Sachsen: Germany’s Smallest Wine Region

In spite of its small size, Sachsen has many pleasant surprises in store for those who enjoy German wine. Sachsen is, indeed, the smallest and most eastern wine region in Germany. It’s also – by a hair – Germany’s northernmost wine region. Most visitors to the area come to see the city of Dresden, restored to splendor and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or to shop for porcelain in nearby Meißen. Since most Sachsen wines are consumed locally, a visit to the Dresden – Meißen area may be the only way you can experience the region’s wines for yourself.

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Sachsen Wine History

As in many parts of Germany, wine production in Sachsen dates back to the Middle Ages – to 1161 A.D., to be precise. The bishop of Meißen had the first grape vines planted here; the vines were brought from France to the Elbe River valley. Of course, Sachsen’s history includes over forty years of Communist domination. During that time, wine estates were run as state-owned collectives, and quality declined accordingly. After the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and German reunification (1990), some wine estates found their way back into private hands. Since that time, Sachsen’s wineries have evolved from industrial production centers to high-quality wine estates, but this transformation is still a work in progress.

Geography and Climate

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.

Most of Sachsen’s vineyards are in the Elbe valley, where the grapes are sheltered. A few vineyards lie south and west of the river valley, and there is also a small wine-growing area northeast of Meißen, near the town of Weinböhla. The river helps to make grape cultivation possible here. The area’s climate is continental, with cold winters and late spring frosts that challenge growers to prepare for weather extremes. Summers are typically hot. The river helps to moderate the climate somewhat, so that the grapes have an opportunity to fully ripen. Sachsen’s soils are mostly gneiss- and granite-based, but some areas have loess or sandy soils. Many vineyards are terraced to take advantage of every hour of sunlight.

Sachsen Grape Varieties

As you might expect, Sachsen’s cold weather influences grape variety selection in the region. White wine grapes account for 82 percent of the region’s production. Almost 20 percent of Sachsen’s vineyards are planted in Müller-Thurgau, with riesling just behind at 15 percent. Weissburgunder is also popular. Red wine plantings include spätburgunder (7.6 percent) and traminer (6.9 percent), which is gaining in popularity. Two unusual white grape varieties are grown in Sachsen. Goldriesling, a cross of Alsatian riesling and courtillier, ripens early and thus does well in this northerly region. Elbling, a white wine grape, is central Europe’s oldest grape variety. Currently, about two percent of Sachsen’s vineyards are planted in elbling. The wine’s popularity is increasing, and more Sachsen growers are planting elbling grapes.