Soil & Sites
An important factor in the quality of wine is the soil and the location of the vineyard. In Germany, there are a number of different soil structures: from sandy subsoil to loam and loess soils to brittle slate and hard granite.
degree of slope
hectares steep slopes
Soil and Sites
An important factor for the quality of the wine - in addition to the grape variety and the cultivation method - is the location of the vineyard and of course the soil in which the vines are rooted.
The vine is the mouthpiece of the soil
The soil nourishes the roots, and therefore the vines, with water and nutrients. It also influences heat conservation and consequently, the development of the vine and the ripening of the grapes. Thus, the type of soil and the extent to which it is weathered, can influence the finished wine's aroma and taste.
Germany’s wine-growing regions span a large range of different soil types and structure. It can be seen as nature's memory, stored in the ground. Each recorded geological history produces certain tastes and wine qualities, due to its geographic peculiarities. For example, if the soil is shaped by slate or lime, these components will also be found in the wine and characterize it. It is therefore all these different soil structures in the individual regions - from loose sandy subsoil to loam and loess to brittle slate or hard granite – that guarantee the wide range of unique, distinctive wines from Germany.
The interplay of locations, climate and winegrowers
The best prerequisites for viticulture in Germany are slopes exposed to the south or south-west in protected valleys, such as on the Rhine and its tributaries or on the Elbe, Saale and Unstrut. This is because the sunshine on the slopes is much more intense than on the plain. In addition, the south facing slopes benefit from a longer sunshine duration overall.
Germany's total vineyard area is divided into a number of geographical units, large and small, to distinguish between the two fundamental quality categories of wine that exist within the European Union: Deutscher Wein (former "Tafelwein") and Qualitätswein (quality wine). There are five broad Deutscher Wein regions, further divided into eight subregions for simple Deutscher Wein and 19 areas for the more distinctive wine called Deutscher Landwein.
The largest geographical unit for German quality wine is one of the 13 specified wine-growing regions, subdivided into smaller appellations, e.g. Bereich (district), Großlage (collective vineyard site) and Einzellage (single vineyard site). Over the years, several of the Großlage names have become so well known that they virtually function as brands, particularly in the German supermarket trade and in export markets. Usually, Germany's top-quality wines bear the name of an Einzellage.
All sites of the 13 wine growing regions can be found on the location map.
When it comes to terroir, the soil plays a key role. But the term does not only include the soil structure of the vineyard. Rather, the term ‘terroir’ illustrates the complexity of viticulture, in which several factors interact, complement each other and ultimately form a unity. The concept of terroir is that the wine is a reflection of its particular site and makes the unique character of its origin tastable. That is why it includes not only the soil, but also the grape variety, the special climatic conditions and of course the work of the winemaker. All these factors are summarized under the term ‘terroir’ and are inextricably linked.
The most important factor is certainly the soil itself, which is also a relatively constant factor, as existing soil formations and geographical features generally only change through massive human intervention.
Then it is the winemaker who must recognize which grape variety, considering the specific climate conditions, is best suited for their vineyard and desired wine style. Then they must use this harmonious interplay of soil, climate, grape variety and themselves, to create a unique wine. It is this specificity of terroir, with its respective geographical limits, that offers taste security - and this is precisely the reason for its authenticity. In the right hands, almost any soil formation can produce great wine qualities. Excellent wines from more or less unknown and non-historical vineyards have impressively proven this in the past decades. Taste is the ultimate judge.
Why are soils at sites like the Rote Hang in Nierstein, Rheinhessen, colored red?
The red coloration results from extremely old iron compounds in the soils. Under pressure, loose soil layers eventually developed into solid sand and mudstones, which are infertile but have good heat storage properties.