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.

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.