Last year, Queen Elizabeth became the uncrowned wine queen of the Bergstraße. For one day at least… To mark her state visit, she was served a glass of dry Riesling in the Römer in Frankfurt. Origin: Bensheim Kalkgasse, Hessen Bergstraße. According to reports, the Queen very much enjoyed the taste. If you’ve just grabbed your phone to order a case from the Hessian state winery, we’re sorry to inform you that the 2014 vintage quickly sold out following the royal publicity. But don’t worry − there are lots of alternatives available in the region. Wines made from the Red Riesling variety are the next big thing. The name is misleading, because it’s actually a white wine. Its peel has a reddish hue, but it is otherwise very similar to the White Riesling. Vintner and vine propagator Reinhard Antes was one of the first people to work with this variety, although it would be more accurate to say he was one of the first people to work with this variety again. After all, the red variety was grown back in the Middle Ages and has now been rediscovered. “When you say the name, most people think it’s a new variety or a marketing ploy.
For many years, people thought the Red Riesling was the original Riesling variety”, explains Antes. “But new findings from the Julius Kühn Institute confirm the Red Riesling developed from the White Riesling as the result of a colour mutation”. But the red variety then faded into obscurity. However, it offers key agricultural advantages: Their red colouring for example, means the grapes can withstand heat better than white varieties. And, in one of the warmest regions in Germany, this is an important point. Reinhard Steinbacher from the Hanno Rothweiler winery agrees: “The Red Riesling is very hardy; it requires less water and has a thicker skin”. The winery, which is based in Bensheim-Auerbach, has been growing the red variety since 2009. And for good reason: “Wines from the Red Riesling grape are richer and more full-bodied than white varieties – and their must weights are generally higher”, says Steinbacher.
Besides the Rothweiler winery and Reinhard Antes, who sells his wines through the Bergstraße wine co-operative, other companies in the region are also looking to Red Riesling. This variety is now cultivated on over 15 hectares. This is still a relatively small area, because not everyone has jumped on the bandwagon yet. But Antes is convinced: “Around 50 vineyards are awaiting authorisation to grow Red Riesling in the neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate. This demonstrates the huge level of interest. We’re lucky that the wine department at Darmstadt regional council reacted so quickly. As a result, the Bergstraße can claim to be the world’s largest growing area for Red Riesling”, he says, with a twinkle in his eye. However, Antes believes there is more than just a commercial aspect: “By cultivating this historical variety, we’re also preserving genetic resources. We want to safeguard them for subsequent generations”. Together with other winegrowers from the Bergstraße region, Antes is searching for other forgotten varieties. Another ancient grape variety is being cultivated in the Steinkopf vineyards. Dr Jutta Weber from the Bergstraße-Odenwald Geo-Naturpark is pleased with this level of commitment: “Preserving biodiversity has always had both a conservational and community aspect”. And she continues: “Wine-growing makes a big contribution to our cultural landscape. Without the vintners, the entire Bergstraße slopes would be overgrown; instead of wine, we would have bushes and brambles”.
The trained geologist worked alongside winegrowers to set up the “Wine and Stone” discovery trail in Heppenheim in 2007. The seven-kilometre trail winds through vineyards and provides interesting information about the interplay between nature, geology, culture and regional identity at 70 different stations. You can enjoy the different scents of the grape varieties at an aroma bar, and see an illustration of the various phases of wine-growing on information boards. You can also discover how the peaches and almond trees planted throughout the vineyards provide a habitat for insects, which in turn naturally protect the grapes from pests. Rangers and local volunteers offer guided tours. “When we were designing the trail, we wanted to place the focus on discovering and experiencing the landscape”, explains Dr Weber. And that’s easy up here – the vegetation on the Bergstraße mountain road from Darmstadt to Heidelberg is almost Mediterranean-esque. When Kaiser Joseph II passed through the region, he is said to have proclaimed that “this is where Italy begins”.
At the end of the “Wine and Stone” walk, you can take a slight detour to the Viniversum . This multimedia wine boutique is the place to sample wines from the Bergstraße wine co-operative. You can also read all about the wines in the reading corner with its mini library, and you can enjoy a guided tour of the wine cellar every Friday. There are also several different Red Rieslings available – but that comes as no surprise in the world’s largest growing area of the grape variety.