Evidence of viticulture in Germany, initiated by the Romans, can be found as early as AD 800. Thus the German wine-making tradition is long and illustrious. Many proprietors of German wine estates can trace their ancestry in double-digit generations, the oldest of which is Schloss Wallhausen of the Salm family, dating from AD 812. Many of the estates were the gifts of royalty for military or other service. Other historical estates, still famous today, were originally monastic settlements from the High Middle Ages, such as Schloss Johannisberg, Kloster Eberbach and Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg.
For a country just slightly smaller than Montana, Germany is seventh in world wine production and sixth in consumption. It is situated at the most northerly latitude at which grapes can ripen; the winters are cold and the growing season short, all of which, incidentally, are nearly identical to the Finger Lakes Region of New York.
Most of its wine regions are situated in central and southwestern Germany. The most significant are the Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Rheinpfalz, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Nahe, Franken and Baden. The Riesling grape is king in Germany, even though it represents only 20% of total plantings: Müller-Thurgau (a Riesling-silvaner cross) has the most, followed by the red grapes Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Dornfelder. In good years and in the care of master winemakers, Riesling makes one of the greatest white wines in the world, with a perfect balance of sugar and acid, exquisite fruit and fragrance and with considerable potential for aging.
The German wine label is, at once, the most informative and confusing in the world, but that is a topic of its own.