay of the island's farmers for centuries. The first vines were planted in 818 AD by Hanno I, the abbot of Reichenau monastery. The waters of Lake Constance retain warmth which radiates out to the vineyards, particularly in autumn and winter.
They measure the progress of the day and are as old as humanity: until the early 19th century, sundials were synonymous with time itself – there were no other clocks. The principle is simple: a rod is fixed parallel to the earth's axis and the shadow it casts on a surface mounted in the vineyard indicates the position of the sun, and consequently the time.
In the vineyards on the outskirts of the spa town of Bad Dürkheim, a red roof conceals a hidden gem – a wine press that dates back to the ancient Romans nearly two thousand years ago. The press is the only one of its kind between the southern Palatinate and the Moselle . Its discovery during excavations as part of a vineyard restructuring scheme close to Ungstein caused a sensation in 1981.
Wine and stone: where art and wine go hand in hand
The Wine and Stone trail in Heppenheim an der Bergstrasse combines wine and art in a remarkable way by illustrating the cultural history of wine in works of art. The 6.9km trail links a total of 70 exhibits on the theme of wine-making – which must be a European record. You can spend days here, and still learn something new.
Wine town of Deidesheim: home of German qualitätswein
The first qualitätswein in the Palatinate was made here and Deidesheim was influential in shaping German and global wine regulations. With a history of wine-making dating back 2,000 years, the town is justified in calling itself the custodian of wine-making heritage.
Grape vines in Ihringen in the Kaiserstuhl hills thrive in lava from the remains of a volcano that has been extinct for 15 million years. Wine has been produced in the area since at least 962 AD, although the Romans probably grew grapes here before that, because the Kaiserstuhl region is the warmest, sunniest vineyard region in Germany.
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