Why our Wines are so valuable.

A Portrait of the

Felsengartenkellerei Besigheim

The Felsengartenkellerei Besigheim 

lies in the heart of the idyllic Neckar river valley in southern Germany. This wine cooperative is situated on the outskirts of Hessigheim, just a stone´s throw from the towering, shell limestone rock faces of the climatically favoured Felsengärten (cliff or rock gardens). Here, tradition and passion guide the many winegrowers in their daily work on the steep, mostly terraced sites. This shows in their careful cultivation of the vineyards in tune with nature to produce grapes of the highest quality. These serve as the basis for carefully vinified, varietally typical and delicate wines. Wines of exceptional diversity in all quality levels and wine styles.

With these excellent wines at hand, the Felsengartenkellerei stages a varied programme of cultural events with information, entertainment and culinary delights. By conducting these events, the cooperative aims to underline and strengthen the high quality and significance of regional winegrowing.

The Felsengartenland. A unique cultural landscape between the Neckar and Enz rivers.

The South German Scarplands run from the river Main to the Swabian Jura and from the Rhine rift valley to the Franconian Jura. It is characterised by valleys carved deep into the landscape by rivers with flatter land above. The soil strata is very diverse. To the north, the scarpland is protected from cold air by the Central Uplands (Mittelgebirge), and benefits from a mild climate from the south. And in the heart of this richly endowed region lies the Felsengartenland.

As far back as a hundred years ago, the value of the steep slopes following the bends of the Neckar and Enz rivers was recognized for winegrowing.  

This led to a unique cultural landscape stamped by the winemaker´s craft, which not only produces excellent grape material but is also to this day a beautiful sight to behold. A typical feature are the sun-drenched slopes, which were cut into terraces to provide support for the vines and enable an even greater utilization of the light and warmth. The Felsengartenland has thus always provided the very best conditions for highly successful viticulture. By means of numerous quality-enhancing measures and approaches, this has further developed – especially in the last few decades - into a high-quality winegrowing culture which could well be unique in the heart of the Neckar region.

The winegrowers. Their passion and lifeblood are the elixir of our wines.

The profession of winegrower ( »Wengerter« in the Swabian dialect) calls for a large degree of enthusiasm, especially when the vineyards in question lie on the steep banks of the Neckar and Enz rivers. The growers of the Felsengartenkellerei (wine cooperative) are such enthusiasts, for many of them cultivate their grapes on the terraces of these steep slopes. In many families, winegrowing has been practiced over many generations and the care and attention devoted to the grapes is often the centre of everyday life in the family. And it is still mostly manual labour which characterises the grower´s daily life, from vine pruning to canopy management all the way through to the harvest. 

It is a life in rhythm with the vines, accompanied by many a hazard of nature, of effort and hard work but also of patience and commitment and a great deal of passion, indeed love for nature´s product, wine. But this passion is also what drives the ambition of every grower to be able to harvest the best possible grapes at the end of the wine year in the autumn – which is, as always, the most valuable prerequisite for exceptional wines. For a Felsengarten grower and his family, there is (almost) nothing nicer that the sight of plump, healthy grapes which shine - colourful and juicy - in the autumn sun and whose natural beauty is already a sign of what precious wines will emerge.

The steep sites. They give us grapes that have been ennobled by nature.

A large part of the grapes of the Felsengartenkellerei ripen on the steep slopes along both the Neckar and Enz rivers – a privilege of nature which gives the wines an invaluable advantage in terms of quality. For here on the perfectly shaped slopes, but also in the narrow valleys carved deep into the hillside, a unique microclimate provides perfect growing conditions for the vines. The slopes, often with a gradient of more than 50 percent, capture the intense sunlight reflected from the surface of the water. The dry stone walls and steps – created and maintained painstakingly by hand-, as well as the rocks in the terraces heat up on sunny days to temperatures of more than 70 degrees Celsius. 

This warmth is radiated back to the grapes at night, promoting excellent growth and perfect ripening, whereas the wide range of soils in the Felsengärten, composed (to varying degrees) of marl, clay, silt, keuper, loess and loam, provide the ideal base for complex, well-structured and full-bodied wines.

The fact that the superior terroir enjoyed by the grapes in these special sites can also present itself in the glass is due not least to the aforementioned passion of the growers, whose work on the slopes is strenuous, extremely labour-intensive and not without danger the whole year long.

The vinification. Experience and craftsmanship meet sensitivity and perfection.

Wine is a natural product and, consequently, nature is the supreme guardian of the quality. But it is the declared aim, the in-house goal of all growers and employees of the Felsengartenkellerei, to transform - year after year - the harvested grapes into the most perfect wines possible. Beginning in the vineyard, all quality-enhancing measures – from yield reduction to determining the ideal picking time for the different grape varieties – will have been implemented carefully and conscientiously to ensure that only the best grape material makes it to the press house.

Even though the Felsengartenkellerei is equipped with state-of-the-art machinery for optimal wine production, again only the human element is - in the end - able to exploit the given potential to the full. 

