It was probably the Romans who first introduced vines to the strata montana, but the earliest records of viticulture in the Bergstrasse region are from the 8th century and relate to Lorsch Imperial Abbey. In 1971, Hessische Bergstrasse became an independent wine-growing region and today it is the smallest of Germany's 13 wine regions. It consists of two separate geographical areas: Starkenburg, south of Darmstadt, comprises the towns of Alsbach, Zwingenberg, Bensheim and Heppenheim, while the 'Odenwald wine island' is the area in and around Gross-Umstadt and Rossdorf.
Roughly 440 hectares are under vine in the Bergstrasse region, producing around 80 per cent white wines and 20 per cent reds. Of the whites, riesling is the dominant variety, with roughly 51 per cent of the total area, followed by pinot gris (9 per cent), pinot blanc (8 per cent), müller-thurgau (8 per cent) and silvaner (4 per cent). Pinot noir accounts for approximately 18 per cent, followed by saint laurent, dornfelder and other varieties of reds. There are also smaller vineyards that cultivate special grape varieties such as gewürztraminer, chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
The vineyards of the Hessische Bergstrasse region contain a wide variety of soil types. Weathered granite is the dominant soil in Zwingenberg, Auerbach and Bensheim, while loess and yellow Bunter sandstone are particular to Heppenheim. Crystalline slate, warm sand and loess, along with quartz porphyry and basalt soil, give the white wines from the Hessische Bergstrasse region a very delicate fruitiness and make its red wines fruity and full-bodied.
The Bergstrasse region is known throughout Germany as the 'spring garden'. The hills of the Odenwald region offer excellent protection against harsh northerly and easterly winds. Thanks to this natural shield against the elements, spring starts about two weeks earlier here than in the rest of Germany. Annual averages include a temperature of 11° Celsius, 1,700 hours of sunshine and 720mm of rain; the sort of climate that allows a long growing season and is ideal for cultivating vines.
Bergsträsser Winzer eG is the largest wine producer in the Hessische Bergstrasse region. It consists of around 600 professional winegrowers and part-time vintners who cultivate more than half of the total area under vine. The cooperative members market their own wines and some also run winegrower's taverns which are popular with locals and wine tourists alike.
The people of the Bergstrasse region are not the quiet brooding type. Visitors and wine tourists appreciate the friendly, open hospitality they find here, and many return time and again. Whether you are tasting wine at a winery with a view to buying a few cases or visiting a vintner's tavern for a glass or two – there is always time for a friendly chat with the winegrower, the waitress or the people at the next table.
The Bergstrasse, which extends for approximately 80km, is an attractive destination between the Rhine, Main and Neckar rivers on the western edge of the legendary Odenwald forest – it is also a small but delightful wine-growing area.