Wine enthusiasts love to travel – a pastime that the pandemic has rudely interrupted. As a result, many of us are hatching plans for future trips, or at least picturing ourselves in rugged Priorat or manicured Bordeaux as we refill our glasses with the eponymous wine.
I find myself thinking a lot about Germany and the many Weinfeste that would normally be underway around this time.
While Weinfeste abound throughout Germany’s wine regions, my fondest memories belong to the local fests in the villages of Baden, where my grandmother lived. Simply put, these are harvest celebrations, like those that exist elsewhere in the wine world. Yet Weinfest holds particular significance to me because it encapsulates everything I love about German culture: the food, the wine, the sense of community built around shared traditions, and, above all, the unspoken wisdom that the finest things in life are often its simplest.
Each festival usually takes place over two or three days. Typically situated in the town square, Weinfest is free and open to all. Booths featuring local vintners, butchers selling sausages, and charities selling traditional nosh like “Striebli” (an addictive, giant donut, much like a funnel cake) are set up in a somewhat random fashion. Some booths are tiny six-foot hexagonal kiosks, open on all sides with standing room only, whereas others have covered patios with long communal tables adorned with lanterns.
Most vintners produce exclusively for local clientele, yet this is not a comment on their quality. There is no assumed division between the simple and the fine here. The first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is famously simple. Yet to execute it well takes impressive skill, placing it among the finest piano pieces ever written. The analogy applies equally well to many of the world’s finest wines, not least Germany’s.
The festival usually kicks off with a small parade (yes, I concede, involving tubas), along with the local “Wine Queen” coronation. Following that, everyone is free to wander around and come and go as they please. There are no security guards, and there are no fences.
To partake of the liquid offerings, you can visit any booth and pay a 2€ Pfand (collateral) for a proper wine glass, not only embossed with the village and year but handily marked with a 100ml line, that being the going sample size. At the end of the night, you can either return the glass to any booth and recoup your Pfand or keep the glass as a souvenir, which I always do.
With glass in hand, you are then free to find a booth, peruse the menu of 6-10 wines priced between 1€-5€ per sample, get a refill, and wander on. Interestingly, there are only a few spittoons, typically used just in those situations when a wine is not to your taste, rather than to spare yourself the effects of alcohol. The atmosphere is relaxed imbibing, not serious tasting yet, despite the ample amounts of free-flowing wine, I’ve never seen a broken glass.
It is a personal dream of mine to establish a festival like this in Canada. Having attended a few “Winefests” here over the years, I’ve found them enjoyable yet over-regulated and uninspiring. People may get more dressed up, and they may purchase samples of pricier wines, but in my opinion, the German Weinfest, for all its simplicity, remains the better experience.
Many Weinfeste were unfortunately cancelled again this year, but hopefully by the next vintage they will be back in full swing. For now, we’ll all have to travel vicariously through glasses of German Riesling or Weissburgunder.
Those who seek cultural immersion and enjoy mingling with locals are well-advised to consider touring Germany’s Weinfest circuit on future trips. There is no better way to experience German culture at its most authentic.
Yule is COO of InVintory, an innovative wine collecting app based in Toronto. With an extensive background in wine, from working at a winery to managing private cellars, she aims to demystify the world of wine, helping people proceed through it with confidence and thereby unlock the pleasure that this ancient tradition can offer. For interview requests, click here.
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