In a small village in Rhineland Palatinate, amidst traditional German wineries, I discovered a unique place that manufactures something extraordinary with grapes - but it's not what you think. The organic Doktorenhof in Venningen produces and sells everything wonderful you can create with vinegar: Vinegar pralines, coffee, chutney, jam, mustard, and most of all, vinegar aperitif and digestive. The showroom of the wine-vinegar estate, where you can buy all these specialties, is decorated with modern art, which is, of course, made with vinegar based oil and color paint.
Grapes, Wine, Vinegar
I meet the head and heart behind the family-run wine vinegar estate, Georg Heinrich Wiedemann, who invites me into the inner sanctuary of his place: The vinegar cellar. For sanitary as well as dramatic reasons, we don brown capes, complete with hoods and reminiscent of the middle Ages, and descend into the candle-lit cellar. Heavy oak barrels fill the room from floor to ceiling, resting here for a couple of years while grapes from the surrounding vineyards turn into wine turn into vinegar. A delightfully sour smell of vinegar fills the air, and Wiedemann shows me a bottle of century-old vinegar bacteria, which are added to traditional grape varieties such as Spätburgunder, Weißburgunder, and Gewürztraminer.
Up the stairs we go, and Wiedemann leads me through the rooms where every bottle is filled, corked, labeled, and packaged by hand. Under the roof is his Apotheke. Up here, hundreds of exotic herbs, flowers, and spices are stored, weighed by hand and then added to the vinegar: saffron, ginger, cardamom, orange blossoms, lime, wild hop, lavender. To create his intoxicating mixtures, Wiedemann uses hundred-year old recipes, which he discovers in books or museums on his travels around the world (he just returned from Egypt and Morocco).
Angels Kiss the Night
The best way to enjoy Wiedemann’s vinegar creations is by drinking them, sip by sip, before your dinner. Served in high-stemmed glassware, which are especially created by a glass blower for the Doktorenhof, the vinegar aperitif opens and cleanses the palate. The sourness soon gives way to the mixed in fruits and herbs; one of Wiedemann’s most popular creations is fig vinegar, made with fruits that grow in the mild climate of Rhineland Palatinate. Another hit is the vinegar with the poetic name Engel kuessen die Nacht ("angels kiss the night"), which tastes of cherries, apricots, and vanilla.
Before I head back on the road, I duck into the vinegar inhalation pavilion, which is set in the courtyard of the overgrown estate; the small glassy pavilion is filled with scents of vinegar, mint leaves, sage, and thyme, all of which help you breathe easy and clear your head.
If You Go:
For a guided tour and vinegar tasting at the wine vinegar estate Doktorenhof, make an appointment via phone or email. Group tours available as well.
Opening Hours of the Showroom and gift shop:
Monday – Friday 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Wednesday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Wine Vinegar Estate Doktorenhof
Raiffeisenstr.5 . 67482 Venningen
On the Web:
Take Autobahn A65 Karlsruhe in direction Ludwigshafen/Mannheim; between Landau and Neustadt, take exit Edenkoben/Venningen and drive into the direction of Venningen. Coming into Venningen, cross the roundabout traffic, take 2nd exit and then take next possible road on the right.