German wine aficionados know all too well that this country’s red wines are very pale. In Italy German red wines pass for rose. Grape pigmentation in German vineyards is always at a premium because of the paucity of sunshine.
In 1956 August Herold of Weinsberg Institute of Wine Technology developed this hybrid (Heroldrebe x Helfensteiner) with the objective to create a dark-skinned grape variety.
Dornfelder is by all accounts a very successful hybrid for Germany, but given the name Dornfelder in honour of an 18th century finance minister of Wurttemberg who did a lot to advance vitiviniculture in this southern German sate. August Herold had created another hybrid and named it after himself.
Dornfelder is more popular in Germany, and particularly in Wurttemberg because of its highly desirable ripening and colour characteristics. The wines are dark red, fruity, tannic, and full-bodied, resembling the red wines from Cotes du Rhone rather than those from Germany. All pure Dornfelder wines are worth barrel aging. In fact, Dornfelder can be blended with lighter pigmented pale wines to render them more eye appealing.
Presently there exist 2600 hectares of Dornfelder in Wurttemberg, in Palatinate and Hessia in Germany.
The grape is resistant to rot, ripens early, and can produce up to 120 Hectolitres per hectare, although quality conscious growers prune the vines to yield 7 – 8 tonnes per hectare.
German winemakers are enthusiastically experimenting with Dornfelder to produce wines that can be ejoyted a year or so after bottling. Recent examples of blended (with Pinot Noir) Dornfelder wines were mostly attractive with dark colour, full body, and excellent fruitiness, but still too tannic. However, this can be easily corrected by blending it with soft wines.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu