We started off with a tour by Managing Director Dieter Greiner of the very modern and efficient winery. Opened in the summer of 2008, this is the most state of the art facility I may have ever seen. Featuring a three-story pressing house that makes use of gravity to move the grapes and juice, they can process up to up to 7000 liters of grape juice daily. The cellars stretch out on 5000 square kilometers and on several levels below the earth. Indeed, I was reminded of a statement made a few days earlier about an over sized bridge: Germans love concrete. As for the wines, they are the largest winery in Germany with 220 hectares, including 32 that make up the Steinberg vineyard. 2010 was their smallest crop in 30 years. We tasted four wines: the 09 Steinberger Riesling sekt brut, an 09 Hollenberg Spätburgunder dry Spätlese, a 2010 Steinberger Riesling Kabinett trocken and my favorite, an 07 Steinberger Riesling "aus dem Cabinetkeller."
We then took a short ride to the monastery. In 1135 famous Cistercian Abbot Bernard of Clairveaux visited the valley with Archbishop Adalbert from Mainz when, a boar jumped out of a hedge and over the brook. Whether this is really the origin of Eberbach's name – meaning the boar's brook – is not accounted for by historic sources. The next year, 13 monks from France established the monastery and, they brought grapevines with them. The monastery grew to be one of the biggest and most important cloisters in Germany. The monks, freed from toll charges along the Rhine, dominated the wine trade all the way down the river to Cologne, a very profitable business. In 1803, the monastery was secularized. It was owned first by the Duke of Nassau, then from 1866 on by the Prussians and finally, since 1945, by the State of Hessen.
Today, the Estate Monastery of Eberbach administers six Domains belonging to the State of Hessen, five of them situated in the Rheingau and one on the Hessische Bergstraße. The site was used for the interior shoots for the movie Name of the Rose and since 1988 the abbey has been a principal venue for the concerts of the Rheingau Music Festival.
Next up was lunch at Weinhaus „Zum Krug.“ Much to my delight, lunch was one pound each of almost perfectly prepared white asparagus, served with hollandaise and a small piece of schnitzel paired with a 1997 Johann Maximilian Riesling Spätlese trocken
After lunch we visited to Schloss Vollrads, where wine has been made for over 800 years. In 983 the archbishop of Mainz, the estate's owner, invested in vine growing, although vines had been cultivated there since Roman times. The core building of the estate is a substantial tower house, surrounded by a square moat. It can be traced to the first third of the 14th century and the family of Greiffenclau, a very Harry Potterish sounding name. The octagon stage tower was erected in 1471. In 1684 the present two-winged manor house was built by Georg Phillip Greiffenclau von Vollrads near the tower. His son Johann Erwein erected the estate buildings around 1700, as well as boundary walls around the manor garden, and finally equipped the tower with a typical baroque roof. Sadly, the original family no longer owns and operates the estate. In 1975 Erwein Matuschka Greiffenclau took charge of the property, which was heavily in debt. An important figure in the emergence of a new or rediscovered style of high quality dry Rheingau wine, he was not successful in reorganising his estate. In 1997 with bankruptcy apparently inevitable, Erwein committed suicide. Since then, the estate has belonged to the bank, which runs the manor house as well as the vineyards and a restaurant.
We toured the manor house, which looked strangely as though the family might return at any moment, with their pictures still on the walls and furniture in place. We then climbed the spiral stairs to visit the tower to see more of the estate's history.
The highlight for me was a book from 1463. Kept in non temperature controlled bookcases, it creaked as opened. When I questioned the storage, I was told that it had survived this long in those conditions and that when national archivists visited they had approved. I did shudder a bit to think of it on the table, with so many wine glasses nearby. But, I'm a book person. While in the tower, we tasted a 1977 dry Kabinett. Which was interesting to me because I have rarely had older trocken wines. My favorite current wine was an 09 Auslese.
Next was a tasting at Weingut Georg Müller-Stiftung.This VDP estate, situated in Hattenheim, featured one of the most interesting cellars I have ever encountered. It was not just a wine storage or production facility, but an art gallery as well.
The history of the winery is interesting: Georg Müller, the co-owner of the famous Eltville sparkling wine cellar, "Matheus Müller", established the estate towards the end of the 19th century. In 1913 he donated the wine estate to his home community of Hattenheim: Thus the wine estate became the "Georg Müller Stiftung." Things changed dramatically in 2003, when the local government decided to privatize it. Peter Winter purchased the estateand brought in winemaker, Alf Ewald.
The estate covers approximately 12 hectares. Approximately 80% is Riesling and 15% Spätburgunder. In terms of wine growing and wine making philosophy, as much as possible is done by hand. Soil management is based exclusively on a sustainable approach. In the cellar, Riesling is produced in individually temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. The red wines are matured in barrique barrels.
We tasted wines in the cellar, all paired with specific pieces of art and snacks: 5 from 2009, 1 from 08 and 2 from 2007. Afterwards we tasted 3 from the 2010 vintage. The wine of the visit was the multiple award winning 07 Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Riesling TBA. To our delight we were all given a bottle of their 2009 Edition PW Frühburgunder Auslese trocken to enjoy at home. New to me grape alert!
We then took a short drive to Weingut Balthasar Ress and their wineBANK, where we were met Stefan Ress, the president of the Rheingau Winegrowers' Association. The WineBank is an idea I am surprised has not been tried elsewhere. It is essentially a wine storage area, in an old cave that has been decorated to be used not just for storage, but for entertaining as well. As you can see in the picture, wines can be seen through the bars in their cases and I enjoyed wandering around seeing what was there. Customers can rent a space and are thus granted key card access 24 hour a day for themselves and 6 guests to the entertainment facilities included glassware, restaurant delivery and music. With advance notice, they can arrange for larger events. We tasted several Balthasar Ress wines including an 07 Von Unserm Riesling sekt brut, which was very refreshing after our long day and my favorite, an 01 Hattenheim Nussbrunnen Riesling Auslese.
Our final stop was for dinner at Weingut Koegler, home of the first Grüner Veltliner in the Rheingau. I thought it wasn't a bad Grüner and perhaps with climate change, they are right to experiment now. With 34 hectares of vineyards, this estate has had 5 generations in wine making since 1899. They produce annually 180,000 bottles and were the first winery to produce our Spätburgunder with the “Erstes Gewächs” accolade. I thought the Spätburgunders we tasted were a bit young but had potential. I'd be very curious to taste an older vintage. They seemed a bit pricey, but Ferdinand Koegler assured us that they can sell almost their entire production to the Asian market. Indeed, he frequently travels to Asia and there was much discussion about the importance of the Asian market to this estate. The meal was excellent, with more asparagus and finally, exhausted and full, we returned to Wiesbaden for a much needed digestif.