In Search Of Wine Along The Rhine – Part 1

My quest for wine begins in a little German town along the Rhine called Breisach which is the first stop on our Viking river cruise from Basel to Amsterdam. Our itinerary includes an excursion to the Black Forest in the morning and then free time in the afternoon to explore on our own. I plan to use my free time to visit the Geldermann winery which is easy walking distance from where the ship docks. Geldermann produces sparkling wine, and their website advertises a variety pack of six assorted sparkling wines in split size (200 ml, 6.7 oz.) that we can bring onboard to drink (no corkage fee, nice!) I’m very excited to sample local wines without the pricey Viking-organized tour.

Before I can put my search for wine in motion, we need to get from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Basel, Switzerland to embark on the Viking ship Hlin. Our overnight flight will take us to Frankfurt, Germany where we have a 2.5-hour layover with another short 45-minute connecting flight to Basel. We are still at home when we are notified of a one-hour flight delay pushing our departure time to 7 PM.

At the airport we reason that with a 7 PM departure dinner will be served rather late, and very smartly, we eat a sandwich before we board. After a long boarding process, we note that it’s after 7 PM but we’ll still have time to make to connecting flight in Frankfurt…until we see and hear lightning and thunder. The airport closes for 45 minutes.

We’re finally told that the airport has reopened, and the plane begins to taxi to the runway. And then we sit on the tarmac for another hour. Our arrival time is updated to after the connecting flight’s departure time. Dinner is finally served at about 11 PM but I’ve lost my appetite knowing that it will be bedlam trying to get to Basel before the cruise ship leaves.

In Frankfurt we find that Lufthansa has already re-ticketed us for a 9 PM flight which is after the ship sails. My husband is checking two earlier flights, but we discover that they are fully booked. Texting with Viking, the rep offers us another option to take the train. We are resistant to this idea at first, not knowing where the train is located, but when we find that it’s connected to the airport, we decide to take what’s behind door number two and travel by train.

After walking seven miles to get train vouchers from the Lufthansa ticketing window and then collect our bags, we reach the train platform to wait for the 2 PM train. It’s now 24 hours (minus 6 for the time zone difference) since we left home, and we haven’t had any sleep and barely anything to eat. As other trains are stopping and leaving, I see that they offer food and drink, so we make a plan to get lunch once we’re onboard.

The train arrives a bit late (and I thought Germans were always on time!) and we stuff ourselves into a car that’s as crowded as the New York City subway at rush hour. The thought of standing for a 3-hour train ride juggling three suitcases and two backpacks has me panicked. Shoving our way into another train car, we find a luggage rack to stow the bags. As the train nears the next station, two passengers get up out of their seats and I dive into one before anyone else notices. So at least we’ve got seats but muscling my way through the standing room only crowd in search of lunch seems unfeasible.

Although flight delays and cancellations aren’t the fault of Viking, I was very disappointed with the start of this vacation. On previous cruises, I’ve booked our flights a day or more ahead. We had paid an extra $100 per person up front to be able to change flights that Viking had booked, but when I tried to do so through Viking’s website, the cost to change was still an additional $400 per person, so I left it as is. After the trip I brought this to the attention of our Viking Travel Consultant, and she told me about a “flight deviation” that allows you to arrive early without a pre-cruise extension. My lessons learned are to either make a flight deviation or just book the air on my own. Unless you get free air with your cruise, it’s cheaper and under your control to book it yourself. Just make sure to arrive in the port city at least one day early!

We arrive in the Basel train station where we are met by the Viking reps. There are about ten of us who’ve taken the train due to our connecting flight (the one we missed) having been canceled. When we finally board the ship it’s not quite dinner time. The river longships are much smaller than the typical ocean-going vessels and don’t offer all the amenities such as 24-hour food service. So instead, we head to the bar for a cocktail to take the sting out of the last 30 hours of travel. If you’ve noticed my emphasis on how many meals I missed in this story, it’s because my empty stomach sets the stage for act two.

Our smiling, friendly bartender makes us tasty Sidecars with Caymus cognac and Cointreau and we begin to unwind as we exchange travel mishap stories with fellow passengers. At 7 PM it’s time for dinner and we eagerly sample the ship’s wine selections while we wait for our dinner to be served. Memories start to blur at this point, but I think I ordered a steak. Back in our cabin, the bed is spinning as I pass out.

