The northerly location of most of the German wine-growing areas has the result that most vines are grown on the steep slopes of narrow river valleys to ensure that the vines get as much light and heat as possible when the sun is low in the sky, and also to make use of the heat storage potential of the water surface. In the opinion of many experts, the long vegetation cycle of the vines caused by the low average temperatures ensures that in particular Riesling, the top grape variety, can absorb sufficient nutrients from the soil, thus achieving a very harmonious ripeness. Where soils are concerned, Germany has a virtually unlimited bandwidth of different formations, from the clay slate of the Mosel and Mittelrhein regions through the basalt formations of the Ahr, sand, loess and gravel/shingle in the Rheingau, red slate formations, loess and chalky marl in Rheinhessen, the shell limestone of Franconia to the gigantic loess formations of the Kaiserstuhl hills in Baden giving each wine a distinct character.
The most important grape varieties
Although almost 140 different grape varieties are grown in Germany, only around two dozen of them have any great market significance, above all Riesling being the Queen among the white varieties. A fifth of the total German area under vines is planted with Riesling. Pinot Noir and Dornfelder are the most important red wine grape varieties. Wine production in Germany is divided into 63 % white and 37 % red. Consequently, there are virtually exclusive white wine regions, such as the Mosel, while there is a considerable red wine tradition in the Ahr region and the southern regions of Württemberg and Baden.