With a Vintage Bus On Wine Discovery Tour through Rheinhessen

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This article, written by Gisela Kirschstein, is the winner of the 2015 Guest Bloggers' Contest sponsored by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.  All photo credits:  Gisela Kirschstein

Rheinhessen, that wine region between Mainz and Alzey, is still a white spot on the map of many a wine drinker's landscape. It's a wide country of thousand hills, spottet with lots of small wineries, most of which you never heard of. The houses look forbidden from the outside, but inside you find many a surprise: Excellent Tappas, a colorful degustation and a theater in an old barn. Wine-discoveries in Rheinhessen – Mainz& was part of a trip.

"It was the itsi-bitsi teenie-weenie Honolulu Strandbikini..“ – the song from the radio was a hit in 1960s when our vintage-bus was made: 1966. "Our guests like to sing along", says Michael Werner, our host. Erik promptly obliges, making everybody laugh.

Hop on the Vintage Bus in a typical Rheinhessen Village

Our bus, a Setra S14, is rolling uphill and downhill along the tiny streets. Aboard: about 40 curious Wine-Discoverers. They come from the Lahn valley and from Franconia, from the Rheingau and from Frankfurt. What they expect from Rheinhessen? "Good wine", says one.

We are immersed in blue. In an old barn in the winery Dr. Hinkel in Framersheim, winemaker Roland Hinkel changes the color of the room to an intensive blue. Frost, snow, the pictures on the wall suggest iciness. The wine tastes fresh and light. Suddenly, the color changes to green – and all of a sudden we taste herbs and green spices, although it`s still the same wine!

The degustation with color at Dr. Hinkel's is mindblowing. In 2014, the Best of Wine Tourism Award of the Great Wine Capitals (GWC) for Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences went their way, rightly so. The color change makes us think of holiday times wehen the wine in the warm south tastes like summer, sun and sweetness but fails back home. Now we learn: it`s the surrounding light which fools our tasting buds.

Degustation in red at Dr. Hinkel's Winetasting with Colors

We drink and admire. And we eat: the first course of our menu comes with an aspik of tomato-mozzarella, asparagus-cocktail and salmon tartar. Delicous. Four courses are to be served to us throughout the evening, every one in a different winery. A masterpiece of logistics.

Three soups are served at the Gustavshof in Gau-Heppenheim. The weather is regrettably cool, but we enjoy the last sunrays. The old stonehouse ist flanked by a modern vinotheque, on the steps our host: winemaker Andreas Roll. "Great that you're here", he says, although it's Saturday evening. "These groups are always fun", he says, "and most of the time we get to eat, too." Hospitality is big in Rheinhessen.

Chat with the Winemaker at Gustavshof

The Blanc de Noir from a Cabernet Sauvignon is a child of chance, the juice from the mash was so good, they made it into wine. Now, the Blanc de Noir is the star of the winery and pairs well with the radish soup. "We experimented a bit", says the cook modestly, "you are the first to taste it." Experiments from Rheinhessen.

"In the Palatinate region, the restaurants are situated right along the Weinstraße, in Rheinhessen you have to go and explore", says Werner. We are back in the bus which steers us through falling darkness. Werner is the boss of the Best Western Hotel in Alzey, this year they won the GWC-Award for Wine Tourism. A picnic between the wine grapes, a barbecue in the vineyard – the weekend belongs to wine experiences. "Honey, we don`t need to go to Tuscany", a guest recently said.

In Dautenheim, in the Storr winery, they stage a play, sometimes Chekhov, sometimes Kleist. The theater is a former tithe barn, the Storr family has been here for 450 years. The first Roman villa rustica was excavated by Granddad "potsherd-John." "Culture was here before us", says winemaker Bernhard Storr, "if we don`t manage to hold that up, we`re right back in the Middle Ages."

Thus, they play on against civilisation`s doom, grow prizewinning malting barley and make wonderful wines on the side. We are awaited by a dark-red Accolon 2014 and a grand Blanc de Noir from pinot noir – and our third course. Beefmedaillons immersed in a blueberry-honey-sauce. Heaven`s help.

"Once in a while, I crash with Bernhard in his cellar", Werner confesses. "Philosophical evenings, they are", says the winemaker. "Let`s get philosophical…", murmurs a guest, gripping the wine bottle with a happy smile. Storr`s sister has a PhD in dramatics, that`s how the theater came into the winery. In 2012, the GWC-Award for Art & Culture went their way, in 2011 the Award for Wine Tourism. In 2016, they want to play Chekhov's "Seagull". "We would need a sea-platform for that…", ponders Storr.

Fed and happy, we roll through the night. "We will never part again", warbles the radio. How appropriate. "Hey, you guys are all asleep?" Erik sounds through the bus, and we awake and sing "Sugar, Sugar Baby, stay the night with me!"

In Dittelsheim-Hessloch the streets are empty and dark. But in the hall of Christian Roll, blue light has transformed his prosaic packaging hall into a cool party location. There are glasses on the table, wines, the host – and our desert. Cuvee "Lete" was made from Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, White Burgundy and Müller-Thurgau and fits perfectly the Strawberry-Tiramisu.

Night in the Packaging Hall at Winery Roll

A Huxelrebe Kabinett follows, then a Kerner icewine from 2004 pairing exceptionally well with the mousse au chocolat. It`s 11.30 p.m., and winemaker Roll ist on the roll. "Icewine needs acidity", he explains, "it gives structure to the wine": As we taste a lot of honey, almond and caramel on our tongues.

"We are oldfashioned here", Roll says, "we take the grapes and try to make wine from it." Pure Rheinhessen. We stand in the hall and talk idly about that Mr. Huxel who first planted a certain grape just a few villages away, and about red wines who are "lightwight Sumo-wrestlers". On the night in Rheinhessen, the grapes dance ballet and the wines dance on the tongues.

0.40 a.m., the bus is rolling back to the hotel. "Thank you for being part of the fun", Werner says: "You are now true wine-discoverers of Rheinhessen."

URL of original post on the Internet newspaper Mainz&:  http://www.mainzund.de/mit-dem-oldtimerbus-als-weinentdecker-in-rheinhes...