Germany’s highest wine-growing region

The Olgaberg am Hohentwiel is switching to organic farming

by Holger Hagenlocher
published on August 1, 2021 21:15 UTC +12

Ecological viticulture on the terraced vineyards in the Olgaberg vineyard on Hohentwiel Singen, the highest wine-growing region in Germany. © Holger Hagenlocher

above: Ecological viticulture on the terraced vineyards in the Olgaberg vineyard on Hohentwiel Singen, the highest wine-growing region in Germany. (photo © Holger Hagenlocher)

No wine grows higher. At 562 meters above sea level, the Hohentwiel is the highest wine-growing region in Germany. And soon there will only be organic wine on the Hohentwiel. Because with the Olgaberg, the second winery on the Hohentwiel will also be converted to organic viticulture.

There are two wineries on the south side of the Hohentwiel. The Elisabethenberg of the Vollmayer winery in the southwest (viticulture up to 562 meters above sea level) and the Olgaberg of the Meersburg state winery in the southeast (viticulture up to 530 meters above sea level).

The height gives the wines their unique characteristics. Because of the drop in temperature at night and that of the warmth that arises when the sun heats the volcanic soil during the day, significant temperature differences arise, which give the wines a distinctive structure and a special aroma.

High potassium content makes vines more resistant to frost
The high mineral content of the volcanic rock also shapes the structure of all grape varieties growing here. “You can actually taste the volcanic soil,” says Jürgen Dietrich, winery director of the Meersburg State Winery. “The volcanic soil, which can be heated easily, is found in the taste intensity and aroma of the wines,” says Dietrich. In addition to the mineral taste, according to Dietrich, the high potassium content of the volcanic soils results in other advantages. The vines are more resistant to winter frost and the wines are more storable.

After the Vollmayer winery was certified as organic viticulture after a three-year conversion, the Meersburg state winery with the Olgaberg has now also set out to convert its operation to organic viticulture. The starting signal for the three-year conversion phase was January 1, 2018.

The Hohentwiel has been a nature reserve since 1941
Organic viticulture on the Hohentwiel makes sense. Because the vineyards are embedded in the nature reserve established in 1941 with an area of 108 hectares. The Hontes, as the people of Singen call their local mountain, offers exceptional living conditions for plants and animals with its natural landscape, which is worthy of protection. Plants are found here that are usually found in the Alps, on the Mediterranean Sea or in the Southeast European steppes. Numerous endangered animal species have also found a home on the Hohentwiel, such as rare species of bees and locusts, the peregrine falcon and other threatened birds.

From natural viticulture to organic viticulture

Organic viticulture at Olgaberg am Hohentwiel Singen. © Holger Hagenlocher

above: Organic viticulture at Olgaberg am Hohentwiel Singen. (photo © Holger Hagenlocher)

“We have already focused on natural viticulture on the Hohentwiel in the past”, explains Dietrich, who has been in charge of the state winery for over 17 years. “When cautious changes were made to the terracing of the vineyards with the land consolidation at the beginning of 2000, we took into account that the vineyards offer protected habitat for the rare and endangered animal and plant species. The work was accompanied [carried out – ed.] scientifically and ecologically. In the meantime it has been shown that the endangered species have accepted the new terraces well. “

The small terraces were created so that they can be better managed. They also optimize solar radiation.

“Organic viticulture goes beyond that. Among other things, it means that we refrain from using herbicides and fungicides”, explains Thomas Hagenbucher, who, as operations manager, is responsible for the practical implementation of the measures on the Olgaberg.

Fungicides and herbicides are ‘pesticides’, that is, they use chemical substances to destroy those plants and living things that are considered harmful to the success of the harvest.

Hagenbucher lists three points, or factors, that are important for organic viticulture. The first point concerns fertilization. Herbicides are not used here and only organic fertilizers are used. The second point is crop protection. Instead of fungicides, traditional agents such as sulfur or copper are used to control powdery mildew. The third point is the cultivation of the soil, which differs from conventional methods, says Hagenbucher. All of this encourages insects, among other things, to migrate into the vineyard.

