of German Wine Tours
By Corinna Lothar
showers bring May flowers and other good things. The merry, merry month
of May is a happy time in Germanys wine regions.
Asparagus and Wine Festivals
May is white asparagus season in Germany. The plump
stalks of the sweet, delicious vegetable are paired with Hollandaise
sauce, or butter, and sometimes ham and boiled potatoes. They are on
every restaurant menu, in every grocery store, in every market. The
season is short from April until June 26. When its over, its
Silvaner is the Franconian grape of choice for a wine
to accompany these lovely asparagus. Germans like slightly sweet wines
but wines from both the Silvaner and Mueller Thuergau grapes can be
fine and dry. Both grape types produce perfect wines to accompany those
fat white asparagus.
The wines of the Mosel and Rhine regions have a long-standing
international reputation. Now the wines of other German regions, old,
but obscure in recent years, are making their mark.
In Franconia, one of Germanys major wine producing
regions, May is the month of wine festivals. Every May, Wuertzburg,
the capital of Franconia, celebrates its wine heritage in the town square.
Wine princesses wander through the crowd and dozens of booths offer
delicacies such as deep-fried elderberry flowers and a variety of sausages.
Tents shelter long wooden tables and benches, shared by everyone, locals
and visitors alike. Good humor abounds.
Wuerzburg, Franconia's Capital
is just an hour from Frankfurt by fast train. Its a good place
not only to explore the vineyards and cellars of the city, but also
to start a wine tour of the region.
The Franconia region is famous for its flattened, round
bulbous green wine bottles, called bocksbeutel. The name,
used since the 18th century, derives either from the sack (beutel),
used to carry prayer or song books in medieval times, or from its shape
which Franconians see as similar to the scrotum of a ram bock
Grape-growing began in Franconia in 777 A.D on a land
grant from Charlemagne. The oldest vineyard site is the Wuertzburg
stein, and theres a single bottle of a 1540 Steinwein, or
stone wine, said to be the oldest still drinkable bottle in the world,
and stored in the cellars of the Buergerspital (Citizens Hospital
of the Holy Ghost). But is it really still drinkable? In all likelihood,
no one will ever know. (If it has turned to vinegar, to whom would you
send it back?)
There are three important wine cellars in Wuerzburg:
the Buergerstpittal, the Juliusspittal (both medieval charity hospitals
for the sick, the poor and the needy) and the cavernous 12th century
cellars beneath the elegant prince-bishopss Residence, which is
graced with a magnificent staircase and a huge ceiling painting by Giovanni
All three cellars have cask-lined tunnels, illuminated
by candles. Many of the casks are beautifully carved. All three offer
tours with wine tastings. Although most tours are in German, English
guides can sometimes be arranged.
The Buergerspital dates from 1316. The first vineyards
were acquired in 1334 to finance the hospital. Every man and woman in
hospital was, and still is, entitled to a daily liter of wine. The hospital
continues to function and specializes in geriatric rehabilitation.
The Juliusspital was built in 1576 on the grounds of
a Jewish cemetery. Its wine estate has grown considerably over 400 years
and is the second largest in Germany. Contemporary sculptures, ancient
trees and a Baroque fountain, designed at the beginning of the 18th
century by Jacob von Auvera, grace the gardens. The rococo pharmacy,
which was in use from 1767 until 1970, is open to visitors. The painted
ceiling, pots, jars and other furnishings are original.
Although Wuerzburg was heavily bombed towards the end
of World War II, the city has been reconstructed. The old bridge over
the River Main, reminiscent of the Charles Bridge in Prague,
links the two sides of town. On one side is the rebuilt old city; on
the other, up on a hill, is the Marienberg citadel, now a museum dedicated
to the cultural and artistic history of the Main river region.
The vineyards of the region are just outside the city,
as are near-by picturesque villages such as Iphofen, with its hillside
vineyards, intact medieval walls and towers. Walking tours through the
vineyards are easily arranged.
Schloss Wackerbarth sekt
bottled in honor of President Obama and Chancellor Merkel
German Champagne (Sekt)
Though no one sings with happy enthusiasm of the
night they invented sekt, bubbly is magic wherever it is
found, and every teenage girl remembers how her first sip tickled her
nose and stirred innocent imagination.
