Around the world in 40 years . . . Part 6. Trekking the red wine trail

Discovering German red wine
It was February 1997. Steph joined me on a work trip to Laos, and we were returning to the Philippines via Bangkok where we’d spent a couple of nights. We checked into our Lufthansa (LH) flight, and went off to the lounge. Since I had a stack of air miles, I’d treated Steph to an upgrade to Business Class.

When we checked in at the gate, our boarding passes were exchanged for a couple of seats in First Class, so we enjoyed the three hour flight back to Manila as almost the only passengers on the upper deck of a 747-400.

I used to fly with Lufthansa a lot in the 90s. In many ways it then had the best flight connections into Europe, and as I used to travel to Rome quite frequently, LH was my airline of choice. So I was quite used to the Lufthansa cabin service. But on this flight I was offered something I’d never tried before – a German red wine. The purser even gave me a couple of bottles as I left the flight in Manila. Of course I’d often sampled several of Germany’s white wines previously. But a red wine was quite a novelty.

The Rotweinwanderweg
Then, a few years later I discovered that there’s one wine region in Germany – the Ahr valley – that’s famous for its red wine. Lying to the west of the Rhine, and to the south of Bonn, the Ahr valley is one of Germany’s smallest wine producing regions. But what excellent wines it produces, principally from the Pinot Noir grape.

The town of Ahrweiler, near the mouth of the Ahr Valley, is shown in this gallery:

So how did I come to discover this oenological treasure? Well, it was through my good friend and plant pathologist, Dr Marlene Diekmann, who I first met in the early 90s on one of my trips to the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI – now Bioversity International) in Rome. Marlene left IPGRI and moved to Aleppo in Syria to join a sister CGIAR center, ICARDA where her husband Jürgen was also the farm manager. After Marlene left ICARDA and returned to Bonn, to join the German overseas development assistance program, our paths crossed again when I attended my first annual meeting of the CGIAR after I’d become IRRI’s Director for Program Planning and Communications in 2001.

Thereafter, whenever I had to travel to Europe to visit the donor agencies supporting IRRI, and if Germany was on my itinerary, I’d try and arrange a weekend in Bonn. And that’s when I was introduced to the wonders of the Ahr valley, its wines, and the Rotweinwanderweg – the Red Wine Hiking Trail. The photos in this gallery were taken along the trail above the small town of Dernau:

Above the town of Dernau, there are kilometers of trails through the vineyards. The vines are grown on extremely steep slopes, as you can see in the photos above. Heaven knows what effort it takes not only to harvest the grapes each year but also to till the soil. If I remember correctly, Marlene told me that the farmers contract helicopter pilots to spray the vines when necessary – it certainly wouldn’t be feasible to walk up and down the lines of vines trying to apply pesticides.

I’ve seen the vineyards along the Red Wine Trail in all seasons. And after a nice long walk, I’ve also enjoyed the liquid output from the vineyards, on several occasions.

This is truly a wonderful part of western Germany, and it’s well worth a visit if you happen to be in the vicinity. I look forward to returning one day, and also getting to know the Rhine vineyards in more detail.

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