Wine and Stone: The Art of Viticulture
One could spend days there and still have things to learn, be it about the seasonal cycles of viticulture or Roman history; maintenance breeding, vine nutrition, the vine louse phylloxera or the background behind the little vintners’ huts dotting the hillsides. In all, the trail touches on all sorts of topics and provides an informative and fascinating presentation. Among the highlights of the path are the more than a dozen artistic renditions of crucial moments in the viticultural history of the Bergstrasse.
Some 2,000 years ago, the Romans not only discovered the beauty and the mild climate of the region called the strata montana, or mountain road, but also planted the first vines on its sunny slopes. Viticulture was first documented in 755 and later recorded in the Codex of Lorsch Abbey. Thus, Heppenheim is the oldest wine-growing community in the Hessische Bergstrasse – and the largest (including its eight suburbs), with some 230 hectares (ca. 570 acres) of the region’s 450 hectares (ca. 1,111 arcres) of vines. It is also the home of the region’s largest producer, Bergsträsser Winzer, a cooperative winery founded in 1904. Today, nearly 500 wine-growing families are members, and jointly cultivate some 265 hectares (ca. 650 acres) of vines along the entire Bergstrasse.
Given its position within the region, Heppenheim was a logical site for the adventure path, which opened on 27 April 2007. The unique project is the result of teamwork between the UNESCOGeo-Naturpark Bergstrasse-Odenwald and the Bergsträsser Winzer cooperative. The path begins and ends at the Winzerbrunnen, or wine-growers’ fountain built in 1967, and located near the parking lot close to the cooperative on the outskirts of town. From there, visitors wind their way through Heppenheim’s Steinkopf, Centgericht, und Stemmler sites. En route, detailed information panels explain and illustrate points of interest on topics ranging from soil profiles, varietal origins, soil maintenance, integrated viticulture (ecologically friendly practices), indigenous grape varieties, oak casks, and cork trees to climate change. The Starkenburg fortress ruins overlooking Heppenheim’s steep Schlossberg site make for a grand finale. The castle dates from 1065, and was built to protect Lorsch Abbey.Works of art – “wine and stone” – are interspersed throughout the trail. Sculptors have chiseled their perceptions into stone: the cycle of nature is illustrated by an oversized cyclical figure; the strata montana or indigenous grape varieties are portrayed as stone monuments, as is a symbolic representation of the vintners’ thanksgiving. Yet another integrates wine bottles into stone to literally express the connection between terroir and grape. A monument to the Romans takes form in a sculpture of a Roman centurian. The victory over phylloxera is depicted in a giant vine louse towering over the vineyards, speared on a pole. Last but not least: an enormous “wine and stone” bottle clearly reflects the Bergstrasse’s geological makeup with examples of its principle types of stone. The Bergstrasse: a marriage of wine and stone.