Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Wine Book: VDP Member Directory - The Association of German Elite Winemakers

Pictures: VDP Mitglieder - Members

For the first time the VDP (Verband Deutscher Praedikatsweingueter) – the association of German elite winemakers – has published a bound member directory. All wineries are represented on one side with a portrait of the owner and the respective estate label. Extensive information about vineyards, grape varieties and opening times complete the guide. Notably, the VDP member directory is in German and English.


The VDP is the world’s oldest association of wine estates in the world. In fact, as Jancis Robinson said in her speech in the Berlin Cathedral last year, it is the only one of its kind worldwide. No other country has a national organization of the top wine makers of the entire country.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Helmut Doennhoff (Weingut Hermann Doennhoff) in Mainz

In 1910, four regional wine-growers’ associations joined forces to form the Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer (i.e. estates that sold their “natural” [unchaptalized] wines at auction). These organizations – from the Rheingau and Rheinhessen, founded in 1897 and 1900, respectively, and their counterparts in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Pfalz regions, both founded in 1908 – were the forerunners of today’s VDP. At this time, fine German wines enjoyed a heyday. They were among the most expensive wines, on the tables of imperial houses as well as leading hotels and restaurants.

Christian G.E.Schiller with Ernst Loosen (Weingut Dr. Loosen) in New York City

Throughout the past century, the quality-driven goals and strict standards of the VDP have played no small part in shaping the viticultural and winemaking practices in Germany. With their stringent statutes and their establishment of a German vineyard classification, the 200 members of the VDP have served as role models and justifiably can be viewed as the vanguard of the nation’s producers of top-quality wines.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Helena Becker (Weingut Friedrich Becker) in Frankfurt

Germany’s prime white wine variety, Riesling, has long been the grape of choice for VDP members. Other, traditional varietals are also cultivated, e.g. the ancient white varietal Silvaner (particularly in Franken and Rheinhessen), and members of the Pinot family, including Germany’s all-important red wine grape, Spätburgunder , and the white wine grapes, Weiss- and Grauburgunder (Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, respectively).

VDP Classification

One of its major recent undertakings has been the introduction of a new wine classification for its members. The classification of the VDP defines the quality of a wine not only by the sugar content of the grape at the time of harvest, but also by its terroir. It distinguishes 3 quality levels of wine:

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Philipp Wittmann (Weingut Wittmann) in Mainz

The top level: ERSTE LAGE: Wines from the best vineyards of Germany; dry wines are designated Grosses Gewächs and Erstes Gewächs (Rheingau region); sweet wines are denoted by the traditional Prädikats.

Conditions: A site’s absolutely finest, narrowly demarcated parcels with discernible terroir qualities. Designated grape varieties and taste profiles. Maximum yield of 50hl/ha. Selective harvesting by hand. Minimum must weight equivalent to Spätlese.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with August Kesseler (Weingut Kesseler) in Berlin

The second level: KLASSIFIZIERTE LAGE / ORTSWEIN / TERROIRWEIN: Only wines from classified sites of superior quality bear the name of a vineyard.

Conditions: Classified sites compromise a select, small group of traditional vineyards that have a distinctive character. This constitutes a fraction of the multitude of vineyard names permitted by law. Maximum yield of 65hl/ha. Designated grape varieties and minimum must weight are determined by regional VDP associations.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Martin Tesch (Weingut Tesch) in New York City

The lowest level: GUTSWEIN: High-quality wines that reflect regional character.

Conditions: At least 80% of an estate’s holdings must be planted with traditional grape varieties typical of their region, as recommended by the VDP. Maximum yield 75hl/ha. Minimum must weight (higher than prescribed by law) is determined by the regional associations.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Fritz Hasselbach (Weingut Gunderloch) in Nackenheim

Further, as a major development, the VDP members have dropped the traditional Praedikats for dry wine. German wine up to Spaetlese and Auslese can be bone-dry or sweet, depending on what the winemaker wants. The terms Spaetlese and Auslese, however, seem to suggest to consumers that this are sweet wines. Yet, they can be bone dry. This has led to a lot of confusion. In view of that, the VDP members have started to market all dry wines as Qualitateswein, QbA, regardless of the sugar level of the fruit at the point of harvest. Only wines that have a noticeable level of sweetness carry the traditional Praedikats like Spaetlese or Auslese. Thus, if you see Spaetlese on the label of a VDP member wine, you can be sure that it is a sweet Spaetlese. The label with “Spaetlese trocken” does not exist anymore among the VDP members. If it is a wine at Spaetlese level and fully fermented to complete dryness, it would be marketed as QbA wine. And the level of quality would be indicated by the terroir definition dicussed above.

Christian G.E.Schiller with Hans Lang (Weingut Hans Lang) in Hattenheim

100th VDP Anniversary in 2010

The VDP celebrated its 100th Anniversary in Germany’s Capital Berlin during September 4 to 6, 2010. I was happy and proud to participate.

There were basically 4 main blocks of events.(1) 70 Galleries, 200 Winemakers and 1000 Wines – the VDP winemakers teamed up with 70 contemporary art galleries in Berlin and poured their wines there; (2) the annual official presentation of the Grosses Gewaechs wines – vintage 2008 for the red wines and vintage 2009 for white wines; (3) the official ceremony in the Berlin Cathedral, followed by a birthday party in Berlin’s top restaurant Gendarmerie; (4) a series of side-events in restaurants, wine stores and other places. We were honored by the presence of Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, two giants in the wine industry.

Picture: Reception at the Official Ceremony at the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the VDP in the Berlin Cathedral

I have given a run-down of the whole series of events here and have reported in more detail on the event: 70 Galleries - 200 Winemakers - 1000 Wines here, on the official ceremony in the Berlin Cathedral here, on Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, who participated in the events, here. and on the Hausbesetzung in the Rutz Wein Bar here.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Winemaker Eva Fricke (Weingut Josef Leitz) in Ruedesheim

The Mitgliederverzeichnis can be ordered from the online shop of the VDP for Euro 9.50.

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