The Ahr Valley
Visiting the most northerly of Germany's wine regions, where Pinot Noir is king

The Ahr valley is one of Germany's most northerly wine regions, and also its smallest, with just 562 hectares of vines. While I was in the Netherlands doing some lecturing, its proximity was too tempting to resist! My host, Lars Daniel, knows the region well, so we hopped over the border to take a look.

I'm so glad we did, because this region is a hidden gem. Unlike other German regions, it's devoted to red wines, and the key is that this is a warm, narrow valley with schist soils, despite its latitude that would suggest it couldn't ripen Pinot Noir successfully. But it can, and Pinot has been grown here since around 1650.


The predominant soil is slate/schist, and these weathered slate soils are quite shallow – less than a metre deep – but the vine roots find their way through the fractures to the subsoil. Summers are usually warm and dry, making up for the coolness of this latitude. 'This is grape growing at the edge of possibilities,' says prominent wine grower Marc Adeneuer of JJ Adeneuer.


But the Ahr hasn't been all that interesting until recently. The proximity of major cities has meant there has always been a market for the Ahr's wines, and in the past the steady stream of tourists and local markets lapped up bad wines with little discernment. 'We used to make sweet red wines here, up until 1985' says Adeneuer. Quality Ahr wine? 'It's a 30 year story.'


Even more recently, no one believed the red wines from here could really be all that good. '10 years ago, people said Ahr Valley wines were not able to see 5 years,' says Adeneur. This has changed, and now some very serious wines are being made in this beautiful valley. He continues: 'The incredible advantage the Ahr enjoys is that there is very little competition for red wines in Germany, and we are very close to rich areas, and people are always willing to pay more for Pinot.'


But despite its size, it's not a uniform region. 'The region is so small, but because of the shape of the valley and the soils, the wines change so much, says Meike Näkel of Meyer Näkel. 'There are lots of different microclimates.'

We visited three of the leading producers in the region, and found a lot to like. The only regret: the best wines here are quite expensive, because of the strong domestic market demand. But they are worth it. This is a lovely region.

JJ Adeneuer
Meyer Näkel 
Jean Stodden

See also:

Visiting Germany's wine regions (series)

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