Germans love to party: more than 1,250 wine festivals are held throughout the country every year.
Raising a toast at at the Meistertrunk (Master Draught) festival in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Drawing Sturm (fermenting grape juice on its way to becoming wine) at a wine festival.
Wineries like this one on the German Wine Route in the Pfalz open their cellars to the public during local wine festivals.
Zwiebelkuchen (onion tart) is the traditional accompaniment to Federweisse (fermenting grape juice on its way to becoming wine) in the autumn.
About the writer
Sharon Hudgins is an award-winning writer with four books and more than 700 articles published worldwide. Her food and travel writing has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Saveur, Gastronomica, German Life, Russian Life, The World & I, Chile Pepper, Fiery Foods & Barbecue, major newspapers in the United States, and periodicals in Germany, Russia, and the Czech Republic. For several years she was the food columnist for The Stars and Stripes newspaper in Europe, and since 1997 has been the food columnist for German Life magazine in the United States. A former editor of Chile Pepper magazine, she has also worked as a cookbook editor, photographer, filmmaker, university professor, and lecturer on international tours offered by National Geographic Expeditions, Lindblad, Road Scholar, and Silversea Cruises.
Sharon Hudgins has lived in nine countries of Europe and Asia and traveled in 50 countries across the globe. Her European experience includes living in Germany for 15 years, as well as in several European capitals and small towns from northern Scotland to southern Spain to the Greek island of Crete. She is the author of an award-winning cookbook about the regional cuisines of Spain, and her personal memoir, The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East, won two national awards for travel and food writing.
Sharing a huge glass of wine at a festival in the Franconia region of Germany.
GERMAN WINE FESTIVALS
By Sharon Hudgins
Photos by the author
Germans love to party, especially when food and drink are involved. And public partying is a tradition in Germany, from Munich's annual Oktoberfest beer bash to more than 1,250 wine festivals held throughout the country every year.
The eighth largest wine-producing country in the world, Germany is known for its excellent white wines and an increasing number of fine reds, too. Wines from Germany's 13 designated wine regions each have their own character, depending on the kind of grapes they're made from, the climate and terrain where the grapes are grown, and the skill of the winemakers themselves. Even wines from a small microclimate within one of the specified wine regions will differ from wines made on the other side of the hill or a kilometer down the road. Connoisseurs can distinguish not only among wines from the Ahr, Rheingau, Franconia, Pfalz and Baden regions, but can also taste the difference between wines from one vineyard and another.
Locals in traditional costumes parade through the streets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber at the Meistertrunk (Master Draught) festival, celebrating the 17th-century mayor who saved the city from destruction by accepting a dare from an enemy leader to drink a 3.25-liter of wine in one go.
Although Germany exports wines to other countries, much of its production is consumed in Germany itself, usually not far from where the wine was made. A fun way to sample these local wines is to attend one of the many wine festivals held annually in each region. Most occur between March and the end of harvest, in late October. Some are quiet little fests in small villages, held on only one day. Others are boisterous celebrations lasting for a weekend or a week or even longer, attracting people from all over the country. Some of these festivals are combined with other events, like open-air markets, outdoor concerts, art exhibits and craft fairs, food festivals and fireworks displays. Whatever the venue, a German wine festival is a good place to taste the local wines, eat regional specialties, meet friendly Germans and have a rousing good time.
From mid-March until mid-November, more than 200 festivals are scheduled along the Deutsche Weinstrasse, the German Wine Route that extends for 50 miles through Germany's Pfalz region between the foothills of the forested Haardt Mountains and the flat Rhine River plain. The giant of all wine festivals is held in this region: the nearly-600-year-old Bad Dürckheimer Wurstmarkt (Sausage Market), the Pfalz's equivalent of Munich's beery Oktoberfest. Despite its meaty name, the Wurstmarkt claims to be the largest wine festival in the world, offering more than 150 local wines and attracting half a million visitors to Bad Dürckheim every year. During nine days in mid-September, they down more than 400,000 liters of the local brew!
Get away from the crush of Bad Dürckheim's crowds at the many smaller, more intimate wine festivals along the German Wine Route, usually held for one to three days over a single weekend. The best time to go is in the early autumn, during the grape harvest season. Local vintners open their cellars to the public and their courtyards to customers who sit on benches at long tables, eating regional specialties and sipping wines in the shade of a grape arbor. This is a great way to meet Germans and enjoy the regional wines in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.
Wiesbaden is known as "The Gateway to the Rheingau," the romantic vineyard region on the north side of the Rhine River, home to some of Germany's most famous wineries, including those around the villages of Rüdesheim, Eltville and Assmannshausen. During August, you can sample excellent Rhine wines from the local vintners at more than 120 booths set up in the Wiesbaden city center for the annual 10-day Rheingau Wine Festival.
