Saale-Unstrut-Gebiet is the northernmost wine-producing region in Europe and one of the smallest in Germany. Its picturesque terraced vineyards are largely centred around the Saale and Unstrut river valleys, but the region also covers mountainous areas such as Höhnstedt. This means the area has a wide variety of soils and vine types. The climate is ideal for vine growing as there is a good balance of sun and rain and the average temperature is surprisingly mild. For the majority of growers in this area wine-making is more a question of passion and pride than a simple occupation.
The first official records of wine growing in the Saale-Unstrut-Gebiet date back to 998 when several villages and vineyards in the area were handed over to the Memleben Imperial Monastery. In the centuries that followed the Benedictine and Cistercian orders played an important role in establishing wine-making traditions and turning viticulture into a vital element in the local economy. With the reformation in the 16 th century, however, the monastery estates were abolished and the cultivated areas diminished. Since then wine production has had a chequered history. At the beginning of the twentieth century the vineyards ran the risk of disappearing altogether, but the tenacity and faith of the local winegrowers finally won the day. From 1950 onwards many vines were replanted and now these excellent wines, the result of over 1000 years of experience can be enjoyed all over the world.
This region boasts a vast range of wines. The most common are the dry whites, such as Müller-Thurgau, Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Kerner and Riesling, but in recent years the areas has also increased its production of red wines to 24% of its total output. This means excellent Portugiesers, Spätburgunders (Pinot Noir) and Dornfelders are now produced, as well as the rarer Zweigelts and Andrés. Any visit to this region must include a stop at one of the greatest German producers of sparkling wines, the Rotkäppchen-Mumm Wineries. And indeed here is to be found the largest Cuvée barrel in the whole of Germany.
Well worth a visit is also the “Herzögliche Weinberg” (Duke's Vineyard) in Freyburg where visitors can see the various vine types and the many different cultivation processes actually being used, as also vines that disappeared from the area in 1887. These initiatives, as well as protecting genetic sources and maintaining traditional cultures and methods, also demonstrate the commitment and farsightedness of the local Wine Producers' Association and the Nature Park Saale-Unstrut-Triasland.
The splendour of the countryside is reason enough to visit the Saale and Unstrut valleys and in February 2000 the region officially became a Nature Park. Forests, valleys and river meadows are ideal for biking or canoeing and the area is rich in plant and animal life, including many rare species.These valleys are not only famous for their natural beauty though, they are also steeped in history. Friedrich Nietzsche studied at the delightful Pforta Monastery School and Johann Sebastian Bach was director of the court orchestra that often played in the splendid baroque palaces of Weißenfels. Then there is the world-famous Naumburg Cathedral, the church ruins in Memleben and any number of fortresses, market towns and health resorts. Archaeological remains which are truly unique allow visitors to make a fantasy journey back through thousands of years, admiring the beauty of the bronze and gold disc found at Nebra, in Eastern Germany , which depicts the most ancient representation of the sun, moon and stars, and visiting the oldest astronomic observatory in the world at Goseck, near Wei ß enfels. Scattered over these uncontaminated landscapes are also a number of pretty vineyard houses that are unique to this area. Built mainly in the late 18th and 19th centuries these buildings symbolize the fundamental role that viniculture has played in this area. In 1997 a regional wine museum was opened in the splendid Neuenburg Castle to celebrate over 1000 years of fine wine production.