In almost all of the 136 municipalities in Rheinhessen (only three of those do not have any viticulture at all), vines are cultivated on 414 sites. The different sites will especially be more important in the future, as the new German wine law gives more significance to origin. The largest winegrowing "municipality" in Rheinhessen is Worms with 1,605 hectares of vineyards. But even the two other municipalities in the top 3, Westhofen and Nierstein, with 800 hectares each, are still far larger than the German wine-growing regions of Ahr, Hessische Bergstrasse or Mittelrhein.
The vineyards of Rheinhessen are currently cultivated by just under 2,400 winegrowing businesses, however, only about half of these actually appear on the market as self-marketing wineries. The remaining growers deliver their grapes to cooperatives and producer associations or sell it to wineries. The number of wineries has decreased by roughly 50% in the past 20 years. Especially smaller sideline businesses and after-work farms are giving up and the land is being taken over by larger winegrowing enterprises. In the process of structural change, the simple family farm is slowly turning into an employer. In the viticulture schools, there are also more and more career changers with a high interest in the subject and who enjoy manual work in nature and in the cellar.
The climate data in the Rhein, which is embracing Rheinhessen in a turn developed extremely positive for viticulture over the past 20 years. The average annual temperature of 10.5 degrees Celsius has risen by more than 1 degree and milder winters cause less winter frost damage to the vines. The warming also enables the cultivation of international grape varieties, which never would have been planted by the older generation of vintners, as they never would have properly ripened. Precipitation in Germany's least rainy region, on the other hand, has hardly changed at 530 litres per square metre per year, but varies gravely from region to region and season to season. And it is precisely these weather extremes that are becoming a problem of climate change on the medium term: sharp and heavy rain or hailstorms alternate from year to year with frost damage during bud break or extreme drought, causing winegrowers to look at the increasingly blue sky over Rheinhessen with almost 2,000 hours of sunshine anxiously.
These weather caprices also cause the yields in the vineyards to vary greatly. Over the past decade, yield fluctuated between 7,600 and 11,200 litres per hectare of vineyard. The winegrowers are well advised to always keep a small stock in the cellar taken from large vintages, in order to compensate for smaller harvests. In 2020, 28,200 different wines with the origin "Rheinhessen" on the label were marketed, more than two thirds of which were white wines, just under a quarter red wines and a tenth rosé wines, which are currently very popular among wine lovers. Almost half of the wines are produced dry, the rest is semi-dry and sweeter. With less than one percent, noble sweet selections and higher predicates hardly play a role anymore. We are particularly pleased about the current increase of almost 7% in the sales volume of Rheinhessen wines in the annual comparison 2019/2020.
Despite Rheinhessen having the world's largest Silvaner area with 2,100 hectares, Riesling is the most cultivated variety in the vineyards with almost 5,000 hectares. The "bread and butter" variety Müller-Thurgau follows in second place with 4,000 hectares, before Dornfelder (3,346 hectares), the third most grown variety in Rheinhessen. A cash cow for winemakers at the moment is Pinot Gris (or Grauburgunder, as it is called here), which is not yet in the top 3 in terms of cultivation, but is extremely popular among wine consumers. Following the Pinot family, there is a very colourful portfolio of different grape varieties growing on the region's 1,000 hills. But that is also what makes Rheinhessen unique.