The start of fall signifies not only the changing of the leaves, but also the beginning of one of America’s favorite adopted drinking holidays, Oktoberfest. Bars change over tap lines, towns plan outdoor festivals and people prepare to drink stein after stein of beer and only beer. But just like other foreign drinking holidays that we Americans use as excuses for getting completely toasted – see Cinco De Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day and Carnaval to name a few – Oktoberfest isn’t just about drinking a ton of beer. In fact, beer was never meant to be the only liquid star of the show. By only drinking beer and telling others that’s all they can drink, we’re doing Oktoberfest a disservice. Let us explain.
Oktoberfest was founded in 1810 in the city of Munich to celebrate the wedding between King Ludwig I and Princess Therese. For the celebration, the city erected tents in the fields in front of the city gates and held feasts in the couple’s honor. To close the festivities, horse races were held, and these races were so popular that the city decided to conduct them every year. Upon the next year, when the horse races were to be planned, naturally the citizens began to demand all of the other merriment that went along with those races from the previous year, and thus began the tradition of Oktoberfest.
As the festival evolved, Oktoberfest became a true celebration of Bavarian culture, and with beer being an important part of Bavarian culture, it became one of Oktoberfest’s clearest icons. It didn’t hurt either that a rule was enacted by the host committee proclaiming that the only beer that could be served at the festival was beer that was created specifically for Oktoberfest and brewed inside the city of Munich. However, all this time, wine was also an important component of the festival, yet outside of Munich, we’ve mostly forgotten about it.
Tents have always been a central part of the festival; they’re where all the attendees congregate to listen to music, dance, and of course get a drink. Fourteen large tents serve as the central focus at the fairgrounds; each operates on a separate theme with a specific brewery loyalty, only serving the beer that brewery makes and none other. But one tent doesn’t serve beer at all, they serve wine.
Kuffler’s Weinzelt, as the tent is known, can trace its history all the way back to the creation of the festival, though this particular wine tent has only been around since 1984. Honoring the history of wine at the festival, wine is all this tent serves – well, technically they also serve wheat beer until 9PM every day, but cut them a break, this is Germany after all. They focus primarily on the wines of Bavaria, since this is a festival honoring Bavarian culture, but they have also been known to pour Champagne, because Champagne is delicious.
So don’t let anyone tell you that you have no business ordering wine at an Oktoberfest gathering because Oktoberfest is a beer festival. If you find yourself at an American interpretation of this festival in the next few weeks and you want a glass of wine, then by all means, go ahead and order a wine. If anyone gives you lip, just ask them if they know what the Weinzelt is, after all, this is a cultural festival, so they should be familiar with Bavarian culture…that should let you sip your wine in peace. If they still keep jabbering, order them a glass of Champagne. No one turns that stuff down.