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Germany’s Vineyard Area

Germany's Riesling Vineyard Area is Growing

Mosel region

Planting Season has begun/White Wine Varietals Gaining Ground/ Riesling: A Tradition in Gemany for Five Centuries

Planting season in German vineyards is in full swing. In general, the typical life span of a vine is ca. 30–50 years, after which they are replaced by vigorous, young vines. This is when the wine-grower must decide which grape varieties he or she wishes to cultivate. It takes about three years for new vines to yield a usable crop.

After the red wine boom of recent years, white wine varietals are once again at a premium. Riesling, in particular, accounts for a high proportion of new plantings this year, as well as Grauburgunder, Weissburgunder (Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc) and Rivaner. Spätburgunder (Pinor Noir) is by far the primary varietal among new plantings of red grapes. These are the trends confirmed by the National Association of German Vine Nurseries.

Armin Göring, managing director of the German Wine Institute/Mainz, heartily welcomes this development: "Riesling is Germany’s number one grape variety. For several years it has enjoyed a renaissance both in national and international markets. In Germany, it yields unique, inimitable wines. We need to continue to develop this locational advantage not only for Riesling, but also for other white varietals, such as Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder and Rivaner."

Riesling – Made in Germany

Riesling is the calling card of German viticulture and THE varietal that shapes Germany’s wine image worldwide. German Rieslings thrive in various soil types, which helps account for the fascinating diversity they offer in tems of bouquet and flavor. One can justifiably say that Germany is the "home of Riesling" – after all, some 65 percent of the world’s Riesling vineyards are located here. In fact, the world’s largest contiguous area devoted to Riesling vines is in the Mosel region.

Long Ripening Period – Lots of Aroma

The northernmost climatic border of viable viticulture lies along the 51st degree of latitude – a fortuitous circumstance for Riesling, not least because the small, round berries prefer cooler climates. In Germany’s wine-growing regions, some of which are influenced by a continental climate, Riesling ripens very slowly and is usually harvested from mid-October through November. As a result, the grapes develop intensive aromas.

Riesling grapes are harvested at various stages of ripeness, from QbA to Trockenbeerenauslese or Eiswein, and depending on how the grapes are vinified, Riesling is well-suited for producing wines of many styles, ranging from dry to lusciously sweet. Even at low or moderate alcoholic strengths, Riesling yields wines that are rich in aromas and brilliant in taste. Here, too, Riesling shines with its multitude of aromas and flavors that can range from peach to citrus or exotic fruits and/or have a honey tone.

No less unique is the combination of fruity acidity and extract – sometimes piquant, sometimes pronounced, but always full of nuances and finesse that play on the palate and invite one to savor all levels of sweetness. No other white wine grape can yield a varietal wine that offers such a tremendous diversity of flavors and aromas – a delight to discover and experience.

In addition, Riesling can produce wines with great aging potential and above all, wines that reflect the unmistable characteristics of their origin. Riesling always retains its authenticity.

Young, light Rieslings – whether dry or with a fruity sweetness – are wonderful summer wines. Dry to off-dry Riesings go especially well with light fish and meat dishes and/or Asian cuisine. Spätese with a natural, fruity sweetness or a lusciously sweet Auslese are excellent with fruit-based desserts. Rich, mature Auslese or Beerenauslese are an ideal apéritif for a festive meal or can be served in place of dessert.

The History of Riesling

Like that of most other grape varieties, the origin of Riesling is not clearcut. There are numerous "first" documented mentions of the grape. Some viticultural historians credit King Louis the German (843–876) as the first to have had Riesling planted along the Rhine. One of the earliest authentic documents in which it is mentioned dates from 13 March 1435, in a winery invoice at the Cistercian monastery Eberbach/Rheingau. It refers to six Riesling vines in the vineyard(s) of the Counts of Katzenelnbogen. As early as 1392 the monks in the Rheingau had begun cultivating white wine varieties in vineyards that had been predominantly planted with red wine grapes. As such, one assumes that Riesling was also part of this transition.

Equally ambiguous is the origin of the name itself. Supposedly it stems from the 15th century and could be a derivative of Russling (Rus = dark wood) or Rissling (rissig = reissen = to tear or pull apart). It first appeared in its present-day form in 1552 in a Latin text in an herbal by Hieronymus Bock, reprinted in German in 1577: "Rieslings grow on the Mosel, Rhine and in the district of Worms."

Riesling’s Triumph Began in the 17th Century

The expansion of Riesling cultivation in Germany began with efforts to improve quality. In 1672, St. Clara Monastery in Mainz ordered that red vines were to be removed and replaced with gutes Rissling-Holz (good Riesling vines). Some 294,000 vines, predominantly Rissling, were planted in the vineyards of the Benedictine monastery Johannisberg/Rheingau in 1720.

The cellarmaster noted the initiative as follows: "In the entire Rheingau, no grape variety except Riesling can be planted for producing wine." Cardinal Franz Christoph von Hutten, a prince bishop of Speyer/Pfalz, decreed in 1744 that "no more Alben (Elbling) should be grown, but rather more noble varietals, including Riesling" in his vineyards in and around Deidesheim. In Alsace, the Jesuit college in Schlettstadt had Riesling vines planted in 1756, and Clemens Wenzeslaus, a prince bishop of Trier/Mosel, ordered on 8 May 1787 that "all inferior grape varieties were to be removed and be replaced with Riesling."

The preference for Riesling had a lasting effect on Germany’s wine-growing regions and set the stage for the future – not only for the ongoing viticultural endeavors of the church, including the creation of many a famous vineyard site, but also for the development of a secular viticultural tradition that remains closely associated with Riesling to this day.

Toward the end of the 19th century, Rieslings from the Rhine and Mosel had reached their first peak of renown. By then, German Rieslings were highly esteemed by many European royal dynasties.They were bought and sold at very high prices throughout the world – often fetching prices far higher than wines of Bordeaux.

Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, German Riesling is once again recognized worldwide as an expression of high quality with guaranteed authenticity. It again numbers among the most expensive white wines of the world. Many of the best Rieslings in the world originate from German vineyards.

Photograph ©, source: DWI
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