Five candidates running for Palatine Wine Queen

Five candidates have turned in their applications to become successor of the ongoing Palatine Wine Queen Laura Julier. A jury of wine specialists and press representatives will select the winner at the event center “Saalbau” in the town of Neustadt on October 2nd. All candidates have to prove wine knowledge as well as their ability to speak in public. After several interview rounds the jury will determine the new Palatine Wine Queen and a coronation will follow. Based on the tradition, all other candidates will then become Palatine Wine Princesses whose duty is to support the Wine Queen in her various tasks.

Wine Princess of the village of Mussbach
Wine Princess of the village of Mussbach

The rules say that every candidate has to show its qualification by working for two years as a Wine Princess at one of the hundred Palatine wine villages. If their term is over, they are allowed to run for Palatine Wine Queen. So there is no doubt that those women will be great ambassadors of the Palatine wine and the Palatine region. The candidates for the 2015/2016 term are:

  • Laura Becker from the village of St. Martin
  • Tanja Huber from the village of Herxheim am Berg
  • Julia Kren from the village of Meckenheim
  • Lisa Momm from the village of Duttweiler
  • Julia Stieß from the village of Frankweiler

Each wine village is very proud of their princessess. Signs at the entry of villages, which show the current wine princess, illustrate this pride. Often, the candidates belong to a family which is dedicated to the viticulture.

Merlot: Palatinate goes French

Purple red Merlot grapes
Purple red Merlot grapes

This grape variety has its origin in France, where it has been mentioned the first time in the 14th century. There is also genetic evidence that this grape variety is related to older French grape varieties, such as Carbernet Franc. Its name may refer to the blackbird [in French: Merle]. A bird which loves eating the Merlot grapes.

Read the full post

Eselshaut Wine Festival inside the oldest winery of the Palatinate

Wine donkey from the village Mußbach
Wine donkey from the village Mußbach

The Eselshautfest is one of the most popular wine festivals in the Palatinate. Its name refers to a historic wine site located in the village of Mußbach nearby to the town of Neustadt. The site belongs to the wine territory of the Gimmeldinger Wine Spider. The name Eselshaut means “donkey skin”. Unfortunately, there are no reports that allow conclusions about the name’s origin. Regardless of this mystery, the wine donkey has become an essential element of the opening ceremony. During the opening procession the local wine princess is riding on a donkey which also carries a barrel of wine. The serving of this wine marks the opening of the nine-day wine festival.

Weinbiet Wine Cooperative
Weinbiet Wine Cooperative

The festival is hosted by several wineries. Those are the wine cooperative Weinbiet and the wineries Steigelmann, Lingenfelder, Völcker, Schäfer and Hellmer. The most important among them is the wine cooperative Weinbiet. This wine cooperative consists of 80 winemakers from the villages of Mußbach, Gimmeldingen and Haardt. Together all 80 winemakers represent 320 hectares of high quality vineyards. Since 2011, the cooperative is listed among the top 100 wineries in Germany. This week, the cooperative was recognized for its 2014 Riesling Spätlese from the wine site Mußbacher Eselshaut at the competition “Best of Riesling”, organized by the German Ministry of Agriculture.

200-year-old wine pressing machine
200 year old wine pressing machine

The wine festival is strongly linked to the village’s history. There are written records that in 7th century a winery and a farm were operated by Benedictine monks in today’s center of the village. In the 13th century Hospitaller monks took over the estate. With more than 500 hectares of land and under the protection of the Counts of Palatinate the estate reached its economical peak in the 16th century. It is also during this time when the tradition of an annual summer festival started. The Counts invited his ministerial officials to an opulent dinner with following amusement. During this period the estate became popular under the name Herrenhof [in English: Master’s court] which refers to the priests as masters. Today, the estate is owned by the German state and is used for various cultural events and as a museum. The estate’s vineyards continue to produce great wines and are sold under the name Staatsweingut and Johannitergut [in English: State Winery and Hospitaller Estate]. Each wine festival ends with a church service commemorating the monk’s role in the village’s history.

Storck Tower inside of Herrenhof
Storck Tower inside of Herrenhof

The different architectural styles illustrates the estate’s history. Predominate styles are baroque and renaissance. For instance, the main house is built with typical baroque elements. Whereas the stork tower and entrance gate represent the renaissance area. Many of these buildings were rebuilt for several times, until they appear with today’s design. Surrounded by high walls the spacious estate creates a unique atmosphere and, therefore, makes it the ideal spot for a wine festival.

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.

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.