It is one of the most famous red wine varieties in Germany: the Dornfelder. The variety is mainly grown in the wine-growing region of Palatinate. For a long time, it was considered courageous to grow Dornfelder – it took several decades for it to establish itself as a grape variety.
Dornfelder grapes are also suitable as table grapes. The Dornfelder grape variety dates back to a 1955 breeding – making it a relatively young grape variety.
Almost 10 percent of German vineyards are planted with Dornfelder vines – the Dornfelder as a grape variety has enjoyed an unprecedented career since it was bred.
Origin of the Dornfelder
In the past, Dornfelder was the wine of courageous winemakers: as a young grape variety, Dornfelder was initially met with rejection and was accepted only hesitantly.
Dornfelder is a cross between the two grape varieties Helfensteiner and Heroldrebe, both of which are in turn crosses from older grape varieties. Helfensteiner descends from Pinot Noir Précoce and Trollinger, while Heroldrebe comes from a cross between Portugieser and Lemberger.
The taste and color of Dornfelder is largely determined by these grape varieties.
The German vine breeder August Herold (1902-1973) bred the Dornfelder in 1955 in Weinsberg, a town in the northeast of Baden-Württemberg. The variety was named after the founder of the local viticultural school, Imanuel Dornfeld.
Initially only a component of cuvées
Because of its intense red color, Dornfelder was initially used mainly as a blending partner in cuvées to give lighter red wine varieties a stronger color.
Initially, however, hardly any winegrowers in the Palatinate grew Dornfelder: Most winemakers initially relied on established red wine varieties such as Pinot Noir, which had been grown in the Palatinate since the 16th century.
It took some time before some winemakers discovered the special aroma of Dornfelder wines and started bottling pure Dornfelder wines. Today, Dornfelder is more popular than ever among winemakers: not only does it make fewer demands on the soil than Burgundy wines, it also convinces with a very high yield.
Taste and aging
The color of Dornfelder wines is dark red to black red. It tastes fruity and has low acidity; its characteristics predestine it for aging in barrique barrels.
Dornfelder is grown almost exclusively in Germany: The variety has almost no significance in other countries that grow wine. Almost the entire Dornfelder cultivation area is spread over Rhineland-Palatinate – cultivation in the area of origin, Baden-Württemberg, plays a minor role.
Two vinification styles dominate Dornfelder: On the one hand, Dornfelder is vinified as a young wine with intense fruit aromas. Here, aromas of blackberry, sour cherry or elderberry are prominent. Dornfelder is also often aged in barrique barrels, in which the fruit aroma recedes into the background and the tannins become more prominent.
The career of a grape variety
After Pinot Noir, Dornfelder is the second most widely cultivated red wine variety in Germany: Dornfelder grapes ripen medium early, and the first ripe grapes can be expected from August onwards. In the mid-seventies, there were just 100 hectares of Dornfelder vineyards: at that time, the grape variety was only used as a cover wine to make lighter red wines appear darker. It took some time for Dornfelder to establish itself as a wine in its own right. Not least because of the recent high demand for color-intensive, dark red wines, Dornfelder is more popular than ever: today, Dornfelder is grown on nearly 8,000 hectares of vineyards in Germany. The Dornfelder has long since left behind its reputation as a simple red wine: Today, Dornfelder wines are available in a wide variety of qualities and stages of development and are particularly attractive in young stages of development due to their intense fruity aroma.
Simon von Ludwig
Cover picture: A Dornfelder grape, © Simon von Ludwig