Dornfelder is the most successful German-crossed red wine grape varietal. It was first crossed in 1955 by August Herold at the Weinsberg Wine School, where he crossed the Helfensteiner and the Heroldrebe grape varietals. The grape was named after the founder of the Wine School, Imanuel August Ludwig Dornfeld - (1796-1869), a senior civil servant who was instrumental in creating the viticultural school in Weinsberg.
The Dornfelder grape varietal has done relatively well in its homeland - a prolific, relatively early ripening grape, it produces wine far deeper in colour than typical German red wines. It was initially crossed to serve as a blending grape to improve the colour of pale red wines.

 

From only around 120 hectares grown in the 1970's, the area of planted vines is now around 8000ha (in 2010), with the Pfalz and Rheinhessen regions having the most vine plantings. After Riesling - Dornfelder is the second most planted red wine grape varietal in Germany. Dornfelder has become quite popular in Germany since it performs well under viticultural conditions which traditionally were seen as more suitable for white wine production. Traditionally, the red wines of Germany were typically pale in colour and light-bodied, but new dark-skinned grape-crossings led by Dornfelder have allowed the production of more international-styled red wines. Dornfelder has a depth of colour, good acidity and the ability to benefit from barrel aging with associated oak flavours.
In comparison to traditional red wine varietals of Germany, Dornfelder is easier to grow than Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). It has better resistance to rot - as well more generous flavours and better tannins, and achieves higher natural alcohol levels than most other red varietals. Dornfelder can be very productive, and yield up to 120 hectoliter per hectare, but quality-conscious producers typically keep yields much lower. Higher-quality Dornfelder wines are velvety textured, slightly floral, often show flavours of plums, blackberries or cherries, and are more frequently aged in oak.
Dornfelder is also grown successfully in many cool, northern European wine areas, such as parts of England, where it was introduced in the 1980's. Dornfelder red wines go well with roast meats, game dishes and rich cheeses.