In late August and early September, you can also indulge at the 10-day Rheingau Wine Festival in nearby Frankfurt, tasting more than 600 wines from the Rheingau region at 30 vintners' stands set up in the "Fressgass" food street along Bockenheimer Strasse and the Opernplatz, and in the nearby shopping district along the Goethestrasse. Food stalls operated by local businesses provide the sustenance you'll need to keep from getting totally tipsy on all that good Rhine wine.
Farther north along the Rhine, the Mittelrhein (Middle Rhine) region is also the site of several wine festivals in the picturesque villages that line the river valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes the city of Koblenz. Among other wine festivals in this region, the Middle Rhine celebrates "Golden Wine Autumn" on two Saturdays in October, with wine tastings, live music, dancing and spectacular fireworks displays. The best way to enjoy this special festival is to book a day-long cruise on a river boat that includes stops at the festival towns along the Rhine and concludes with fireworks that night.
Federweisse (fermenting grape juice on its way to becoming wine) is a popular drink at autumn wine festivals.
Another popular region for wine festivals is along the Mosel River, where dozens of local celebrations are held from April to October. The largest and best known is the Wine Festival of the Middle Mosel in Bernkastel-Kues in early September, which includes fireworks at the Landshut Castle, crowning of the Middle Mosel Wine Queen, wine tastings at 30 booths and a colorful parade of vintners through the narrow streets of this beautiful half-timbered town. Another good option is to visit the Mosel for a week or so during harvest time, from August through October, when you can watch the grapes being picked and experience the smaller, more intimate wine festivals in the little villages lining the river between Koblenz and Trier.
Vintners Louis and Marita Klein on the Mosel River open their cellars to the public during wine festivals.
There's a long tradition of wine festivals in the Baden wine region, in southwestern Germany, which produces some of Germany's finest wines. Baden is well known for its excellent cuisine, too, which attracts gourmets from all over Europe. Among the many wine festivals in this region, one is held in July in the pretty city of Freiburg, where you can taste wines from 40 Baden vintners.
One of the largest wine festivals in Germany is the Stuttgarter Weindorf (Stuttgart Wine Village), held in early September in the heart of the city, the capital of Baden-Württemberg, where 120 vendors sell 250 kinds of Württemberg wines, as well as classic regional Schwabian foods. Stuttgart claims this festival attracts more than a million visitors annually, which would make it even larger than the Bad Durckheimer Wurstmarkt.
And finally, the Franconia wine region, along the Main River, hosts a number of wine festivals, too, featuring Franconia's excellent wines in their characteristic green Bocksbeutel bottles. Small festivals in the villages of the Main River valley, such as Sommerhausen and neighboring Winterhausen, are especially fun to attend, for their fine wines and local character.
Würzburg, the regional capital of Lower Franconia, is the site of the Würzburger Weindorf (Würzburg Wine Festival), where you can sample more than 100 kinds of Franconian wines at the booths and stands set up in the city center in late May and early June. Würzburgers like to party. In late August Würzburg hosts an 11-day Weinparade am Marktplatz (Wine Festival on the Market Square), offering a chance to taste more than 100 different wines from Würzburg's local wineries, along with plenty of regional food specialties.
At many of the autumn wine festivals in Germany, the traditional food and drink are Zwiebelkuchen (onion tart) and Federweisser (one of the many German names for "new wine"), which is fermenting grape juice that's still on its way to becoming real wine. Don't be fooled by the pleasantly sweet taste of this bubbly, cloudy brew—usually served in .25-liter glasses—which you'll want to quaff like thirst-quenching fruit juice. Be forewarned: Federweisser does contain alcohol, more or less depending on how long the fermentation has been going on, and it can easily seduce you into drinking so much that when you stand up you'll wish you'd been more prudent.
For information about a variety of German wine festivals see:
- Website of the German National Tourist Office, with good information about wine festivals around the country.
- Weinfeste in Deutschland: website links, in German, to hundreds of wine festivals, with a paragraph describing each, the dates of the current year's festivals, and a link to more information from each region's or festival's website.
- German beer and wine festivals in 2014
For more information about specific German wine festivals see:
- Pfalz Wine Festivals on the German Wine Route
- Several specific wine festivals in Rheinland-Pfalz
- Frankfurt Rheingau Wine Festival
- Rhine Wine Festivals
- Golden Wine Autumn: Rhine river cruise with wine festival
- Wine Festival of the Middle Mosel, Bernkastel-Kue
- Freiburg Wine Festival
- Stuttgart Wine Festival
- Franconian wine festivals and their dates in 2014: www.franken-weinland.de/erleben/weinfeste, and www.fraenkischer-weinfestkalender.de/termine.
- Würzburg Wine Festival
- Würzburg Wine Festival on the Market Square