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By Gisela Kirschstein
The old tower on the left hand used to be the home of the Count of Leiningen, built in 1345. "This was called the old castle", Heiko Dettweiler says, "we even have parts of the old ramparts, even a moat of sorts." Welcome to Rheinhessen where they live with an ages old history and transform it into a truly heavenly and very modern wine experience. Weingut Dätwyl breathes 700 years of history, yet is far from old fashioned. If the Palatinate is the Tuscany of Germany, this here is the Mediterranean paradise. No wonder they won a Best Of Wine Tourism Award in 2018 for Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences.
We are standing in a spacious yard, surrounded by old farmhouses, richly adorned with rose bushes in full bloom, and nothing much reminds us of a proud castle. The old tower looks rather like a plain medieval townhouse – what a deception. Inside, old stone walls, polished wooden beams and a beautiful stone floor are adorned with historic furniture to form the breakfast room for the winery's guesthouse. The rooms are built in the old granary with names like "Dream" – what a romantic hideaway.
The Dettweilers relaxing in the lounge converted from a 'Kuhkapelle' (cowshed)
Fourteen years ago the Dettweiler family built their first guesthouse, six years ago the old smithy was converted into a second three room cottage for guests. "People love to experience where the wine is made – and by whom", Heike Dettweiler says. The 50 year-old studied horticulture at the university in Geisenheim, where her husband of today, Heiko, and his brother Achim studied enology and winemaking.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the brothers took over the family winery in Wintersheim, one of the smallest wine villages of Rheinhessen. 300 inhabitants live here, but there are six wineries and another two or three hobby wine makers around. In 2011, Wintersheim became the hotspot of the German wine scene when young wine maker Annika Strebel was elected German Wine Queen for one year.
In Dettweiler's "castle", they were constructing a brand new vinotheque at that time, an old passage was transformed into a stylishly modern tasting room. Next door, the old barn used to be a pigsty, today, the vast groundfloor with its multitude of pillars and the vaulted ceiling made of red-brown bricks makes a perfect party zone. A lounge with cosy sofas, made of vintage pallets, awaits the guest and bids welcome to the chilling time. There are evenings with live music here, or with wine and cheese-tastings or an evening-long wine tasting.
And once in summer, about 200 people gather in the yard and around its wine barrels for the "Feierabendshoppen", an after-work wine event. "Ten years ago, the village's community house closed down the beer garden", Heiko remembers, it was the only place to go and catch a drink in small Wintersheim. It was the Dettweilers who did not want to look on – and inspired others to start regular wine evenings. Today, the whole village celebrates life and wine together on Friday nights during the summer time – wine culture à la Rheinhessen.
"Our ancestors are from Switzerland", Heiko laughs – Dätwyl, the winery's name, is also the name of a Swiss village. From there, anabaptists fled in reformation time in face of persecution and made their way via Alsace to the southern regions of Germany. "After the 30-years-war, the Elector here was desperate for settlers to cultivate the land", Heike says, "that is how our ancestors came here." In 1801, the Dätwyl family came to Wintersheim, in 1868 they already owned the estate. "We are still Mennonites today", Heike says – the neighbouring village of Worms-Ibersheim is one of the largest Mennonite communities in Southwestern Germany.
The Dätwyl family eventually changed their name to Dettweiler. Today, they are the seventh generation on the former castle of Wintersheim. Heike and Heiko Dettweiler together with Achim Dettweiler and Nicole Kühnel. It's probably this heritage that makes the winery breathe the air of living history – alongside with the small museum on the topmost floor of the medieval tower: old agricultural devices, spray guns, ploughs and even an old corking machine. There's also an old press – they make their own grape seed oil here.