Terraces as a challenge in organic viticulture

Organic viticulture as a special challenge for terrace locations. Slopes could slide off. © Holger Hagenlocher

above: Organic viticulture as a special challenge for terrace locations. Slopes could slide off. (photo © Holger Hagenlocher)

However, especially when growing on terraces, organic viticulture is a challenge, as slopes can slide off if the soil is worked too intensively.

Nevertheless, good ventilation must be ensured so that there are no fungal infections. Two fungal diseases in particular are deadly for the vines: ‘powdery mildew’, against which sulfur is used in the organic farming, and ‘downy mildew,’ now being combated by copper. Both fungal diseases were introduced to Europe from America – where they have no natural enemies. There are also no grape varieties that are resistant to these fungi.

Conflicting goals: more use of machines in organic viticulture means higher CO2 emissions

Jürgen Dietrich, winery director Staatsweingut Meersburg, and Thomas Hagenbucher, operations manager at the Olgaberg wine-growing region on Hohentwiel. © Holger Hagenlocher

above: Jürgen Dietrich, winery director Staatsweingut Meersburg, and Thomas Hagenbucher, operations manager at the Olgaberg wine-growing region on Hohentwiel. (photo © Holger Hagenlocher)

Overall, organic viticulture means a significantly higher amount of work, which is also reflected in a higher level of CO2 pollution from the use of machines, said Dietrich. A classic conflict of goals. Also, due to the planting of grape varieties which have not existed on the Hohentwiel previously, there will need to be some experimentation. In the hollow at the foot of the Olgabergs, because of the higher humidity there, Souvignier gris, a white wine variety that was newly bred in 1983 and more resistant to fungi, is grown in order to meet the relevant conditions. The conversion of the planting is a smooth transition, keeping in mind always a need to take into account the necessity of getting the right mix of the old and new locations. “Vines are usually up to 30 years old, although it takes three years after planting before they produce yield for the first time,” adds operations manager Hagenbucher.

The Meersburg State Winery
In the course of the secularization by Napoleon in 1802-03, the prince-bishop’s winery in Meersburg fell to the young Grand Duchy of Baden and became the first wine-growing domain in Germany as the “Grand Ducal Baden Domain Winery”. It was not renamed ‘State Winery’ until after the Second World War. Today the company belongs to the state of Baden-Württemberg and is subordinate to the Ministry of Finance as a state enterprise. The state winery Meersburg owns locations in Meersburg, Gailingen on the High Rhine, and on Hohentwiel (“Olgaberg”) with a total of around 63 hectares of vineyards, 6.5 hectares of which are in Singen.

The Meersburg State Winery was the first winery in Baden to be certified with the FairChoice® sustainability seal in July 2012. Since 2016 it has been the first climate-neutral winery in Baden-Württemberg.

Where the Olgaberg got its name from
The fortress on the summit of Hohentwiel and the vineyards from which the wine for the fortress’ occupation came belonged to the Duchy, and later Kingdom of Württemberg. The Olgaberg owes its name to the Württemberg Queen Olga, wife of the Württemberg King Charles I and daughter of the Russian Tsar Nicholas I and his wife Charlotte of Prussia. Olga was particularly involved in the social field; her rich private fortune gave her the means to do this. Her charitable commitment still shapes her memory today. Her name stands for numerous charitable foundations, such as the Olga Hospital (“Olgäle”) or the Karl Olga Hospital in Stuttgart. Due to its great popularity, not only numerous charitable and public institutions, but also a strait in the Spitzbergen archipelago (“Olgastraße”) and the vineyard at Hohentwiel (“Olgaberg”) were named after her.

Text, recherche: Holger Hagenlocher

Olga, Queen of Württemberg. Source: Wikimedia, Public Domain / Common License
Queen Olga of Württemberg. Source: Wikimedia, Public Domain / Common License

Holger Hagenlocher works as a freelance journalist and blogger in Germany for daily newspapers, magazines and corporate publications ( In addition, the graduate economist advises companies, institutions and associations in the areas of communication and public relations (

published on August 1, 2021 21:15 UTC +12

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