...at Kessler's, makers of sparkling wine since 1826, is where we went last Saturday.
"We" means my parents, my sister and three of our friends. This was our birthday present for our mum back in August, it just took us a while to find a date and time where all of us could make it and there was room for seven people at one of the guided tours they offer.
We went there by train; Esslingen is a medieval town on the river Neckar, a lot older than Ludwigsburg (which was only founded in 1704). There are many beautifully restored buildings around; these alone would make for a great day out, looking at them and taking pictures. But that was not what we were here for.
Instead, this building, the foundations of which are from the early 1200s, was where we were headed: seat of Kessler, Germany's oldest manufacturers of sparkling wine.
A close-up of the entrance. You know I have a thing for doors and doorways.
Inside, we were greeted by an elegant elderly lady who was to be our guide. She took our group of about 20 through the production (not working on a Saturday; otherwise, a tour would not be possible), explaining not only how sparkling wine is made here, but also talking about the history of Kessler. Sadly, the family were unable to keep the company going and had to declare bankruptcy in 2004. Since then, the manufactury is not owned by family members any longer, but the way the sparkling wine is made here has not changed; they still use the traditional methods and the expertise of more than 180 years of making fine sparkling wines.
During the 1950s, at all banquets held by the German government, Kessler's sparkling wine was served; that was their heyday, and somehow they missed the change of times after that, resting on their laurels, so to speak. But they have been back in full swing since 2005, and are a healthy company again.
After leading us through the production and explaining about how the yeast is taken out of the bottles, how much sugar is added to the various products, how the cork is put in and so on, we arrived at the steps leading down into the deep stone cellars.
They had made it quite atmospherical by using only candles down there, no electric light.
Here is where the sparkling wine is left to "ripen" in the bottles, they are turned by a few degrees every few days for about three weeks before the yeast is taken out.
A long time ago, people were told by their doctors to drink champagne for medical purposes, and in fact apothecaries sold it under the label of medicinal champagne, as this old shop sign shows.
Also down in the cellar was this plaque on the wall, commemorating two royal visits by the then King and Queen of Württemberg; Karl and Olga in 1865, and Wilhelm and Charlotte in 1893. It meant a lot back then to any manufacturer to be endorsed by the royal court as one of their suppliers.
One of the things we learnt was that, in Germany, we have not been allowed to call our sparkling wines champagne anymore since 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed. I didn't know that; I always thought this had come along much later, with some EU regulation or other. Nowadays, here in Europe, only the sparkling wine made from grapes growing in a very limited area in France, the Champagne, and produced in that same area, is allowed to carry the name "champagne". All other sparkling wines in France have to be called vin crémant. In the U.S., you are allowed to call any sparkling wine champagne, because you are not under the same treaty as we are.
After the tour, we were given three different sparkling wines to taste - but not only a few drops in a tiny glass, it was a proper glass, well filled. Our tour guide explained about each specific product before we drank, then talked some more before she gave us the next one to try, so all in all we were there for about another hour.
We walked across the Christmas market afterwards, had something to eat there and later coffee (we all needed that after three glasses of sparkling wine in the middle of the afternoon!) before we took the train back home.It was a lovely time out with friends and family, and I think it made for a great present to our mum.