Traditional and Modern Hop Growing in Germany’s Southernmost Cultivation Area  

Imagine a city counting 150 enterprises producing for the national and global market – it must be a business metropolis! But no, far from it. We are referring to Tettnang, the town above Lake Constance. Tettnang now counts almost 19,000 inhabitants. It is a trading town with many cultural assets, and many internationally successful companies from the automotive supply and electronics sector have their headquarters here, for instance ifm, wenglor sensoric, Avira and Vaude. To this day, Tettnang’s landscape is dominated by hop yards, visible from afar, hops being “the most veteran global player” in this town, to describe the Green Gold of the Montfort town in the words of Tettnang’s mayor Bruno Walter. Tettnang's fame as a hop growing centre now reaches far beyond the regional borders. The fine aroma and the subtle bitterness give the beers an unmistakable character and each sip provides a taste of the unique landscape between the northern banks of Lake Constance and Allgäu.  

The Beginnings

Compared with other German hop growing areas, hop cultivation in Tettnang is a rather recent phenomenon. It started out in a situation of great need among the local population. Agriculture in the Land of Baden Württemberg was down after several crop failures and the widespread Rinderpest, but also as a result of the Napoleonic Wars. Thus, in 1819, King Wilhelm I. (founder of the Cannstatter Volksfest) urgently recommended to start cultivating hops. In 1822, the first trials started in Hohenheim upon royal decree.  Even today, a memorial plaque         bears witness to what followed: seven citizens of Tettnang took the initiative and planted Tettnang’s first model hop yard in 1844. First and foremost was the district physician Fidelis von Lentz (“where vines will grow, hops should thrive as well”). Within one decade, between 1847 and 1855, the Lake Constance area gained access to the world market by railway, which facilitated the further development of hop cultivation. In the Kingdom of Württemberg the famous Swabian Railway connected the Lake to the City of Stuttgart. Bavaria built railway lines from Munich to Lindau and Austria built the Arlbergbahn up to Bregenz which made Eastern Europe more accessible. Apparently, this was when hop cultivation in Tettnang really took off, because seasonal workers were now able to travel to Tettnang (hand picking up until ca. 1960), and the hop cones could be delivered to clients and markets.  

Rapid Growth of Hops Cultivation Within a Few Decades

When Fidelis von Lentz first recommended cultivating hops, the area under hops in Tettnang only amounted to 3 hectares, with over 300 hectares under vines. But within one decade this rapidly expanded to 91 hectares under hops. After another ten years, in 1874, at 400 hectares, hop cultivation had long outgrown
vineyards in Tettnang. Vine cultivation continued to shrink and the hop yards further expanded to about 650 hectares in 1884.  The area under hops then leveled off at 550 – 700 ha both during the turn of the century and the First and the Second World War. During that time there was another pioneer to help hop cultivation along: Israel Friedrich Wirth on the Kaltenberg Estate (the so-called Hops Castle). Numerous techniques and devices can be traced back to his ingenuity, for instance hop drying, trellis construction, tillage devices, etc, all of which can be found in “Wirths Hopfenbuch” (Wirth’s Book on Hops, 1875). In 1875, he succeeded in making Tettnang the location for the first German Hops Exibition. He initiated quality competitions and often won gold medals for finest Tettnang aroma hops at international competitions.  

Modern Day Hops Cultivation, Growth, Trends, Concentration

After the year of 1945, with the end of state-controlled hops cultivation, Tettnang also gained an international reputation as a renowned producer of the finest aroma hops. In 1947, the hop farmers founded their first association, the Association of German Hop Growers Tettnang. 1950 – 1970 may be considered a period of mechanisation. In 1956, the four first automatic picking machines reached Tettnang. In 1959, with 1,382 hop farms, Tettnang had reached its record number of hop farmers, but with only an average of 0.57 ha area under hops per holding (a total of 785 ha). The year of 1973, with the introduction of the experimental hop farm Tettnang-Straß, was decisive for breeding and research: a rigorous clonal selection of the Tettnang variety and the worldwide very first “production” of virus-free hop rhizomes in 1984 are but a few examples of this institute’s work, laying the foundation for the competitiveness of the Tettnang hops cultivation area to this day. In 1975, the Tettnang Hop Producer Organisation was founded, which in 2001 merged with the HVG Elbe- Saale and the HVG Hallertau to form the HVG Hop Processing Cooperative. In terms of area under hops, cultivation in Tettnang reached its peak at 1659 ha in 1997, owing to export successes in the US and Asia. In 1993, sustainable production and quality took a quantum leap with the introduction of the neutral quality assessment framework NQF and Integrated Production (IP). Further important steps on the way to guarantee top quality and reliability for national and international breweries were the introduction of the quality assurance system Baden Württemberg QZBW and systematic plant protection monitoring in 2011 as well as the implementation of a sustainability concept from 2014. In 2010, after almost ten years of examination, the brand was finally granted PGI status (Protected Geographical Indication) from the European Union.  

The Future…

Tettnang will continue to be characterized by its broad variety of aroma hops. In the 1990s, the decision was taken to start cultivating further varieties in addition to the superior aroma varieties Tettnanger and Hallertauer Mittelfrueh. This served to spread risks as well as peak workloads. It also made it possible to offer clients the entire range of varieties from the “Tettnang Delicatessen” range.  
Nonetheless, the superior aroma variety Tettnanger remains the core competence of Tettnang hop growers, making up about two thirds of the area under hops. In addition, they cultivate the Hüller varieties and even the new Flavour Hops, which were introduced in 2012. Hop growers in Tettnang will remain in close contact with their faithful clients of many years, and will also establish new contacts with interested creative brewers, both at brewing fairs and breweries, at home and abroad. In line with the general trend of concentration in the brewing industry and in hops trade, the number of holdings in Tettnang is shrinking, due to a changing environment and a tendency to close ranks, but the remaining holdings are larger and more competitive than before. At this point, Tettnang has 150 holdings with an annual production of 1,500 – 2,000 tons on 1,200 ha (just under 3% of the global total), mostly combined with a broad variety of fruit cultivation, making the best possible use of the climatic advantages of the Lake Constance area. And should the saying “no beer without hops and no hops without beer” remain valid for the next 170 years - and there are good reasons to believe that this will be the case - then finest aroma hops from Tettnang will continue to be used in brewing tanks all over the world, to improve premium beer specialties.

Tettnang is alive – long live Tettnang. Cheers!

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