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Weinberge bei Radebeul

MAKING WINE SINCE 1200

Venerable viniculture in Saxony: for over 850 years

Soils that suit, the right weather and centuries of expertise: when it comes to grapes and their goodness, Saxony is unrivalled. And it’s quality not quantity first – just 450 hectares of vineyards makes the Free State one of Germany’s smallest winegrowing regions. It may be around the northerly limit for grape-growing in Europe, but the special climate of the Dresden-Elbe Valley cossets the fruit. Nowhere in Saxony is warmer than here: more than 1,600 hours of sunshine and an average annual temperature of 9°C boosts the bottling of wine in 15 individual locations between Pirna and Diesbar-Seusslitz. And that’s why dozens of grape varieties thrive, from Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, and Pinot Blanc to Traminer and Dornfelder.

Long: The path to today’s viticulture

Winegrowing in the Elbe valley dates back to 1161, although Bishop Benno of Meissen almost certainly planted vines in his diocese as early as 1100. The first plants to arrive in the region were probably brought by Frankish settlers or travellers. Production came properly on tap in the 16th century, and by the mid-17th, as much as 5,000 hectares of land had been devoted to winegrowing between the Elbe valley and the Lausitz (Lusatia). The next boost to the trade came in 1799, when the Saxon Winegrowers’ Association came into being and opened Europe’s first winegrowing college in Meissen in 1811. But it wasn’t all rosy: first came mildew, followed soon after by a devastating phylloxera plague which almost decimated the industry. In 1912, only 150 hectares of vines remained extant, shrinking to a mere 60 after the Second World War. Nor did much improve with the first decades of the GDR.

Fresh: A new beginning

Tentative steps made to usher in a new era took until the early 1980s to transpire. As former vineyards were replanted, many hobby winegrowers seized their chance, while the Cold War thaw in 1989 sped things up. As benchmark wine legislation was issued and the new (or re-established) estates opened up, the vineyards gained a second wind, as exemplified today by widely acclaimed wines from slopes such as Radebeul Goldener Wagen, Meissen Kapitelberg and the Royal Vineyard in Pillnitz. Saxony’s 850-year-old wine tradition has risen phoenix-like from the ashes, thanks in no small measure to the enthusiastic efforts of a new generation of winegrowers.

Edgy, esoteric, and breaking new ground

Industry newcomers: youthful, trained to the teeth and ready to break new ground. Unafraid to rethink approaches, which they see through to fruition. At their Dresden Elbland vineyards, a byword for good-natured grapework, tech rules over toil, with a greener approach to industry cultivation. This includes moderate vine pruning, rarer grapes, modern pressing technology and limited quality-first yields – not to mention an unquenchable oenological passion.

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