Thanks to Europe’s favourable climate and the importance of this drink in religion, wineries cropped up all over the continent throughout its history. It is no wonder then that some of the oldest ones in the world are still operational and most of them are in Europe.
We take a look at 10 of the oldest wineries and vineyards in the world, along with their interesting histories and the variety of wines you can expect to drink if you happen to visit.
Staffelter Hof, Germany
Located in the small town of Kröv in the Mosel Valley of Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate state, Staffelter Hof is the world’s oldest operating winery. It traces its lineage to the Benedictine abbey of Stavelot monastery established more than 1150 years ago. In 1805, the ownership changed hands from the government to a vineyard manager named Peter Schneiders. The winery has since remained in the hands of Scheiders’ descendants, who, over the years, gave the label its cult-like status.
Specialists in making Riesling — a sweet white wine from the Rhine Valley, Staffelter Hof is renowned for its natural wines. The brand took the organic way in 2010 under current winemaker Jan Klein. Examples of its natural wine include the Muscat blend, in which the juice sits on grape skins for days followed by a long process involving malolactic fermentation, blending and ageing in old foudres. Wines are unfiltered and free of sulfites, and the range includes varieties such as red, cloudy, rose, textured, dry and sparkling among others.
Château de Goulaine, France
France’s oldest operating winery is housed in a castle that traces its history to the Middle Ages before the 12th century. Starting from Jean de Goulaine, the first of the Goulaine line of marquesses, the château built with Tuffeau stone has been in control of the family barring a brief period of 69 years from 1788 to 1857. Located near Nantes, it is Loire Valley’s first castle and got its existing Italian renaissance architectural appearance in the 15th century when the then inheritor decided to give it a facelift.
Producing wines for close to a thousand years, it is today the creator of Château de Goulain Sur Lie — a ripe and creamy fruity white Muscadet wine produced in the region known as Muscadet Sèvre et Maine. The château also produces Vouvray and Sancerre wines among a range of others.
Near the château are vineyards, fields and wooded areas, which add to its significance as an icon in the wine production business.
Schloss Johannisberg, Germany
A notable aspect of Schloss Johannisberg is that it became the world’s first closed Riesling vineyard when the entire domain was planted with a Riesling variety of grapes in 1720. The estate also claims to have created the Spätlese — a German term for late harvest wine that is produced from fully ripe grapes — in 1775. In 1858, the winery produced its first Eiswein — a dessert wine produced from grapes frozen while they are still on the vine.
The palace has an extremely interesting history. It was originally a Benedictine monastery established in 1100 and was christened “Johannisberg”, meaning St. John’s Hill, thirty years later. The abbey cellar, in which the wines are stored to date, is from this period. But the vineyards around the palace were first mentioned in 817 when Emperor Ludwig the Pious (also known as Louis the Pious) acquired them from Fulda Abbey. In the early 18th century, the ruined monastery was converted into a palace. After changing many hands, it was given to Prince Klemens von Metternich by Emperor Francis I of Austria (also known as Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor) in 1816. The palace was bombed during World War II in 1942 and was rebuilt by then-owner Paul Alfons Fürst von Metternich, whose widow, Princess Tatiana, resided at the Schloss Johannisberg until she died in 2006.
The estate today has 20 hectares of vineyards, covering a hilly inclination. Wines produced here are of dry and off-dry to noble sweet types. The wines are colour-coded (using foils around the cap) according to the level of quality, such as Violettlack (violet) for Eiswein, Grünlack (green) for Spätlese and Gelblack (gold) for the highest quality of Schloss Johannisberg’s Riesling wine. The wines produced here are stored in wooden barrels made from oak trees grown in the vineyard’s own forest.
Barone Ricasoli, Italy
Located in the picturesque Gaiole in Chianti, a commune in the Chianti Classico area of the Tuscany region, the winery is Italy’s oldest, operationally. Wine-making has been intertwined with the history of the Brolio Castle, which houses the winery, since 1141, when Barone Ricasoli established his eponymous label. By the late 17th century, the wines were exported to England and Amsterdam and by the beginning of the 20th to markets around the world including Guatemala, South Africa, Costa Rica, China and Saudi Arabia.
