Possessing merely 462ha of vineyards (source: Deutscher Wein Statistik 2017 by Deutsches Weininstitut), Hessische Bergstraße is the smallest of Germany’s 13 wine regions by both hectarage and production, representing less than 0.5 percent of national output. Hessische Bergstraße literally means “Hessian Mountain Road”, possibly deriving from the Roman name Strata Montana. Viticulture was introduced to this region of mild climate, rolling hills and meandering rivers by the Romans at around the time of Jesus, and wine has been made there for at least a millennium.
Hessische Bergstraße is entirely situated within Hessen, demarcated by the Rhine in the west and Odenwald in the east, stretching from Darmstadt in the north to Heidelberg in the south. Curiously, the oldest university in Germany – Heidelberg (est. 1386) – is just the third oldest German-speaking university, predated by Vienna (est. 1365) and Prague (est. 1348). Indeed, the southernmost of Hessische Bergstraße almost touches the northernmost of Baden, a district named Badische Bergstraße.
Despite its long history of viticulture and winemaking, Hessische Bergstraße became a wine region in its own right only in 1971. Initially, Hessische Bergstraße was supposed to be split between Rheingau and Baden, owing to widespread reforms and restructuring ushered in by Weingesetz 1971 (German Wine Law 1971), whose effects can still be felt today. Due to technical difficulties and complications, the “partition” never materialised, and the creation of Germany’s smallest wine region was the compromise solution.
Hessische Bergstraße was born small, and it did not grow bigger either due to several reasons, one of which must be cost. Amongst Germany’s 16 Bundesländer (Federal States), Hessen is ranked third by GDP per capita, trailing only Hamburg and Bremen, pipping even mighty Bayern, whose figure is 250 percent that of Greece and Portugal. This stands in stark contrast to Rheinland-Pfalz, home to two-thirds of German wine production, whose GDP per capita is second-lowest within former West Germany, or ranked 10th out of 16 today. Furthermore, Hessen is both affluent and densely populated, and hence most Hessische Bergstraße wine is consumed locally, rarely venturing out of Germany.
Hessische Bergstraße lacks size, but not diversity and quality. The region is endowed with a spectrum of terroirs, ranging from decomposed granite, porphyry-quartz and weathered granite to sand and loess-loam. White varieties represent 80 percent (Riesling alone accounts for 42.6 percent) of hectarage, and the Pinot trio (Noir, Gris and Blanc) is becoming increasingly popular. Hessische Bergstraße mainly produces dry wines, alongside some Eiswein. It has but one VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter) member-estate in Hessische Staatsweingüter Kloster Eberbach, whose heritage can fill shelves after shelves of books…
Founded in 1136 by Bernard of Clairvaux, Kloster Eberbach is the first Cistercian monastery on the east bank of the Rhine. One of the most important monasteries and indeed architectural complexes in Germany, Kloster Eberbach has long been an important viticultural and winemaking centre, possessing some 200ha of vineyards – massive by German and especially VDP standards – more than 30ha whereof are situated in Hessische Bergstraße. Generations of Counts of Katzenelnbogen were buried there, including Count Johann IV of Katzenelnbogen, whose name became immortalised thanks to his first written record of planting Riesling near Rüsselsheim in 1435. In the heyday of German wine pre-WWI, Kloster Eberbach’s Riesling was amongst the most expensive in the world.
Hessische Staatsweingüter Kloster Eberbach is unique, inter alia, in that it produces VDP wines in both Rheingau and Hessische Bergstraße. Kloster Eberbach is the main venue of Rheingau Musik Festival, whereas the most famous son of Eltville am Rhein – where Kloster Eberbach is situated – has to be the virtuoso countertenor Andreas Scholl, who occasionally performs there.
The following wines were tasted at VDP.Weinbörse in Mainz, by kind invitation of VDP: www.vdp.de; Hessische Staatsweingüter Kloster Eberbach: www.weingut-kloster-eberbach.de; Kloster Eberbach: www.kloster-eberbach.de
From the Erste Lage vineyard of Schönberger Herrnwingert situated below Auerbacher Schloss in the middle of the region. Limpid citrine with shimmering golden reflex, the fragrant nose offers grapefruit, peach, acacia and crushed rock. With bounteous acidity and clean minerality, the smooth palate delivers pomelo, apricot, fines herbes and rock salt. Medium-full bodied at 12.5 percent, the fleshy entry continues through a tangy mid-palate, leading to a long finish.
From the Erste Lage vineyard of Heppenheimer Centgericht situated below Starkenburg at the southern end of the region. Crystalline citrine with coruscating golden reflex, the aromatic nose presents quince, nectarine, rosemary and wet stone. With generous acidity and rich minerality, the robust palate supplies mirabelle, pineapple, bouquet garni and crushed shells. Full-bodied at 13 percent, the corpulent entry persists through an animated mid-palate, leading to a focused finish.