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Text and photos by Gisela Kirschstein
In 2008, twenty young winemakers started a crazy project: wine on the bank of the Rhine river in Mainz, open air, after work and mostly with standing visitors. "It was cozy in the beginning", Alina Engel laughs, "by now, the size of the crowd is crazy!" Ten years later, the Mainzer Weinsalon is an award-winning classic, and Alina welcomes us in the classy new vinothek of her Winery Meyerhof in Flonheim, deep in the heart of Rheinhessen.
Wine tourism and wine experience, that's why they won the Best of Tourism Award 2018 of the Great Wine Capitals for wine tourism services here.
Deep purple is the leading color in the vinothek's lounge, bright wooden sideboards adorn the counter. In 2014, Alina and her parents opened a small hotel with ten rooms above the stylish new vinothek on the outskirts of Flonheim.
No wonder: wine experience is what Alina's the expert for. For one year, she served as Wine Princess in Rheinhessen in 2012-2013, representing Rheinhessen wine, giving addresses at wine festivals and explaining wine culture to foreigners. "It's a great training for the job", Alina says, that year helped her develop a self-assured appearance and a lot of stylish flair.
"Wine experience is the key", Alina explains, while we sit in the vinothek and enjoy a glass of Riesling. "Every four weeks, we invite our guests to the "Wine meets Grill" evenings out there in the garden", Alina says, "and every Friday, there's a winetasting with tarte flambés and a visit to the cellars." For their wine weekends, the guests are equipped with picnic backpacks, or they come along at the grape harvest, working in the vineyards and looking in at the processing of the grapes in the cellar.
Sebastian and Alina Engel in front of their Wine Pyramid
Wine experience is something, they breathe here in Flonheim. Each April, they celebrate the "Trullo in flames", a wine festival around the little vineyard houses in the shape of Apulia huts, built by Italian quarry workers in the 18th century in the vineyards surrounding the village. "Our winery was founded in 1753. We used to live right in the center of the village", Alina tells us.
Meyer's Estate is the winery's name in English, Artur Meyer was her father’s great-uncle. Bernd Hammer, Alina's father, was a true city kid, growing up in Frankfurt, the city of banks. At the family's estate in Flonheim, Bernd Hammer fell in love with winemaking and ended up running the winery, marrying another winemaker's daughter, Alina’s mother Daniela.
"I never wanted to become a winemaker", Alina remembers, as a teenager, she was more interested in commercial jobs. She started her studies in International Wine Marketing at the famous wine university of Geisenheim, then fate came along: the winery went short of a staff member during the harvest, Alina filled the gap – and discovered how much fun she had. After two weeks into the term, she changed to oenology and winemaking. Today, she and her husband Sebastian Engel run the cellar and the twelve acres of vineyards alongside Alina's parents.
Sebastian and Alina with Daniela Hammer
"We started to use spontaneous fermentation, and we are in the process of switching the winery to organic production", Alina says: "We changed a lot to show the typicalness of the soil in our wines." The La Roche Riesling, named after a French Count who owned the vineyards 200 years ago, grows on the same red clay as in the world famous Red Hills of Nierstein along the Rhine valley, and they deliver just as crisp and deep flavoured wines as their famous neighbours.
"Our region today stands for quality, and the young winemakers for a spirit of cooperation", Alina says: "There's so much going on, which we do together." Many of their guests used to travel to the Palatinate or the Rheingau regions, now in Rheinhessen "they are absolutely astonished, how modern our vinotheks are, and how much is going on here", Alina says proudly: "When those city people experience vineyards and winemaking, they have a completely new appreciation of our wines."