In Germany, sparkling wine is called sekt,
a term coined in 1926 when the French government prohibited the use
of the term champagne for any wine produced outside the
region of Champagne
The origin of the word sekt may come from
the Latin siccus, meaning dry or from the French
sec, but a merrier version holds that a famous Berlin actor,
calling for a glass of bubbly, invoked a line from Shakespeares
Henry IV: Give me a cup of sack, rogue. Since
sack in German is translated as sect, the name
In the tiny town of Freyburg in the eastern part of
Germany, Rotkaeppchen produces almost half of all German sparkling wine.
Vineyards here have been producing grapes for more than a thousand years,
growing on steep, terraced slopes, between ancient stone walls and among
small huts. The huts, some nearly 500 years old, are mostly used to
store equipment and to shelter vineyard workers from the wind and rain.
A visitor demonstrates how a champagne cask
The bottles of Rotkaeppchen it translates to
Little Red Riding Hood are capped with red foil.
The company had a sekt state monopoly under the East German government
until reunification, and produced inferior wine. Since 1990, Rotkaeppchen
has been in private hands and the quality is much improved. The company
offers tours daily at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The five euro tour includes
a glass of excellent sekt and an introduction to how sekt
is made through in-the-bottle fermentation. Rotkaeppchens five
levels of cellars house an elaborately carved wooden 1896 barrel, towering
three stories high. It contains enough wine to fill 160,000 bottles.
Radebeul, a Saxony town down the road from Dresden,
is home to Schloss (Castle) Wackerbarth, where the 18th century Count
of Wackerbarth started wine cultivation with the purchase of several
hillside vineyards in 1836. The wine company is now owned by the Saxon
state. The elegant, small Wackerbarth castle has been renovated, the
winery modernized. Guests can watch the classic riddled (turned by hand)
method champenoise. The gardens are open for visitors and tours are
The Naumburger Wein & Sekt Manufactur is a single-owner
operation. Shortly after the reunification of Germany, Andreas Kirsch
purchased a 19th century sandstone building on the banks of the Saale
River just outside the town of Naumburg, with cellars and miles of tunnels,
some dating to medieval times, built by monks of a nearby monastery.
Mr. Kirschs cellar, lit by candles, is crowded with casks and
bottles of sparkling wine fermenting for the nine months required by
law. The winery operates a four-room bed and breakfast.
Andreas Kirsch showing fermentation in champagne
Naumburg is a medieval cathedral town, graced by a magnificent
town square, impressive burger houses, fortifications and a splendid
cathedral. Thirteenth-century statues of its founders line the cathedral
walls, including Margrave Ekkehard and his beautiful wife Uta, who is
said to be the Nazi-era prototype of the ideal German woman.
Every year since the 16th century, on the last weekend
in June, the city celebrates the Hussite Cherry Festival, commemorating
the fictitious siege of Naumburg by the Hussites in 1432. A teacher
is said to have led his pupils outside the gates of the beleaguered
town to beg the Hussite commander for mercy. The commander granted their
request and gave the children cherries.
A few miles north lies the site of the Goseck Circle,
the oldest archaeological evidence of astronomic observation in the
world, built 7,000 years ago by Neolithic farmers. The Goseck ring consisted
of four concentric circles, a mound, a ditch, and two wooden palisades
with gates facing southeast, southwest, and north to mark the winter
solstice. The modern ring is a reconstruction of the wooden palisades.
Goseck reproduced ancient circle
The Nebra sky disc, a 3600 year old bronze plat depicting
the cosmos of the world, was discovered near the Goseck Circle. The
disc is now in the Halle State Museum of Prehistory.
Wine tours in eastern Germany offer a visitor more than
wineries, vineyards and tastings. There are wine and music festivals,
castles, ancient market towns, picturesque village and beautiful landscapes.
Theres good food and excellent wines, both white and red.
The lovely old town of Weimar
lies between Franconia and the Saale-Unstrut region where Naumburg and
Freyburg are located. The short-lived Weimar Republic was founded here.
It is the town of Goethe and Schiller, and their houses are open to
visitors. The city boasts several excellent museums and baroque palaces.
If Wuerzburg is the beginning of a wine tour of Franconia
and Saale-Unstrut, then Dresden may well be the grand finale. Its
a city not to be missed with its splendid museums, grand opera house,
beautiful churches and stunning new synagogue, as well as a profusion
of restaurants, cafes and shops.
For more information, see www.germany.travel
Town Germany; Erfurt,
the Capital of Thuringia; Big
City Germany; Johann
Sebastian Bach; Berlin
in 5 Hours; Augsburg;
Yesterday and Today; Offbeat