ELTVILLE, Germany -- The Rhine River flows north, right? Well, yes
-- when it is not flowing in some other direction, such as west.
Beginning at Mainz, a wiry little bend in that great river
pushes the water west for about 20 miles and, naturally, creates an
east-to-west valley, which is required component No. 1 for the wine
region that flourishes so far north of the Alps here.
In the Rheingau, the patch of Germany just north of the river,
low mountains -- well, really, one long hillside -- provide shelter
and sunny, south-facing slopes for the grapes.
Throw in a third key component -- good grape-growing soil -- and
you get a lot of Riesling ... and a little red wine, too.
There are 2,000 wineries in the Rheingau, many of them "weekend
vintners" attached to cooperatives; about 400 make their own wines.
It's quality fruit of the vine, and a big draw for the region.
To stress the point, local tourism officials marked out a
40-plus-mile Rheingau Riesling Route to help visitors wend their
way through area vineyards and "wine villages."
That route, on the eastern end, generally includes a few
villages -- such as Florsheim, the easternmost -- that face the
Main River a few miles before it empties into the Rhine.
Meanwhile, the route's westernmost dot on the map is
Lorchhausen, a few miles downriver from the spot where the Rhine
turns north again.
Visitors can follow the route by car, motorcycle or bike, and
stops on the route are marked on green signs featuring wine glass
Key villages along the way also can be reached by train, while
KD German Rhine Line boats serve riverside towns between Mainz and
My first Rheingau stop, however, was a Cistercian cloister,
Eberbach, said to be the world's oldest "wine monastery," having
made the brew from the 12th century until 1953.
Open daily, the well preserved medieval monument -- now a
state-owned foundation -- provides a fascinating glimpse into the
lives of monks who in the early days took on a lifestyle (no heat,
no beds, no blankets for sleeping, no meat, only two meals a day)
that gave them average lifespans of 28 to 30 years.
Still, they managed to operate businesses -- 205 at the peak --
with winemaking the most rewarding financially. Tourists at
Eberbach see a dozen antique wine presses plus wine barrels and
other relics of this past.
The most appealing space is the simple Romanesque-style church
(with later Gothic chapels and windows), but the place the average
visitor might recognize is the monks' dormitory, a cavernous
rectangular hall that was used in the 1986 movie "The Name of the
Individuals and small groups can attend scheduled wine tastings
from April to December, while private tastings can be arranged for
The nuns of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard, in the hills
above Rudesheim, carry on a tradition of winemaking, as well.
Although only 100 years old this year, it is the successor house
to two abbeys founded by Hildegard von Bingen, from a village just
across the Rhine, in the 12th century. A new building by church
standards, the abbey is Romanesque in style. Tourists can visit the
church and, at the abbey shop, taste and buy wine produced by the
Villages of wine
I visited Eltville (population, 9,000) and Rudesheim (10,000),
charming examples of the two dozen or so wine villages found along
the Rheingau Riesling Route.
Both have winemaking establishments open to tourists, countless
wine-tasting options and seasonal wine festivals.
While Rieslings make up about three-quarters of Rheingau wines,
area vintners also produce other whites and some reds as well as
sparkling wines, or champagne, sekt in German. One summer fest, to
be held July 1 to 5 this year in Eltville, celebrates this local
Four nearby villages -- Erbach, Hattenheim, Martinsthal and
Rauenthal -- also are part of the Eltville district, and each has
its own wine event, the biggest being Erbach's late-June strawberry
festival, highlighting its strawberry wine.
Meanwhile, Rudesheim will host its annual winefest Aug. 20 to
23, and -- after the harvest -- there are its Days of the Young
Wine festivals, from Oct. 29 to 31 and again Nov. 5 to 7.
Nearby Assmannshausen, the center for Rheingau reds, hosts a red
wine festival July 2 to 4.
Other Rheingau towns, including Wiesbaden, also host wine
celebrations, and the entire region participates in the Rheingauer
Schlemmerwochen, or "Rheingau Weeks of Feasting," set for April 25
to May 5, during which restaurants roll out special foods, and many
wineries hold open houses on weekends.
Wine, roses and more
Teetotalers will love the Rheingau, too. Against a naturally
beautiful backdrop, it is a land of villages with medieval
pedigrees and of hilltop castles, some of which are now hotels.
Eltville, which received its town charter in 1332, is the oldest
municipality in the Rheingau, and it boasts so many
well-maintained, old half-timbered houses that it is featured on a
1,200-mile themed tourist route featuring Germany's medieval
Truly a town of "wine and roses," Eltville also boasts an
estimated 22,000 rose bushes of 350 varieties on public property
and hosts biennial summer rose festivals. The flowers are next on
show June 4 to 6.
Its most distinguishing landmark, however, is a 14th century
tower, the only piece of what's known as the Elector's Castle to
survive the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648.
The tower houses a Gutenberg exhibition honoring the inventor of
printing and provides demonstrations of 15th century printing
techniques. Gutenberg's family lived in Eltville for part of his
childhood, and he returned on retirement; the family house still
Rudesheim also boasts half-timbered houses -- some are partial
rebuilds due to damage in World War II -- and ancient castles; its
wine museum is housed in the 1,000-year-old Bromser Castle.
As for the local scenery, Unesco has something to say.
Rudesheim is at the southern end of a 40-mile stretch of the
Middle Rhine Valley that is a World Cultural Heritage Site, in
part, Unesco said, because of a beautiful landscape "fashioned by
the river" and by man, with particular reference to centuries of
terracing for the vines.
Finally, there are numerous festivals that have nothing to do
with wine at all.
Consider Rudesheim's Drosselgasse, a 452-foot alleyway noted for
live music and dancing. The street is the scene of a music festival
called Clubline Drosselgasse, which this year promises 24 bands in
12 clubs, on March 19 and 20.
For information on wine tastings in the Rheingau, contact:
• Eberbach Cloister: (011) 49-6723 917811; e-mail:[email protected].
• Eltville Tourist Information: (011) 49-6123 90980; e-mail: [email protected].
• Rudesheim Tourist Center: (011) 49-6722 19433; e-mail: [email protected]; Web: www.ruedesheim.de.
• German National Tourist Office: (212) 661-7200, www.visits-to-germany.com/index_trade.html.
You can reach the journalist who wrote this article at [email protected].