Along the banks of the Rhine river lies a stretch of UNESCO protected land, the Rhine Gorge, that’s home to the most amazing castles, quaint German towns and of course, some of the finest vineyards in all of Europe.
One of these historic towns and wine-growing centres is Boppard, a UNESCO protected World Heritage Site. It is here that many of our multi-country tours to Germany stop for travellers to take in the serene landscape, cruise the Rhine river and taste true German wine such as Riesling, Spätburgunder and Pinot Noir. Owned and managed by the Macchaus family, the Vineum Wine Shop offers an impressive variety of wines from the region, as well as one of the lesser-known jewels of Deutschland- ice wine, or eiswein as it is known in German. Prepared from grapes that are harvested in the coldest months in winter, this traditional, sweet dessert wine is made by allowing the grapes to freeze on the vine naturally, at temperatures below -7 degrees celsius.
A family business that is already in its 7th generation, the Machhaus Brand Store is managed by Christian Firnkes, his wife Rocio Machhaus-Firnkes and father in law, Philipp. The Machhaus family business is one of the longest standing family businesses in Boppard that proudly sell proud German souvenirs such as cuckoo clocks, beer steins, music boxes and hummel figurines. Walking around the store you can still find antique pieces from Rocios’ grandfather’s time.
In 1990, Rocio’s father Philip decided to indulge his interest in wine by opening a wine depot that would gather and offer fine regional wines to locals and tourists. The wine depot, a first for the region, was initially called Loreley Wein Cabinet, but was later renamed to Vineum. They started to attract the attention of local wine producers and soon they were renowned for selling the finest Rhine valley wines and introducing tourists to the world of German wine production. Today Christian and his family are the foremost wine connoisseurs offering daily wine tastings in their wine shop in Kronengasse street, Boppard. We’ve asked Christian to share more about the German wine industry and why German wines are among the most popular European wines in Europe and the world.
The Rhine District includes three of thirteen wine regions in Germany that are home to wine producers of international reputation. The vineyard area of Germany covers 103.000 hectares and includes 13 distinct wine regions, including Ahr, Baden, Hessische Bergstraße, Franken, Mittelrhein, Mosel, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen, Württemberg. Boppard is right in the middle of the Ahr, Mittelrhein, Mosel, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheingau and very close to Rheinhessen. These seven wine regions are basically the centre of the German wine production area, and produces grape varieties such as Riesling, Spȁtburgunder, Müller-Thurgau and Dornfelder.
Riesling and Pinot Noir are among the most common wines that are produced in and exported from Germany. These two varietals truly reflect the soil in which they grow. Every single Riesling and Pinot Noir has a different taste and character and we have the Romans to thank for that! The Rhine hillsides they chose for producing wine are slate-rich and offer light, fine-grained soil that’s best for producing crisp wines with noticeable acidity. That, combined with the perfect mix of sun and rain and some cold German nights give German Riesling the special sharpness that makes it a favourite worldwide.
At Vineum wine depot, we focus on the wines from the middle of the Rhine as well as the neighbouring regions Rheingau and Mosel. We always have a wide variety of Riesling wine and some Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris ready. We have all quality levels available, from QbA (entry-level wine of a defined region) through Kabinett, Spätlese (late harvest), Auslese (selection) to the always popular dessert ice wine. My red wine of choice is the Spätburgunder “M” and if I drink white it has to be Riesling “Felsenspiel”.
Ice wines are traditionally harvested and commercially produced in countries such as Canada, the USA and Japan, but German ice wines are always a first for international travellers. In the 1700s, Eiswein was first produced in Germany, and today this wine-making technique extends to other European countries like Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Austria and the Czech Republic. Europe is the continent that produces the most ice wine in the world. Most ice wines in our region are produced from Silvaner and Riesling grapes. These grape varieties have thicker skins and are therefore better protected against any weather conditions that might damage the berries.
The harvesting process
There are essentially three periods of harvesting throughout the year: August to September, September to October, and October to November for other varieties. The conditions required for making ice wine normally occur between the end of December and mid-January. The grapes are literally dried to a raisin-like consistency, which results in a very high relation of natural fruit sugar to water.
Winemakers have a very narrow time frame to harvest grapes for ice wine. According to German wine law grapes have to freeze naturally on the vine before being picked for the fermentation processes to start. Because the temperature has to be lower than -7°C during the entire harvesting process it is usually the case that they have to harvest throughout the night to bring the grapes back to the winery before dawn and begin processing them while they are still frozen. The grapes are handpicked in order to get a selection of the best grapes for this wine; the timing and selection has to be perfect!
The taste of ice wine
The alcohol levels in ice wine is not as high as in most other wines. It ranges from 7% to 12% and possesses aromas of apricot and peach, especially in white wine variants, while red ice wine gives more of a sweet and spicy aroma and taste. There is an art to tasting and drinking ice wine and we intend to teach our visitors more about that. Ice wine has to be served chilled; the perfect temperature is between 6°C and 8°C. It’s important to remember that it’s a dessert wine and should be enjoyed from a small glasses of no more than 100mℓ, preferably a white wine glass with a stem and slightly narrower opening, so the flavours remain condensed when you taste and smell the wine.
We feel so immensely lucky to call the Rhine our home.
Our free time is spent travelling to quaint little towns and villages in Germany or the bordering countries France, Luxembourg, Belgium and France. We love travelling! Searching for small vineyards and little towns or villages is how we spend our free time over weekends and school holidays. As a family, we also spend time cooking local food like Goulash. But as with our cosmopolitan tastes in wine, we also tend to experiment a lot with other European foods like Italian pizza and French Pasta, especially when our two girls get their way. We specialise in German wines and dedicate all of our energy to finding the best wines from our region. Germany has mainly small-scale wine producers, so the wine variety is immense. I always tell avid wine drinkers to make time to go and taste the Silvaner in Franken and the Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) around Freiburg. At the end of summer, towards autumn we have the “Straußwirtschaften” (seasonal wine tavern). Winemakers open their wineries and pair their wines with typical German dishes from their respective regions. These are usually cold plates with cheese, ham, cold meat and dark bread.
We love to work with and meet people from countries all over the world. The best time to spark a conversation with someone is over a glass of wine, so we’re lucky to get the best of times with people from around the globe! We often get visitors that are not into wine or aren’t fond of drinking, I love it when even they can learn something about German agriculture and leave our store with a smile on their faces after a new and positive travel experience.
Join any of our multi-country tours that include Germany to make a stop in the beautiful Rhine Valley for an experience of a lifetime! Tasted German ice wine before? We’d love to hear all about it. Find the Vineum Wine Shop on Facebook here.