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The Monastery of Eberbach: Where the Monks made the Wine
This might well be the cradle of viticulture in the Rheingau, since no other building in the area symbolizes a centuries of culture of wine making as the Monastery of Eberbach near the village of Eltville does. It was in the year of the Lord 1136, when thirteen monks first set foot into this remote Rheingau valley.
One year before, famous Cistercien Abbot Bernard of Clairveaux had visited the Arcadian valley together with Archbishop Adalbert from Mainz when right before their eyes, a boar jumped out of a hedge and over the brook. Whether this is really the origin of Eberbach's name – meaning the boar's brook – is not accounted for by historic sources. The monks, however, were indeed right from France, coming from Clairveaux in Pinot to found a new monastery in the Rheingau valley through which the Kisselbach runs – and they brought grapevines with them.
The Monastery of Eberbach soon grew to be one of the biggest and most important cloisters in Germany, also thanks to its wine. The grape variety of Pinot Noir, imported from Pinot, became the first successful wine export from the Rheingau: the monks, being freed from toll charges along the Rhine, dominated the wine trade all the way down the river to Cologne, a very profitable business. In 1162, the Monastery even owned a magazine in Cologne which was privileged by Pope Alexander III.
Towards the end of the 15th century, rooms of the monastery like the Fraternei and the refectory for the lay priests were also turned into wine cellars – at this time, up to 150 priest monks and 600 lay priests lived in the monastery. The wars of the following centuries, however, damaged the monastery to a large extent, viticulture however continued to flourish. In 1730, the monks built a treasury for their most valuable growths – we know the date from a bill written by a carpenter from Eltville concerning the "Kabinett cellar." Until today, priceless wine treasures of centuries long since gone are stocked here.
With Secularisation, in 1803, monastery life ended in Eberbach, not so, however, viticulture: The tradition of wine growing was continued by the new owners of worldly origin, first by the Duke of Nassau, then from 1866 on by the Prussians and finally, since 1945, by the State of Hessen. Today, the Estate Monastery of Eberbach administers six Domains belonging to the State of Hessen, five of them situated in the Rheingau and one on the Hessische Bergstraße. With 200 hectares of vineyards, the Eberbach estate is the biggest wine growing company in Germany. The red wines from Eberbach, however, remain a trade mark in itself – the Pinot Noir is still grown here on 32 hectares.
In summer 2008, only several hundred of meters below the old monastery, the Steinbergkeller was opened, a state-of-the-art wine production site as only few in Europe exist. Each day, up to 7000 liters of grape juice can be processed, while the cellars stretch out on 5000 square kilometers and on several levels below the earth. They reach all the way below the Steinberg, the oldest vineyard site in Eberbach and its very first. The Steinberg vineyard is enclosed by a medieval wall of quarry stones, counting 3000 meters in length, which provides a special climate for the Riesling grapes growing on the slope – they say, the Steinberg was the favorite wine of the monks. The results of today's vinification can be tasted in the monastery's wine shop – or at one of the frequent wine tastings.