Share this page
By Gisela Kirschstein
(All photos by Gisela Kirschstein)
Alzey. When Petra Brand talks about Rheinhessen, her eyes lighten up. "It's the combination of hills and the vastness of the landscape", says the winemaker, "it's open and yet cosy. I couldn't live anywhere with mountains surrounding me." Indeed: Rheinhessen, this very old region in the heart of Europe, celebrating it's 200th birthday as a region this year, is marked by open rolling hill country, punctuated with small villages, little churches and a lot of wineries. The houses here are always a little forbidding, the doors open only slowly to strangers. "No wonder, if you have been marching country for armies for so long", says Brand.
And yet here, in the heart of Rheinhessen, her family celebrates hospitality – and that is typically Rheinhessen as well. The Romans, the French, the Prussians, their armies marched through Rheinhessen for centuries – and they left a unique type of open-mindedness, hospitality and savoir-vivre. "We live quite a lot of liberté and egalité here", says Brand. An they live wine.
Red wine bedroom "Beerenauslese"
In 2014, Brand and her husband Andreas Biegler opened a new hotel in Alzey, the secret capital of Rheinhessen. 47 rooms offers the Hotel Kaisergarten, in the lobby, you're enveloped in wine: Bottlegreen, warm timber colors, the floor a grey terroir. A huge table reminds of a barrel. Along the wall: Stones from the winemakers' vineyards, rocks, an oyster.
Owners Petra Brand and Andreas Biegler
Oyster? Yes, indeed: 360 million years ago, an ocean covered the region around Alzey. Today, grape-wines grow on the former shores, ages-old chalk cliffs. "You can talk a lot about wine in theory", says Brand, "but when you discover mussels in the vineyard with your guests, it's something completey different. Then you really taste the terroir."
Vineyard-tours, cellar-visits and of course wine tastings – in the Hotel Kaisergarten the guests are immersed in wine. The rooms breathe wine colors, wine bottles flash the room numbers on the outside. The bar in the lobby invites to discover the wines from Biegler & Brand, an always-open door leads into the adjacent wine shop. "You can buy wine here 24-hours-around", says hotel manager Philipp Hengge, "a box of wine at one o'clok in the morning – no problem."
Hotel manager Philipp Hengge in the wine bar
That's unique in Germany, where shops in the countryside mostly close around 6.30 p.m.. Rheinhessen is the biggest wine producing region of Germany, yet most wine is still sold in the discount markets. "It should be mandatory to drink the wine from the region", says Brand and sighs. Rheinhessen still is a hidden champion in Germany. "In every wine tasting, we have to explain where Rheinhessen is and what it is", says Biegler.
His family has been wine makers in Dorn-Dürkheim since the 17th century. Pinot Noir, Portugese and Merlot – each wine grows on the terroir that fits best, the soils range from chalk to the red clay of the famous Rotliegend. "We want wines with flavor that make fun", says Brand, therefore also a Scheurebe or a noble sweet Huxelrebe awaits the guests.
In 2008 Biegler & Brand merged their lives and their wineries into a 46-hectare-company. They started a vinothek, the guests loved the wine tours and wine tastings, but wanted to crash in a bed afterwards. The guest house with six rooms soon turned out to be too small – then the city offered the location of the Kaisergarten. Now, the 4-Star-Hotel is "the stage for our wine", says Brand. A place to feel the wine region of Rheinhessen – for that the hotel was awarded the Great Wine Capital Best of Wine Tourism Award 2016 in accomodation.
"Auslese" bedroom at the hotel Kaisergarten