Over a Merlot

In Thuringian Tuscany

A large mirabelle plum tree stands on the Sonnenberg up above Bad Sulza. That would be reason enough to pause for a moment, sample some of the sweet fruit that has fallen from the tree onto the ground and enjoy the view over the valley below us and of Bad Sulza, the Thuringian spa town with its salt springs. But it’s an entirely different fruit that has lured us up to the Sonnenberg! Because the shell limestone soil of the Sonnenberg, less than an hour’s drive from Weimar, provides perfect growing conditions not only for mirabelles, plums and apples but above all for lots and lots of grapes.

Vines stretch over the Sonnenberg in perfectly combed rows and, right next to it, over the slopes near Auerstedt, where the Prussians once lost against Napoleon in the battle of the same name. These grapes are turned into the finest red and white wines, pressed by Andreas Clauß, who took over the Thüringer Weingut Bad Sulza winery in 1994 and set about bringing new life to the over 1000-year-old tradition of viticulture in Thuringia. As a brave pioneer – and with great success.

The farm in the Sonnendorf district of Bad Sulza which Clauß and his wife Kathrin converted into a winery is the destination for our gourmet trip into Thuringian wine country. It is here that the Clauß family lives, and produces and sells their approximately 35 different wines. And it is here that they invite visitors to come and sample their produce. It almost feels like Tuscany: the sun shines warmly in the cobbled courtyard with its sienna-red painted façades and lush climbing vines. Bees buzz in the oleander, and swallows swoop and dive in the blue sky. Fittingly, Andreas Clauß pours us out a glass of “Castello di Auerstedt”, a fine, fruity white wine cuvée that already embodies all the promise of southern lands. “White wines work best for us and the Müller-Thurgau is the main grape variety here,” he explains with the slight Schwabian accent that the Esslingen native hasn’t lost even after 28 years in Thuringia. “But we also grow Riesling, Traminer and Gutedal – which as a more-or-less autochthonous grape variety just comes as part and parcel – and new red wine varieties.

Thüringer Weingut Bad Sulza has a total of 50 hectares of vineyard; some of the vineyards are in Kunitz near Jena and down below the Dornburger palaces. The grey-bearded wiry vintner has also re-cultivated an old, historical terraced vineyard at the foot of the Sonnenburg in Bad Sulza. “Some of the vines there are 100 years old”, he enthuses. You can tell that he is a committed winemaker who is also willing to experiment from time to time. Merlot, for example, which now also thrives in Bad Sulza thanks to the warming climate. “Our 2018 Merlot is robust and balanced and gets full marks everywhere, even internationally. Want to try it?” Well, of course we do! Looks like Tuscany is being given a run for its money.


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