I begin this article with a disclaimer: Baden is one of my favorite wine regions in all of Germany – not that I’ve ever visited a German wine region I didn’t like. I’m heartily biased toward Baden, however, not least because I’ve spent so much time there. Our good friends – the ones who arranged last fall’s winery tour – have taken us all over Baden, ensuring that this warm and inviting part of Germany will always have a special place in my heart.
Warm Climate, Diverse Soils
When you read about German wines or look for them in your local wine shop, you won’t see Baden wines at the top of anyone’s list, and I can’t figure out why. Perhaps it’s because Baden’s climate is warm, with plenty of sunshine, unlike that of any other German wine region, and so the grapes develop differently. Baden is the only German wine region in climatic zone B – comparable to France’s Loire Valley and Alsace wine regions.
Perhaps, instead, it’s the diversity of Baden wines that make them so hard to characterize. Baden has many different soil types, ranging from clay to limestone to granite to sand. There’s plenty of volcanic soil around the Kaiserstuhl, itself an ancient volcano. About 41 percent of the grape varieties grown here are reds, and the dominant white variety, Müller-Thurgau, is only planted in 21 percent of Baden’s vineyards.
Baden’s diversity is so pronounced, in fact, that the region has been subdivided into districts. Within these districts, winegrowers plant many types of grapes on different soils. You can find everything from riesling to silvaner to spätburgunder in Baden. The only thing you won’t find is stereotypical descriptions of Baden’s wine.
Baden’s Wine Districts
Baden is a sizeable wine region, the third largest in Germany, and it has nine distinct districts. In the northeastern corner of the region, the Tauberfranken, west of Würzburg, is best known for its Müller-Thurgau wines. The Badische Bergstraße (“Baden Mountain Road”) district, situated between Heidelberg, Weinheim and Wiesloch, is home to some of Germany’s most delightful villages. The adjacent Kraichgau is farm country; fortunately, the rich soil here is also good for growing grapes. South of the Kraichgau lies the Ortenau district, which encompasses the area from Lahr to Baden-Baden.
Moving farther south, we next find the Breisgau, which includes the popular Glottertal valley, known for its sunshine, walking paths and sports and leisure opportunities. West of the Breisgau is the Kaiserstuhl (“Emperor’s Seat”), an extinct volcano that happens to be home to Germany’s warmest climate. As you might guess, vineyards are everywhere on the Kaiserstuhl. According to Gault-Millau’s The Guide to German Wines, one-third of Baden’s wine is made from grapes grown on the Kaiserstuhl.
As we continue to travel south, we next enter the Tuniberg, Baden’s tiniest wine district, where weisser burgunder, spätburgunder and grauer burgunder (pinot blanc, pinot noir, and pinot gris) flourish on limestone and loess soils. The next district south, the Markgräferland, sits in the heart of the famous Black Forest. Gutedel (chasselas) is the variety of choice here.
The last of Baden’s wine districts, a collection of vineyard areas scattered near the shores of Lake Constance, is named Bodensee for the lake itself. (Lake Constance is called the Bodensee in German.) If you see a wine labeled as Seewein (“Lake Wine”), you’ll know it comes from the Bodensee district.
Now that we’ve toured the Baden wine region’s districts, let’s take a closer look at some of Baden’s wineries.
A Sampling of Baden Wineries
Baden is home to many cooperatives, which produce wines from grapes sold to them by literally dozens of different growers. One of Baden’s largest cooperatives, the Badische Winzerkeller, in Breisach am Rhein, offers tours and tastings with advance reservations.
If you’d prefer to see a smaller wine estate, you have plenty of choices. Weingut Karl H. Johner, located in Bischoffingen in the Kaiserstuhl district, is run by Karl Heinz Johner, one of Baden’s most innovative winemakers. The Johner family also makes wine in New Zealand, and you can read about the wineries not only on the Johner website (click on the U.S. or U.K. flag in the upper left corner for the English version) but also on their blog, which features posts in both German and English. You can visit the Johner winery Monday through Saturday in the afternoon. It’s always best to call ahead when visiting German wineries.
The Salwey family has owned Weingut Salwey since 1763. This wine estate, located in Oberrotweil, produces award-winning red and white wines, particularly for its weisser burgunder and grauer burgunder wines. You must reserve ahead if you plan to bring a group of eight or more people to the winery. (Website in German only.)
Weingut Reinhold & Cornelia Schneider, owned by the couple of the same name, takes an unusual approach to labeling its wines. Wine labels bear a letter that corresponds to a soil type – “A” for clay, “C” for loess and “R” for volcanic soils. Three asterisks indicate that the wine is the best of its vintage, and “trio” indicates that grapes from three different vineyards were used in making a particular wine. It’s unusual, but it works. Gault-Millau’s The Guide to German Wines calls the Schneider’s wines “the best range in Baden.” If you’d like to visit their winery in Endigen, be aware that it has very limited visiting hours, restricted to Friday afternoons and Saturdays until 2:00.
There are many reasons to visit Baden, which is home to Heidelberg Castle, the Black Forest, Baden-Baden’s famous spa and casino, and much, much more. You’ll never run out of things to do in this attractive, welcoming part of Germany. Wherever you go, of course, you’ll find wineries, ranging from superstars like Weingut Bernhard Huber to small winegrowers. Stop by a winery or two and sample Baden’s diverse wines for yourself.