The alarm goes off early to get us up for the Black Forest tour. I force myself out of bed and into the bathroom where I splash cold water on my face. Head pounding, queasy stomach, I feel like I got hit by a bus. I haven’t had a hangover this bad since my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday party 20 years ago. If I’m going to make this tour, I’ve got to pull it together, so we head to the dining room where I order a delicious-looking omelet for breakfast. A few bites into it I realize that I’m too hungover to eat. Last evening during the port talk (after the Sidecar but before the wine) we were forewarned that the motorcoach ride to the Black Forest is a well over an hour on a long curvy road and those who are prone to motion sickness should take heed. As much as I hate to miss the first activity of the trip, I know it will make me puke. I ask my husband if he wants to go alone, but he opts to stay with me and take a nap.

Still tired and jet-lagged but with my stomach under control, we eat lunch and map out our visit to the Geldermann Winery in the town of Breisach, Germany. Viking has printed tourist maps of each town that were extremely helpful in exploring on our own. After a 10-minute walk past the dock and a few other river cruise ships we enter the historic town through the Rhine Gate built in 1678 to protect the Rhine bridge. Once on the other side of the river, it seems that the only direction to go is up. I can’t let the first full day of vacation go by without accomplishing something so I reluctantly climb the hill, including about 100 steps, through sheer force of will. The hilltop provides an expansive view for us to admire as we catch our breath. Remnants of buildings from the 16th century remain and are identified with placards. St. Stephan’s Minster is Breisach’s landmark church built in Romanesque and Gothic styles between the 12th and 15th centuries.

Our map indicates that the Geldermann Winery is on the other side of this medieval town, and we follow the narrow cobblestone road to the end where a footpath continues down a long stairway. We see the winery at the bottom. If we go down, we’ll need to climb back up to return to the ship, but I’m determined not to let the first day of the cruise go by with nothing accomplished. We briefly consider that it may be closed but are relieved to see people going in and out the front door. In spite of jetlag, a hangover, and generally exhaustion, we are going to the Geldermann Winery, and nothing will stand in our way!

The story of Geldermann Wine begins in 1838 in the town of Aÿ, France, the center of Champagne production. Two young German men, William Deutz and Peter Geldermann, were sent on a mission by a wealthy landowner, Alwin Freiherr von Amelunxen, to buy French wine on his behalf. Captivated by the landscape and culture, they eventually founded their own winery, Deutz & Geldermann, making sparkling wines in the traditional method of champagne. Due to expensive import duties between France and Germany, in 1904 the descendants of Deutz and Geldermann founded a branch of the sparkling wine house in the town of Hagenau in northern Alsace. Alsace, along the border of France and Germany, has alternately been Frankish or Germanic for centuries and has a unique blending of two distinctive cultures, however in 1904, Hagenau was part of Germany. After the First World War, Alsace became part of France, and the German branch of Deutz & Geldermann moved to its final home in Breisach, Germany. In 1995, Deutz & Geldermann split into two companies, Deutz in Aÿ and Geldermann in Breisach.

Production of Geldermann sparkling wines begins with wines from France. Wines go through bottle fermentation in the traditional way. Base wines are blended and reserve wines from previous vintages are added to create the cuvée. A liqueur de tirage, which is a mixture of yeast and sugar, and a small amount of wine, is added to the cuvée where it undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. Over two months’ time, the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The wines age from one to three years until they are shaken and turned at a downward angle to allow the dead yeast cells to collect in the neck of the bottle. After about four weeks, the yeast is disgorged from the bottle. The final touch is the dosage, a wine and sugar mixture that is added to produce just the right amount of sweetness. 

The Geldermann Winery tasting package includes six sparkling wines from two product lines: Rosé, Brut, and Classique from the Les Premiers line, and Grand Rosé, Grand Brut, and Carte Blanche from the Les Grands line. Les Premiers undergo traditional bottle fermentation and are youthful, fresh, and light in flavor. Les Grands mature for at least two years in the Breisacher Münsterberg cellars, producing more depth and complexity of flavors and aromas.

My mission to find wine along the Rhine is a success and all that is left is for us to retrace our steps through medieval village over the hill to return to the ship. With a sigh, I explain to the winery salesperson how we had some difficulty hiking up and over the hill to get to the winery. She exclaims, “You came over the mountain! When you go back you can go around.” She shows me the streets on our Viking tourist map and it turns out to be a shortcut that makes the trip back much easier.  

Published by J Reilly

Boozy Lifestyle: Elevate The Everyday With Booze As Your Muse by Julia Stacey Reilly is available on Amazon.com. Follow J Reilly @boozy_lifestyle on Twitter and Instagram.

4 thoughts on “In Search Of Wine Along The Rhine – Part 1

  1. Rough start to the trip, but it’s sure to improve! Nancy and I did a similar river cruise in 2015 only on Uniworld – it was fantastic! If they offer it, take a side trip to Heidelberg – well worth it. Enjoy the castles!

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