Dif­fer­ent in size and scope, and separated only by the Rhine river, the re­gions of Rhein­gau and Rhein­hessen show­case the unique wine­mak­ing styles of Ger­many’s wine coun­try


The re­gions of Rhein­gau and Rhein­hessen show­case the unique wine­mak­ing styles of Ger­many’s wine coun­try

You may strug­gle to find the wine­grow­ing re­gion of Rhein­gau on a map. Strad­dling the north­ern bank of the Rhine River, Rhein­gau is one of Ger­many’s small­est wine re­gions, with just 3,000 hectares un­der vine. On the other hand, Rhein­hessen, lo­cated just across the river, is the coun­try’s big­gest wine re­gion with 27,000 hectares un­der vine. The marked con­trast in acreage be­tween neigh­bour­ing wine ar­eas is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of Ger­many’s viti­cul­tural to­pog­ra­phy. Largely con­cen­trated in the coun­try’s south­west­ern cor­ner, the seem­ingly in­ter­con­nected wine re­gions re­sem­ble a straw-blown paint­work of ir­reg­u­lar streaks—its long­est trail of Baden stretches all the way down to the Swiss bor­der—with an epi­cen­tre em­a­nat­ing from the Rhine.

The Rhine Val­ley is Ries­ling ter­ri­tory. The min­eral-rich slate soils on the banks and hill­sides, which lend the wine a steely fresh­ness, are prime es­tate for Ries­ling pro­duc­ers. Rhein­gau, tiny as it may be, has a big rep­u­ta­tion for mak­ing some of Ger­many’s finest Ries­lings: 78 per cent of its vine­yards are ded­i­cated to Ries­ling, while the re­main­der are planted with Muller Thur­gau and Spät­bur­gun­der, the Ger­man moniker for Pinot Noir.

More than 30 per cent of Rhein­gau’s vine­yards are clas­si­fied as Erstes Gewächs, the Rhein­gau equiv­a­lent of Grosse Gewächs or First Growths. Lo­cated just 35 min­utes away from Frank­furt Air­port, the re­gion is also easy to ex­plore, its small size al­low­ing you to check off a few wine es­tates in a day.


Rhein­gau’s Oestrich-Winkel is a quiet town with cob­bled streets, which squeak un­der ve­hi­cle tyres in wet weather—or, in our case, a late March snow­fall; a me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal hang­over of the se­vere win­ter that blighted Europe this year. Oestrich-Winkel is also home to Peter Jakob Kühn, a fam­ily es­tate with a his­tory of more than 200 years. An­gela and Peter Jakob, the es­tate’s 11th gen­er­a­tion of vint­ners, and their son Peter Bernhard man­age the win­ery and its 20 hectares of vine­yards.

The es­tate re­ceived its Deme­ter cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for bio­dy­namic agriculture in 2004. “In the 1990s, we stopped the use of chem­i­cals [in the vine­yards] and be­gan to no­tice a bet­ter in­ten­sity of flavours in the grapes. We were con­vinced that or­ganic wine­mak­ing works,” says An­gela. “At the start of the new mil­len­nium, we took the bio­dy­namic ap­proach as it cre­ates a nat­u­ral bal­ance in the vine­yard.”

An­gela and her team took their cues from Ru­dolf Steiner, the late Aus­trian philoso­pher who ad­vo­cated bio­dy­namic farm­ing. When the vines start to bear fruit, horn sil­ica (finely ground quartz) is sprayed over them as it is be­lieved that their mist gives a lu­mi­nous qual­ity to the plants, which help them ab­sorb more sun­light. They also pre­pare their own com­post—a mix of animal ma­nure, green waste, and grape po­mace—to nour­ish their vines.

“The com­post cre­ates or­ganic mat­ter or hu­mus that al­lows vine roots to grow and re­ceive more nu­tri­ents,” says An­gela. “This gives our wines a strong struc­ture and an in­tense aroma.” The es­tate’s Ries­lings, whether they come from the ba­sic Orst­wein or pre­mium Erste Lage tier, have a con­sis­tent taut line of acid­ity. The Ries­ling Trocken

2016 from their Hall­gar­tener Hen­del­berg vine­yard is par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive, thanks to its min­er­ally, flo­ral fin­ish that lingers on the palate.

2016 was largely con­sid­ered a good vin­tage for many in Rhein­gau, de­spite a heavy rain­fall in July. Late sum­mer brought plenty of good weather, al­low­ing the grapes to at­tain op­ti­mal ma­tu­rity. “2016 was a dream for us as we had good ripeness and bal­ance [in the wines],” says Reiner Flick, wine­maker of Weingut Joachim Flick in the town of Flör­sheimWicker in eastern Rhein­gau. “In con­trast, 2017 posed a great prob­lem with the frost dam­age,” he adds. “We lost 40 per cent of our crop and had the low­est yield—about 38 hec­tolitres per hectare—in the his­tory of our es­tate.”

Weingut Joachim Flick, which oc­cu­pies a

700-year-old mill, pro­duces 180,000 bot­tles a year. Like the Kühns, Reiner fo­cuses on Ries­lings: 80 per cent of his vine­yards are planted with the white grape. The Wicker Nonnberg and Könign Vic­to­ri­aberg vine­yards are un­doubt­edly his prized plots, of­fer­ing Ries­lings with per­fumed notes and savoury ac­cents. The Wicker Nonnberg ‘Vier Mor­gen’ Ries­ling 2016 is mem­o­rable with its vel­vety, flo­ral lay­ers and a long, herba­ceous fin­ish.



