A Beginners Guide To Kaiserstuhl Wine Region in Germany
In Germany’s southwest the small Kaiserstuhl area is the southern-most section of the Baden wine region, not far from the French border. Nestled between the Vosges Mountains in the west and the Black Forest in the east, the area just northeast of Freiburg is characterized by a range of verdant green volcanic hills rising in proximity to the Rhine River bank. It is the warmest and sunniest corner of Germany with around 1,700 hours of sunshine each year.
Literally meaning ‘emperors seat’, the name Kaiserstuhl is believed going back to the year 994 when king Otto III held court in the area. Nevertheless, the first documented mentioning of the name was in the year 1304.
A stunning landscape, many kilometres of hiking and biking routes, beautiful small historic towns, wineries, and many farmers markets along with the proximity of neighbouring Alsace and a little further south, Switzerland, makes the area a favourite tourist destination. More and more of the visitors are coming for the excellent local wines and a culinary offer that includes traditional dishes from the Baden region as well as a very notable influence from nearby Alsace.
Small country roads are winding through the vineyards from one little wine village to the next while the nature reserve of the inner Kaiserstuhl boasts a stunning and sometimes exotic flora (rare orchids) and fauna.
Where is Kaiserstuhl wine region, how to get there and how to get around?
Kaiserstuhl is a beautiful area of rolling verdant hills nestled in the southwestern corner of Germany. Located only 20 to 30 minutes drivetime to the northwest of Freiburg, the area stretches between the towns of Ihringen in the south and Forchheim in the north and includes the towns of Vogtsburg (the winemaking centre), Sasbach, Endingen, Bahlingen and Eichstetten.
The international EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg just over the border into Switzerland is less than an hour away.
Meanwhile the area can be reached from Frankfurt Airport by car in under two and a half hours or alternatively taking the ICE fast train from the airport to nearby Freiburg, which takes just over two hours.
Once in the area, the best way to get around is by car. The small towns are also connected via public transport – local trains and buses – but most stops are served on an hourly basis and the stops are typically in one of the main towns. Which means, you are missing out on the large vineyard area outside, and several of the lovely wineries located outside the towns.
A quick introduction to winemaking in the Kaiserstuhl
The Kaiserstuhl area with a total of 4,100 hectares under vine is the largest of the various Baden wine region subdivisions.
With over 1,700 hours of sunshine each year, the stunning Kaiserstuhl is Germany’s sunniest and warmest area. The climate here is indeed almost Mediterranean, with long warm summers and mild winters. The Vosges Mountain range in the west is responsible for the areas ‘rain shadow’, meaning it offers protection against excessive rainfall.
Due to the local climatic conditions, Kaiserstuhl (along with the overall Baden wine region with likewise warm climate) is the only winegrowing region in Germany classified as ‘Categroy B Winegrowing Region’ by the EU. Which means, a stricter quality measurement for winemaking applies.
Created by volcanic eruptions several million years ago, the Kaiserstuhl soils are mostly made of loess formed during the Ice Age
The Kaiserstuhl is most renowned for its burgundy wines. All three burgundy varieties – Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc – thrive in the area. Which is the reason it’s known as ‘home of three Pinots’ while Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) definitely rules.
Other grape varieties grown around the Kaiserstuhl include Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Muscatel.
The Kaiserstuhl Area beyond Wine: Best Towns to Visit
If you have ever been to the German countryside, you know the country is blessed with many small historic towns boasting beautiful half-timbered houses, lovely little churches and narrow, winding cobble-stoned streets.
The Kaiserstuhl area is no exception, with its small towns inviting to stroll around and take in some of the beautiful sights.
Below is a list of local towns you should definitely not miss when in the area.
The small medieval wine town with just over 1,000 inhabitants is located on the western-most corner of the Kaiserstuhl, close to the Rhine River. It’s small historic core is perhaps the most stunning of all the Kaiserstuhl towns.
Among the various half-timbered houses lining the main street, the one called ‘Zu den fünf Türmen’ (which literally translates into to the five towers, though I could not tell what the name alludes to other than it’s a form inn) is one of the most stunning in the whole area.
Also worth visiting is the little corkscrew museum.
Endingen am Kaiserstuhl
Located at the northern edge of the Kaiserstuhl area, Endingen is perhaps the most visited town in the area. A charming medieval town with lots of small cafes and small shops, it’s a great spot for a lovely morning visit before you head out into the vineyards.
Like all historic destinations, it needs special conservation efforts to preserve the cobblestone streets and historic facades. Thus, during my visit the small historic core was unfortunately crammed with work vehicles and several of the beautiful facades hidden behind scaffolding.
Yet the beautiful historic city gate and one of the towns most renowned buildings, the Blue House, definitely demonstrate the charm of the whole place, wouldn’t you say?
Riegel am Kaiserstuhl
The small town at the north-eastern edge of the area in the Roman era was an important administrative centre. Various sites with remnants of the Romans and Celts along with the early Middle Age can be explored along a archaeological thematic route.
