It's hard to believe that I've lived in Stuttgart for two years, and I've only now just experienced my first Weinwanderung (roughly translated as wine hike or walk). Much like the wine festivals I enjoyed in Virginia, these wine walks combine the Germany's loves for the outdoors and exercise with drinking. So instead of the vineyards coming to you in the traditional American festival sense, you go to the vineyard.
The wine walk that I went on was in Uhlbach, a small village outside of Stuttgart. It began on Saturday when Leo and I met some friends after lunch and took the S1 to Obertürkheim. From there, it was just a short bus ride on line 62 to Uhlbach.
For those of you familiar with the area, you may recognize the town as the site of the Stuttgart Museum of Viniculture. The museum is housed in a beautiful former wine-press building, and you can learn about the history of wine-making in the region as you test your nose with different scents in the museum section before testing your palate in the attached Vinothek.
The wine walk started just across from the museum and town hall in the main square. We weren't quite sure where to go when we got off the bus, but luckily the path was well-marked and we just had to follow the crowd to the first stand, which was no more than a 15 minute walk from the center of town. Once there, they gave us a paper map of the walk with the location of each stand and the available wines. There were six stands, and altogether the walk was about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles).
The wines on offer were all from the Collegium Wirtemberg, a collective of vineyards around the towns of Rotenberg and Uhlbach. I honestly haven't payed too much attention to this particular label since we moved here, and I'm still getting a feel for German wines. The idea of the collective is still new to me; most of the vineyards we visited in Virginia were single labels with maybe a dozen wines on offer. Collegium Wirtemberg seems to have several dozens of wines all from either the Schlossberg or Götzenberg sides of the collective with several different varietals on offer, including the German trollinger, riesling, grauburgunder, weißburgunder, and even a gewürztraminer. I was admittedly a bit overwhelmed at first. However, I reasoned that if I was going to get a feel for the wine in the region, trying a variety was the way to do it.
As a side note, the logo for Collegium Wirtemburg is the Grabkapelle, a mausoleum that was built by King Wilhelm I in 1820 in memory of his young wife Katharina who died. The inside contains an impressive dome with amazing acoustics. We were fortunate enough to hear a four-person choir sing here two winters ago during the Long Night of the Museums. The sound was heavenly (no pun intended). As we made our way along the wine walk, we saw the Grabkapelle high on its hill overlooking the valley.
Each stand along the walk offered 6-8 different wines to try. Each wine cost between 2-3€ for a .1L pour (or usually more as the pours were quite generous) in your very own tasting glass. One thing I love about Germany is that they give you real glasses at festivals and events. This is nice coming from a culture that has more of a problem with alcohol and can't handle glassware on a night out (plastic solo cups seem to be more of the standard fair in the States). You simple have to pay a pfand or fee on the glass, usually 2€, which you get back when you return your glass. If you break it, you've bought it, so to speak. Then again, I've rarely seen a broken glass, which is always surprising given the number of people and glasses used at events here.
You could also buy full bottles of wine at each tent, which made sense for larger groups of people. However, the three of us decided it would be more prudent to limit ourselves to one glass at each stand and take our time. Our paper maps promised us that if we visited each stand and got a stamp proving we'd been to each one, then there would be some kind of free prize at the bottom. We considered this a challenge that could not be refused.
Here were the wines that I tried:
- 2013 Muskateller Secco: A semi-sweet, sparkling white wine made from the muscat grape, which is one of my favorites.
- 2013 Uhlbacher Götzenberg Gewürztraminer: A semi-sweet white wine made from the gewürztraminer grape. I imagine this wine would have gone well with a spicy Thai dish.
- 2013 Edition Wirtemberg Grauburgunder trocken: A dry white wine made from the pinot gris grape. I really enjoyed the refreshing, full-bodied flavor of this white wine.
- 2013 Edition Wirtemberg Weißburgunder trocken: A dry white wine made from the pinot blanc grape. This one was a little lighter than the previous grauburgunder, making it lovely on the hot afternoon.
- 2013 Schillerwein trocken: A dry rosé wine that is a speciality in the area. By this point my tasting memory was starting to get a little fuzzy, but I do like a good rosé in the summertime, and I remember this one being tasty.
- 2012 Edition Wirtemberg Merlot trocken: A dry red wine made from the merlot grape. My friends looked at me funny when I said I'd try the merlot, since the reds we've found in the region tend to be rather weak. This merlot was, true to form, on the weak side, though it was still surprisingly earthy and had a bit more body than I'd expected. I'd be curious to try this one prior to the other five to see if I still like it.
If my tasting looks a bit white heavy, then you're right. On this particular day the temperature hit 30 degrees Celsius (about 86 Fahrenheit) for the first time this summer. I wanted some chilled whites to cool me down, and since I find that Germany excels at whites, it seemed like an excellent decision to continuing ordering them.
Tip: Be sure to pack lots of water to pace yourself between glasses and remember to wear sunscreen on sunny days.
I should mention that the wine walk wasn't all about wine. Each stand had a selection of regional foods, from slices of bread with cheese to sausages (of course!). My friends had the foresight that I didn't to bring some melon and feta and some cheese sticks that we shared. I also bought a slice of bread with a kind of cheese curd and onions on top that hit the spot. The stands also sold water and apfelschorle (a kind of carbonated apple juice).
Tip: Pack lots of snacks and bring a picnic blanket to lounge on. You can sit down among the vines while you sip your wine and enjoy the scenery.
The atmosphere was also very relaxed, and we made some friends, both German and English, along the way. At the very first stand an older German lady took an interest in Leo, who was panting from the heat. She was kind enough to bring him a bowl of water from the stand, which was available for all the dogs on the walk (another reason why I love Germany for dogs!). We also met a German couple at the first stand who was already on their first bottle. We kept running into them along the way, and at one point we snapped a photo for them, so they took one for us in return. The woman was particularly keen on practicing her broken English, and was very patient with me while I practiced my broken German. Then right around stand five we ran into three Americans from one of the military installations in the area. We talked for a while and shared a bottle of sekt until we lost them to a rock band between stands five and six while we trudged on to claim our free prize.
The walk ended at the Collegium Wirtemberg Kelter (wine press), which was a kind of vaulted, underground storage area, wine bar, and art exhibit all in one. It was deliciously cool after our 4 km (and 4 hour) hike through the vineyards. Our free prize was (I should have guessed) a free glass of wine! All-in-all, it was a lovely way to relax over the weekend, and I'm sure that the Uhlbach Weinwanderung won't be my last.
Tip: If you live in Germany and are interested in finding a wine walk in your area, I suggest you check out Wein Wanderung. This helpful website (in German) gives you dates for all the upcoming wine events in Germany, as well as area-specific search options to find a wine walk near you.