Viniculture in Germany: Saale-Unstrut

Vineyard, winegrowing upon the Saale and Unstrut, Freyburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany
Roetting / Pollex /

The Saale-Unstrut wine region, named after the rivers that define the area, is the most northern wine-growing region in Germany and Europe and comprises almost 700 hectares. If you’re unfamiliar with its wines, that’s because it is all quickly bought and consumed by both local residents and timely, knowledgeable visitors from throughout Germany.

The region itself covers a triangular area along the hilly environs of the Saale and Unstrut rivers, from Bad Sulza (population ca.

3,000) - famous also for its thermal spa - in Thuringia to Nebra (population ca. 3,000) in Saxony-Anhalt. One particularly worthwhile historical element in the history of wine-making in this area is the now abandoned 1,000-year-old Benedictine Monastery in Memleben, near Nebra.  Its vineyards focused on the still popular Weißer Burgunder.

Its most popular grapes are white and include the Müller-Thurgau, the Weißer Burgunder, the Silvaner, and the Riesling, and, because of the region’s quite temperate climate, its wine is both dry and delightfully sharp.  As the region’s wine growing expands, more and more vintners are experimenting with red grapes, primarily Dornfelder, Spätburgunder, and Portugieser.  Most of the wines are sold as varietals, but there’s a notable exception:  Rotkäppchen Sekt, i.e., sparkling wine, about which more below.

One of the area’s larger cities, Freyburg (population of ca.

5,100) - familiarly known as “the winegrowers’ town” and through which the Unstrut flows to join the Saale to the south-southeast - is one of its main cities and offers superb examples of unique and historic wine lore, including an 11th-century castle, Schloss Neuenberg, the so-called Winzerfest held every September, and the headquarters of one of the world’s largest wine companies, Rotkäppchen-Mumm, founded as a wine shop by the Kloss brothers, Moritz and Julius, together with their friend Carl Foerster, in 1856.

  Today, it has five underground levels of wine cellars.

Rotkäppchen’s most popular sparkling wine sports a red foil over the top of the bottle.  That’s the “red cap” for which the sparkling wine is named.  Many wine lovers, even well-informed Germans who have drunk Rotkäppchen’s most popular sparkling wine for many years, have mistakenly attributed the name to the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood.  Rotkäppchen’s bottle fermented Sekt is on a par with the best champagnes in the world.  For that reason, Rotkäppchen should be your first visit in this wine-growing region.  As the Economist advised “Germans do not reserve the bubbly stuff for special occasions:  the average household, says the national statistical office, gets through the best part of a bottle a month” - that is high praise indeed.

Of course, there are other vineyards to visit in Saale-Unstrut.  Some of the most recommended are the Bernard Pawis Winery, more than a quarter-century old (On Good 2, 06632 Freyburg OT Zscheiplitz, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany; Tel. 034464 28 315).  Herr Pawis, like so many of his fellow winemakers, emphasizes quality over quantity and, in an effort to preserve, protect, and promote a greener Earth, uses solar power and rainwater as much as possible in his mostly Riesling (35%) white wine production, but includes not-insignificant portions of Pinot Blanc (10%), Müller-Thurgau (12%), Sylvaner (10%), and Pinot Gris (13%).

  His red wines include Portuguese, Dornfelder, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, and Regent and have been officially recognized for their excellence for the past 15 years.  The winery also has a highly specialized private bottle-fermented sparkling wine product that is worth asking about—good luck!  In the meantime contact the winery for information about their moderated tastings.  Remember, this is a family operation, so such endeavors are understandably infrequent.  (

Visit Uwe Lützkendorf’s winery, Saalberge 31, D-06628 Naumburg, OT Bad Kösen;; Tel. +49 34463 61000.  It’s open as a rule every weekend from 1100-1800 and during the week from 1400-1800; however, as a matter of courtesy and prudence, give the winery a call to be sure rather than just showing up.

  The winery offers whites primarily from Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Sylvaner, as well as a rather special Gewürztraminer and a full, dry, and fruity Chasselas rarely encountered this far north.

The final recommendation is Kloster Pforta which occupies the former Cistercian monastery—Saalberge 73, D-06628 Naumburg, OT Bad Kösen; Tel. 034463 300-0.  The winery’s offerings include the Blauer Zweigelt, the Riesling, the Pinot Noir, and the Chardonnay.  The winery sponsors events throughout the year and hosts wine samplings every Saturday between Easter and October (€8,00 per person) and private tastings (1½ hours to 3 hours) of as many as seven wines for groups can be arranged (€10,00-€19,00 per person).