Where Cake & Pinot Noir Collide

  • By Emily Campeau
  • 12 Dec 2020
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
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Heidelberg, Baden - Credit : Deutsches Weininstitut (DWI)

The Baden region offers signature strengths that differ greatly from Germany’s commonly marketed wine identity; Riesling isn’t that big of a thing here, “cool climate” neither. 

The region is Germany’s third largest Anbaugebiete, and stretches over 400 km from north to south, from the border with Franconia all the way down to Switzerland and the shores of Lake Constance. The Rhine River delimits the border between France and Germany, with Baden falling on the German side and Alsace, of course, on the French. Baden is sandwiched between two important natural formations: the Vosges mountains and the Black Forest. It benefits from abundant  sunshine (over 1,800 hours) thanks to the rain shadow created by the Vosges to the west, while its hot temperatures are cooled in a number of areas by the refreshing forest air brought from the east. 

Sunny Baden is the only place classified as a “B” growing region in all of Deutschland, which means higher Oechsle measurements are required at harvest. In her wonderful book Wines of Germany Anne Krebiehl MW wonders if that particular classification is still relevant now that climate change often appears to rule viticulture bringing one scorching vintage after another. 

The Baden Subregions

Given its extraordinary length, Baden is divided into nine subregions. Here they are, from north to south:

 1- A portion of Taubertal (The valley of Tauber was fragmented between Baden, Württemberg, and Franconia by Napoleon in 1809, as a reward for the powers who fought Prussia by his side) 

2- Badischer Bergstrasse (south of Hessische Bergstrasse)

3- Kraichgau

4- Ortenau

5- Breisgau

6- Kaiserstuhl (the hottest point in Germany: seriously, you’ll find orchids and lizard thriving on the ancient volcano that gives the subregion its name) 

7- Tuniberg (it declared independence from the Kaiserstuhl Bereich in 1991 because of major differences in soil type) 

8- Markgräflerland (Gutedel, aka Chasselas is a specialty here) 

9- Bodensee

The Grapes Of Baden

Baden sets itself apart by championing grapes commonly referred to as “Pinot varieties”. The total acreage of the region is 15,839 ha (2019) and a third of it is planted to Spätburgunder (aka, Pinot Noir). Its natural mutations Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are also favored with 2,079 ha and 1,519 ha respectively, but are beaten by Müller-Thurgau as the most planted white grape variety at 2,432 ha. Riesling, Germany’s pride and joy, is here relegated almost to the sidelines, with just about 1,000 ha planted. Baden’s Rieslings can be plump, sometimes flirting with opulence, a style celebrated in Alsace but often critiqued on the German side of the border. 

Pinot Noir apparently arrived in the region with Charles the Fat and the Carolingians, who would have planted it  around 884. It has gained significant traction since the 1960s, and with this has come a better understanding of the grape. Turning to better-adapted clones (like the Mariafeld clone) was a crucial revelation, managing the use of oak another, even though there is still work to do on this front.

Germany is the third-largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world after France and the U.S., and Baden has the largest acreage in the country, followed by the regions of the Pfalz and Rheinhessen. With the warming of this once marginal-growing country, the Germans have changed their drinking habits too, slowly opening up to red wine production, which now represents a third of all wine made in the country.

The Soils Of Baden

Baden’s soils are as diverse as one would expect from such a long strip of land. They range from coloured sandstone, through limestone, to granite, with many areas covered in drifted loess. Loam, clay, and keuper also appear in many places. The soils around the Kaiserstuhl are divided between loess and volcanic-derived formations. Around  Lake Constance, some moraines (glacial deposits) can be found. Baden’s geology was mainly determined by the formation of the Upper Rhine Valley which happened during the Cenozoic era.  

Baden is to this day still governed by a large number of cooperatives, which make up close to 70% of production. Marketing is cruelly underachieving and half of the wines end up on supermarket shelves. But fear not, the region holds plenty of dynamic producers full of potential, making extraordinary wines. Baden also builds a strong case in Germany’s Landwein revolution, as multiple producers decide to enjoy more freedom outside of the traditional appellations. 

Pinots of all colours show finesse and composure; uncomplicated Müller-Thurgau and Gutedel are perfect for everyday drinking. Dive into the wide offerings in between if you are willing take a deeper look. 

 *Special mention to the Black Forest cake which is a Baden original, and a strong contender for  best cake in the world ranking. Moist chocolate génoise, whipped cream, cherries and a healthy splash (or two) of kirschwasser… I mean, any cake that has booze as a main ingredient is a winner, no? 

Heidelberg, Baden - Credit : Deutsches Weininstitut (DWI)