Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The VDP - the Powerful Group of German Elite Winemakers - Refines its Classification System, Germany

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with VDP Wine Maker Gunter Kuenstler, Weingut Kuenstler in Hochheim, Rheingau. See more:The Wines of Franz Kuenstler from Hochheim, Rheingau, Germany  

Although many people think that there is only one wine classification system in Germany – the classification system of the Law of 1971 – this is not correct. True, the classification system of the Law of 1971 is the standard classification system in Germany and the vast majority of winemakers in Germany use this approach. A large number of winemakers, however, have moved away from the standard, in particular the producers of premium and ultra-premium wines. Importantly, the powerful group of German elite winemakers – the VDP – has conceived its own classification system and is developing it further currently. Other winemakers moved to a zero classification system – no classification, an approach very familiar in the New World.

See more here:  Approaches to Classifying German Wine: The Standard Approach (the Law of 1971), the VDP Approach and the Zero Classification Approach

This of course does not make it easier for wine consumers to read and understand German wine labels. The QbA – Qualitaetswein besonderer Anbaugebiete – denomination, for example, has completely different meanings in the standard classification system and in classification system used by the VDP. As for the former, it indicates that this wine is an entry-level wine of basic quality. For the latter, QbA does not mean anything, as in the VDP system even ultra-premium dry wines are labeled as a QbA.

The VDP classification system is “work in progress”. This posting  provides an overview of recent refinements and modifications of the VDP classification system.

VDP Resolution

On 25 January 2012, VDP members met for an extraordinary meeting in Neustadt/Pfalz. The main topic was the ongoing evolution of the VDP classification. After a lively debate, the delegates unanimously adopted a resolution, the main points of which are outlined below. The resolution takes effect with the vintage 2012.

From 3 Tier to 4 Tier System 

The VDP has added an additional layer to its classification system, which will consist of the following 4 layers in the future:

• VDP Grosse Lage (cf. Grand Cru in Burgundy)
• VDP Erste Lage (cf. Premier Cru in Burgundy)
• VDP Ortswein (cf. Village in Burgundy)
• VDP Gutswein (cf. Bourgogne régional in Burgundy)

Renaming the Absolutely Finest Vineyards from Erste Lage (Premier Cru) into Grosse Lage (Grand Cru)

The top-level category of vineyards has been renamed. The absolutely finest vineyards are called from 2012 on Grosse Lage (grand cru).

Introduction of a Second Vineyard Category, which will be Called Erste Lage – Premier Cru

The VDP has introduced a second Lage (cru) category for the very good classified sites, which are not a Grosse Lage and will call them Erste Lage (Premier Cru). However, the use of the Erste Lage concept to denote very good sites is optional, to be determined region by region. The regions can also determine when, if ever, to introduce the use of VDP Erste Lage. In other words, some regions might feel the designation VDP Grosse Lage suffices to describe its classified sites; other regions might wish to differentiate between their very best and very good classified sites, in which case they can opt to use the designation VDP Erste Lage to denote the latter.

Clear Vote for Grosses Gewächs (GG)

The members unanimously approved the continuos use of the designation Grosses Gewächs to denote the finest dry wines from Germany’s finest vineyards, a term that has achieved international recognition since its introduction. A Grosses Gewaechs wine is from 2012 on the dry wine made from a Grosse Lage vineyard.

Prädikats are Reserved for Wines with Residual Sweetness

The Prädikats are to be used exclusively for wines with residual sweetness. Specific taste profiles for the Prädikats are to be determined region by region. Members are to refrain from using Prädikats for dry and off-dry wines, “thereby enabling the Prädikats to resume their traditional meaning”, as stated by the VDP.

Here, however, Gutsweine – the entry level quality category – are excluded from this general rule as it applies only to the top 3 quality categories. Thus, Gutswein Kabinett trocken and Gutswein Spaetlese trocken will be allowed.


The VDP is the world’s oldest association of wine estates in the world. In fact, 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.

See more: VDP Wine Estates Celebrate 100th Anniversary in Berlin

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.

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.

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Approaches to Classifying German Wine: The Standard Approach (the Law of 1971), the VDP Approach and the Zero Classification Approach

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