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German wine culture goes back more than two thousand years. Even before that, imported wine was drunk, as is evidenced by a clay Greek wine jug, dated around 400 BC, and found in a Celtic grave. The oldest vineyards are located on the banks of the Rhein, Neckar and Mosel rivers. These rivers, with their long, stretched out vallies, as well as their tributaries, are still the classic wine-growing regions today. German viticulture was started through the colonisation of Gaul by the Greeks, and was then perfected by Roman culture. When Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) conquered Gaul, Roman viticulture was expanded from the Rhône valley to the Rhine. Emperor Probus Marcus Aurelius (232-282 AD) introduced measures to encourage a further expansion of viticulture. By the 5th century AD, viticulture was already so widespread in Germany that Chlodwig (466-511) issued the so-called „Salian Law”, which threatened punishment to any person stealing a vine. In the 6th and 7th century, viticulture spread to southern and northern Germany. King Dagobert I. (610-639) is on record as having donated vineyards to churches. Viticulture in the Pfalz region is documented in a deed signed by king Siegbert III.in 653, and significantly more than a hundred wine-growing communes in the Pfalz are mentioned in the 8th century.
Charlemagne (742-814) provided furthr important impulses, he had dense forests cleared, and planted with vines from Hungary, Italy, Spain, Lorraine and Champagne. Among other things, he issued the first laws on the production of wine, and gave permission to producers to sell the wine they had produced (also see under ”Buschenschank”, the right to serve only ones own wines and some light snacks on the property for a limited period each year). Of decisive importance for viticulture was the Cistercian order, which founded thousands of abbies all over Europe, and developed professional standards for vineyard care, selection of grape varieties and wine-making techniques. In 1136, twelve monks from Burgundy founded the famous Kloster Eberbach abbey in what is now the Rheingau wine-growing region. Within the next 100 years, some 200 settlements of the order were established in the region between Worms and Cologne, all on the Rhine river. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the abbey with its many subsidiaries was, in a sense, the largest wine-making group in the world. The monks initially planted mainly red varieties, from vines they had brought with them from Burgundy, but they soon realised that white varieties fared better in the Rheingau region.
German viticulture reached its greatest extent around 1400, when the total vineyard area was around 300.000 hectares, that is around three times the current vineyard area. As in other European countries, the Thirty Years War caused widespread devastation, with German viticulture recovering only slowly, and with great difficulty. Many previously flourishing wine-growing regions, such as Bavaria, north, east and central Germany were not replanted with vines at all. In addition, the growing popularity of beer provided stiff competition for the wine idustry. Wine became increasingly scarce and more expensive. In 1563, a Stück barrel of Rhine wine (1.200 litres) could be bought for 300 gold Talers, a few years later the same quantity already cost 500 gold Talers. Viticulture only showed an upturn again in the early 18th century. The secularisation of abbies and other church property in the early 19th century saw mainly aristicrats taking the place of the months, and they laid the foundation for the current standard of wine-making. The phylloxera catastrophe hit Germany in the early 1860s.
The wine-growing regions in Germany are among the most northerly in the world, which puts them in the border area between the warm humid climate inlfuenced by the Gulf stream in the west and the dry continental climate in the east. There is a wide range of soil structures, these consist of basalt, coloured sandstone, bedrock, loess, shell limestone, porphyry, slate and volcanic rock. The best vineyard sites are to be found in the north, frequently the soils are unsuitable for any other kind of agricultural use. Germany has a total vineyard area of around 100.000 hectares, putting it in 19th place worldwide, the total production of 10 million hectolitres of wine puts it in 6th place (status 2000). Exports make up around a quarter of production, the traditional markets are Great Britain, the USA, Netherlands and Japan. In 1972 there were still more than 100.000 wine growers, since then there has been enormous structural change and a significant reduction in the number of wine growers and producers. By 2000, there were only around 70.000 remaining in the industry. Around 50.000 of these growers tend less than one hectare of land, and only nine per cent have a vineyard area of more than five hectares. Over the course of centuries, some 25.000 individual names of vineyard sites have developed. This was restricted to a number of around 3.000 named vineyard sites by the new wine laws of 1970.
