We began in the Ahr wine region, visiting the towns of Bad Neuenahr, Ahrweiler and Altenahr – narrow cobbled streets, forts and castle ruins from the Middle Ages and half timbered houses from the early 1900’s feature throughout the region. Camping in amongst and on the side of the vineyard hills was very special. The autumn colours of the vines stretched for miles. Every shade of yellow, gold, brown and red was prominent.
We strolled through the vineyards and in the small forest behind, marvelling at the sturdy old trees that formed the wind break, dreaming of our next project: a hut in the trees.
The Ahr Valley is the world’s most northern wine area, and is known well for it’s reds. A beautiful spot we were told to visit was Försterhof winery and restaurant, on top of the hill with the most breathtaking scenery.
The flammkuchen (crispy, wood-fired pizza, typical in the south of Germany) was the perfect accompaniment to both the 2015 and 2016 spätburgunder (pinot noir). For the first time we tried a glass of dornfelder, although we found it intensely sweet and lacking elegance.
It wasn’t a long drive home – about 1km up the road, finding ourselves a hard-to-reach spot on the terraces, overlooking the Ahr valley. As we enjoyed dinner we watched the last rays of sun disappear behind the hills in the distance.
It was apparent we were in autumn the following morning; the morning fog had really settled into the valley overnight, only fading as the sun began to rise.
The highlight of our trip in Germany was our stay with Florian Weingart in the Mittelrhein region. Without much of a plan we knocked on the door at Florian’s winery in Spay. Talking to his wife with our broken German and her not-so-good English, we soon found ourselves on the hills of their riesling vineyards, picking grapes for the next three days.
It was a wonderful place, looking out over the Rhine; standing on one of the steepest vineyards on earth, flexing those calf muscles to their limits and concentrating on not falling backwards as we meticulously made our way up and down the rows of vines. The labour involved is immense. We worked together with a team of Florian’s family and friends, – between 12 and 18 in total – chatting non-stop along the way as we hand selected what grapes go to press from each bunch we snipped from the vines.
The late harvest is important for Florian – and equally as risky; if the weather is unfavourable, the bad mould can really take over, ruining a high percentage of grapes and devastating the yield. His aim is to produce naturally occurring, slightly sweeter wines, which benefit from a little longer on the vines and allowing the botrytis (AKA noble rot) to set in, but not the mould. Each year is a bit of a gamble and imposes the unknown.
Florian does everything by hand and around the harvest he works day and night to ensure the process is perfectly under control.
He is hugely into natural fermentation and will let the natural sugars do their bit in the tanks. Adding as little as possible to the tanks he simply crushes the grapes and allows the juice to come into contact with the natural yeasts that are present on the grape skins.
A quietly spoken man with an incredible knowledge. In the evenings, he would explain – and let us taste – the wines he was making, the science behind what was happening and the fermentation process and what he hoped to achieve. A rare and amazing opportunity to say the least.
Finishing up with Florian’s team, as we headed down south, we wanted to stop in Boppard to try some more wine after the days of work. A quick stop at a fancy hotel and wine bar and two glasses of very average riesling later we changed our mind quickly and did something more our style; a bottle of Florian’s wine off the shelf, a camp spot overlooking the Rhine and a slightly sweated pink fir potatoes from Florian’s garden set us up for a pretty epic evening.
As we slept that night, we were reminded of the strange things you witness when camping in public areas. Awoken by a car pulling in, with it’s headlights shining directly on us, we wondered what it was all about. Our nerves settled when we heard the voices of a couple of teenage boys, singing along to Britney Spears as the speakers crackled, at 2am. We fell back asleep with ease.
To counter balance the crazies out there, one evening as we were parked in a trail-head car park we began having a great chat with a man who thought what we were doing was great. We thought nothing of it at the time, enjoying the stories he was telling.
The following morning as we were sipping our coffees, he passed by again with a bag of goodies – fresh and still warm from the bakery. He was a bit startled to see us up at that time, dropped it in Paul’s hands and before Paul had the time to say ‘thanks’ he was gone again. We will never know his name or more about him, but what a nice gesture!
Passing through the Baden region reminded us that Germany isn’t lacking wild camping opportunities. West from Stuttgart had it all and barely 50 metres off the winding roads you could find yourself in amongst the trees, wildlife and autumn colours with complete isolation from anything human.