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WINE

Meet the man introducing internationals to German wine

Jérôme Hainz is dedicated to passing on his passion for wine, in the heart of Germany's largest producing region. The Local went on tour with him to discover just how diverse the country's wine landscape is.

Meet the man introducing internationals to German wine
Hainz showing off wines at RheinWeinWelt in Rüdesheim. Photo courtesty of Jérôme Hainz.

Only when living abroad did Mainz-born Jérôme Hainz develop a passion for one of Germany's highlights: wine.

In a Chinese language course in Beijing, he was assigned a presentation on one aspect of German culture.

“Everyone was expecting beer, pretzels and pork knuckles,” said Hainz, who dug deeper and was surprised – and simultaneously fascinated – with the world of German wine.

The Bundesrepublik may be known for its beer, but it’s also the eighth largest wine producer in the world with 13 different growing regions. Each is known for its own distinct wine, whether the Silvaner of Franken or Pinot Noir of Baden.

Map showing Germany's wine regions. Graph courtesy of Wines of Germany.

READ ALSO: 5 things you should really know about wine in Germany

Eager to show more foreigners just how special and diverse Germany’s wine culture is, Hainz founded wine tasting and touring company BottleStops in 2017. 

He guides both private and group tours in English to wineries and tasting rooms, whether well-known Weinstuben (taverns) in Mainz, or scenic gems tucked away in hard-to-reach villages.

“Wines from Germany express a very strong sense of origin, for me that's the basis of my Heimatliebe (love for one’s country)” he said, as our small group drove past hilly vineyards perched alongside the Rhine River in September.

Stretched across 26,800 hectares, the so-called Rheinhessen is Germany’s largest wine-producing region, and is particularly renowned for its Riesling. It’s here that Hainz guides the bulk of his tours, as well as in the nearby Rheingau and Mosel regions. 

“The valley of the Rhine River creates special conditions,” said Hainz. “You have the river at the bottom, shade of the forest at the top of the mountain, river that reflects light, a slope that collects warm sunlight.”

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

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Hainz taking a lunch break with a touring group earlier in October.

Germany’s wine capital

Since 2008, the Rheinhessen has belonged to the international network of “Great Wine Capitals”, which also counts the Napa Valley in California and Porto, Portugal among its members. 

But its regal reputation stretches back centuries: In the past, German wine was as well known – and expensive – as Bordeaux or Champagnes, said Hainz. “It’s fascinating to look at old, turn-of the 19th to the 20th century wine menus from the US, for example at the Waldorf Astoria. A lot of them came from Germany.”

It was commonly Jewish traders, many who lived in Mainz before World War II, who helped import it across the Atlantic, said Hainz. 

Wine growing throughout the area dates back hundreds of years, however, as we stopped by the Rheingau’s Kloster Eberbach, a former Cistercian monastery which cultivated vineyards for production as early as the twelfth century. 

“Wine was considered to be a commodity, and people drank it all the time,” said Hainz as we strolled through a dimly lit historic cellar, still stacked with wooden barrels. 

Wine: ‘Like raising children’

We also made some stops which gave insight into modern Mainz, such as FLIK, a Sekt (sparkling wine) manufacturer.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

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Flik filling grape must. The juice coming just off the press, just starting its first fermentation.

Germans consume 400 million bottles of sparkling wine per year – about a quarter of the world’s production.

READ ALSO: Travel in Germany: Six reasons why Mainz is worth visiting this autumn

For Sekt made in the traditional method, the acidity of the base wine is higher than in normal wines, said owner and Winzer (wine maker) Rüdiger Flik, gesturing to a large metallic barrels with which he poured out samples.

Once the wine undergoes two fermentation processes, the sparkling wine needs to be stored for at least nine months.

The lees (or remainder of the yeast) are then removed in a process called disgorgement, in which a very small dose of sweetness may or may not be added – depending on the style that the Sekt manufacturer is intending.

“Many vintners talk about winemaking like raising children. You can only nudge vines in a certain way,” said Hainz as we later scooped up local Spundekäs cheese spread in pretzels at a Weinstuben in the centre of Mainz.

'Großes Gewächs'

We also made our way to St. Anthony’s, a biodynamic winery in Nierstein, Rhineland-Palatinate known for its vineyards being situated on a special 280 million year old red rock formation called the Roter Hang. Each grape, grown on a special red slate soil, is picked by hand, said tasting room manager Bärbel Scheibl.

Touring inside the cellars of St. Anthony's. Photo: Jérôme Hainz

This was followed by a stop at Weingüter Wegeler, which produces wine from vineyards almost directly at its doorstep in Oestrich, a small village along the Rhine. It also has several vintage wines in stock, such as the 1993 Winkel Jesuitengarten. 

As they age, whites typically get darker and reds become lighter, pointed out Hainz as we noted the colour change of the oldest wines. 