Un­like other es­tates in the re­gion of Rhein­hessen, Wasem Wein in In­gel­heim am Rhein makes more red than white wines. “Red wines make up two-thirds of our port­fo­lio, which is quite an un­com­mon of­fer­ing when you con­sider that 70 per cent of Rhein­hessen’s vine­yards are devoted to white grapes,” says Philipp Wasem, the 300-year-old win­ery’s fourth gen­er­a­tion vint­ner. “It’s be­cause of our sandy soils—they heat up dur­ing the day and re­tain their warmth at night. They also don’t hold wa­ter well, which en­cour­ages the roots to grow deeper. Such con­di­tions make the soils ideal for grow­ing red wines.”

Spät­bur­gun­ders form the bulk of Wasem Wein’s red wines, but Philipp says it is Früh­bur­gun­der—also known as Pinot Noir Pre­coce and the eu­pho­nious Pinot Madeleine—that is “very spe­cial” for the win­ery. The dark-skinned grape is an early ripen­ing mu­ta­tion of Pinot Noir and was pop­u­lar in the 1960s un­til its sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to dis­eases pushed it to the brink of ob­scu­rity in the 70s. For­tu­nately, Rhein­gau-based Geisen­heim Grape Breed­ing In­sti­tute res­cued it by prop­a­gat­ing new virus-re­sis­tant clones. To­day, the grape is mak­ing a come­back, thanks to a new gen­er­a­tion of wine­mak­ers like Philipp who are keen to give this sup­ple, savoury quaff the plat­form it de­serves.

“We get about 3,000 litres per hectare of Früh­bur­gun­der, so it’s not a lot. It is the first va­ri­ety we be­gin our vin­tage with: it ripens six weeks ear­lier than Spät­bur­gun­der and pro­duces very small berries that are quite sweet,” ex­plains Philipp. “Nor­mally, with wine grapes you get about four seeds per berry—and seeds cor­re­late to berry size. With Früh­bur­gun­der, you get only one seed in it.”

Over at Weingut J. Bet­ten­heimer, wine­maker and Ge­sen­heim alum­nus Jens Bet­ten­heimer, who took over the reins of his fam­ily win­ery re­cently, makes Früh­bur­gun­der, too. His Schloss­berg Blauer Früh­bur­gun­der 2014 comes from a south­east-fac­ing slope and is fer­mented with wild yeast be­fore un­der­go­ing bar­rel mat­u­ra­tion for 20 months. The wine is light-bod­ied with sub­tle touches of soy, cher­ries and straw­ber­ries. You can call it “Spat­bur­gun­der-lite”; think mel­low Tom Hanks, not brood­ing Chris­tian Bale. De­spite Früh­bur­gun­der’s re­nais­sance, Jens thinks it can be rather prob­lem­atic to work with as the grape is a mag­net for Drosophila suzukii or Suzuki fruit flies.

Jens adopts or­ganic and bio­dy­namic wine­mak­ing prac­tices, but chooses not to get his win­ery cer­ti­fied, al­low­ing him to in­ter­vene when the weather runs afoul. He is also re­duc­ing his use of cop­per in the vine­yards. “My mother is part of the old gen­er­a­tion of vint­ners who think re­duc­ing the yield is strange,” he says, chuck­ling. “Some­times, she won­ders why we don’t spray enough in the vine­yard.”

In the town of Flör­sheim-Daisheim, the or­ganic wine­mak­ing es­tate of Raum­land is mak­ing a name for it­self as one of the coun­try’s best Sekt (sparkling wine) pro­duc­ers. The am­i­ca­ble owner, Volker Raum­land, makes bub­blies from grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardon­nay, Pinot Me­u­nier, Pinot Blanc and Ries­ling. He also uses méth­ode cham­p­enoise or sec­ondary fermentation method in the bot­tle, in­stead of the Char­mat or tank tech­nique em­ployed by the ma­jor­ity of Sekt pro­duc­ers.

“Every­thing we do is like [what you’d see] in Cham­pagne; we have the same phi­los­o­phy and the same grapes,” says Volker, who founded the win­ery in 1990 and pro­duces 100,000 bot­tles a year. “The only dif­fer­ence is our grapes are grown on lime­stone, and not chalk, soil. Our earth is more like Bur­gundy’s.”

The lime­stone con­trib­utes a min­er­ally char­ac­ter to many of Raum­land’s sparklers. Volker’s Marie-Luise Brut NV—named af­ter his daugh­ter—is a Pinot Noir cu­vée that of­fers rich, fruity aro­mas, vi­brant flinty notes and a del­i­cate, silky tex­ture. (It is the kind of sparkling wine you’d like to serve blind to a bunch of Cham­pagne diehards.) The es­tate’s non-vin­tage am­brosias are aged on the lees for at least three years, while the Pres­tige line of vin­tage sparklers are kept on the lees for a min­i­mum of six years.

Twice a year, Volker makes the 350km drive to Cham­pagne to gather some wine­mak­ing in­spi­ra­tion, not­ing that there is much to learn from their friends across the bor­der. In­deed, it is such open-mind­ed­ness and hu­mil­ity that give Ger­man wine­mak­ers an edge over their Euro­pean coun­ter­parts.

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