Kind thanks to the management of the VDP for allowing me to post this brief history of the association, which I’ve translated from German. You can view the original document in German here.
Estimated reading time: 22 minutes
The History of the VDP Federal Association
1910: Founding of the VDNV
On 26 November 1910, four regional associations of well-known “natural wine auctioneers” merge to form the Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer – VDNV (The Association of German Natural Wine Auctioneers). The founding associations are the Vereinigung Rheingauer Weingutsbesitzer (The Association of Rheingau Winery Owners, founded 1897); the Verein der Naturweinversteigerer in Rheinhessen (The Association of Natural Wine Auctioneers in Rheinhessen, founded circa 1910); the Trierer Verein von Weingutsbesitzern von Mosel, Saar und Ruwer (The Trier Association of Winery Owners from the Moselle, Saar and Ruwer, founded 1910); and the Verein der Naturweinversteigerer der Rheinpfalz (The Association of Natural Wine Auctioneers in the Rhine Palatinate, founded 1908). In Franconia, a first attempt to duplicate the efforts of the natural wine auctioneers on the Rhine and Moselle fails. The association is administered by well-known personalities in German viticulture, including the brothers Ludwig and Friedrich von Bassermann-Jordan, and viticultural officials including the Director of the Royal Prussian Domain Administration Trier, Peter Ehatt, and then later Royal Bavarian State Administration Inspector for Viticulture, August Dern. The mayor of Trier, Albert von Bruchhausen (1849 – 1948), a man of considerable political weight, is named chairman of the association. The important politician holds office until 1935.
26 November 1910: Founding of the Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer – VDNV
1914: The End of the Long 19th Century
At the beginning of the 20th century, German natural wine is in high demand worldwide. The prices paid at the “natural wine auctions” advertised in the national press and in specialty magazines are the highest ever “invested” for German wines. No respected wine merchant or well-known hotel can afford not to include Originalabfüllung “original bottling” wines from the cellars of natural wine auctioneers on their wine lists.
1917: Wine and War
The Blockade of Germany makes it practically impossible to sell German wines to western countries. At the same time, the importation of foreign wines is declining to such a degree that the demand for wine by the population and the army administration is soon greater than the supply. The qualitatively outstanding vintages of 1915 and 1917 also help to increase wine prices. In the last months of the war, prices rise so drastically that the wine industry as a whole is considered a “war profiteer.” Despite various demands, the “price-driving” wine auctions are not prohibited, neither during the war nor after its end. A decline in prices does not begin until 1919.
1918: Fear of Plundering
Even in the fourth year of the war, the “price-driving” wine auctions continue unabated. Only the armistice on November 8th changes the political and economic situation. While the Trier natural wine auctioneers unwaveringly auction off the 1917 harvest a few days after the armistice, the fear of looting and confiscation by the occupying forces is particularly prevalent. The director of the Prussian State Domain in the Rheingau receives an order from Berlin to withdraw all transportable wines from French access. At the beginning of January, several hundred barrels of wine from all Rheingau estates reach the Bavarian town of Würzburg by ship. It is quickly planned to auction some of the Prussian wines on the spot, but this plan is never realized. In the autumn of 1919, a large part of the stock is returned to the Rheingau and auctioned to general cheer.
1919: Revolutions Everywhere
As a result of the Versailles Treaty, the German Empire loses Alsace-Lorraine, Germany’s largest wine-growing region until that time. All “fine wine-growing areas” on the left bank of the Rhine from the Rhine Palatinate via the Nahe and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer including the Rheingau are in the French occupation zone for an indefinite period of time. The export of wine and sparkling wine never reaches the pre-war level: Great Britain, the largest foreign market, is in the camp of the war opponents; in Russia, the Bolsheviks prevail and put an end to aristocratic feudal rule; and in the United States the era of Prohibition begins.
1921: Vintage of the Century
After the very good vintages of 1911 and 1915, 1921 is declared an outstanding vintage. When the first wines are able to be auctioned (in barrel) at the end of 1922, many wineries hold back because of increasing inflation. The following year, during the peak of inflation, auctions are held only if deemed financially necessary. Many estates plan to bottle the 1921 wines and sell them gradually. During the economic and financial crisis of the late twenties and early thirties, these bottled wines from the 1921 vintage serve as “nest eggs” for the wineries.