All of the wines belong to a so-called Großes Gewächs (or gG as it’s commonly written on bottles), Germany's highest quality wine certification. As we sipped one, so-called Kirchenfenster (literally church windows, or legs) formed on the side.

“Is this an indicator of the quality?”, I asked Hainz, reciting the one piece of knowledge I thought I had picked up from former trips through the vineyard-filled California countryside.

He paused, again surprising me with a fact I did not know. “The ‘Kirchenfenster' just indicate the viscosity of the liquid…but it offers little indication whether this is good or bad,” he said, picking up a glass of Riesling, and slowly swirling it around before taking a sip.

“The quality is defined by what you can smell and taste.”
 

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TRAVEL

Travel in Germany: Six reasons why Mainz is worth visiting this autumn

Sometimes overshadowed by other large German cities, Rhineland-Palatinate's capital offers visitors a fascinating taste of history, culture and wine.

Travel in Germany: Six reasons why Mainz is worth visiting this autumn
This historic fortress from the 1880s especially stands out amid the fall colours. Photos: DPA

In “normal” years, Mainz is perhaps best known around Germany for its Fassnacht carnival full of political satire, starting on November 11th and stretching on for six months.

This year’s events might be off the table, but there are many more attractions in the city worth exploring, as I discovered on a sunny September weekend.

Admittedly, I had been to Frankfurt several times, but had yet to visit this fascinating city only a half hour train ride to the south. Boasting a population of around 210,000, the middle-sized city of Mainz is packed with big attractions to be explored amid a relaxed atmosphere.

READ ALSO: Fastnacht first timer: Behind the scenes of Mainz’ famous carnival

Wine wonders

If you order wine in Mainz, it will almost always come from these regional rolling hills.

Mainz is also the capital of Germany’s largest wine producing region, with many nearby areas growing grapes on gently rolling hills along the Rhine river. The centre of Mainz is dotted with Weinstuben, or wine taverns, serving locally produced wine. 

Following a common practice, we enjoyed a glass in the early evening with Spundekäs’, a homemade cream cheese sprinkled with pieces of onions and scooped up with a small pretzel (or 16…).

We also ventured out into the valleys of the Rheinhessen and Rheingau to sample newly harvested wines with BottleStops, a wine and tasting tour company which picks most visitors up in Mainz.

Roman ruins

The director of the Roman-Germanic Central Museum (RGZM), Alexandra Busch, points to a Roman sarcophagus. Photo: DPA

Flash back 1,600 years, when Mainz was the mighty Mogontiacum, one of the strategic sites of the Roman Empire. The city served as a powerful military base for campaigns into the central and northern parts of Germany. 

Today many ruins remind us of this long lost society. Particularly impressive is a preserved stone theatre which at one point seated over 10,000 spectators. In rainy weather, the city also boasts a number of museums devoted to its Roman past, and with impressive collections of artifacts.

Pedestrian paradise

A jogger runs along the Rheinufer early in the morning. Photo: DPA

Especially in the autumn, Mainz is the perfect spot for a Spaziergang (walk) or run along the Rheinufer, which divides it from Wiesbaden, the capital of Hesse. 

And if you’re trying to find your way back into the city centre, it’s next to impossible to get lost. Any street sign that runs parallel to the Rhine is marked in blue, and any that run away from it are coloured red. The system, in place since the mid-19th century, was partially put in place to help a growing number of foreigners in the city find their way around.

The Blue Wonder

The famous windows of St. Stephan's Cathedral. Photo: DPA

Dubbed “Der Blaue Wunder”, the windows of Mainz’ St. Stephan’s Cathedral bears a rare work from one of the greats of impressionism, Marc Chagall. 

The Jewish artist, who had fled to the US from France during the Nazi occupation, came to Mainz in 1978 to paint the windows as a sign of the Jewish-Christian connection. 

An honorary citizen of the city, Chagall finished the last window shortly before his death at the age of 97. 

Fit to Print

An employee at the Gutenberg Museum, after it reopened to visitors in May. Photo: DPA

As a journalist, I gravitated towards the Gutenberg Museum, named after the inventor of the printing press over 500 years ago. Its sprawling collection doesn’t just include many rare relics – such one of two remaining editions of the Gutenberg Bible – but also an extensive exhibition on printing’s beginning in many parts of the world, from Asia to Africa. 

READ ALSO: 10 essential inventions you didn't know were German

After watching a daily demonstration of printing carried out by a real life replica, I could appreciate the ease of publishing in modern times.

Innovative architecture

From the half-timbered houses of the Altstadt, to a metallic cube shaped synagogue – which just celebrated its 10th birthday – the buildings of Mainz reveal a long history with a very diverse population. 

Whether as a monument or repurposed restaurant, Mainz preserves its buildings to see and enjoy. We ended the trip with dinner and regional Riesling at the Heiliggeist (Holy Spirit), a former public hospital and church converted into a brewery in the 19th century. 

Burned during World War II bombings, it was rebuilt – like most of Mainz’ city centre – to carry the city’s culture forward.

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