Exploring Saxon wine culture

The highlights

Photo: Erik Gross

The Saxon Wine Route and its many treasures – new grape varieties, young winegrowers and ever popular classics. Let's talk about Germany's northernmost wine-growing region and its protagonists.

By Selina von Holleben

How winegrowing in Saxony started

It all started in Meißen, more specifically: on the Kapitelberg. At that time, in the 12th century, this whole area was wild, hardly developed, destitute and culture-free; Sorbian natives and German conquerors were competing with each other. Enter a Catholic: Bishop Benno himself, a wise and gentle man, planted the very first vine there, so the legend goes – for the cultivation of mass wine. A record from 1161 documents the donation of a productive vineyard on the eastern slope of the Meisa Valley to the chapel of St. Egidien by Otto, Margrave of Meissen – the official start of viticulture in Saxony.

In the immensely lovely area of the Elbe between Meissen and Dresden, which is a continuous garden, there is hardly a delightful spot that is not linked with Benno’s name.

K. P. Will, Consistorialrath, Superior and Pastor (from: Sanct Benno. Bishop of Meissen. 1887)

Around 850 years later: The growing region is the smallest and most northerly in Germany; for many it is also the most beautiful. Saxony’s wine experienced its first heyday before the 30 Years’ War, starting in 1618. Estimates put the area under vines at around 5,000 hectares! Today, there are around 480 hectares. In 1811, the Sächsische Weinbaugenossenschaft (Saxon Winegrowers’ Cooperative) founded Europe’s first winegrowing school in Meissen. Then, from 1887 onwards, vine lice destroy the flourishing cultivation, large breweries produce ever cheaper beer – the importance of Elbe wine declines.

Renaissance after 1989

It was only after the fall of communism in 1989 that the winegrowing region experienced a renaissance. Today, around 35 full-time wineries and more than a thousand hobby winegrowers produce grapes. Apart from a few exceptions, these grapes ripen on terraces, predominantly on slopes, and must therefore be tended and harvested by hand.

The variety of vines includes around 60 types: Traminer, the oldest grape variety in Saxony, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Dornfelder, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Connoisseurs particularly appreciate well-known sites such as the Goldene Wagen in Radebeul or the Meißner Kapitelberg. The latter is considered one of the best terroirs in Saxony due to its soil composition of loose granite weathering.

The Saxon Wine Trail leads from Diesbar-Seußlitz to Pirna.

Dry stone walls that store heat, slopes that take full advantage of the sun, the protected microclimate in the Elbe Valley – this triad makes viticulture possible in the first place so far to the northeast, from Diesbar-Seußlitz in the west to Pirna in the east. A 92-kilometer-long wine trail connects them via Pillnitz, Dresden, Radebeul, Weinböhla and Meißen – characterized by the course of the Elbe, historic town centers, idyllic villages and numerous wine taverns.

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Young winemakers in Saxony

In addition to well-known estates such as Staatsweingut Schloß Wackerbarth or Weingut Schloss Proschwitz, a number of young winemakers in particular are making a name for themselves. With their love of experimentation, they are taking the regional tradition of winegrowing to exciting new results.

Rothes Gut Meißen

Rothes Gut Meißen
© Szeneshooting.de

Tim Strasser is regarded as the “young wild one”; the magazine “Vinum” counts him among “Germany’s next top winemakers”. His family has been making wine in Meissen for five generations. Strasser completed an apprenticeship at the Schloss Wackerbarth state winery, trained as a technician for viticulture and enology, and has been continuing the family tradition on over eleven hectares since 2010. In 2014, the Gault&Millau wine guide awarded him with one grape. Praise is given to the fungus-resistant white wine grapes Hibernal and Helios, which he pioneered in Saxony. Rothes Gut Meißen has tasting rooms and offers wine tours.

