Walking for Wine
Clusters of grapes painted on stone walls and finger-posts, guided us through a terraced vineyard from the Ahr Valley’s floor to the western ridgeline overlooking the Ahr River. The Rotweinwanderweg, a dirt walking path through the valley, contoured the high ground, alternating from dense forest canopy to open fields primarily harboring Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) grapevines. The steep valley walls approached the beetling of a gorge at times and trapped the sun’s heat creating a unique micro-climate ideal for viticulture. The Ardennes and Hohes Venn to the west shielded the valley from rain providing the southern facing slopes with over 1300 hours of sunshine a year. Slate rock lined the ground at the base of the vines, retaining the sun’s heat and insulating the grapes’ root structure.
At nearly 50 degrees latitude, it is the northernmost - and one of the smallest - wine regions in Germany. The sunny, May weather accurately portrayed a stereotypical day for the region as we walked among the yellow and pink orchids in bloom. From our elevated perch, steeples marked the town centers scattered along the banks of the Ahr. Spiraling outwards from the churches, each town extended in concentric circles bound by green, leafing vineyards along the circumference. These bubbles contained entire worlds at one point in history. After a few miles walking, we sat on a wooden bench, snacking on Kabinos Polish sausage, Swiss cheese, fresh baguette, apples, and one Snickers a piece. A growing hum emanated from the town square below as locals slugged wine and beer, chanting and singing for the local soccer team. From our position, they contributed to the moment’s soundtrack, providing a subtle bass to the birds and wind rustling leaves.
A journey along the Rotweinwanderweg would not be complete without a few glasses of wine for hydration. Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc filled our glasses at the first stop, Michaelishof Gmbh. Wicker chairs and unobstructed afternoon sun perfectly complemented the citrus tartness of the Riesling and the clean crispness of the Sauvignon Blanc. A dirt path along the base of a steep vineyard passed the patio, leading us over a spur protruding from the ridge and to our next glass of wine. At Weingut O. Schnell, the owner greeted us on the front deck where we took two remaining seats in the warm sun. Seeking some of the Ahr’s special Blanc de Noir, she suggested their own interpretation incorporating an early ripening variety of Pinot Noir grapes known as Frühburgunder. “This is the one people seek out from us,” she insisted. She returned with two in hand and set them on our table. The oxymoronic name “Blanc de Noir” describes the gentle pressing of dark skinned grapes, which prevents the skin’s pigment from darkening the wine’s color. White with a slight orange tint, the aroma and flavor burst with melon, tropical fruit, and citrus. The finish was balanced with a lingering fruitiness, harmonizing with the warm weather and quenching our parched mouths.
Before leaving I asked, “How often does the train run?”
“Every hour,” she replied, and then turning towards a passing train added, “Oh, it’s that one,” with a sardonic laugh. “You can wait or walk. I recommend the walk along the river to avoid the hills,” she kindly recommended.
“What’s another three miles?” I asked Sara. She did not share my enthusiasm.
Thanking her for the wine, we left the Weingarten and walked back in the dimming light now blocked by the western ridge of the narrow valley. The shadows grew longer as we followed the bends in the Ahr River to the beat of trickling water.