Wandering Wiesbaden: Henkell Sparkling Wine Cellar

Wandering Wiesbaden: Henkell Sparkling Wine Cellar

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

In Germany, a celebratory gathering or New Year’s toast is traditionally accompanied by the sparkling wine known as Sekt. And just like its more famous cousin from across the French frontier, Champagne, Sekt has a long and proud tradition in its homeland. The country’s first maker of sparkling wine was the Sektkellerei Kessler, founded in1826 in the town of Esslingen near Stuttgart. Today’s tour, however, is taking us to Wiesbaden, home of Henkell, one of the world’s top-selling brands of sparkling wine.

The Henkell brand got its start in 1856 when Mainz wine merchant Adam Henkell discovered the fine art of champagne-making in France and brought his newfound knowledge back to his home turf. The headquarters of this operation, located on Biebricher Allee 142 in Wiesbaden, is an interesting combination of an ornate reception hall, wine cellars, and a state-of-the-art production facility. And six days a week, visitors are warmly welcomed here.

On a recent Saturday, our group of some 25 persons was greeted with glasses of Sekt we happily sipped in the ornate Marble Hall, a rococo beauty with a sweeping double staircase and stained glass cupola. The elegant space is regularly used to host events such as balls and classical music concerts. From there, we made our way down a steep staircase past massive hand-carved wooden barrels. By an exhibition displaying equipment used in past centuries, we were treated to our second glass of sparkling beverage. The tour passed through the vast and largely automated bottling facility before ending up at the retail shop, where well-known brands of other wine and spirits produced by the Henkell Group are sold at more than reasonable prices. The third and final glass of bubbly I indulged in on this day was poured from a corner of the shop dedicated to the ritual of opening a bottle of champagne and allowing customers to sample. (The retail shop is open to the public, and there’s no need to take a tour just to shop here.)

My knowledgeable and personable tour guide Ralf Opitz was kind enough to share the information he imparted to our group in written form. So as not to divulge all his secrets, here are ten questions you will be able to answer, once having taken part in a tour of your own:

  • What is the difference between “Sekt” and “Schaumwein”?
  • Which particular form of glass delivers the best sensory experience and why?
  • At which age does Sekt taste its best?
  • The Henkell facility was built atop a pre-existing site. What was the area’s use in former times?
  • The bohemian crystal chandelier gracing the Marble Hall is a copy. Where is the original?
  • How much of the cost of a .75 liter bottle of sparkling wine makes up part of a special tax levied on it?
  • Which three varieties of grape are traditionally used in the production of Champagne?
  • Which special process allows removal of the yeast used to produce fermentation from the bottle?
  • Which market segment was the smaller “piccolo” bottle aiming for?
  • How many bottles of sparkling wine can be produced during a single 9-hour shift?

Organize a tour of your own

At noon on Saturdays, individuals are welcome to take part in a 1.5 hour through Henkell’s premises. This tour open to all comers is conducted exclusively in German and can be booked online. The 13 euro cost of the tour was subject to a service fee, meaning I paid 14.56 euros in total for my tour. My excellent guide happened to speak perfect English and readily clarified a pair of points I’d missed on the tour.

Groups of five or more persons have the chance to book a tour of their own. Individuals are also welcome to join a group tour that’s already been scheduled. The Wiesbaden Tourist Office, located right downtown at Marktplatz 1, can also help with arrangements.

For more, visit https://www.henkell-freixenet.com/en/guided-tours-events/guided-tours.html

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