Rheinhessen: Germany's Largest Wine Region

Size Isn't Everything
Rheinhessen's long winemaking history and large size are the building blocks of its reputation in the world of wine – and there are pros and cons associated with both.  Rheinhessen's most famous wine, Liebfraumilch, while well known as far back as the mid-1700's, might well be called "infamous" today because of its reputation for insipid sweetness.  Still, it's hard to argue with brand-name success, so you're likely to find Liebfraumilch prominently displayed in your local wine shop's German section.

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Rheinhessen's size has also been a mixed blessing.  There are many different soil types in the Rheinhessen region, and there's plenty of room to grow wine grapes on lesser-quality vineyard sites as well as in prime locations.  On the other hand, winemakers have room to experiment and to limit their harvests, and Rheinhessen's top producers have done just that.  Others have chosen to specialize in organic wines and are proving that it's possible to use ecologically-sound production methods and win awards.

Rheinhessen Wine History
Rheinhessen, as its name suggests, is bordered by the Rhine River on its north and east sides, and by the Nahe River on its west.  The famous cathedral cities of Mainz and Worms, as well as Bingen, known for St.Hildegard's abbey, are part of Rheinhessen's winemaking history.  Although the Romans probably brought winemaking to the area, the Church, particularly in Mainz, encouraged winemaking.  Because of its strategic location on the Rhine, Mainz became a center for the German wine trade and remains so today.  In fact, the Deutsches Weininstitut (German Wine Institute), which regulates German wine standards, is located in Mainz.

Worms, too, played a role in Germany's wine history.  Although most people think of Worms as the city where Martin Luther faced down Emperor Frederick at the Imperial Diet, Worms' Liebfrauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, gave its name to the wine produced from grapes grown in church vineyards.  Until 1908, the name "Liebfraumilch" pertained only to wine from the original church property, but local winegrowers agreed that they couldn't keep up with growing demand for the popular wine.  Today, Liebfraumilch can be produced throughout the region, and the original vineyards are now called "Liebfrauenstift-Kirchenstück."

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.