Bernkastel, in Germany's Mosel wine region, is a town of great importance to the wine world. It produces some of the very finest Riesling wines available, from vineyards which climb the steep, slate-rich slopes above the small town.
Bernkastel is located right on the banks of the Mosel river, between Graach (to the north) and Piesport (to the west). This is the very heart of the Mittelmosel ("middle Mosel"), and is arguably Germany's top winegrowing location. The Mosel river forms a hairpin bend here, inside which lies a finger of land dominated by steep, towering, vineyard-lined slopes.
Because the Bernkastel name is so internationally famous, the Grosse Lage name Badstube is still in use. This term refers to a large collective of vineyards from around the Bereich of Bernkastel that are not necessarily closely related to (or even located near) the town of Bernkastel.
The village's Lay and Doktor vineyards have been classified by the VDP (Verbands Deutscher Pradikats und Qualitatsweingüter) as Erste Lage. Both are superb sites, producing extremely fine Riesling.
As its name suggests, Bernkasteler Lay (slate) is composed predominantly of blue shale and slate that is heavier and deeper than that found in either Graach or Wehlen, the two villages immediately to the north. Some of the greatest wine producers in the Mosel source fruit from this 20-acre (8ha) vineyard, which faces west to southwest, and has an incredibly steep gradient of 50 percent. Well-made Bernkastler Lay wines are assertive and wonderfully textured.
"Bernkasteler Doktor" is one of the most famous vineyard names in the world. Stories abound as to the origin of its name. The most widely accepted – or at least the most widely told – is that it came about after the 14th-Century prince-bishop Boemund II of Trier drank two bottles of wine from the vineyard and was cured of a terminal illness overnight.
The Doktor is a small (3.25 acre / 1.8ha) plot – south-facing, and with an extremely steep slope of between 45 and 60 percent. The soil is dark, weathered slate. The vineyard changed hands in 1900 at a then-staggering price of 100 gold marks per vine, and since then it has been said to be the most expensive vineyard in Germany. Wines from the Doktor are both delightfully delicate and expressively spicy.
Outside the context of wine it is often referred to as Bernkastel-Kues, which has been its official title since the town of Bernkastel and the village of Kues (on the opposite side of the Mosel river) amalgamated in 1905.