Einzellage: individual vineyard site, smallest unit, rarely less than five hectares in extent.
Großlage/Grosslage: a regional site, including several neighbouring but not necessarily conjoining individual vineyard sites (Einzellage), considered to be of equal quality. Most of these regional sites bear the name of an individual site that was famous before the number of sites was reduced. The label will not state whether a vineyard site mentioned there is an Einzellage or a Grosslage.
Bereich: Area, can be quite large, for instance the entire Rhingau wine-growing region falls into the Bereich Johannisberg, i.e. it is identical with this.
Anbaugebiete: Wine-growing regions. These are mainly concentrated in the south-western part of Germany, in particular in the vallies of the Rhine and Mosel, and their numerous tributaries. In southern Germany they are loosely dotted around the countryside. Following the reunification of Germany in 1990, two new wine-growing regions in the easrtern part of Germany were added, Sachsen and Saale-Unstrut. The new wine-growing area of Stargarder Land, classified in 2004, is not strictly speaking a wine-growing region, as only table wines may be produced here. The vineyard areas in the various wine-growing regions as per 2001 are:
BER: Bereich, district
GL: Grosslage, regional large vineyard site
EL: Einzellage, single vineyard site
Growing region BER GL EL Hectares % white % red
Ahr 1 1 43 519 14,5 85,5
Baden 9 15 315 15.866 62,1 37,9
Franken 3 23 216 6.040 89,0 11,0
Hessische Bergstraße 2 3 24 456 87,9 12,1
Mittelrhein 2 11 111 526 88,6 11,4
Mosel 6 19 524 10.392 94,2 5,8
Nahe 1 7 312 4.387 83,0 17,0
Pfalz 2 25 330 23.422 68,9 31,1
Rheingau 1 11 120 3.205 85,1 14,9
Rheinhessen 3 24 442 26.333 78,5 21,5
Saale-Unstrut 3 5 21 651 78,6 21,4
Sachsen 2 4 16 446 86,5 13,5
Stargarder Land - - - 3,7 - -
Württemberg 6 20 207 11.336 33,7 66,3
TOTAL 40 168 2.685 103.609 71,3 28,7
German wine differs from the wines of other countries in that it is particularly light, fruity and lively (spritzy). The long growing period and the moderate temperatures even in summer ensure it has a filigree structure, and alcohol levels are relatively low. The secret of German wine lies in the balance of sweetness and acidity; in combination with the low alcohol content this results in particularly racy, well-bred wines. The wines are frequently surpisingly long-lived. Close to 140 varieties are planted either regularly or on an experimental basis, but only around two dozen varieties have any relevance in the market. More than 70% of the varieties planted are white wine varieties, just on 30% are red varieties. The most widely planted white grape, and overall, with a share of around 20%, is Riesling, followed by Müller-Thurgau and Silvaner. Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) is the leading red grape with a share of around 10% of the total, followed by Dornfelder and Portugieser. These six varieties account for around two thirds of the total vineyard area. The ranking of the 39 most frequently planted grape varieties for wine production in Germany, correct as at 2001:
Variety Synonyms, variants Colour Hectares %
Riesling Weißer Riesling, Rheinriesling White 21.514 20,8
Müller-Thurgau Rivaner, Riesling-Silvaner White 18.609 18,8
Pinot Noir Spätburgunder, Blauburgunder Red 9.806 9,5
Silvaner Grüner Silvaner, Sylvaner White 6.422 6,2
Kerner - White 6.054 5,8
Dornfelder - Red 5.530 5,3
Blauer Portugieser Portugieser, Autrichien, Portugais Bleu Red 5.039 4,9
Bacchus Frühe Scheurebe White 2.967 2,9
Pinot Gris Ruländer, Grauburgunder White 2.905 2,8
