There is great news for Germany’s largest wine-growing region, Rheinhessen. A new generation of winemakers who have trained abroad – in wine regions both in traditional old-world wine regions like Bordeaux, Tuscany or Piedmont and the new-world wine regions of Australia, New Zealand, California and South Africa – is leading the area back to its old glory after a time of being credited to produce predominantly low-quality wines.
Today most of the local wineries are firmly focused on producing elegant quality wines and implementing innovative processes, in particular a serious transformation towards organic wine making methods which are now widely deployed in the area.
A particular gem not to be missed when visiting the region is the old village of Ingelheim, located on the shores of the river Rhine.
It is a place steeped in history. In the second half of the 8th century, no other than Charlemagne himself had his imperial palace built here. It served many emperors and kings as a lodging and ruling seat until the 11th century. Some remnants of the palace can still be found today although from the few pieces that still exist, it is difficult to understand how the place might have looked.
But even without lots of historic monuments, it’s a pleasure strolling through the small alleys around the old part of Ober-Ingelheim, taking in bits and pieces of the history of the village, admiring the typical rural homes and in between getting glimpses of the surrounding landscape planted with rows of vines.
There are still lots of other historic remnants throughout the town and the lovely small houses that almost resemble the Truli homes to be found in the southern part of Italy.
Perhaps the most famous sight of Ingelheim (and certainly it’s most photographed building) is the beautiful gothic Burgkirche (castle church). Build during the first half of the 15th century, it is regarded as one of the best preserved fortified churches in southern and western Germany.
Fun fact: It is thanks to Charlemagne that pinot vines were brought to the area in the early 9th century, first grown on some vineyards in the neighboring Rheingau on the other side of the Rhine river.
Don’t get it wrong, though. Wine-making in and around Ingelheim started already a long time before Charlemagne – the village looks back at a wine growing tradition that spans some two thousand years. That said, however, Ingelheim saw the best of its times at the start of the 20th century when it was regarded to be Germany’s red wine capital.
Today, thanks to the aforementioned new winemakers the area is on the way back to its former glory and there are lots of wineries worth being on visitors radars. Testimony to this is the number of wineries that in recent years received various German and international awards for their wines and other aspect of their estates, including around wine tourism and wine-architecture.
Now if you are familiar with Rheinhessen, you will know it is an area where predominantly white wines are produced. However, Ingelheim and its surrounding area is characterised by its limestone soil and limited rain which is ideal to grow red wine, in particular the burgundy style wines favoured here. Still, all Ingelheim wineries also produce quality white wines.
Many of the local wineries in recent years have also adopted a new open-door philosophy, adding on-site tasting rooms, restaurants and even accommodation to their core wine-making business. That said, most still require prior appointments if you want to visit.
Here are some of the wineries I’d recommend visiting.
Weingut Schloss Westerhaus
Nestled at the highest point within the Ingelheim area, Castle Westerhaus offers breathtaking views over the village and across the Rhine river into the nearby Rheingau wine region.
The origins of Westerhaus are rumoured to go back to the very era of Charlemagne in the 8th century. What is surely known, is that the site was first documented properly in 1408. It belonged to the Duke of Ingelheim until 1900 when it was bought by one of the sons of Adam Opel (the famous German car maker). Today, it is owned and managed in the fourth generation by a member of the Opel family.
The tasting room at Westerhaus is still ‘old style’ – which actually adds to the fascination of the place dominated by the grand structure of the historic castle in its unique, stand-alone location on the top of the hill.
Open Mon to Fri, 9 am to 6.30 pm and Sat, 10 am to 4 pm.
Weingut Arndt F. Werner
Founded in 1819 by Johann Baptist Werner, the winery is now owned and managed by the Werner family in the seventh generation with current owner Arndt F. Werner at the helm since 1988.
The winery sits directly next to the historic Charlemagne area. However, more remarkably perhaps is that it was one of the first in the Ingelheim and wider Rheinhessen area to adapt a completely ecological wine-making process, now looking back at already 35 years of producing wine that way!
Open Tue to Fri, 9 am to 12.30 pm and 2 pm to 6 pm and Sat, 9.30 am to 2 pm. However, you need to call ahead to let them know you are coming.
Weingut Arndt F. Werner
Weingut Joachim Bettenheimer
Looking back at more than 550 years of wine-making in the family, the Bettenheimer winery is run by winemaker Jens Bettenheimer since 2005. His focus is on traditional local varietals pinot noir, pinot noir prècose (a variety of the pinot noir grape that origins from a mutation of the grape which ripens earlier than normal), Silvaner, Riesling and pinot gris.
Located in the former cow shed of the winery is a small bistro where you can enjoy Bettenheimer wines along with a small selection of regional dishes.
The bistro is open Thu to Sat from 6 pm, Sun from 3.30 pm and on German public holidays from 5 pm.
Weingut Joachim Bettenheimer
Whilst the Wasem family is looking at a wine-growing tradition that goes back to 1726, the winery as it exists today was founded in 1912 by Julius Wasem and is now run in the fourth generation.
Weingut Wasem a few years ago made the former Cistercian Convent Engelthal – which dates back to 1290 – its new home. A modern tasting room build largely with glass elements was carefully integrated into the heritage-listed buildings, which also include a restaurant.
To complete the wine-experience at Wasem is a small hotel run by the Wasem family, located just a few minutes’ walk away from the tasting room.
If you want to learn more about the Wasem winery, its wines and accommodation, check out a recent blog I wrote here.
Open Mon to Fri, 7.30 am – 6.30 pm, Sat 9.30 am – 6 pm and Sun from noon to 5 pm.
Looking back at more than one hundred years, Weingut Dautermann is the winner of the German red wine award VINUM 2014. The winery produces a large range of varietals including the local favourites, pinot noir and pinot nor prècoce along with Riesling, rosé and sparkling wines.
Dauterman owns one of Ingelheim’s best vineyard location, the very exclusive 3.5 hectares located directly opposite the town’s famous Burgkirche.
Open Mon to Sat, 8 am to noon and 1 pm to 6 pm.
Weingut J. Neus
The winner of the 2018 ‘Great Wine Capitals International Award’ in the category architecture, parks and gardens looks back of nearly 140 years of wine-making history.
Founded in 1881 by Josef Neus, the winery has been one of the leading houses since its early days. In fact, the Neuss family developed a famous vine clone (aptly called the Neus clone) which thanks to its excellent characteristics was planted by many other vintners too.
Today, the winery is owned by a businessmen from nearby Mainz who bought it in 2013 and since has made some significant investments to make it once again one of the best wineries in Germany. This includes the meticulous renovation of the winery’s historic family mansion – standing in front of the utterly beautiful building, it’s totally understandable why it won the award.
A modern tasting room was added to the complex in 2015, carefully integrated in the historic settings of the property too.
Open Tue to Fri, 9 am to 6 pm and upon prior appointment over the weekend.
Weingut J. Neus
Located less than 20 kilometres outside of Mainz and around 60 kilomtres from Frankfurt (45 minutes), the Ingelheim wine area is a fantastic location to be easily explored over a weekend. I really enjoyed every minute of my visit and I can’t recommend it enough!