Germany Part 4: Winzerkeller Wiesloch

A glass from Winzerkeller Wiesloch with their grape leaf logo.

The last three days of our trip were spent visiting Winzerkeller Wiesloch, about an hour south of Frankfurt. Caroline’s company is importing wine from Winzerkeller Wiesloch, so we were there to observe the production process, take photos for marketing material and talk business (ok, Caroline did this with her fluent German–I only caught bits and pieces).

The town of Wiesloch. Some vineyards are visible on the hill in the horizon.

The word Winzerkeller means “wine cellar,” and Wiesloch refers to the town where the winery is located. Winzerkeller Wiesloch is a co-op, producing wines from all the different vintners’ grapes in the area. As a result, Winzerkeller Wiesloch offers many different varietals. The most popular and prized varietal, though, remains the Riesling. Since the 1970s, people associated German wine with a particular sweet, saccharine Riesling. While there is such a Riesling, German winemakers also craft dry Rieslings (the label will read Trocken). If you’ve stayed away from German wines because of their reputation for sweetness, try a Trocken Riesling.

Spätburgunder or pinot noir grapes.

While white wines do comprise the majority of German wines (81%), Germany is not without its red wines (19%). The most common red wine is the Spätburgunder (pinot noir). While the American pinot noir is often a deep red color, the German Spätburgunder is much lighter in color, almost the same color as a deeper Rose. The pinot noir has been explained to me as a versatile wine, able to paired with food we normally think to pair with white wine (such as chicken or pasta) as well as red wine (red meat). Considering this, it makes sense that a pinot noir would be lighter in color as it is able to vacillate between the regions of white and red wine.

Riesling grapes.

The harvest season in Germany is later than in many parts of the world because Germany’s cooler climate means the grapes stay on the vine longer. Our visit in late September coincided with the Spätburgunder harvest. Winzerkeller Wiesloch has different quality lines of Spätburgunder–both table wine and premium wine–and the grapes are cared for accordingly. The table wine is harvested by a large tractor that straddles the grape vine. Caroline and I were lucky enough to ride in the cab of one of these tractors as the harvester drove up and down the rows of vines. The floor of the cab was glass so we could look down and see the grapes being harvested. I didn’t want to look down for long, though, because the view of the valley from 20 feet in the air was exhilarating. We bumped along, holding on tightly, as the tractor labored over the rough ground to harvest the grapes. When we got down, our host at the winery asked me, “As good as Disneyland?” “Better!” I replied. Unpredicatable, rustic, connected to the land–beats Disneyland any day.

Harvesters hard at work.

If the tractor harvesting the table wine grapes was all excitement, the people hand-harvesting the grapes for the premium were all about community. When we stopped to take photos of them harvesting, they were all smiles, eager to hear what we were doing and joke with us. From the five-year old boy from Denmark to the 85-year old woman who had been harvesting grapes her entire life, the workers had cultivated their own community while harvesting these grapes. Our host explained that for these workers harvesting is something they enjoy doing doing together: they rise early in the morning, work hard for hours (hard work tempered by deep jollity) and at noon feast together on Zwiebelkuchen and Federweisser or other German fare.

The Kapelle in the middle of the vineyards.

The vineyards of Wiesloch provided a gathering place not only for the harvesters, but also for community members by providing a place to pursue leisure activities. A troupe of ten year old boys pedaled hard up the steep hills on their bikes; an older couple walked along the dirt road, sampling the grapes; and a young family rode their bikes, kids in the bike trailer, dog running alongside them. For the people of Wiesloch, the vineyards and winery are an essential part of both the local economy and recreation.

Oak barrels holding the premium wine.

After the grapes are harvested, they are driven by tractor to the winery as often as every thirty minutes. The grapes are immediately pressed so as to maximize their potential. After pressing, the wine is put into large casks, either steel or oak depending on the wine being made, sugar is added and the wine is left to ferment. Caroline and I were guided through the warehouse where large steel casks brushed the top of the 30 foot ceiling. In a smaller hallway, ten 40 liter wooden barrels held prized wine reserved for the Christmas season. We sampled wine that had been fermenting for one week (it still had its carbonation), wine in the oak barrels that had recently been put in the oak barrels (lacked some depth) and the premium wine (Wunderbar! Deep, layered, rich).

Conveyor belt in the bottling department.

Next it was off to the bottling department. Between the clinking of hundreds of glass bottles and the not-too-gentle hum of the machines, it is no wonder the workers were wearing ear plugs. Steam rose from the machine that washed and sanitized the bottles. The bottles were then shuffled along a conveyor belt, whirled round the filling spigots, capped (these particular caps were screw caps) and labels were attached. After being distributed among boxes, the wines were stored in a warehouse until they were sold to grocery stores, alcohol stores or other clients. Some wines were sent to the retail center and tasting room, where one could sample the various wines and purchase their favorites.

Tomorrow: more photos from Winzerkeller Wiesloch.

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