Niederkirchen: More than 1300 years of wine tradition

Niederkirchen Wine Festival on a Saturday evening
Niederkirchen Wine Festival on a Saturday evening

The Niederkirchen Wine Festival looks back on a 40 year tradition. Located in the east from the glorious Wine Route, wine has always played an important role. The wine festival is a great opportunity for locals to illustrate their dedication to wine. According to them, conviviality, love of live and liveliness are the village’s virtues. Aren’t those the right words for a good toast?

The first documented mention of the village of Niederkirchen dates back to 699 AD. All the villages Niederkirchen, Forst, Meckenheim and Ruppertsberg belong to the municipality of Deidesheim. Niederkirchen and Deidesheim share a particular common history. At the beginning both villages belonged together. However, in the 13th century there was a separation. As a result the village was named Lower Deidesheim before it changed into today’s name Niederkirchen. Finally, in the 19th century a reunification took place when Niederkirchen joined the municipality of Deidesheim.

Saumagen Burger with Sauerkraut
Saumagen Burger with Sauerkraut

Besides their common history, most of the villages’ vineyards are part of the same wine territory. This territory is called Deidesheimer Hofstück [in English: Deidesheim Court Lot]. Since the early Middle Ages local farmers cultivate vines there. Illustrious name of vineyards sites, such as Monastery Garden, Chateau Hill, Forster Monster or Ruppertsberg Rider Path testify the village’s long wine tradition.

Main entrance of the Weinmacher wine cooperative
Main entrance of the Weinmacher wine cooperative

The center of wine cultivation is the village’s wine cooperative, named Die Weinmacher [in English: The wine makers]. This 110 year-old cooperative offers wines from top sites. In 2011, it was nominated by the German wine magazine “Weinwirtschaft” as the best wine cooperative in the Palatinate. Two things stand out when visiting the cooperative: First, the wine tasting salon, and, second, the cooperative’s success in marketing their brands. The newly renovated wine salon is centered by a large, rectangle, wooden bar that invites wine lovers for a wine tasting. The menu’s highlight is a dry 2013 Riesling from the site Rupperstberg Rider Path. A light sweetness of an old vine provokes a real explosion in the taster’s mouth. In 2013, the wine magazine Mundus Vini ennobled this wine with a gold medal, confirming the wine cooperative’s role among the top wineries. Marketing is also mastered at this cooperative. The newly created brand line “Unerhoert” [in English: Outrageous] celebrate a great success in Germany, and the internationally promoted brand “Blue Fish” has been listed among the top imported wine brands in the USA.

Discover the Palatinate Forest

The Palatinate Forest [in German: Pfälzer Wald] forms together with the bordering Vosges Biosphere Reserve a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It covers about one-third of the entire Palatinate and it is listed among the biggest forests in Europe. Predominate characteristics of the Palatinate Forest are its sandstone formations, castles and a rich wild life. Every year hundred thousands of hikers and bikers frequent its trails and visits its mountain taverns.

Entrance of Haardter Castle at the Edge of Palatinate Forest
Entrance of Haardter Castle at the Edge of Palatinate Forest

With about 500 castles the Palatinate Forest is like a trip back to Middle Ages when knights and counts inhabited this region. Famous castles are the Berwartstein castle and the triple castle of Altdahn-Grafendahn-Tanstein. The Bertwartstein was once home of the legendary robber knight, called Hans Trapp. For destroying a close-by monastery, he fell in disgrace with the Pope and the Palatine Count. While being an outlaw he turned into a brutal robber knight. Later, his life story became a source of many tales. One of them is about the Maiden’s Jump. It is told that when a maid crossed the knight’s path, she was fleeing on the top of a hill. In her fear, she jumped from the top of a huge rock to escape.

Even if most of the castles were destroyed in the past and remain only as ruins, each wanderer is rewarded by an astonishing view over the Palatinate Forest. It is special highlight when medieval festivals turn some of the castles into places with fighting knights and entertaining jugglers.

Read more about the Palatinate Forest

New Discovery in the vineyard

Juice bag in the vineyard
Juice bag in the vineyard

Mysterious juice cartons in the vineyards raise questions among walkers. Do Palatine wine growers apply new methods of wine cultivation? Is the bag filled with a special vitamin cocktail to fasten the vine’s growth? Or, is the bag part of a marketing campaign initiated by creative wine makers? Those and other questions might have crossed the walkers’ mind.

