Chilling in the middle of exotic plants

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By Gisela Kirschstein

The sky-high cypresses remind of southern Italy, palm trees grow behind the house, and the boxwoods form maze games for the eyes to linger – truly, the gardens at Weingut Listmann remind of a different time and place. Yet, we're here in Rheinhessen, only a few kilometers from the Palatinate which they call the Tuscany of Germany. "I always loved that view, when, driving over the Brenner Pass, we came to Italy and saw those cypresses", Eckhard Lismann rhapsodizes: "Whatever they're having in terms of gardens, we can have here, too."

It was 40 years ago when Eckhard Listmann fell in love with the Victorian garden style. It was in Bonn, the former capital of Germany, where the young man from Dorn-Dürkheim studied agricultural sciences. Listmann used to take his books to the botanical gardens, and it was there, that he became fascinated with those designed garden forms.

Eckhard and Leif Listmann in their garden. Copyright: Gisela Kirschstein

2.500 boxwoods today form two large circular formations in his garden in Dorn-Dürkheim, cut into star-shaped rotundas, as well as forming numerous hedges around the courtyard. Cypresses, palm trees and two fig trees add a Mediterranean flair to the estate, sculptures and Italian vases adorn the paths and lawns - even a banana tree spreads out its leaves behind the house. "Really, everything grows here, just as in the South", Listmann says. It's the mild and especially dry climate that makes exotic plants flourish just as well as the grapevines around the village.

It was in 1853 when the first Listmann appeared in Dorn-Dürkheim to grow grapes and make them into those light yet fully flavored wines for which they are famous here in the south of Rheinhessen. Dorn-Dürkheim is wine country, the small village is home to a round dozen of winemakers, right in the backyard of the Rhine valley. 30 hectares of vineyards belong to the Listmann estate, and Eckhard Listmann and his sons Welf and Leif cultivate highly mineral and elegant Burgundys, Muscatels and, of course, Rieslings.

In 2003 they planted their first Cabernet Sauvignon, today, a red cuvee made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir carries the name "1853". "The climate here favours these grape varieties", Leif Listmann says. And, yes, climate change adds its own share to the development of these southern grapevines into rich and fruity drops of wines. In 2013, Leif spent nine weeks in New Zealand, tasting his way through the wine styles down under, bringing back a flavor for Sauvignon Blancs.

In 2003, Listmanns decided to quit their agricultural business with sugar beets and wheat, and to concentrate on winemaking. The times for farming were bad, the future for winemaking good. "You had to move with the times", Eckhard Listmann says, "there were chances in winemaking that farming didn't offer." Today, their Blanc de Noir from the Merlot is their best selling wine, and for the light rosé made from primary extraction, people sometimes even cue along.

Mediterranean antipasti in the wine tavern. Copyright: Jason Sellers

Leif points to the beautiful sitting area right in front of the old field barn. Inside, the barn accommodates the wine tavern where they serve Mediterranean antipasti as well as roastbeef from the young bull with brandy-pepper sauce. From the terrace, the view goes, of course, to the gardens with the yew tree in the middle, shaped as a pyramide, which has become the vinery's landmark. If ever a Best of Wine Tourism Award for Architecture, Parcs and Gardens was meant to be, then this is the place.

Behind the main house, a garden pavilion made of steel and glass is the private retreat for the Listmann family, chilling in the middle of all those exotic plants, is like a holiday in itself. Every morning, Eckhard Listmann strolls for a while through his gardens, checking out for problems, dreaming about more plants to come. "It' not finished yet", he says.

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