By Gisela Kirschstein
Westhofen in the southern part of Rheinhessen has long been known for great wines and fabulous food, yet now it has acquired another temple of good living. “Gut Leben am Morstein” is the name and the mission of the beautiful Victorian villa that rises above the village of Westhofen, right at its entrance. “Our little castle”, Stefan Spies calls it, and yet, the stately building is only a small part of the project: The “Good Living” contains a gourmet restaurant, a hotel with conference rooms in the old barn – and a huge, ancient vault in which famous actors, chamber music and comedians take stage.
It was 1899, when the beautiful building was finished, built by Valentin Keller, a winemaker and landowner in Westhofen. The estate was not only notable because of the main building with its turret and ornaments: “Keller wanted a showcase winery and had it planned by a well-known architect from the area”, says Spies.
We are standing in the entrance hall on a beautiful mosaic floor, the walls are dressed with dark wooden panels. High-ceilinged rooms with ancient furniture and dark wooden floors accommodate the restaurant, the whole atmosphere breathes dignity, comfort and wealth. “All these are original features”, Spies explains, “the whole building looks pretty much as it used to when the Keller family lived here.”
Well, not quite: When Spies bought the Villa Keller five years ago – it was a mess. The family had run low throughout the decades, renovations were neglected, for eleven years the building had stood empty. “I fell in love immediately”, Spies recounts, “the building looked exactly as if it had been one hundred years ago.”
Spies grew up in a winemakers family in the nearby village of Dittelsheim, 16 years ago he founded an PR agency in Frankfurt. “I wasn’t really looking for in investment”, the 48-year-old says, “I just knew: I wanted to preserve and develop this beautiful place.” After about three years work, in fall 2017 the restaurant was finally ready to roll. Spies decided to serve gourmet cuisine based on vegan cooking at first. It wasn’t exactly what the rather down-to-earth people of the area were asking for, so nowadays the “Good Living” serves high class beef and fish as well.
Out in the “Winegarden”, regional wine cuisine is served to the guests alongside the excellent Rheinhessen wines, the old barn right next to it holds a show kitchen as well as conference rooms, adorned with old timbers and brick walls. Very soon, Spies discovered that hotel rooms would be a good thing to have, then he found out that the adjoining estate was for sale. Today, the old farmhouse from the early 17th century holds twenty cosy and highly modern rooms that combine the ancient character with everything the modern guest asks for.
For the most intriguing part of the place, however, my host leads me underground. A huge, double-sash cellar door opens onto a steep flight of stairs, leading down into an enormous vault. “Big oaken barrels sat down here, when we bought it”, Spies explains, 35 meters deep runs the vault into the earth. The new owner divided it in two parts: on the left, a stylish banquet place for a hundred guests. Elegant sandstone slabs in a warm-white colour cover the floor, they swim on pebbles underneath in order to insulate the floor from too much cold.
On the right side, however, a dark black cave with bright-red chairs stretches out to the stage up front. Here, classical concerts take place as well as comedian nights, it is the fusion of wine, dining and culture, that the “Gut Leben am Morstein” won the Best of Award 2019 of the Great Wine Capitals for – and not just one: for the first time, the jury gave two awards at the same time to one location. “I think”, says Spies, ” we can contribute a bit to strengthen the culture scene – and to add some glamour to Rheinhessen.”