Viniculture in Germany - Hessische Bergstraße

Wine cellar, castle Johannisburg, Rhine district, Hesse, Germany
A traditional Wine Cellar in Germany. Sabine Lubenow-AWL

The Hessische Bergstraße is the smallest of the thirteen German Specified Wine Regions (“Anbaugebiete”). It has only two, non-contiguous districts (“Bereiche”), Umstadt and Starkenberg, comprising three collective vineyards (“Grosslagen”), and about two dozen individual vineyards (“Einzellagen”).

Most of this region’s wines are dry and they are predominantly white—almost 80% of the plantings are white grapes, e.g., 48% Riesling, with Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner making up most of the difference, and more than 20% are red, e.g., Pinot Noir.

Nothing out of the ordinary there, except that this region is noted for an unusually high production of “Eiswein,” a very, very popular and justifiably hard-to-get white wine type. So, don’t be put off by the Hessische Bergstraße’s smallness, for it produces wines that rarely make it out of the district, much less out of the country, for several reasons.

The main reason local wines are rarely exported is that the region’s residents are keenly aware of the grand treasure they have in their local wines. They snap up much of it for personal consumption every year. What local residents don’t buy is bought by local restaurants, guest houses, hotels, and resorts who cater to travelers along the historic Hessische Bergstraße, running about 60 kilometers, primarily from Darmstadt to Heidelberg. It is essentially the same route used in Roman times; however, the main wine areas are situated just south of Darmstadt, near Dieburg and Münster, and then farther south from Alsbach to just past Heppenheim.

The northernmost district, Umstadt, is familiarly known as the “Odenwald Wine Island” and is centered at Groß-Umstadt, east-southeast of an imaginary line drawn between Dieburg and Münster. The preferred plantings are Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Silvaner, but there is a decided strain of contrarian passion that intrudes in Roßdorf, to the west of Groß-Umstadt, where Roßdorfer Rossberg vineyard, sitting atop a former volcano, has opted for a great deal of Pinot Noir plantings—more than a third of the vineyard’s holdings.

The Starkenberg district is south of Darmstadt and stretches south past Seeheim through Alsbach and Zwingenberg farther south; however, as you head toward Seeheim, you will pass through Pfungstadt, particularly famous for its local beer, Pfungstädter, which is a favorite throughout Germany and certainly warrants a stop to wet one’s whistle.

The Starkenberg district also includes holdings in Bensheim, e.g., Auerbach Castle and the nearby valley communities of Zell and Gronau, and Heppenheim, whose holdings in Hambach and Erbach are the most significant in the district, which ceases south of Heppenheim at the Hesse border with Baden.

Alsbach lies in the shadow of Melibokus, the highest hill (ca. 517 meters) in the Bergstraße region of southern Hesse. This is the true beginning of vineyard portion of the Hessische Bergstraße. The area produces significant, robust wines that set the tone for those of vineyards farther south.

Zwingenberg is a classic, half-timbered, romantic town and is, in fact, the oldest town on the Bergstraße. A worthwhile side trip—if and when you can tear yourself away from the local wines—would include the medieval church and the museum. Residents near and far favor the local Riesling and Silvaner wines.

You should, too.

Farther south, on the northern edge of Bensheim, the Auerbach Castle is an absolute must. It was the summer residence of aristocrats, including the Count (“Landgrave“) as well as grand dukes, for many, many years. The collective local vineyards produce superb white and red wines that are light, fresh, and fruity with a piquant acidity that complements regional cheeses and delicacies. 

As you go farther south into Bensheim, which has a five-hundred-year-old viniculture tradition, realize that you’re entering the largest metropolitan area (38,000 residents) on the Hessische Bergstraße. The local vineyards cover ca. 150 hectares and consist mostly of Riesling, but also Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. There’s also a growing movement to produce red wines locally, primarily from Dornfelder and Pinot Noir.

Time spent in Bensheim is time well spent.

Heppenheim, the acknowledged center of the Hessische Bergstraße wine region, lies to the south of Bensheim. Take in the town’s picturesque, half-timbered “Rathaus,” St. Peter’s Cathedral, Schloss Starkenberg, the local-history museum, and the market fountain. The mostly dry white wines of Heppenheim are subtly delightful and richly fragrant, produced from roughly 250 hectares of Riesling plantings, yet Heppenheim also has a growing movement for vigorous, flourishing reds produced from the increased plantings of Pinot Noir. Do not pass up any opportunities to evaluate Heppenheim’s wines.



mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Schmitz, Michael. "Viniculture in Germany - Hessische Bergstraße." ThoughtCo, Feb. 28, 2017, Schmitz, Michael. (2017, February 28). Viniculture in Germany - Hessische Bergstraße. Retrieved from Schmitz, Michael. "Viniculture in Germany - Hessische Bergstraße." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 17, 2018).