Your Instagram feed is flooded with friends prost-ing with gargantuan steins and rocking dirndls so cute, you’re considering getting one yourself. It’s that time again: Oktoberfest! Each fall more than 6 million people flock to Munich for the world’s largest beer festival.
If you’re doing Oktoberfest this year (or planning for the future), consider adding a few extra days to your trip. After a festive weiss-guzzling marathon in the southeast, a peaceful retreat to German wine country might be just what the doctor ordered (no, really—many German winemakers actually hold PhDs in viticulture and enology from Geisenheim University)! And it's easier than you may think.
Frankfurt (about a three hour train ride or a one hour flight from Munich) is the perfect starting point to discover German wine country and renting a car is the best way to access its wineries, which are mainly tucked away in small villages along winding rivers. Hertz, Sixt, and Europcar are all at the Frankfurt Central train station and built-in English navigation makes driving a breeze. (Just request an automatic vehicle if driving stick is not your schtick!)
Though Germany is home to a staggering 13 wine-producing regions, we’ve narrowed it down to three that are conveniently accessible by car from Frankfurt—and connected by one breathtaking view to another.
Consider this your treasure map to exploring one of the world’s northernmost wine-growing countries in one long weekend:
Day 1: Rheinhessen
You'll want to start in Germany’s largest viticultural region, Rheinhessen, since it’s just a short drive south of Frankfurt. Once known for its overly sweet, cheaply made liebfraumilch, the region is being revitalized by a group of forward-thinking winemakers who are focusing on producing smaller yields of high quality wine with native grapes.
Drive 30 to 40 minutes until you'll reach Mainz, the city known as the capital of German wine country, and start your day with breakfast at Heiliggeist, a restaurant set in a former Romanesque cathedral. Choose from a variety of loaded breakfast boards or order from the main menu, where options range from lettuce tossed in honey-thyme dressing with chanterelles and hazelnuts or veal sausage stewed with onions and Dijon mustard over crispy potato hash browns.
Kick off wine tasting with a tour of the medieval cellars at Kupferberg Terasse. There you'll get schooled in the history of German sekt (sparkling wine) and view their historical glassware collection before tasting a selection of premium varieties. Next drive to Nierstein, which includes swoony, sweeping views of the Rhine so leave time for snaps! Arrange a visit at Weingut Strub where the Strub family produces weissburgunder (pinot blanc), spätburgunder (pinot noir) rosé, and a variety of rieslings.
Just a few minutes down the road is Weingut Weinreich, an innovative and organic certified estate and gutsschänke (pop-up restaurant) which produces a range of different wines, including a pétillant-naturel, from from riesling and silvaner grapes, and another naturally fermented orange wine made from pinot blanc. Finally stop by Weingut Winter where young winemaker Stefan Winter uses organic practices, plus indigenous yeasts, and traditional grape varieties, to produce the mineral-rich wines showcased in their sleek, modern tasting room.
For dinner, secure reservations at the warm and cozy Zornheimer Weinstuben, where soulful German fare (think knödels and rumpsteak) is paired with fine local wines and served by candlelight. Plan to spend the night at the nearby Jugendstil-Hof—a bed and breakfast run out of an Art Nouveau house with just three stylish rooms. If it's available, book the Secreto, a room with a terrace overlooking the ground’s gardens, and no matter what be sure to make time for the organic breakfast spread, rafted from their gardens and using their own hen’s eggs.
Day 2: Mosel
Start your second day with a one hour drive west into the lush valley surrounding the Mosel River, Germany’s oldest and most well known wine region (and one of the most stunning, imho!). The Mosel’s impossibly steep slopes not only provide a stunning landscape but they also catch the sunlight reflected off the river, giving the grapes a longer hang-time on the vine while they pull complexities from the mineral-rich soil.
Arrive first at Bernkastel-Kues, an idyllic town in the center of the region where cobblestone roads, fountains, and half-timbered houses make it seem straight from the illustrated pages of a Grimms’ fairy tale. Dr. Pauly Bergweiler’s Gothic wine estate, which overlooks the river, is the perfect place to start with a tasting before moving on to a tour of Weingut Dr. H. Thanisch’s intriguing underground cellars, set deep beneath one of the town’s steepest riesling vineyards.
