Ask wine lovers about Germany and wine…. and sure enough Riesling will get mentioned. But few people are aware that some of the world’s oldest wine estates are based in Germany. No doubts, the origins of wine making can be tracked back 5000 years to Georgia – but in terms of oldest-and-still-operative wineries one needs to look at the German wine regions* Mosel and Rheingau.
How to establish the age of a winery – I hear you ask? In Germany it’s all about dates on documents, for instance a bill of sales, or deeds of transfers, charters recording vineyard sites or buildings. No hearsay allowed.
Here’s a list of still-active estates based on the first written mention of either their vineyards, or the estates or wine sale.
Offering sweeping views of the Rhine River, the Rheingau and the Rheinhessen wine regions Schloss Johannisberg was initially founded as a Benedictine monastery in 1100. The monastery’s property included vineyards first mentioned in 817. The estate nowadays looks back not only at a history of over 1200 years, but also prides itself with setting some serious Riesling-history milestones: In 1720 the Johannisberg started to focus exclusively on Riesling and in 1775 Johannisberg discovered the benefits of Spätlese - late harvest - wines. For travelers Schloss Johannisberg is one of the must-visit landmarks in Rheingau, featuring a spectacular cellar (visits need to be pre-arranged) and also and stunning views.
The Staffelter Hof in Mosel was first mentioned in 862 when the estate and its land were donated to a nearby monastery by members of the Carolingian dynasty. For most of its existence the monastery produced wines for its own consumption. The property got secularized during Napoleonic occupation and changed ownership a number of times. Today the Staffelter Hof is run by the Klein family in the 7th generation. Besides making wines the estate offers homey accommodation for travelers to the Mosel region.
The vineyards of Eitelsbach in Mosel - associated to what is today known as Karthäuser Hof - got first mentioned in documents dated to 1223. In 1335, the prince-elector of of Luxembourg gifted the estate on the land to the monks of the Carthusian order. The monks turned the facilities and the land into a fully-fledged winery - cultivating wine for almost 500 years. Sharing the same fate as many Church-owned estates, it became private property under Napoleonic rule in 1811, and since then is being passed on from generation to generation in the Tyrel and Behler Family. The renowned estate welcomes international visitors for wine tastings (and purchase of course).
Schloss Vollrads in Rheingau is the odd one out in this list of Germany’s oldest wineries: neither the estate nor its vineyards have ever been church property. Transaction records include a bill from 1211, documenting the purchase of wine by a monastery in nearby Mainz. Known for its Riesling wines, Schloss Vollrads has seen in 27 generations private family ownership, spanning 800 years. Only in the late 1990s with the death of its last owner Count Matuschka- Greiffenclau ownership changed from private to corporate. Today, the estate manages over 40 hectares of wines – the beautiful property is partially open to public and features a Michelin recommended restaurant and a tasting room.
At BottleStops we regularly include visits to historic estates in Rheingau, such as Kloster Eberbach, Schloss Vollrads or Schloss Johannisberg – check out our Rheingau Wine tour ‘Castles, Abbeys and Wine’.
*prove us wrong and we will unhappily accept corrections
HEADLINE UPDATED on Oct 29, 2021 based on Paula’s comments.