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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.