One of its most famous produce is known as Chianti wine. Now known as Chianti Classico, it was created in 1872 by the illustrious Baron Bettino Ricasoli who was twice the Prime Minister of Italy. Today the Chianti Classico is produced exclusively from Sangiovese grapes and has several versions including the Brolio Bettino, a tribute to the ‘Iron Baron’ whose fermentation is done in large wooden barrels involving no filtration.
The estate, which is today in the hands of Francesco Ricasoli, the 32nd baron, is spread in an area of 1200 hectares, of which 240 are dedicated to vineyards. The cellars are located at the foot of the castle and are completely modern. Its flagship wine is known as Castello di Brolio, which is produced only when the year has been best for the vineyards. It is made from high-quality Sangiovese and Abrusco grapes grown in a specific area of the estate. Also available are Tuscan classics such as Rocca Guicciarda, made from Sangiovese, Merlot and Canaiolo types of grapes. Other wines include the sweet Vin Santo, made from Malvasia, Trebbiano and Sangiovese, and fresh and fragrant Albia, made from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Malvasia Bianca.
Schloss Vollrads, Germany
The town of Oestrich-Winkel in the German wine region of Rheingau is the base of the Schloss Vollrads winery. Like Schloss Johannisberg, the Schloss Vollrads is one of the few historic German vineyards not required by law to have the village name on their wine labels.
The history of the winery dates back to 1211 when the members of the Greiffenclau family sold wine to the St. Viktor monastery in Mainz. From the very beginning, Schloss Vollrads was the property of the noble von Greiffenclau family, generations of which continued beautifying and expanding the manor house as it looks today. It was so famous that the acclaimed German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited it in 1814.
In 1997, the death of Erwein Count Matuschka-Greiffenclau ended the family’s ties to Schloss Vollrads and ownership passed to banking group Nassauische Sparkasse two years later.
The winery exclusively cultivates Riesling, which goes into the production of all its wines including Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese. Kabinett wines, which are its signature drinks, were established at Schloss Vollrads in 1716 and were named so as they were stored in the “Cabinet” cellars. These contain little alcohol, have a strong German Riesling composition and are flavourful.
The Frescobaldi, a prominent Florentine noble family, began producing wines in the Tuscany region in the early 14th century. By the 16th century, the family’s political clout had risen to such great heights that the wines were supplied to the court of English Kings such as Henry VIII as well as the papal court in Rome. Among its other notable customers were architects and sculptors like Michelozzo, Filippo Brunelleschi and Donatello. This family, in 1855, introduced varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Nero and Chardonnay to Tuscany.
In 2012, the Frescobaldi estates received the Agriqualità certification which is given to those agrifood producers who use minimum synthetic technical inputs to help preserve the environment and human health. The brand takes several measures to reduce environmental impact. Among them is the use of photovoltaic systems for renewable energy on its estates, using lighter and environmentally friendly bottles instead of glass for packaging and ensuring sustainable management of forests in the Tuscany region through its winery estates such as Castello Nipozzano and Castello Pomino.
The wines produced are named after the estates. These include the smooth Castiglioni Chianti and the spicy Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni, both of which are made from the Sangiovese grapes at the Tenuta Castiglioni estate where Frescobaldi family’s wine production historically began.
In existence since 1335, this winery is in Eitelsbach of the Mosel region in the verdant Ruwer Valley. It started as a Carthusian monastery, given to the monks as a gift by Prince-Elector Balduin of Luxembourg. In fact, it was Carthusian order founder Saint Bruno of Cologne who placed the image of a monkey on the Karthäuserhof crest, which serves as the logo of the wine label. It has been in the possession of Valentin Leonardy, General Director of the French Army, who bought the estate from the government in 1811. All of Karthäuserhof bottles have been marked with a single neck label — a banderole — for the past 120 years.
The Devonian clayey slate soil and the microclimate greatly help in raising Riesling and Weissburgunder grape varieties on the vineyard known as Karthäuserhofberg. It covers almost 20 hectares and rises along the slopes of a hill next to the winery.