Pinot Blanc Weißburgunder White 2.795 2,7
Scheurebe Sämling 88 White 2.693 2,6
Trollinger Blauer Trollinger, Vernatsch etc. Red 2.615 2,5
Schwarzriesling Müllerrebe, Pinot Meunier Red 2.481 2,4
Faberrebe - White 1.305 1,3
Blaufränkisch Blauer Limberger, Limberger, Lemberger Red 1.267 1,2
Chasselas Gutedel, Dorin, Fendant, etc. White 1.177 1,1
Huxelrebe - White 1.132 1,1
Ortega - White 951 0,9
Morio-Muskat Morio White 905 0,9
Elbling Kleinberger etc. White 890 0,9
Traminer Roter Traminer, Clevner White 845 0,8
Chardonnay - White 719 0,7
Regent - Red 649 0,6
St. Laurent Blauer St. Laurent Red 350 0,3
Dunkelfelder - Red 317 0,3
Domina - Red 228 0,2
Reichensteiner - White 217 0,2
Ehrenfelser - White 207 0,2
Heroldrebe - Red 200 0,2
Optima - White 184 0,2
Siegerrebe - White 145 0,1
Samtrot - Red 136 0,1
Regner - White 124 0,1
Frühburgunder Blauer Frühburgunder, Clevner Red 123 0,1
Würzer - White 97 0,1
Nobling - White 96 0,1
Auxerrois Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy White 96 0,1
Muskateller Gelber Muskateller, Muscat Blanc, etc. White 94 0,1
Perle - White 93 0,1
Other red varieties Red 1.118 1,1
Other white varieties White 572 0,6
RED VARIETIES 29.723 28,7
WHITE VARIETIES 73.882 71,3
TOTAL 103.605 100
With a single exception, all the German wine-growing regions are located in the European wine-growing zone A, only the Baden wine-growing region is in zone B, as is Austria. This has certain ramifications in terms of specific EU wine regulations, which are described in more detail under chaptalisation (increasing the alcohol content), de-acidification, acidification and sweetening (also see under wine laws). Quality and predicate wines must be subjected to an analytical as well as a sensory (organoleptic) examination (see under „amtliche Prüfnummer”, official control number ). The quality levels and wine styles are very similar to those in Austria.
Yield: the national regulations on yield per hectare includes all wines harvested on vineyard sites suitable for the production of QbA wines. As all vineyard areas in Germany are classified as being suitable for the production of QbA wines, this applies to all wines grown in Germany, including table wines and country wines. The German wine law came into effect in 1994, and provides for limited yields for grapes, as well as for all types of wine, and also for non.alcoholic wine and for vinegar. The limits for each wine-growing region are determined by the regional authorities, and differ according to region, and sometimes also according to the quality level. For quality wine, the limit is 90 hl/ha (Baden, Franken, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen), 100 hl/ha (Ahr, Hessische Bergstraße, Rheingau), 105 hl/ha (Mittelrhein, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheinhessen) and 125 hl/ha (Mosel). The growing regions Mosel, Nahe, Pfalz and Rheinhessen have their own specifications for table wine and country wine (150 hl/ha) and base/distilling wines (200 hl/ha).
Taste indications: These are generally stated on the label. A wine may be declared as being dry if it has a maximum residual sugar of no more than 4 g/l, or if it has a maximum residual sugar of 9 g/l, provided that the total acidity is not more than 2 g/l less than the residual sugar level. For instance, a residual sugar content of 8 g/l must be balanced by a minimum of 6 g/l total acidity. The maximum levels are: dry 4 resp. 9 g/l, off-dry 12 g/l (resp. 18 g/l, if the residual sugar is not more than 10 g/l higher than the total acidity), semi-sweet (a term rarely used in Germany) and „lieblich 45 g/l, and sweet more than 45 g/l.