Our cellar team follows the process from grape to glass with meticulous care. All measures which are necessary to preserve the natural quality of the crop are exploited during this time. This calls for a high degree of sensory skills, but also just as much skilled craftsmanship and expertise, as well as a penchant for precision and perfection, to help the wines achieve the best – if possible the most perfect – expression and by doing so, preserve both the varietal aspects as well as the characteristics of the terroir. The vinification process can take from several weeks to years. Every wine receives the time it needs to develop in the best possible way. The finest examples are then aged mostly for months in large oak barrels or barriques. Quite often these have been crafted from oak from the forests around Besigheim.

Our wines. Made by hand, full of passion, character and of the highest quality.

Regarding the product range philosophy, the Felsengartenkellerei follows the preamble of the company, which states that wine quality has to be the focus of and benchmark for all actions.

The assortment of litre wines in the portfolio encompasses all the popular Württemberg varieties, as well as the popular “Swabian” cuvées – first and foremost Trollinger with Lemberger, the most typical of all the Württemberg blends, which is also available in the steep site series. What all these wines have in common is a good, sound quality offering easy drinking pleasure either with food or on their own by the glass.

The usual distinction between Quality and Prädikat wines (ie. those with special attributes), which range from Kabinett all the way through to Trockenbeerenauslese depending on the ripeness of the grapes at harvest (in degrees Oechsle), is used only for 

the medium-dry, medium-sweet and sweet wines in 0.75-litre bottles. Yield reducing measures and grape sorting are of course also essential prerequisites for all Prädikat wines.

The dry wines of the Felsengartenkellerei are divided into five EDITIONS: Cuvéeschmiede, Terra S, Fels, Fas(s)zination and Composition. The grapes that go into these wines have to meet especially high demands. Measures to reduce yields and strictly control cultivation are obligatory. From the Fels quality upwards, the grapes after harvesting are transported with the utmost care in small crates to the cellar, where they undergo another sorting by hand on the sorting table.

A number of high-quality sparkling and semi-sparkling wines (Sekt and Seccos), but also fashionable wine cocktails and sweet wines, as well as brandies and spirits distilled from our own wines, complete the Felsengartenkellerei portfolio.  

History of the Felsengartenkellerei Besigheim

Medieval winegrower guilds and the Society for the Improvement of the Life of the Winegrower were most likely the forerunners of the winegrowers´ cooperatives. In Besigheim, the home of the Felsengartenkellerei, a herring banquet (»Heringsmahl«) was held annually on Saint John´s Day on 27 December, during which the bailiff, mayor, council and church dignitaries jointly set the wine price. The aim was simply to strengthen their position against the innkeepers from the mountain, the Black Forest and the Swabian Jura, who came to the town every year in the autumn to purchase wine. In doing so, they played the winegrowers off against each other – a situation which they hoped to avoid with a common price set by the cooperative. On 7 December 1938, after several attempts, the foundation was laid in Besigheim for today´s Felsengartenkellerei.

239 winegrowers spontaneously became members – the admission fee was 50 Reichsmark. Step by step, the communes of Löchgau, Gemmrigheim and Walheim were incorporated into the Besigheim cooperative. The huge shortage of cellar space after the bountiful autumn of 1970 led to the fusion with the cooperative in Hessigheim, giving rise to the Felsengartenkellerei Besigheim. Further communes joined this successful company and there are now ca. 300 winegrowing families who deliver their grapes to Hessigheim.

»God only created water, 

but man made the wine« 

Interesting facts

The Felsengartenkellerei is the home of many of the region´s winegrowing enterprises. Of the currently ca. 1,500 members, 850 are still actively involved in the cultivation of vineyards. They bring their grapes to the Felsengartenkellerei for processing. In most cases, the work in the vineyards is shared among several members of the family, from the grown-up children through to the grandfather and grandmother.

The Felsengartenkellerei members cultivate a total of ca. 700 hectares of vines, roughly 100 hectares of which lie in the climatically favoured but hard-to-work terraces on the steep slopes along the Neckar and Enz rivers. The main vineyard area lies within the boundaries of Besigheim and Bietigheim-Bissingen, as well as Hessigheim, Löchgau, Gemmrigheim, Walheim, Ingersheim, Ilsfeld and Abstatt. The proportion of part-time growers who cultivate less than a hectare of vines is roughly 80%.

The most important red grape varieties (approx. 80% of the vineyard area) are Trollinger, Lemberger, Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier), Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Samtrot representing the traditional varieties of the Württemberg wine region, as well as Cabernet Dorsa, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon representing those with a positive marketing potential. The latter are grown exclusively in the favourable microclimates of the steep sites. Among the white varieties, Riesling is the dominant grape (14% of the vineyard area), whereas the percentage of Kerner, Müller-Thurgau, Traminer, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weißer Burgunder (Pinot Blanc) is stable at a relatively low level. Varieties enjoying increasing popularity both among growers as well as wine enthusiasts are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Muskateller.

For many centuries, winegrowing has been part of the life of the inhabitants in the central part of the Neckar river valley and has shaped the visual impact of the region. Over the years, a deep attachment has grown to this valuable gift of nature. This is the elixir for the high degree of idealism which is necessary – despite many a misfortune, high costs and back-breaking work - to preserve this unique cultural landscape which viticulture has bestowed upon us.

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