For over 100 years, the former Prussian state domain, now known as Gut Hermannsberg, has been a guardian of winemaking tradition along the Nahe River. Vineyards such as Kupfergrube, Felsenberg, Steinberg, Bastei, and especially the solely-owned Hermannsberg are inseparably linked to the rise, fall, and resurgence of the winery and its region. Follow me on a brief journey through the dynamic history of Gut Hermannsberg, which also sheds light on the history of the Nahe region.

Max Kaindl, 06. January 2024
Reading time about 10 minutes

Gut Hermannsberg:
Reinventing Great Tradition

Glory, Crisis, and the Challenges of the Early Years

The winery was established in 1902 under the original name “Königlich-Preußische Weinbaudomäne Niederhausen-Schlossböckelheim.” It was initiated by the Prussian state with the purpose of producing wines for the German nobility.

The vineyards were acquired in early 1901 and strategically planted on steep, terraced slopes, reaching up to 380 meters above sea level. The vines thrive in an exceptional soil composition primarily composed of porphyry, a volcanic rock, and weathered red sandstone. These unique soils prove especially conducive to the cultivation of Riesling grapes, which continue to dominate the majority of vineyard plantings to this day.

The initial years leading up to the onset of World War I posed significant challenges for the state domain.

Firstly, the establishment coincided with the devastating Phylloxera epidemic, which afflicted large parts of Europe until the late 19th century and posed serious existential threats to many wineries.

Secondly, the creation of the vineyards around the winery demanded immense physical effort. In most sections of the now globally renowned sites such as Hermannsberg and Kupfergrube — where a copper mine operated until around 1910 — cultivated vines were nonexistent. All pathways and vineyard parcels had to be predominantly handcrafted, carved into the steep cliffs with strenuous manual labor.

A Viticultural Excursion into the Phylloxera Crisis:

For a considerable period, scientists struggled to find an effective defense against the pest. The dire situation in viticulture only improved years later when researchers discovered that certain native American grapevines were immune to the disease.

Consequently, American grape roots were used as a rootstock, onto which European vines were grafted. This technique is still employed today. As a consequence of the Phylloxera epidemic, planting own-rooted vines remains prohibited in many parts of the world. But enough of the dissemination of viticultural knowledge; let’s return to the history of Gut Hermannsberg.

Nevertheless, the wines of the Prussian State Domain gained considerable fame early on. The first significant milestone was reached with the vintage of 1911. A standout year for Germany as a whole, it not only yielded a substantial harvest in the vineyards of the state domain but also produced fantastic qualities, marking the second legendary comet vintage after 1811.

Shortly thereafter, the first auction of domaine wines took place under the auspices of the “Verband der deutschen Naturweinversteigerer“ (Association of German Natural Wine Auctioneers), the successor organization to which is the current VDP – Verband Deutscher Pradikatsweingüter (Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates).

After the War is Before the War

The 1920s were marked by the aftermath of the First World War and a massive inflation rate due to the occupation of the Ruhr region by French and Belgian troops at the end of 1922. Just a year earlier, an iconic Riesling had been vinified on the Hermannsberg – a Trockenbeerenauslese from the Kupfergrube with an incredible 308º Oechsle. Glorious years followed until the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.

With the advent of Nazi rule in 1933, the image of German wine shifted from a premium-priced luxury beverage to a “people’s drink” and an everyday choice for Germans. The expulsion of Jews from the wine trade further set the stage for the later decline of German winemaking post-World War II, as they played a significant role in the global distribution of top-tier German wines.

Rebuilding, Exquisite Rieslings Fit for Queens and Turbulent Times

During the Second World War, the winery suffered severe damage and fell into a state of decay. In the 1960s and 70s, thanks to the tireless efforts of estate director Hermann Goedecke and his team, the state winery experienced a brief period of success. A 1969 Kupfergrube Riesling was even served at a banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

However, after this notable moment, the winery gradually slipped into a dormant state, from which even the initial privatization in 1998 could not rouse it. For this reason, I will not delve further into the decades leading up to the takeover by the Reidel family.

Awakening from the Dormant State

Jens Reidel and his wife, Christine Dinse, recognized the potential of the estate and its unique terroir, acquiring it in 2009. They renamed the winery “Gut Hermannsberg” after the vineyard where the manor is located. Under their new leadership, Gut Hermannsberg underwent a complete transformation. The winery was renovated and modernized, and the vineyards were replanted and restructured.

Today, the focus is solely on producing high-quality Riesling wines that reflect the unique terroir of the estate. The winery can draw from a rich source, as it owns seven vineyards, all certified as Grand Cru sites. In 2010, Gut Hermannsberg attained membership in the VDP due to its distinctive location and soils, thereby placing it among the finest wineries in Germany. This marks a return to the roots, as the winery was already a member of the predecessor organization of the VDP, the „Verband der deutschen Naturweinversteigerer“ (Association of German Natural Wine Auctioneers), in the early 20th century.

Pictures: © The Art of Riesling – Maximilian Kaindl

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