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Text and photos by Gisela Kirschstein
This is where Rheinhessen is at its best: Rolling hills, dressed with vineyards and crowned with modern windmills, little villages nestling in the dips between, towered by impressive churches. "The Cabernet grapes are not quite ripe yet", says Lena Appelmann, picking a rich bunch of grapes from the row right next to our picnic table. The grapes taste wonderful, yet that is not enough: Perfect service, perfect wine experience complete with bed, food, exploration and wine – that is why the Espenhof was decorated with the Best of Wine Tourism Award 2016.
"Weingut, Essgut, Schlafgut" reads the slogan of the Espenschied-Family. In English that translates into "Wine good, Eat good, Sleep good", "good" being the German word for estate and excellence at the same time. In 2001, Wilfried Espenschied and his family decided that winemaking alone was not enough. After long and happy winetastings, their guests wanted more: food, rest, a bed. And there was the old post office building right across the street, an old property in typical Rheinhessen-style with open brickwork and a beautiful yard.
Lena at the entrance to the restaurant
Today, the Espenhof belongs to the top Restaurant and Hotel locations in Rheinhessen, showered with awards and mentions in the most important food and wine guides of Germany. Two years ago, eight new rooms raised the number of shelters to 20, the new building flashes a modern façade showered with grape vine leaves to the main road. Inside, everything is an ecological and organic reminiscence of wine: The head pieces of the beds are made of old stanchions, the floor a wooden dream on which the bathtub in the room seems to flow. "Save water, drink Riesling" flashes the glass wall separating the shower from the room.
Espenhof room with crazy Lena
You need to taste the Riesling", says my host Lena, the Espenschied family's daughter. Her brother Nick, in charge of the cellar since 2009, calls himself a wine-carer whereas his sister is in charge of restaurant, hotel and everybody's well-being. If need be, Lena caters five Gourmet picnics per day onto the hill above the vinery, to the picnic table next to the Cabernet vineyard. In our back an ages-old Jewish graveyard, at our feet grows the famous LaRoche Riesling.
"The Count de la Roche once owned the vineyard site", says Lena, 200 years ago the French came with Napoleon to the Rhine, leaving a deep imprint on Rheinhessen. "My grandparents still used words like chaussee, vis-à-vis or chaiselongue everyday", Lena says. Maybe that is why they love gourmet food here so much compared to the more substantial dishes in the Palatinate region to the South. On the Espenhof, they serve a paillard de boeuf on olive gnocchi or Black Tiger Prawns with mangochutney. "Good vines are dignified by good food", says Lena – that's a rule here. "We want to create the greatest harmony possible."
Espenhof - modern style meets ages-old hospitality with Lena
And they do: Once you parked your car in the discreetly hidden space behind the Restaurant, everything is cared for. The rooms are right next to the restaurant or just across the street, inside the walls flash the earth colors of Rheinhessen, painted according to the ideas of Friedrich von Garnier who revolutionized the facades of industrial buildings. In the yard, e-bikes are at hand if you wish to explore, postcards from the vineyard hills are waiting to be written, and the picnic is ready to go.
The view from the table sweeps white Trulli, little vineyard houses in the shape of Apulia huts, built by Italian workers in the 18th century from the village's many quarries. The vineyard's soil is made of the same red clay as on the world famous Red Hills of Nierstein along the Rhine valley. Here, in the backyard of Rheinhessen, the wines are just as fine-tuned, rich of flavor and mineral taste, yet the sites are not classified to belong to the Grand Crus. Lena just shrugs, they are down-to-earth people here. "The Rheinhesse would never bow to any guru", she says, "they do their own thing and are content with what they have." What a paradise… Tu felix Rheinhessen!