The best adventures are those born of the unexpected. That absolutely came to pass when a group of us took a day cruise up the Rhine (Rhein) river in search of an authentic Rheingau winery experience.
After a great experience at the Rheingau Wine Festival in Wiesbaden, my friends decided we would make it a full Rheingau wine-themed weekend on our Sunday by taking a scenic, half-day cruise up the Rhine River and then seek out a small winery. We envisioned an authentic experience that brought wines from our festival to life. What happened was not quite what we expected, but in many ways, it was much better.
Several tour companies offer leisurely cruises up the Rhine river. The hop-on-hop-off style attracts not only tourists, but locals ferrying across the river and gorge. Though trains and small roads connect the towns on each side of the river, traveling by boat is not terribly inefficient. It’s a great, though no-frills way to experience the scenery and picaresque towns of the Rhine.
After a train ride west of Frankfurt to the bustling town of Rudesheim, located on the northeast bank of the Rhein, we embarked on a half-day cruise up river. Floating past small villages and castles, vineyard-terraced hillsides and steep, jagged cliffs, we toasted with a bottle of Sekt (sparkling wine). With sunshine and a stiff breeze, it felt like the life. We passed the mythical Lorelei (Loreley)- a rock named for a legendary maiden who jumped or fell to her death and lures male boaters to their deaths (sidebar: Why is it always a woman? Why is this story repeated so often, across cultures and history?) and finally disembarked at a small town. I can’t remember the name, but I believe it is Sankt (St.) Goarshausen. Regardless, a friend who had taken this trip before as a resident of Germany, swore we would find wineries.
Did I mention that this was on a Sunday? If you’ve ever spent time in Europe, you know that very little is open on Sundays. So when the town of St. Goarshausen or whatever it was appeared as, um, dead as Lorelei’s shipwrecked men, and our boat was long departed itself, we had an “Uh-oh” moment. Surely any wineries were closed. We stood and pondered how long we needed to wait for the next train, when another friend saw what appeared to be this adorable inn/restaurant:
Not knowing whether it was open, we walked up and were greeted by the cheery French-Alsatian owners. The husband and wife pair informed us that yes, wineries were closed today, but they would be happy to serve us some lovely wines from the region and food. That was an offer we couldn’t refuse.
At least three bottles of wine (our group was 8-9 people, mind you) later, we found ourselves happily satisfied from wine tasting whites and a rose, the freshest local hard and soft cheeses, homemade pates, and a wonderfully soft, rustic seeded dark bread.
We chatted extensively with the owners, whose story was charming. They moved to this remote town, this pair of two nationalities, and began winemaking as a hobby. They showed us their wine cave (cellar), which has been used for winemaking for centuries. If only I could remember the details of the history of the stone house and cave.
Thanking our hosts, we made our way to the town’s small train depot and hopped a train back to Rudesheim. With at least an hour to pass before the next train back to Frankfurt, we had a lovely, light supper at one of Rudesheim’s historic – and tourist-heavy – restaurants. While we missed that next train, extending our wild goose chase of a day, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for unexpected adventures and a sideways acquaintance with Rheingau winemaking.