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The worldwide boom in red wine consumption is both a blessing and a curse for the Ahr Valleys makers of Spätburgunder, Portugieser, and Dornfelder reds.

Ahr Valley

By Nikki Goth Itoi

The traveler interested in Germany's wine regions might easily overlook the Ahr Valley. At 506 hectares (1250 acres) and 15 miles in length, it is one of the country's smallest and most northerly grape growing areas, and well off the beaten paths for white wine tasting along the Rhine and Mosel rivers.

What's also different about the Ahr is that it produces red, not white, wines. Knowledgeable enthusiasts are discovering that German viticulture is no longer just about Riesling and Müller-Thurgau varietals. Increasingly, reds like elegant and velvety Spätburgunders; lively, fruity Portugiesers; and deeply colored Dornfelders are gaining popularity much faster, in fact, than the region's vintners can produce them. These wines are seldom if ever available in the U.S. Most wineries sell out of their bottled wines domestically in less than a year and the few bottles that do make it out of Germany typically go to Japan or France. Some are so sought after they sell at auction for several hundred dollars per bottle.

Gemütlichkeit decided to pay a visit to several of the top wineries in the region to see how a new generation of vintners is transforming an industry that has flourished in the Ahr since Roman times.

It was a worthwhile three days. Just 30 minutes by car from Bonn, the Ahr is an easy side trip from most destinations along the Rhine. It's serene, rural setting; miles of paths for cycling, hiking, and walking excursions; numerous historical sites; and alkaline thermal baths in Bad Neuenahr, make it attractive for longer stays as well.

We descended into this picturesque valley at Altenahr the winding, narrow, west end of the valley when vines growing high up on steeply-terraced cliffs were soaking up the last of the afternoons sun rays. Our wine tour led us to the towns of Mayschoss, Dernau, Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, and Heppingen. Others could have been included had we more time.

Mayschoss is directly below the ruins of the oldest fortress on the Ahr, the 11th century Saffenburg, and is renowned for the founding of the first German wine growers cooperation (Winzergenossenschaft) in 1868. The co-op was organized to help the vintners collectively cope with hard times brought on by several poor harvests. Today, most of the Ahrs vintners belong to one of five such co-ops, which produce approximately 70 percent of the regions wine.