Just below Castle Hornberg, the most famous castle on the river Neckar, the flourishing vines belonging to the vineyard of the same name advance in serried ranks up the hillside. The Burg Hornberg vineyard goes back at least 1500 years. It is mentioned in a document dating from 1184 which bears the seal of Kunrad (von Hohenstaufen) Pfalzgraf bei Rhein, but archaeological remains discovered on the Hornberg site suggest that it was the Romans who first introduced wine-growing along the Neckar.
Legend has it that Dagobert, the celebrated Frankish King, resided on the Hornberg in the 6th century with his saintly daughter, Notburga. Since then, generations of noblemen have held sway here, cultivating the vine. Not least among them was the illustrious Götz von Berlichingen, the "Knight of the Iron Fist", renowned for his earthy mode of expression. The excellence of his wines was such that they even adorned the table of the Emperor in Vienna.
As early as the beginning of the medieval period, a nine kilometre wall of natural stone circling the vineyard contrived to ensure a uniform temperature within, the walls conserving the heat of the sun during the day and radiating it after sunset. The river Neckar, which flows at the foot of the vineyard, also contributes to the mildness and evenness of the climate. The steep terraces face south-west allowing the vines maximum exposure to sunlight. This disposition, with the assistance of the constant breezes filtering through the Neckar valley, ensures optimum ventilation. The Burg Hornberg vines grow exclusively in shell-limestone soil: an environmental plus, as hardly any fertilizer is necessary to produce each successive flavoursome vintage.
Picked by hand in the centuries-old tradition, the Burg Hornberg grapes are harvested and taken directly to the cellars of neighbouring 500 year old Neckarzimmern castle for processing. To produce the reds, fermentation is allowed to take place in the traditional manner in mash-tubs, while for the whites, grapes are pressed straight away and the nascent wine stored in carefully tended wooden vats.
But a good vineyard alone is not sufficient to guarantee a good wine. Great creativity and expertise as well as a fair helping of intuition on the part of the cellar master are required to coax delectable wines from the Hornberg grapes, and the castle's barrel-vaulted cellar - 40 metres long and six in height - provides the ideal environment in which to do this.
The Burg Hornberg estate and the Stockbronner Hof have been in the family of the present owner, Baron Dajo von Gemmingen-Hornberg, for 12 generations. Himself a qualified oenologist, Baron Dajo is responsible for having introduced the Barriqueausbau and he has applied the champagne method to his wines, an innovation which has earned him praise from the experts.
Pursuing this innovatory bent, the Baron plans to open a wine cellar in the old Neckarzimmern castle, where visitors will be able to sample his produce, and a new distillery is yet another development aimed at "raising the spirits" of those who are not averse to indulging in a good quality dram of something stronger. Wine-lovers are invited to book in for one of our tastings which are combined with a guided tour of the cellars.
To your health !!