The answer is clear and simple. The bags protect the young vines at a stage when they are the most vulnerable. The damages caused by game animals, such as deer or wild pigs, are a serious problem for wine growers. Those game animals live in the nearby Palatinate Forest. During the night they leave the underwood and stroll through the vineyards. Their favorite dishes are the sprouts of young plants, such as vines, or fruits, such as grapes.

The regional newspaper Rheinpfalz interviewed one of the wine experts of the Rural Service Center of Rhineland-Palatinate (DLR). The expert explains that the juice cartons are nonconforming products or misprints, which are not allowed for normal use. But there is also a financial incentive, because those cartons may be purchased at a bargain price. Besides the fact, that these cartons protect the vine sprouts, there is another positive side effect. As hot air is captured inside the carton, a micro climate evolves, which may indeed fasten the vine growth.

First year vines in the wine spider territory
First year vines in the wine spider territory

When the vine is strong enough and less vulnerable for hungry animals, the wine makers remove the juice bag. From the third year on, the vine’s grape are ready for harvest. The first harvested grapes are called the virgin crop. At about 20 years the vine reaches its peak in terms of total crop. It is usually about this time when the wine growers decide to remove the old vines and plant new ones. Taking into account the life cycle of a vine, it is important for a successful wine grower to understand the upcoming trends in taste and demand.

Old vines often carry high quality grapes, which results in flavor-rich wines. In Germany, vines, that have at least 40 years, are allowed to use the specification “old vines”, which is an indicator for premium quality. Some prestigious wines come from vines that are more than 60 or 80 years old. The oldest vines in Germany belong to a 400-year-old Gewürztraminer vineyard. This vineyard is located in the Palatine village of Rhodt at the beginning of the Southern Wine Route.

St. Martin Wine Path with 24 Grape Varieties

Wine tasting and wine science joined in one event. This is the philosophy of the St. Martin Wine Path, which takes place in the village of Saint Martin in the Palatinate. Along a path, in the middle of vineyards, 14 tents invite to taste local wines served by local wine growers. Each tent is associated to a specific grape variety. In most cases the grape variety grows close by in the vineyards.

Wine Tasting at Saint Martin Wine Path
Wine Tasting at Saint Martin Wine Path

Besides wine tasting, there are signs that educate visitors about grape characteristics. Sample of stones illustrate the soil’s consistence and show which soil fits the best to the grape variety. For instance, chalky soil is the favorite consistence for Pinot Gris. Or, the rose quartz, a mineral, is associated with Gewürztraminer wine.

Chalk Stone Sample
Chalk Stone Sample

Thanks to the sunny weather, many visitors found their way to the two-day event. A local marching band as well as other musicians entertain the wine lovers. Sometimes, the wine lovers get the chance to chat with the local wine growers. Those are the moments when those specialists share some of their knowledge and give interesting insights in the wine world. They talk about the ups and downs in demand for specific wine grapes. For instance, the Scheurebe grape sees a decreasing demand at the moment. One reason is related to the fact that Scheurebe is strongly competing with Sauvignon Blanc as both wines have a similar taste.

The village of Saint Martin belongs to the municipality of Maikammer, located at the beginning of the Southern wine route. The village is surrounded by about 200 hectares of vineyards, all belonging to the wine territory called Chateau Ludwig Heights [in German: Schloß Ludwigshöhe]. The real Chateau is in proximity and situated at the foot of the Rietburg castle. It is no surprise that the first settlers of the village were Roman hunters. A small temple, dedicated to the goddess Diana, has been found inside the village’s territory.

Marching band at Saint Martin Wine Path
Marching band at Saint Martin Wine Path

The village’s traditions are strongly related to the Saint Martin, a French bishop who was canonized by the Pope in the 4th century. Even if there is no historical link between the Saint Martin and the village, the Saint’s day, which is November 11th, was proclaimed as a local holiday. One highlight is the traditional lampion procession with hundreds of kids signing the traditional song that tells Saint Martin’s life story.

