Wine and culture – two things that have always gone hand-in-hand in Germany. However, many people, particularly those outside the wine regions, are not even aware of this. They do not know that Germany is a wine country with a wine culture dating back over 2,000 years, which has had a lasting impact on the people and many landscapes and towns and villages. This is why in 2010, the German Wine Institute (DWI) awarded 40 “Landmarks of Wine Culture” to wine regions across Germany. Of this total, 19 are in the largest wine-growing state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The Landmarks of Wine Culture honours specials places which document the wine-growing history and tradition, the services offered by the wine-growing industry as well as the cultural heritage of wine. The landmarks were selected by an independent jury from over 100 submitted choices.
The DWI wants to use this campaign to increase awareness for the cultural heritage of wine. People are to be motivated to visit the wine-growing regions to experience first-hand the importance of wine-growing in Germany. The highlights include contemporary witnesses of German wine culture, which provide tourists with exciting starting points. These include for example towns and villages, but also wineries with an outstanding wine-growing tradition, extensive wine cellar complexes, gigantic demonstration barrels or utensils for daily use, all of which are worth a visit. After all, the Celts already drank wine made from self-cultivated grapes, however, it was the Romans, who brought large-scale wine-growing to Germany, which quickly spread particularly along the river valleys of the Rhine and Moselle rivers.
The Celts were the first to clear the hillsides and establish extensive vineyards, they pressed the grapes using enormous wine presses and lastly produced very popular wines. To this day, their wine presses can be found in Rhineland-Palatinate – and as a Landmark of Wine Culture can be viewed, for example, in Piesport on the Moselle river. There stands the largest Roman wine press north of the Alps, directly at the base of the famous step slope site “Piesporter Goldtröpfchen”. The 44 by 20-metre site dating back to the fourth century employed up to 130 workers, 60,000 litres of grape must could be pressed per day. Germany without wine-growing is unthinkable since the arrival of the Romans: strikingly steep sloped, picturesque vineyard terraces and gracious vineyard landscapes covering 100,000 hectares today characterise the landscapes in the wine-growing regions.
Particularly spectacular vineyard sites are also included in the Landmarks of Wine Culture. These include for example Europe’s steepest vineyard, the Bremmer Calmont on the Moselle river, with a 60 degree slope inclination, or the oldest recorded vineyard in Rhinehessen, the Niersteiner Glöck, first officially mentioned in the year 742.
Vineyard and “Altes Haus” in Bacharach on the Rhine river.
But not only the landscape was changed with the arrival of wine. Houses, entire towns and villages have been impacted over the course of the centuries by the wine-growing. These include the famous wine-growing town of Deidesheim in the Palatinate, or the town of Bacharach on the Middle Rhine, whose name honours the wine god Bacchus, even if historians suppose that the name is of Celtic origin. Bacharach was an important wine-trading hub during the Middle Ages. Numerous old half-timbered houses surrounding the historical marketplace pay tribute to the town’s eventful history. The oldest of the buildings, the “Alte Haus” built in 1368, to this day houses a famous wine pub. This quaint city, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Middle Rhine Valley, was thus considered to be among the most beautiful towns in the world in the 19th century.
Prominent contemporary witnesses of wine history at the same time represent many a wine grower. For example, the birthplace of the wine growers’ cooperative is located in Mayschoß on the Ahr river. In the year 1868, 18 wine growers founded the wine-growing history’s first wine-growers’ cooperative. The following year, the cooperative was registered as the “Winzerverein zu Mayschoß – Eingetragene Genossenschaft” in the commercial and cooperative register in Koblenz. Today, the German wine grower cooperatives, established on this model, cultivate nearly one-third of all vineyards in Germany. The wineries in Rhineland-Palatinate with a cultural history worthy of honouring include the Vereinigte Hospitien estate in Trier as well as the two former state domains of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, the Marienthal monastery on the Ahr river and the Gut Herrmannsberg in Niederhausen on the Nahe river. The “Königlich-Preussische Weinbaudomäne Niederhausen-Schlossböckelheim”, a wine-growing domain founded in 1902, dedicated itself in the post-war years to researching quality and progress. Here the first tests with cold fermentation were conducted, as were tests for vine nutrition and plant protection or where the well-known Riesling wine clone DN 500 was selected, which to this day enjoys an excellent reputation.
The list of historical wine culture sites in Rhineland-Palatinate and all of Germany could easily be much longer. Over the past years, an increasingly modern wine culture has been developing in Germany, which is particularly noticeable in the architecture of wineries and wine shops. This is an expression of a generational change and significant dynamics, which is being driven by the younger stakeholders in Germany’s wine industry. In light of this trend, the German Wine Institute will honour new Landmarks of Wine Culture in 2013, the focus of which will clearly be on modernity in order to promote additional wine-tourism highlights in the wine regions.
The author has been the managing director of the German Wine Fund (DWF) since April 1, 2007 and managing director of the German Wine Institute (DWI) and German Wine Academy (DWA), where she is responsible for the cooperative marketing of wines originating in the German wine-growing regions.