As in many Old World countries, the rise of viticulture in Germany came about as a result of the Roman Empire, who saw the potential for vine cultivation in the vast flatlands around the base of the Rhine valley. Indeed, for over a thousand years, Germany's wine production levels were enormous, with much of the south of the country being used more or less exclusively for growing grapes. Over time, this diminished to make way for expanding cities and other types of industries, but Southern Germany remains very much an important wine region within Europe, with many beautifully balanced and flavorful German wines being prized by locals and international wine lovers alike. The hills around Baden-Baden and Mannheim are especially noteworthy, as these produce the high end of the characteristic semi-sweet white wines which couple so perfectly with German cheeses and pickled vegetables. However, all of Germany's wine producing regions have something special and unique to offer, and are a joy to explore and experience. The beautiful German wine region of Pfalz is the second largest in the country, and a region recognized for its astonishing variety and the quality of its produce. With around 25,000 hectares of land in Pfalz under vine, the region produces an impressive amount of wine, considering the fact that the majority of wineries in the region are independent, small and traditionally run. The vineyards of Pfalz benefit enormously from their relatively warm, dry and sunny climate – exceedingly similar to that of nearby Alsace – and the high quality, mineral rich soils that typify the region. Although grapes have been cultivated in the Pfalz region since time immemorial, it was the Romans who first built up the wine region in the first century, introducing many grape varietals which can still be found growing there to this day.