The wines produced at Karthäuserhof follow the German VDP classification for wines. Its VDP.Grosse Lage, the highest classification, includes Riesling dry Grosses Gewächs, the fruity Riesling Kabinett, the sweet Riesling Eiswein and more. The VDP.Gutsweine classification features wines that are crystal clear, subtle and spicy, with a clarion, focused fruit and a delicate minerality such as Alte Reben Riesling Trocken. This classification also has the label’s only non-Riesling wine — the aromatic Weißburgunder.
The family’s earliest record dates back to 1179 when Accarisio di Antinoro sold some land and churches around Combiate to the Monastery of San Michele a Passignano but retained some rights to the property. The same place is today Badia a Passignano, one of the most important estates of the family wine-making business.
In 1202, the family had to move to Florence after the destruction of the Combiate Castle. The label was officially established as a commercial winery in 1385 when Giovanni di Piero Antinori became a member of the Florentine Winemakers’ Guild known as Arte Fiorentina dei Vinattieri.
With each generation contributing to its numerous innovations in winemaking, the winery is today in the hands of the 26th generation of the Antinori family and is headed by Albiera Antinori, the daughter of Marchese Piero Antinori, with the support of her sisters Allegra and Alessia.
The modern winery, Antinori nel Chianti Classico, is an architectural masterpiece measuring 40,000 square metres. Built in 2012 in Bargino, the huge roof of the winery overlooks the vineyards and is visible from afar. One of its most arresting features is the massive spiral staircase made of weathering steel that rises from the basement to the roof connecting the three levels of the building. The cellars are at the lower levels, built deep into the vineyards to facilitate gravity flow vinification natural temperature for wine production and ageing.
The vineyards around the winery consist of Italian grape varieties such as Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera and Mammolo. International types, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are also grown.
The Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva is a premium wine made from Sangiovese grapes at the winery. It is named after the villa that has been owned by the family since 1546. Other notable varieties include the Pèppoli which is a Chianti Classico with its grapes coming from the vineyards at Pèppoli and the Vinsanto Tenute Marchese Antinori which is known for its soft palate and is produced from selected Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes.
The brand also has several estates in Italy and around the world, the vineyards of which contribute to the creation of some of its wines. An example is the Antica Sauvignon Blanc, which, with its guava and passionfruit elements, is made from the grapes grown in Napa Valley, located in California, US.
Can Bonastre, Spain
In the vicinity of the Montserrat mountain, the Can Bonastre evolved as an ideal winery starting in 1548. Located in Masquefa near Barcelona, the farmhouse has 50 hectares of vineyards on its 100 hectares of land. It produces different types of wines, made from grapes such as Syrah, Chardonnay, Macabeu, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Take for instance Nara Crianza; the wine is made from 75 percent Syrah and a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot — all of the grapes coming from different vineyards. When opened, the smell of chocolate and vanilla hit the nose followed by notes of pepper. Ripe tannins give it a silky mid-palate which is followed by a taste of toffee and roasted nuts.
Can Bonastre functions as a wine resort where tourists get to live in the lap of luxury while sipping on the wines produced by the label.
From vineyards near Barcelona in the Penedès region in 1551, the Raventós Codorníu group is today one of the world’s biggest names in the wine business. The fact that in 1976 King Juan Carlos I designated its 1895 winery building, designed by the modernist architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch, in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia as one of Spain’s National Artistic Historical Monuments is a testament to its significance in the country’s history.
Codorníu is particularly famous for cava, a sparkling Spanish wine created in 1872 by Josep Raventós Fatjó of the family using a traditional method with grape varietals Xarel·lo, Parellada and Macabeo. The winery’s most iconic brand is Anna de Codorníu cava, which is named after the last person to hold the Codorníu surname. She was married to Miguel Raventós in the 17th century but her surname was preserved as the name of the business due to its goodwill. Despite her noble birth, Anna worked on the field to help revive her business during a tumultuous phase and is shown wearing a scarf over her head on the labels of the wine bottle. Other excellent cavas by Codorníu include the Ars Collecta range.
The grapes for the cavas come from Codorníu’s 2,000 hectares of vineyards.
(Main and featured images: Codorníu)