The story behind: Kloster Eberbach

How Germany's largest winery developed.

The Steinberg – 100 % owned by Kloster Eberbach – is one of the most famous vineyard sites in Germany
The Steinberg – 100 % owned by Kloster Eberbach – is one of the most famous vineyard sites in Germany

It's quiet when you drive northwest from Eltville down by the Rhine through Kiedrich and finally reach the edge of the Taunus forest at Kloster Eberbach, whose tree-covered heights close off the vineyards to the top. From a distance, the scenery of the Rheingau strongly resembles the Côte d'Or – or vice versa. It is little wonder then that it was monks from Burgundy who founded the monastery. More precisely, Cistercian monks around Bernard of Clairvaux. 

One of the ideals of the order was to take care of themselves. Therefore, many Cistercian monasteries developed into agricultural centers. The location in the middle of the vineyards therefore quickly led to a lively monastic life and wine production became the monks' livelihood. The simultaneous proximity to the Rhine waterway meant quick access to sales markets, for example to Cologne. Lay brothers and studied theologians lived separately in the complexes. The lay brothers slept in the dormitory, which can still be visited today. Like parts of the rest of the complex, including the Romanesque basilica, it served as a backdrop for the 1986 film the Name of the Rose, based on the novel of the same name by Nobel Prize winner for literature Umberto Eco.

The Duke of Nassau ultimately put an end to clerical activity in 1803. The monastery was secularized, and since 1806 auctions have been held there, which, as is well known, still take place today. Wines from the Steinberg monopollage just below the monastery, which is surrounded by a wall like a Burgundian Clos, are often included. The next turning point came in 1866 and the Eberbach monastery was run as a Prussian winegrowing domain until 1945. Since 1945 it has belonged to the state of Hesse.

With about 250 hectares, it is the largest German winery. The wines are produced in the four domains on the Steinberg, in Rauenthal, at the foot of the Assmannshäuser Höllenberg and on the Hessian Bergstrasse. Through the Bergsträßer Domäne (32 hectares of vineyards), it is also the only VDP winery in Hesse's second wine-growing region. It produces a total of around 2.5 million bottles a year. The winery is run by managing director Dieter Greiner and team. Head oenologist is Kathrin Puff.

Kloster Eberbach is also a tourist magnet. The eerily beautiful Cabinet Cellar, the Lay Dormitory, the Basilica and the rest of the grounds, including ancient wine presses, attract more than 300,000 visitors a year. With all the peace and quiet on the edge of the Taunus Mountains and amid the thick monastery walls, it can get a bit noisy.     SIMON WERNER

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