The World’s Oldest Wine Barrel

The world’s oldest giant wine barrel has been refilled for the first time in its 400-year history and will be filling glasses with red wine at a festival on 31st July and 1st August in the town of Halberstadt in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt.

The oak barrel measures 5 metres in diameter and holds about 144,000 litres of wine. Even empty, it weighs about 63 tonnes. Guiness World Records calls it the oldest giant wine cask in the world.


The giant wine barrel took two years to build and was finished in 1594. Originally, the barrel may have been composed of 93 oak staves, today it is has 92 – possibly losing one through having been cracked.

It was built in the nearby town of Gröningen and was filled with wine for the royal visit of the Danish King Christian IV whose sister, Princess Elisabeth of Denmark, was married to the Duke of Brunswick, Heinrich Julius, administrator of the diocese of Halberstad.

It took them 12 years to drink the cask dry, after which it fell into neglect. The castle at Gröningen was abandoned in 1606 and the giant wine barrel was left forgotten. However in 1781 the Halberstadt Lord Ludwig von Spiegel discovered the barrel and in a letter to Fredrick the Great, asked if he might shift the barrel to his hunting lodge in Halberstadt – which was granted

. It was placed into a specially built cellar in the nobleman’s hunting lodge.

On 31st July local restaurateur Chris Schöne will crack the seal and serve red wine to a massive gathering including the Danish ambassador and a descendant of Lord Ludwig von Spiegel, who rescued the cask from decay in the 18th century.

This time, however, it won’t be filled to bursting as it will only be topped up with 4,000 litres of Dornfelder red wine from the Rhineland-Palatinate.

The Rhineland-Palatinate is Germany’s leading producer of wine and its capital, Mainz, can be called the capital of the German wine industry. Of thirteen wine regions producing quality wine in Germany, six Rheinhessen, Pfalz, Mosel, Nahe, Mittelrhein and Ahr) are located in Rhineland-Palatinate, with 65% to 70% of the production of wine grapes in Germany having their origin within this federal state.

Situated in western Germany, Rhineland-Palatinate borders (from the north and clockwise) North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg,

France, Saarland, Luxembourg and Belgium. The largest river in the state is the Rhine, which forms the border with Baden-Württemberg and Hesse in the south east before flowing through the northern part of Rhineland-Palatinate.

Dornfelder is a relatively new grape having been created by created by August Herold (1902-1973) at the grape breeding institute in Weinsberg in the

Württemberg region in 1955. It’s a dark-skinned variety of grape and produces wines which are velvety and slightly floral with flavours of plums, blackberries or cherries. Sometimes the wines have a hint of sweetness. Dornfelder has become quite popular in Germany and is the second most grown red wine grape variety.

Some Dornfelder is also grown successfully in many northern European regions, such as here in the UK, where it was introduced in the 1980s.

Historically, the red wines of Germany were mostly pale and light-bodied (similar to those of France at this point in time) but new breeds of dark-skinned grapes led by Dornfelder have allowed the production of more internationally-styled reds

. This means that the giant wine barrel won’t be filled with wine similar to that with which it was brimming with back in 1594 but with a wine that potentially represents a red wine renaissance in Germany. I think this is rather a nice touch!

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