Breisach, on the shores of the Rhine River in the west is technically located already outside of the official Kaiserstuhl area. Yet missing the imposing historic St. Stephans Cathedral towering over the town and the spectacular views over the vineyards of Kaiserstuhl and the surrounding mountain ranges would be a real shame.
Castle hill – now home to the cathedral – is one of the oldest inhabited settlements of the Upper Rhine area. Stone Age hungers already settled here around 4,000 years ago. Meanwhile, works on the cathedral stated at the end of the 12th century.
Best Wineries of Kaiserstuhl to Visit
Kaiserstuhl winemaking is dominated by the areas large wine-cooperative Badischer Winzerkeller. Yet the areas’ most prestigious wines are made by a number of small, family-led wineries.
Vogtsburg, divided into several small communities is the centre of winemaking in the whole are and with around 1,400 hectares it’s the largest winegrowing community in the state of Baden-Würthemberg and home to a number of excellent local wineries.
Weingut Salway, located in Vogtsburg-Oberrotweil is a third-generation led winery with focus on organic and natural winemaking. Salway is particularly known for its wines made on complete fermentation. This means, the wines are absolutely dry albeit not too alcohol heavy. Wines are matured in wooden barrels stored in a cellar build into the rock of a former stone mine, emphasizing both the grape varieties and local terroir.
Weingut Franz Keller, located in Vogtsburg-Oberbergen is perhaps the most internationally known star of the Kaiserstuhl region. Renowned for its excellent burgundy wines, winegrowing innovation, the stunning modern wine cellar all but vanishing into the surrounding vineyard and beyond wine the gastronomic roots of the Keller family make both the winery and the family’s local restaurants a must visit destination for any food and wine enthusiast. Read more about what to expect in my recent post Schwarzer Adler Restaurant and Hotel: A Wine and Food Lovers’ Dream Destination.
Located in the idyllic wine town of Ihringen, at the southern end of the Kaiserstuhl area, Weingut Dr. Heger was founded in 1935 by physician Dr. Max Heger. Today led by third-generation winemaker Joachim Hager and his wife Silvia, the winery is conferred to as ‘world class winery’ from both the Gault Millau and wine guide Eichelmann. One of the winery’s flagship wines is the ‘Ihringer Winklerberg Muskateller’ a VDP first growth classified wine which is made from the oldest Muscatel vines in the whole Baden wine region, plated in 1951.
Nestled in the vineyards just outside the little town of Bischoffingen am Enselberg, Weingut Abril is another of the areas wineries that not only amazes the visitor with excellent wines but also a stunning modern wine cellar. Looking back at more than 270 years of winemaking, it also is one of the oldest in the area. Yet with a passion for organic winemaking, Abril winery definitely sets new standards in the region. Read my post Wines With A Sense Of Place: Weingut Abril for more information about the winery’s excellent range of wines and wine tasting at its own little Vinothek.
Another winery not to be missed is located just outside of the historic core of Endingen am Kaiserstuhl. Weingut L. Bastian was founded in 1868 and thus is the second-oldest winery in the Kaiserstuhl. Let by Andreas Neymeyer in the fifth generation, the lovely tasting room (Vinothek) was awarded with the ‘excellence price’ by German Wine Institute. It is part of the new, modern wine cellar built after a devastating fire in 2010 which destroyed large parts of the historic winery building.
Where to stay and where to eat in the Kaiserstuhl area
Accommodation and restaurants in the Kaiserstuhl area are plenty, from private holiday appartments to Airbnb and small country hotels along with restaurants that range from simple rural cuisine to various Michelin-starred restaurants.
If you are looking for superb culinary experiences, Schwarzer Adler Restaurant and Hotel in Vogtsburg-Oberbergen offers one of the most exciting food and wine based packages, including Michelin-starred cuisine. I’ve already mentioned it before, so check out the link to my recent post.
Three-star Landgasthof (country inn) Rebstock in Nimburg is located only few kilometres outside of the Kaiserstuhl area.
Small budget-hotel Engel in the historic core of Endingen offers simple modern rooms and two restaurants.
Michelin-starred Restaurant Merkles, Hauptstraße 2, Endingen am Kaiserstul opens Thursday to Saturday and is one of the renowned fine-dining restaurants of the area.
Other Michelin-starred restaurants in the area include Dutters Stube in Endingen (also offering accommodation), Steinbuck Stube in Vogtsberg, and Winzerstube in Ihringen (offering accommodation too).
Planning a trip to Kaiserstuhl Wine Region?
If you are planning a trip to the Kaiserstuhl area to visit some of the local wineries and enjoy the local cuisine, make sure to check opening times and availability before your trip.
Some of the wineries will require a reservation prior to your visit while others might have regular opening times but still offer wine tasting only with reservation or during certain hours.
Likewise, most of the local restaurants are small and in particular during peak season it will be difficult to get a table without prior reservation.
Have you been or are you planning to visit the Kaiserstuhl in Germany? Let me know.