Lemberg 4, Meißen

Weingut Mariaberg

Meißen – Albrechtsburg
© Szeneshooting.de

After stops in Mexico and Berlin and a seven-month trip around the world, foreign language specialist Anja Fritz and her husband Florian settled on Mariaberg in 2004, where a dilapidated farm and 600 vines formed their new life. Two children later, Fritz founded her winery and was crowned wine princess in 2011 during the anniversary year “850 Years of Viticulture in Saxony”. The estate includes 1.2 hectares of steep slopes and one hectare on the neighboring Reichelberg. Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Traminer are produced. Since 2013, she and Martin Schwarz have been running the “Weinmanufaktur am Mariaberg” in a manor house on the Reichelberg. Here, the family business presses typically Saxon, wood-spiced wines.

An der Spaargasse 1, Meißen

Weingut Matyas

© Julian Rentzsch

Matyas and Ingeborg Probocskai took over vineyards in Coswig and founded their winery in 2000. Today, the family business, continued since September 2014 by daughter Andrea Leder, cultivates around seven hectares. In addition to Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Blanc, Kerner and Goldriesling, in 2001/2002 the gardener and retrained winemaker Ingeborg Probocskai focused on Bacchus vines – various awards followed. The young Matyas team, cellar master Hendrik Weber and winemaker Klaus Mehlig, refer among other things to controlled environmentally friendly cultivation, moderate vine pruning, precise grape harvesting, modern cellar technology and gentle processing. Powerful barrique wines and fine sparkling wines round off the range.

Spitzgrundstraße 12, Coswig

Weingut Haus Steinbach

Weinflasche und Trauben
© Julian Rentzsch

Generational change: For several years now, Lutz Gerhardt, a business informatics specialist with a doctorate in electrical engineering, has been continuing his father’s winemaking business in Radebeul. While the local wines were considered an insider tip by connoisseurs, they have become widely known since the Gault&Millau award. Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Traminer and Kerner are cultivated on the 1.2 hectare steep slope. The history of the idyllic estate in Oberlößnitz dates back to the 18th century. Highly recommended: the estate’s own wine tavern and the restored vaulted cellar for lively parties.

Bennostraße 41, Radebeul

Weingut Karl Friedrich Aust

Weingut Karl Friedrich Aust
© Weingut Karl Friedrich Aust

From stone to wine: Although Aust comes from a Saxon hobby winemaking family, the trained stonemason and sculptor first completed his journeyman’s work before turning his private passion into a profession in 2002. Since 2006, the restaurant “Weinhaus Aust” has also been part of it, also located in Meinhold’s tower house, which Aust’s father, once a Zwinger master builder, renovated in 1975. The five hectares in the top vineyards Goldener Wagen, Steinrücken and Johannisberg are in the immediate vicinity. Aust is considered to be as imaginative as he is professional. His winery produces outstanding quality wines that are regularly honored by Gault&Millau.

Weinbergstraße 10, Radebeul

Weingut Hoflößnitz
© Weingut Hoflößnitz

Stiftung Hoflößnitz

The history of Hoflößnitz as a flagship winery goes back to the Electors, who had their wine grown here according to the latest findings in order to set an example for the surrounding winegrowers. Today, Jörg Hahn manages the 8.5 hectares of the Free State of Saxony’s foundation estate as a certified organic winery. The complex also includes a visitor and information center, a vinotheque and a Saxon wine showroom in the former press house, the wine museum in the pleasure palace and the wine terrace for instant tastings.

Knohllweg 37, Radebeul

Weingut Zimmerling

Foto: Weingut Klaus Zimmerling

Also working on the steep slope above Pillnitz, the Königlicher Berg, is a winemaker who only found his vocation the second way around. Klaus Zimmerling earned his living as a mechanical engineer until he acquired the four hectares on the Rysselkuppe with perfect southern exposure in 1992. Here, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, Kerner, Gewürztraminer and Traminer thrive – without herbicides or synthetic pesticides. Zimmerling produces only small yields, which he says is a prerequisite for the high density of his wines. He has been a member of the Association of German Prädikat and Quality Wineries since 2010. Images of graceful female wooden sculptures from the hand of his wife, the artist Malgorzata Chodakowska, adorn the labels of the wines.

Bergweg 27, Dresden

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