Black, red, gold Wine Festival

Symbolic March to the Hambach Chateau by Locals
Symbolic March to the Hambach Chateau by Locals

Liberty in the wine glass. For its fourth time the Black, Red, Gold Wine Festival takes places in the village of Hambach, nearby to the town of Neustadt. A group of local wineries revived an old wine festival by uniting old traditions with national history.

The name Black, Red, Gold refers to the German national colors. In 1832, more than 30,000 citizens from the Palatinate and neighboring regions met to peacefully demonstrate for democratic rights. The march from the village of Hambach to the Hambach Chateau became a symbol for democratic movements. One of the flag, carried by members of a free paramilitary regiment, was later used as pattern for the national German flag.

The festival’s heart is along the street which directly leads to the Hambach Chateau. When walking uphill each visitor passes the four wineries: Müller, Naegle, Schäffer and Kaiserstuhl. All those wineries are family-run since more than 100 years. The oldest winemaker family is Neagle-Bonnet who cultivates wine since 1796. It is followed by the Müller family and the Schäffer family who are in the business since 1828 and 1843. The winery Kaiserstuhl, run by the Nickel family, is an exception as its name does not refer to the family but to a specific wine site, where the winery has many vineyards.

Winery Naegele
Winery Naegele

All wineries offer wines cultivated in top locations – some of them at 200 meters (656 ft) above the sea level. Wine sites in Hambach are: Kaiserstuhl, Kirchberg [in English: Church’s Hill], Römerbrunnen [Roman Well], Feuer [Fire] and Schlossberg [Chateau Hill]. The village of Hambach is also well-known for its many sweet chestnut trees, growing at the Chateau Hill. Locals from Hambach are very proud of its home town, but the good thing is, that they like to share this pride by organizing lovely wine festivals.

Castle and Wine Festival in Wachenheim

There is a long tradition for the Wine festival in the town of Wachenheim usually taking place in mid-June. During two weekends the village attracts more than ten thousands of locals and visitors from the Palatinate. Wineries open their gates or serve their wines with local dishes at the village’s main square. A top destination is the Wachtenburg castle. It towers over the village and rewards the steep hike with an astonishing view over the Rhine Valley.

Wachtenburg Castle nearby to the town of Wachenheim
Wachtenburg Castle nearby to the town of Wachenheim

The small town of Wachenheim is located between the town of Deidesheim and the town of Bad Dürkheim at the edge of the Palatinate Forest. The castle, which is a ruin today, was built in the 12th century, but already destroyed in the 15th century. After being owned by the Count of Sickingen, it was sold to the famous wine-family Bürklin who finally donated the castle to the town of Wachenheim in 1984.

Wine plays a major role in this small town. It is part of its historic identity as well as its today’s economy. Wine tales date back to the Middle Ages. One of them is about a wine-drinking competition. When the region’s count asked the local farmers to bring him the 10th part of their harvest, they suggested a wine-drinking competition. As they won the competition, they were allowed to keep the 10th part of their harvest.

White sparkling wine from the Riesling vine
White sparkling wine from the Riesling vine

There are three major wineries in Wachenheim: The Sparkling Wine Castle [in German: Schloss Wachenheim], the Wachtenburg Wine Cooperative and the winery Dr. Bürklin-Wolf. The Sparkling Wine Castle is one of the top three producers of sparkling wine in Germany. It produces about 220 million bottles per year which represent 10 percent of the world-wide sparkling wine production. Its brands, such as Faber or Schloss Wachenheim, are available in most supermarkets in Germany and many stores abroad.

The Wachtenburg Wine Cooperative consists of 58 wine-growers. According to the German wine magazine “Weinwirtschaft”, this cooperative is among the top five in the Palatinate. The cooperative convinced the jury with a wide range of wines including red wines, such as Pinot Noir and Merlot, or blended red wines.

Statue at the entrance of the winery Dr. Bürklin-Wolf
Statue at the entrance of the winery Dr. Bürklin-Wolf

The winery Dr. Bürklin-Wolf is a top address for premium white wines from prestigious vineyards located in Wachenheim and the surrounding villages Forst, Deidesheim and Ruppertsberg. With about 85 hectares of vineyards, it is the biggest winery in the Palatinate. The winery’s rise began when the Congressman Albert Bürklin married Louise Wolf from Wachenheim in 1875. From that moment on the estate has become not only a center for high-quality wine cultivation but also for cultural events.