Must weight: German wine law specifies a minimum must weight at picking for each level of quality, from table wine to ice wine. Within each quality category, different specifications are made for different varieties. These levels vary from one wine-growing region to another, in order to provide recognition for the differing climatic conditions.
Table wine: The minimum must weight must be in the range of 44 °Oe to 50 °Oe. It may be a simple wine sourced from Germany itself (it is then known as „Deutscher Tafelwein”, German table wine) or it may be a blend of wines from several EU countries. The label may state a wine-growing region or district, but not the name of a commune or vineyard site. If the grape variety is stated on the label, the wine must consist of a minimum of 85% of this variety. Table wine may be a blend of several vintages.
Landwein: Country wine. The must weight must be a minimum of between 47 °Oe and 53 °Oe. It must be sourced from one of the 20 defined growing regions for country wine (vins de pays). The minimum alcohol level must be 0,5% vol higher than for table wine, residual sugar may not exceed 18 g/l.
Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete = QbA: Quality wine from a specified growing region. Minimum must weight of 50 °Oe to 72 °Oe, varies according to the wine-growing region. It must be sourced from one of the 13 German wine-growing regions. The label must state the name of the district/regional site (Großlage) or that of the district. The name of a single vineyard site may be stated if the wine contains a minimum of 85% of grapes from the site stated.
Prädikatswein = (previously known as QmP): predicate wine, higher range of quality wine. Must comply with the criteria for QbA/quality wines, resp. must comply with the requirements for Kabinett wine. The minimum must weight can vary depending on the region and grape variety, the minimum level is 67 °Oe, that corresponds with an alcohol level of 8,6% vol. Single vineyard sites may be mentioned on the label. Although the must weight in Oechsle can be taken as given, it may also be stated on the label. 100% of the grapes must be of the stated variety, and must be sourced from the stated region.
Classic and Selection: As of the 2001 vintage, two new designations were introduced for quality wines, related to quality and predicate varietal wines that are typical of their growing region, the permissible varieties are also defined (see there).
Kabinett: Minimum must weight 67 °Oe to 82 °Oe. Already considered to be a predicate wine not so in Austria.
Spätlese: Minimum must weight 76 °Oe to 90 °Oe, varies according to the wine-growing region. The grapes must be fully ripe, and must be „harvested late”.
Auslese: Minimum of 83 °Oe to 100 °Oe, varies according to the wine-growing region. All unripe and diseased, etc. berries must be selected and sorted.
Beerenauslese: Depending on the wine-growing region, a minimum of 110 °Oe to 128 °Oe. Only predominantly botrytis-affected or at least overripe grapes may be used. The natural alcohol content present must be a minimum of 5,5 % vol.
Trockenbeerenauslese: Minimum must weight of 150 °Oe to 154 °Oe. Must be made predominantly from botrytis-affected grapes.
Eiswein: Minimum of 110 °Oe to 128 °Oe (as for Beerenauslese). Frozen grapes are pressed, the ice remains behind.
Sekt: High-quality Sekt (bottle-fermented sparkling wine) will be designated „Deutscher Sekt”, in this case it will be made from 100% grapes grown in Germany. The designation „Sekt bA” indicates that 100% of the grapes have been sourced from a specific single wine-growing region. Winzersekt is a Sekt made by a specific wine producer from own grapes, and is always bottle-fermented, always a vintage wine and a varietal.
Important German institutions, bodies, offices and research facilities that are engaged in research, organising, controlling, publishing or educational functions on viticultural and vinicultural topics include: Deutsche Weinakademie German Wine Academy), DLG (Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft) (German Agricultural Society), DWF (Deutscher Weinfonds) (German Wine Fund), DWI (Deutsches Wein-Institut) (German Wine Institute), Geilweilerhof, Geisenheim (leading college/university), Gesellschaft für Geschichte des Weines (Society for the History of Wine), VDP (Verband deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter) (Association of German quality wine estates), Weinbauring Franken, Weinsberg (college).