Wilhelm Weil – The Rheingau – Wine for the region, wine from the region

The founder of the scientific study of fol­­­k­­lore, Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, born at the gates of the Rheingau in Biebrich, near Wiesbaden in 1823, spoke about the Rhein­­­gau being “fully cultivated” by wine.

What better way to describe how this re­­gion so blessed by nature, called “nature’s pleasure garden” by Heinrich von Kleist, has been shaped by wine-growing in terms of its structure and character for over 2,000 years. Not quite as poetic, but just as correct: one of the Rhein­­gau’s unique selling points has remain­­ed unchanged for generations: the Rhein­­gau is Riesling and Riesling is the Rheingau.

 

37The author studied Oenology and Busi­­ness Administration. He spent time in va­­rious wine-growing regions during his training and practical experience as a vintner. He has held positions of res­­pon­­­sibility at Weingut Robert Weil since 1987, and is today estate director and partner. In addition, he is vice president of the Association of German Quality and Prädikat Wine Estates (VDP) and chairman of VDP Rheingau e.V.

While it was the Romans who settled be­­t­­ween the Rhine, with the metropolis Mo­­guntiacum, and the Limes and pursued wine-growing on a small scale, it was in 983 A.D. that wine-growing gained the momentum that would shape the de­­vel­­­­opment of the Rheingau right up to the be­­­­ginning of the 20th century. It was then that Emperor Otto II. gave the Rhein­­gau to his Archchancellor Willigis, then Arch­­­­­­b­­i­­s­­hop of Mainz, in the Veronese End­­­owment.

Thus the Rheingau, located between the Rhine and Taunus on an ancient forested boundary, came under the rule of Aurea Moguntia and the Archdiocese of Mainz. The Archbishops in Mainz quickly recog­nised that winegrowers could produce better wine for the tithe and for themselves when they could work in the vine­­­y­­ards unburdened by servitude.
Of course, the period between 983 and the dissolution of Mainz’ territorial so­­­ve­­­­r­eignty through secularisation in 1803 saw many local and large-scale conflicts on the political stage between the Arch­­bi­­shops and their subjects in the Rhein­­gau. Despite this, the belief that “the Rheingau air sets you free” has persisted ever since the Middle Ages and the Rhein­­gauer Weis­­tum (historical sources of law) of 1324.

 

Historischer Weinkeller der Zisterzienserabtei Kloster Eberbach

Historische Weinkelter im ehemaligen Zisterzienserabtei Kloster Eberbach

This mindset of the free citizens in the coun­­try, on equal terms with those of the city of Mainz, was a great help in the de­­­­­velopment of the Rheingau, and of wine­­­growing in particular. The large monas­­teries and aristocratic families living in the Rheingau were the patrons of this de­­velopment. Eberbach Abbey, founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks from Bur­­g­­un­dy, gave the Rheingau its first wine-growing estate. At the time, this was con­­­sidered a global player, and its ships and farmyards established a close-knit distribution network for its wines. This ex­­­­tensive network was matched by a cultural network, associated with the Cis­­ter­­­cian Orders, which stretched across the entire continent from its origin at the mother monastery in Cîteaux in Bur­­gun­­­­dy. This network turned Eberbach Abbey into a vital driving force for cultural ach­­ieve­­ments in the Rheingau and beyond.


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Today, this unique monastery complex, lovingly restored over many years by the State of Hessen, is a true gem and a uni­­­­que witness to the history of wine in the Rheingau. These cultural impulses continue to this day. For example, the wine culture asso­­­ciated with the monastery was cul­­tivated and further developed by the sec­­­ular rulers of the Rheingau, who came to power in 1803 (Nassau) and 1866 (Prussia). In addition, it was the traditional aristocra­­tic wineries and, from the mid-19th cen­­­tury, the newly-founded and innovative up­­per-class wineries who built up Riesling to the great reputation it enjoys today. The fact that Rheingau Riesling achieved the highest wine prices on the world markets towards the end of the 19th cen­­tury is remarkable proof of this.
Today, the Rheingau is home to almost 3,100 hectares of vineyards, making it a relati­­vely small, yet wonderful, German wine-grow­­ing region. Almost 80 per cent of the vine­­­­­­yards cultivate Riesling grapes, while twelve per cent of the area is given over to Pinot Noir vines, which have found a perfect home in Assmannshausen in particular. There are currently almost 400 wineries in operation in the Rheingau: from small family-run busi­­nesses to me­­­dium-sized wineries which dis­­tribute their products worldwide.

The landscape of the Rheingau region is therefore undeniably shaped by wine-grow­­ing, and the winegrowers also have key significance and responsibility in caring for the landscape, alongside their profes­­­­­­sional activities. Maintaining and cultivating the steep slopes of the Taunus hillsides and the sensitive boundaries be­­t­­­­­­ween the vineyards and the seven Rhein­­­­gau communities is of considerable im­­­­portance if the Rheingau is to retain its character as the “garden” of the Rhine-Main region.

This function as the “front garden” of the RhineMain metropolitan region offers tremendous opportunities for the Rhein­­gau. There is no need to reiterate the po­­ten­­­tial this metropolitan region holds, with its 5.5 million inhabitants and high aver­­age purchasing power, its diversity of cities and the culture, science and quality of living it offers, and its excellent trans­­port links at the heart of Germany and Europe.


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The Rheingau itself benefits the region as a “soft” location factor. This small area with just under 70,000 inhabitants, its in­­credibly dense and diverse range of at­­­tractions including the landscape, culture, wine-growing and the hospitality of the Rheingau restaurant and hotel sector, provide a high quality of life and rec­­reational activities for both inhabitants and visitors.

The range of restaurants extends from a­­ward-winning chefs to home-style cook­­ing and bars. The international cooking and wine-growing elite gather in the Rhein­­gau every year to celebrate the “Rhein­­gau Gourmet & Wein Festival” and the “Glorreiche Rheingau Tage” festival. But the wine festivals held throughout the summer also emphasise the lovable side of the Rheingau.

The well-known “Rheingau Musik Festi­val”, which has enjoyed a glowing reputation for pre­­sen­­ting the international stars of the classical music scene for 25 years, has also made the Rheingau world famous.

The Rheingau holds a productive position, caught between the challenges and competing forces of tradition and modernity, between basic and top. Its historical importance and the standards it accor­­dingly sets itself represent both opportunities and obligations for the future.

While living in Heidelberg in 1953, the German author Bernd Boehle stated that he would not want to live in the Rhein­­gau, because then he would not be able to visit. As a passionate inhab­itant of the Rheingau, may I use this witty compliment to extend a warm in­­vitation to you to visit the Rheingau.