For lunch, stop at Bahnhof Cues, a contemporary brauhaus inside an old train station, and nosh on flammkuchen (delicate tarte flambée), pfannkuchenstreifen (beef consommé with strips of pancakes and vegetables) and brotzeit snacks like sausages, pretzels, brewers bread and cheese. (FYI, they distill their own small batch spirits here so try the walnut liqueur as a digestif!)
Then take a scenic drive up the Mosel to Weingut Staffelter Hof in Kröv, where Jan Klein and his family use organic methods to produce fruit liqueurs and wines ranging from bone dry riesling to aromatic late harvest beerenauslese— and even a new yerba maté-riesling mash-up. Back down the twisting Mosel, the celebrated Weingut S.A. Prüm uses German fuder oak barrels from the 1950’s to age riesling and pinot blanc in their vaulted cellar.
Further south in Mülheim, Weingut Max Ferd Richter has been producing high quality rieslings since 1680, and is one of few German wineries that maintains bottles in its cellar from before World War II. Schedule a tasting with winemaker Dirk Richter, who serves his estate wines with a side of wit and political commentary.
Just across the river, in the tiny town of Kester, young winemaker Matthias Meierer has a hand in each step of the winemaking process at Weingut Meierer, where he creates modern expressions of the wine using riesling grapes grown on steep, slate-rich slopes. Schedule an appointment in his glassy greenhouse of a tasting room where there are beautiful views of the Mosel.
Back across the river in Mülheim, enjoy innovative pairings on the garden terrace of Culinarium R while discovering choice local wines off their well curated list. Finally check in across the street at the Hotel Weisser Bär, which features spa services, unparalleled river views, and globally-themed suites…one even features a giant wine barrel for a bed, if you truly want to drink, think and sleep wine on this trip!
Day 3: Rheingau
After fully enjoying th decadent breakfast spread at Hotel Weisser Bär (because you can’t drink wine on an empty stomach, right?), drive eastbound for an hour and a half and you’ll hit Rheingau, a region which lies on both sides of the Rhine River and is known for its high acidity riesling as well as full-bodied spätburgunder (pinot noir).
Make sure to arrange a visit at the Benedictine Abbey St. Hildegard where over 50 Benedictine nuns work 16 acres of vineyards. Arrange a tour of the abbey, learn about poet, musician, and mystic Saint Hildegard of Bingen and her work in the field of natural medicine, and end with a sampling of wine in the sisters' shop, which also sells herbs and spelt baked goods.
Stroll through the cobbled, medieval town of Rüdesheim afterward, resisting the urge to twirl like a Disney princess (because this is another straight up fairy tale village). Another magical element of this town are the many wineries that are open to the public and have vinotheks (wine shops) where you can taste their offerings and buy bottles. (But know that appointments are needed at almost all of the other wineries mentioned, so be sure to call or email ahead.)
The main road of Drosselgasse is filled with restaurant and bars, but venture away from the hustle and bustle for lunch at Restaurant Ratsstube, with traditional dishes like wienerschnitzel (thin cut of breaded and fried veal) and Finan (pork steak with garlic, bacon and mushrooms) are served on a serene outdoor terrace.
A scenic drive up the Rhine brings you to Georg-Müller-Stiftung Weingut, where modern paintings and sculptures are displayed alongside barrels of wine. Tour the gallery cellars and finish with a tasting before heading to Schloss Johannisberg, a Benedictine monastery-turned-palace-turned-winery, which was the first to plant only riesling in its vineyards in 1720 and make the first recorded spätlese from late harvest grapes.
After a vineyard and cellar tour, enjoy a sweeping view of the Rhine and its surrounding villages, marvel at the beauty of German wine country and then continue along to Krone Assmannshausen, a river-facing winery, restaurant and hotel. After a cellar tour, relax on the tree-covered patio or in the gilded dining room for a dinner of red lentil cream soup with mushroom gnocchi or braised suckling pig with pumpkin and truffled potatoes.
At the end of the day, retreat to one of the rooms in this historic hotel, furnished entirely in antiques, or head back to Rüdesheim for a stay at the Hotel Lindenwirt, where you can fulfill your #lifegoal of sleeping in a giant wine barrel. Oh, and this will leave you just 45 minutes from the Frankfurt train station (or airport) and smack dab in the middle of festive Rüdesheim—because surely you're ready for another beer at this point!
All photography by Veronica Meewes