Riding the "Wein-Laster" through the vineyards in Rheinhessen

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By Gisela Kirschstein

The red slopes (Roter Hang) of Nierstein are one of the most spectacular vineyard sites of Rheinhessen: The steep slopes drop right into the Rhine River. The wines that grow here belong to the highest quality products of all German wines. And right through them, Michael Voß steers his bright-blue truck with its cute round front and the big platform behind, loaded with wines and champagnes and delicacies.

The "Wine Pickup" (Wein-Laster) is a really unique vehicle: "It is a 1979 Barkas," Michael explains, "these were the pickup trucks of Eastern Germany, which were built until 1991, until shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall." There is still an old two-stroke engine beating under the bonnet of the classic car, which at most only reaches 80 km/h – a typical Eastern German low budget type of car. "I love driving it," says Michael with a laugh, "it is pure deceleration."

The Barkas originally was meant to be a pure truck-loving leisure thing, but then, Michael and his wife Julia got married – and went in search for someone who could organise a champagne reception after church. However, there was no one who offered anything like that – so the idea of a rolling wine and champagne bar was born. The idea was to have a truck that could transport glasses and wine, snacks and mineral water and present them in a beautiful way, a rolling bar so to speak.

"It took me a couple of nights, but then I knew what it should look like," says Michael, who is in fact an architect. The rebuilding of the platform was an easy exercise compared to what came after: the battle with the local authorities in order to get the permission to run the truck through the vineyards. "I had a lot of soothing to do, a lot of explaining that there won’t be a 40-tons-truck cruising through the hills," Michael laughs: "It took a lot of nerves to convince them."

Three years ago, almost to the day, the "Wein-Laster" started its business – via Instagram. "I had the wine truck discover the world via Instagram," Michael says, "and first, we didn't reveal who was behind it." The marketing strategy worked perfectly, the guests just fell in love with the pretty vehicle – and they started coming. Besides marriages and family parties, Michael and Julia soon offered wine walks through the area of Nierstein, an instant success.

"The guests come from all over Germany, Berlin, Hamburg, the Rhein-Main-Area," Michael says, "especially now in Corona times, there are so many inquiries." Because of the Corona pandemic, Germany cancelled all bigger events throughout the whole summer, especially the wine festivals are sorely missed in the region. So the combination of being outdoors, enjoying spectacular scenery and relishing good wines with the mobile “Wein-Laster” is just perfect for these months.

"Our tours take about three to three and a half hours," Michael says. The guests walk through the vineyards for about half an hour and then they meet the “Wein-Laster” for refreshments and the first wine tasting. There are three stops in total. "We specialise in white wines and Blanc de Noirs. There are always two wines of the same grape variety but from two different winemakers, so they can be compared," Michael explains.

The wines all come from wineries from Nierstein, most of them grow right here on the Rote Hang. "We live in a region where premium wines grow, it would feel wrong to walk through the famous "Roter Hang", but offer wines from somewhere else," Michael says. "We can show our guests the varieties that grow here, talk about the wineries the wines come from and about how they're made." For the wineries in Nierstein the “Wein-Laster” is also a chance to present themselves to new guests. "At the same time, we advertise the brand of Nierstein and its wines," Michael says.

Younger people in particular are often reluctant to go directly to the wineries to buy wine, he says, and the “Wein-Laster” helps to break down this barrier. "There are so many requests that we are thinking of expanding," Michael says – and the tool for that is already waiting in the yard: a bright yellow Vespa car. The three-wheeler of the Italian manufacturer Piaggio is waiting to become the world's smallest wine truck – no wonder Michael and Julia won the Best of Wine Tourism Award 2020 in the category "innovative wine experiences"….