The Ahr river twists and turns its way through a rocky landscape where lush vineyards cling to the bare stone. The ancient Romans appreciated the favourable climate of this wild, romantic valley, and were the first to cultivate grapes there. As well as pinot noir, the queen of the red grapes, the region's specialities include the equally prized, early-ripening pinot madeleine. Great effort is required to product top wines on the steep slopes above the Ahr river, but it is more than repaid by the high quality of the wines.
With only 552 hectares under vine, the Ahr just scrapes into tenth place among the 13 German wine regions. A total of 480 hectares are used to grow red grapes, while white grapes are cultivated on around 72 hectares. Pinot noir, the queen of grapes, accounts for over 60 per cent of the total area, or 339 hectares. 46 hectares are given over to the portugieser grape variety, 20 to dornfelder and 35 to pinot madeleine. White wines play a minor role, although whites of notable quality are produced. Riesling, which is grown on 41 hectares, makes up the largest proportion of the white-grape varieties grown here.
The poor soil consisting of weathered slate, loess loam, gravel, volcanic rock and greywacke absorbs warmth during the day and radiates a good proportion of it around the grapes during the night. The effect is similar to that of underfloor storage heating, which ensures that the grapes are kept warm round the clock. In summer, the heat in the vineyards can become so unbearable that the winegrowers have to take a midday siesta – while the grapes soak up the warmth. The effect is intensified by the vineyard walls which are mainly built of dark slate.
Favourable geological soil conditions and almost 1,500 hours of sunshine a year provide the optimum growing conditions for grapes. The steep vineyards are free of harmful environmental factors and they develop a microclimate similar to that of the Mediterranean with an average annual temperature of 9.5°C. As a result, high-quality, expressive wines with remarkable structure, elegance and fruit are produced. The region's advantageous geographical location means that clouds deposit all their rain on the Hohes Venn and Ardennes hills, and average annual rainfall in the Ahr valley is a mere 615 millilitres.
Today, almost 500 winegrowers brave the harsh working conditions in the hillsides of the Ahr valley. About 50 of them are independent suppliers, while the remainder grow grapes as a sideline and supply one of four cooperatives, in Mayschoss, Walporzheim, Ahrweiler and Bad Neuenahr. In 2003 for the first time, young estate winegrowers got together with the members of the cooperatives to organise events that would appeal to young wine enthusiasts. The young winegrowers from SchlAHRvino, Rock & Wein and AbsolutWein represent a dynamic new generation forging its own way ahead.
The Ahr valley is known as a 'red-wine paradise' for good reason. The quality of life here is defined by the picturesque scenery and local enthusiasm for the good things in life. First-rate restaurants, top wine-growing estates and leisure dominate life in the region and the three can easily be combined over a glass of good red wine in a welcoming tavern.