Wineregion: Rheinhessen

written on 06/07/2020
by Dominic Wittmer

Germany's largest wine region in terms of both wine acreage and production is Rheinhessen, which is located in the German state Rhineland-Palatinate, and part of the northern area of the Upper Rhine Rift. It is bordered on the East and the North by the Rhine, and on the West by the Nahe River. In 2019, the area comprises 26.860 hectares, located in 24 collective vineyard sites, and more than 400 individual sites in the Rhine Valley between Mainz, the capital of the Federal State Rhineland-Palatinate, and the cities of Worms, Alzey and Bingen. This is more than a quarter of the overall German wine acreage.

Warm summers, mild winters and moderate precipitation result in climatic conditions ideal for winemaking. The Hunsrück mountain range on the West, the Taunus hills in the North and the Oden Forest in the East surround Germany´s largest wine region. It is protected from fresh winds, in particular the prevailing West winds. Its landscape is dominated by rolling hills with vineyards as far as the eye can reach, exuding a kind of South European air, but also steep slopes along the Rhine terraces, which are alluvial terraces from the last ice ages. 

The numerous Rhine Hessian villages show long-standing viticultural traditions. Already the Romans grew vine on the left bank of the Rhine. Actually, the oldest document professing a German vineyard, dated to 742AD, is about one located in Rheinhessen: the Niersteiner Glöck. The combination of diverse soil types with advantageous climatic conditions allow to grow varied grape varieties, as well as other crop plants like beet crops. Dominating soil types are limestone, loam, loess, sand, and gravel, which are often intermixed. At steep riverfront vineyards at the Rhine between Worms and Mainz, the clayey soils are particularly red, based on slaty-sandy Rotliegendes.

White wines are dominating with about 70%. The most common white wines are Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, the ancient variety Silvaner, and increasingly also Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Rheinhessen is mostly famous for its Silvaner wines, as this is the traditional grape of the wine region and it shows the largest acreage of Silvaner around the world. In the past twenty years, winemakers have significantly improved the overall wine quality, with outstanding results especially for Riesling, Silvaner and Pinot wines.

As a consequence of this development, traditional blending of white wines has become less popular, while significant amounts are still used as component for the white blend called Liebfrauenmilch. Besides, several new aromatic crossings were bred in Rheinhessen, including the Scheurebe variety being named after Professor Georg Scheu. Last but not least, white wines are also used by individual winemakers or by wine cooperatives to produce sparkling wines at various quality levels.

The acreage for cultivating red wines has more than doubled within a decade, now reaching a share of almost a third in the wine acreage. The major driver for this boom of red wines is the vine variety Dornfelder, which has become the dominating red wine and is followed by Pinot and Portugieser.

Over the past years, young wine makers have also brought fresh ideas to the wine region, while maintaining the viticulture traditions. This goes along with a culinary connection with the cuisine of the wine region. Numerous wine taverns, called Straußwirtschaft, offer a native cuisine, often located in wine-growing estates with a traditional “winery architecture” with large yard gates and ancient cobblestone pavements. The region also offers various hiking walks dealing with the theme wine. A particular connection to Italy shows the so-called Trulli, which are rotundas located in certain areas of Rheinhessen witnessing the influence of Lombard migratory labourer in the 18th century.

The Text is based on: Deutsches Weininstitut, and other online sources.


Map: © Lencer Picture 2: © Frank Wittmer Pictures  4, 5 and 6 : ©