Americans may think beer is the national drink of Germany. However, when with German friends, some Americans may find that “Sekt,” or sparkling wine, is considered the all-purpose drink to toast special occasions or simply the good times.
In 2010, some 440 million bottles of sparkling wine were sold in Germany, according to Eberhard Kaiser, spokesman for Kessler, Germany’s oldest Sekt producer.
“The average German drinks 3.8 liters of sparkling wine per year, and most of it is consumed in the fourth quarter,” Kaiser said. During the holiday season, Sekt consumption is in full swing. According to Kaiser, Sekt is not only used to toast to Christmas and the new year, but it also makes a favored present for family and friends.
Americans stationed in the greater Stuttgart area can find out more about the sparkling liquid at the Kessler “Sektmanufaktur,” or factory. Here, patrons can tour the historic Kessler Building, which dates back to 1213, and sample and buy sparkling wines.
The history of Kessler Sekt began in 1826 with its founder, Georg Christian von Kessler. Kessler was born in Heilbronn and later immigrated to France, where he became partner of the world famous Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin champagne factory in Reims. After 20 years, he returned to Germany and founded its first Sekt factory in 1826, in Esslingen.
Since 1832, the Kessler factory has been located in the 800-year-old “Speyrer Pfleghof,” a trade and administrative center of the Speyer Catholic chapter that owned monasteries and vineyards in Esslingen.
“To this day, this is the birthplace of every bottle of Kessler Sekt,” said Kaiser. “The production, as well as the labeling and packing of the bottles, happens here.”
The Kessler factory uses the traditional method of bottle fermentation for Sekt production.
The first step is a four-month-long fermentation of the grape juice, where the natural sugar of the grapes is converted into alcohol and the juice turns into light base wines. After that, the blend, known as the “cuvee,” is assembled using varietal wines (wines from various vineyards).
This primary fermentation is followed by blending, then bottling, during which a second alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This fermentation is induced by adding yeast and sugar, or the “tirage.” The tirage is followed by capping the bottle with a crown cap. Two to three months into the second fermentation, the yeast transforms the sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol. After storing the bottles for a minimum of nine months, or for years, lees, or sediment, must be consolidated for removal.
The bottles undergo a process known as riddling, or “remuage.” The bottles are placed on special riddle racks that hold them with the crown cap pointed down. Every day, the bottles are manually riddled so that the sediment settles in the neck of each bottle. In the “disgorging” process, the neck of the bottle is frozen, the cap is removed, and the plug of ice containing the lees is removed.
The bottle is then topped with a mixture of base wines and sugar, a practice known as “dosage,” before labeling and corking the individual Sekt bottle. Kessler produces four main Sekt brands: “Hochgewächs,” “Jägergrün,” “Rose” and “Cabinet,” which is Germany’s oldest Sekt brand.
Besides the classic brands, Kessler also makes three separate sparkling wine creations each year, which vary in taste. However, as for the four traditional brands, Kessler aims to always preserve the original taste, according to Kaiser.
After all, many stories relate to these famous sparkling wines.
The “Rose” Sekt, for example, was the favorite drink of Queen Olga of Württemberg. King Wilhelm II of Württemberg enjoyed “Jägergrün” and, in 1956, the “Hochgewächs” became the official drink of Konrad Adenauer, the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. Kessler Sekt was served during several of his State receptions; even former president George H.W. Bush had a sip of the sparkling wine.
“In Germany, Sekt is always related to a special occasion and mainly defined by festiveness and sociability,” said Kasier. “… Sekt lifts the spirit and therefore makes the perfect drink to toast to Christmas and a happy New Year.”
The Kessler Sekt factory is located at Marktplatz 21-23, 73728 Esslingen. Visitors can tour some of the historic representational rooms of the factory and enjoy a glass of Sekt Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (during the advent season from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) Kessler Sekt can also be purchased at the Kessler Karree, next to the Kessler factory. The Karree is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For English guided tours, call civ. 0711-3105-9310 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.kessler-sekt.de.