When it comes to the trendiest wine-growing destinations, unfortunately Germany is often overlooked by wine-loving travellers. Sure, regions like Napa Valley in California, Portugal’s UNESCO World Heritage Duoro Valley or Bordeaux in France are world renowned and breathtaking. Yet Germany has one of the longest wine-growing histories (dating back to Roman times) many excellent wines, and a large number of different beautiful wine regions waiting to be explored.
In addition, over the past decade German wine regions and single wineries have worked hard to create many wine-related activities to attract more visitors and make German wines better known.
This was driven by new generations of winemakers taking over the German wine landscape, refining the styles of German wines and taking a whole new approach in engaging with customers; and in particular welcoming visitors to their wineries.
Many new, modern design-led wineries were built across Germany’s wine regions in recent years, and many old ones have been refurbished to live up to modern times. Following the example of new world wine regions, many have added tasting rooms and wine shops.
Add all the attractions that have always made Germany’s wine regions a pleasure and Germany should become a destination you really need to put on your wine-destination travel list.
Picturesque valleys and romantic little towns
Germany’s wine regions easily offer some of the country’s most beautiful scenery. Expect to find many small historic towns and villages spotting half-timbered houses and cobbled streets nestled on slopes overlooking the various rivers cutting through Germany, most notably the Rhine, Mosel and Neckar.
In the Rheingau area, Assmannshausen and Rüdesheim (with its famous Drosselgasse – a narrow 200 metre long cobbled pedestrian streed lined with wine bars and pubs) are probably the most visited German villages.
Then there is Germany’s oldest city, Trier, an UNESCO World Heritage site, with a huge concentration of Roman ruins (the city was founded by the Romans in 15 B.C.), including Porta Nigra, several Roman bath houses, and a Roman amphitheater with underground tunnels and cages.
Other towns within Germany’s wine regions worth visiting include: Bad Dürkheim, Bernkastel-Kues, Bingen, Cochem, Cologne, Deidesheim, Eltville, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Neustadt an der Weinstraße, St. Goar (close to the famous Lorely rock) and Traben-Trabach.
Historic castles and monasteries
Germany’s wine regions are full of ancient castles and monasteries. Several of them are still in use today, others have been converted into hotles or restaurants whilst others again are only ruins.
Several of Germany’s historic monasteries are also famous wineries, with a long history of wine making under their belt.
Eberbach Abbey (Kloster Eberbach) in Rheingau, was founded in 1136 as the first Cistercian monastery on the east bank of the Rhine river. It is not only one of Europe’s best preserved medieval monasteries but also still the largest winery in Germany to this day.
At Johannisberg castle (or abbey) also in the Rheingau areas, vines have been grown for more than 1,200 years. In fact, it is said to be the world’s first Riesling wine estate. The Castle was bombed and burned down in 1942 but was later restored. There is a nice wine shop at the estate, selling wines from both Johannisberg wine estate and the Mumm wine estate. You can also have a wine tasting at the shop.
Today only a ruin, Burg Rheinfels in St. Goar, which dates back to 1245 was once the largest fortress in the Middle Rhine Valley. Some of the older buildings that remained standing have been converted into a luxury hotel.
Eltz Castle (Burg Eltz) is likely one of the most photographed castles of Germany. It is one of only three castles on the left bank of the Rhine in the Rhineland area that have never been destroyed (the other two are Schloss Bürresheim and Schloss Lissingen) and offers beautiful views over the river Mosel between Koblenz and Trier. Some 850 years old, Burg Eltz is still in possession of the founding family. The castle can be visitied during Spring and Summer but is closed from late fall to mid-Spring.
Reichsburg Castle, the largest castle along the Mosel sits high over the river. Surrounded by terraced wine banks and overlooking the beauiful village of Cochem it still spots parts dating back to the 1100s. There is a castle festival every first week in August and during the second and third week of Advent in December the castle is the home of the Cochem Castle Christmas.
Castle Schönburg, towering high over the river Rhine at the small town of Oberwesel was first mentioned in 911. After being destroyed in the late 1600s by a fire it was consequently restored and today parts of the property have been turned into a luxury hotel.
Get to taste the ‘new’ German Riesling
Riesling is Germany’s main grape variety and is grown across all thirteen German wine regions. Unfortunately, its reputation has suffered as it became synonymous with cheep sweetish wine.
That said, there have been always outstanding German Riesling wines although indeed many not so good ones were also sold in fairly large quantities. Thankfully, Riesling’s fame is changing globally since a growing focus on quality over quantity has slowly taken over Germany’s wine landscape over the past few decades. This is also helped by a new generation of winekamers taking over their family wineries and adopting new (or evolved) styles and production methodes along with the introduction of a new and more understandable wine classification.
There are hundreds of wine and food festivals across Germany each year
Each year, Germany hosts hundreds of wine and food festivals. Many take place during August and September, the traditional German wine-harvesting period but the festival season actually runs from early Spring into late Autumn.
Most festivals are small and often only a day or weekend long. Yet it’s exactly their small scale and still quite local reach that makes them a fantastic occasion to learn more about local wines and wineries and get in touch with the people responsible for making the wines.
The most famous of all German wine festivals perhaps is the Rhein in Flammen (Rhine in flames) which actually refers to five different events (and dates) taking place from May to September along the river Rhine. The main attraction are the big firework displays which take place along the river while at the river banks you will find many activities around local wine, with local wineries and restaurants participating in the event.
Other well established wine festivals include:
Bad Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt (sausage market). Believe it or not, this is the world’s largest wine festival. So it is not exactly documented when it was hold the first time, it has something like 600 years and its belt. Alongside wine and food, the festival also boasts the largest wine barrel in the world. In fact, the ‘wine barrel’ is a restaurant but it’s been built scrupulously following the rules of building real wine barrels. The festival takes place every second and third weekend in September.
Mosel Wine Week, Cochem. The beautiful town of Cochem is worth a visit of its own but gets particularly busy during the famous Mosel Wine week when it hosts numerous wine-makers.
Weinfest der Mittelmosel (wine festival of the Middle Mosel). In early September, the town of Bernkastel-Kues hosts its annual wine festival with lots of food and wine stalls, tastings and the crowning of a new wine queen.
Rheingau Wein Festival, Wiesbaden. Though Wiesbaden is not exactly part of the German wine-growing regions it is still called the ‘Gateway to the Rheingau’ as it directly boarders this famous wine region. The Rheingau Wein Festival is a 10-day event that takes place in early August when you can sample wines from local wintners at more than 120 booths in the city centre.
Neustadt an der Bergstaße each year crowns the German National Wine Queen during a festival held in October.
Easy access from Frankfurt International airport
Germany’s wine regions are easily accessible within a one to two hours drive from Frankfurt International airport (with the exception of Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen, which are located in the eastern part of Germany). So it’s easy to go there even just for a long weekend.
You can travel even by train to most of the regions’ main towns, as most have designated stops. However, the easiest and most flexible option is to rent a car at the airport.
Have you been to any of Germany’s 13 wine regions yet? Which one did you like most?