Part 3 ‘Germany’s Wine Road’
Another example of the ‘Roads’ of Europe is the German Wine Road (Deutche Weinstraβe), runs about 85 km from Bockenheim an der Weinstraβe at the north end, to Schweigen-Rechtenbach at the south end.
This area is the Rhineland Palatinate or what is called in Germany ‘Die Pfalz’, and is the second largest wine growing area in Germany with almost 24,000 hectares of vineyards. Riesling is the leading white wine, with nearly 6000 hectares being grown, with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris covering about 3000 hectares. Other whites include Silvaner, Müller-Thurgau, Gewürztraminer, Kerner and Morio-Muskat , and lately the international varieties of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Reds are becoming increasingly important, making the Pfalz region the largest red wine region in Germany.
The people in Die Pfalz are hard working, fun-loving people. For instance, the wine festival season begins in the Spring when the Almond trees bloom, continuing on in some areas to late November. The best time to visit this region is in the fall, when all the grapes are being harvested. I can still remember vividly driving through this region at that time when the air is redolent with wonderful aromas of wine. The harvesting and fermenting of the grapes is well underway, in every village and every vineyard. On the side of the roads as you pass these places, there are signs hanging out, signs of all sorts, sizes and styles, inviting you to stop and taste their wines (Weinprobe).
One of the biggest wine festivals in the Pfalz is the Wurst Markt (literally Sausage Market), held in the town of Bad Durkheim during the second and third weekend of September. This is held in the middle of town outside the largest wine barrel in the world, the Dürkheimer Riesenfass, which also houses a restaurant. This barrel has a diameter of 13.5 metres, with a volume of 1,700,000 litres. As I said, it does not hold wine but is a restaurant which can hold 430 guests on two levels.
During one trip to this region, we were driving with another couple, heading down just south of the big wine barrel, looking for a place to stay. In most German speaking countries, rooms for rent or B&B’s are advertised outside with a sign “Zimmer Frei”, which means ‘room free’ or a B&B vacancy. I was navigating, reading the map while my friend Harvey was driving. I noticed a small village on the map that triggered a memory. It was called ‘Ilbesheim’, and was the hometown of my German neighbour back home. I instructed Harvey to make the appropriate direction changes and we were soon entering this tiny village.
As we drove around the village, not very far, we were looking for a ‘Zimmer Frei’ sign, which we soon spotted on the corner of one of the houses. It was a large house with lots of windows, so it was good chance they might have two rooms available. That was always the problem travelling with another couple, because we are always asking for two double rooms. As it turned out they did have two rooms, well appointed with private toilet and shower, and a reasonable price, including a hearty German breakfast. A real bonus was the place was a Weingut , or winery, so we basically had unlimited wine to drink. They had their own vineyards, made their own wine and even distilled their own schnapps! That evening, we walked up to the local restaurant (one in town, if I remember), and after dinner we returned to the B&B, and our hostess had made some dessert of some delicious plum dumplings for us. What a treat!
What happened next was that two years later, the real part of this story I wanted to tell took place. Diana & I were driving through this area once again by ourselves, and decided to stop at the village of Ilbesheim and stay at Weingut Kerht, the same B&B we had stayed at two years before. They recognized us and we were treated like old friends or family! During the previous two years, the father had died, and the oldest son, Thomas, had taken over running the business. The next oldest son, Stefan, worked for Mercedes Benz, and the youngest, Heiko, was still in school.
It was a lovely visit, all of us catching up on each other’s lives. Later that evening, after 8 PM, it was time for dinner, and they announced they would be taking us out to eat. It was an interesting experience, as we left the house, we walked again. We thought we would be going to the same restaurant we went to a couple of years before. No . . . we kept walking, right on to the edge of the village, almost into the surrounding vineyards. We were thinking “Where are we going? there’s nothing out here but grapes.”
Soon, we turned towards a small house, and headed down a sloping driveway if I recall. We entered a building which opened up into a larger room. Then we continued along a subterranean stone passageway into another room.
Wow! It was a large dining room with long tables, almost filled with local residents, all here for a night out. We hadn’t seen any signs on the outside, or any indication it was a restaurant, but we learned later it was called “Weingut Restaurant Brenofen”. Obviously, this was a place known and frequented by the locals, a very special place. We were pleasantly surprised, and were seated with our hosts at one end of a long table with a group of Bavarians at the other end. Our wine was poured and they let us choose from the menu.
Many places in Germany have special glasses or tankards for serving drinks. In Bavaria they serve their beer in large steins, or beer mugs. In Frankfurt, they serve “Apfel Wein”in a grey-blue ceramic container. Other places have small schnapps glasses. Here in Die Pfalz, our wine was served in small glasses called “Dubbe Schoppe”. This is the Pfalz dialect for “Punkt glas”, with small round spots (periods) etched or cut into the surface.
Diana & I both ordered a “Rhein Pfalz Plate”, a sampling of local specialties like Saumagen, sauerkraut, leber knödel (liver dumplings), and bratwurst.
Saumagen is like sausage, originally a pig’s stomach stuffed with pork, potato and other veggies, along with some herbs and spices. This mixture is sliced and fried up for serving. Delicious! After the main course, they served a plate of “Liptauer Cheese”, a delicious spicy cheese mixture of Camembert, eggs, butter, onions and paprika.
As we walked home that evening to the B&B after midnight, we felt very special, because this kind of event does not occur very often, and it is one of the rare happenings we love about independent travel.
Click here to view part 1 – Germany’s Fairy Tale Road
Click here to view part 2 – Germany’s Castle Road
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