1923: Under French Occupation
The occupation of the Ruhr by French and Belgian troops at the beginning of January 1923 is followed by sanctions imposed by the Inter-Allied Rhineland High Commission in all parts of the occupied area on the left bank of the Rhine, ostensibly to force the government, which is in arrears with reparations payments, to meet its obligations. In the Palatinate, on the Moselle, as well as in the French-occupied bridgehead Mainz, which includes the city of Wiesbaden and large parts of the Rheingau, thousands of citizens are expelled, including the Mayor of Trier and Chairman of the VDNV, Albert von Bruchhausen. At the last minute, the Prussian treasury is able to withdraw a large part of its domain wines from French access. Under the condition that a large part of the wines will be auctioned in Germany, they are sold to the Frankfurt wine trading company Nicolaus, a subsidiary of Anheuser, the American beer brewery. Their owners come from a wine-growing dynasty that had become prosperous in the vicinity.
French Troops Occupy the Ruhr
1925: Birth of the Eagle-Grape Cluster Logo
Everywhere in Germany the thousand-year alliance of the Rhineland with the German Reich is celebrated. The first “Imperial German Wine Exhibition” takes place in Koblenz under the eyes of the French. Franz-Josef Lichtenberg, a graphic artist from Cologne, designs a stylized imperial eagle with a cluster of grapes, as a breastplate for an advertising poster.
1926: The Best Sites
The VDNV is entered into the official register of associations, gives itself a “trademark,” and publishes a list of its members for the first time. The trademark is the “eagle-grape cluster logo,” redrawn by Fritz Quandt, a painter and graphic artist from Trier. The stylized imperial eagle with the grape cluster and the VDNV inscription remains the legally protected trademark of the association until 1971. “Memorize the association’s symbol. It guarantees the natural purity, quality, and wholesomeness of the bottle’s contents,” the slogan reads. Together with the branded cork, the association’s symbol serves as a guarantee of the natural purity of the wine and will soon become the internationally recognized symbol of quality German viticulture.
1927: Crisis with no End
For German viticulture, the twenties bring unending bad news. The inflation of 1923 also depletes much of the capital invested in viticulture and trade. Because of the poor quality of most vintages at the time, and low yields and high expenditure on pest control, more and more estates find themselves in financial difficulties. With an advertising campaign under the motto Trinkt deutschen Wein (Drink German Wine) and the financial support of viticultural publications, the Prussian State tries to promote the sale of wine. But even the natural wine auctioneers cannot escape the black hole of the economic and financial crisis. Under pressure from the “sales shortage,” numerous founding members leave the regional associations in order to avoid the natural wine auctions and be able to market “improved” wines under their own names. Several former natural wine producers join forces on the Moselle to form “Promorsa,” an association created to sell other than “naturally pure” wines, under their own names and as estate bottled wines. In the Rheingau, the plan to set up a sales cooperative fails. Albert von Bruchhausen, the Lord Mayor of Trier, retires for reasons of age, but remains head of the VDNV. Thanks to him, the “German Wine Museum” opens in Trier on 13 July 1927.
1927: Wines for the President of the Reich
On the 80th birthday of Reich President Paul von Hindenburg on 2 October 1927, the members of the VDNV put together a wine gift: a collection of top German wines that may never have been brought together before in one collection and, if at all, only once after – on the occasion of the farewell to Albert von Bruchhausen in 1934.
1930: The Eagle-Grape Cluster Logo Label
Among the three suggestions for a common label is the design by Berlin graphic artist and painter, Ernst Böhm (1890 – 1963), which comes closest to the ideas of the natural wine auctioneers. Since 1921, Böhm has made a name for himself as professor at the Vereinigte Staatsschulen für freie und angewandte Kunst (The United State Schools for Free and Applied Art), among other things as a designer of book covers. The members of the VDNV associate the vertically divided “unity label” with the intention “to draw the attention of the wine drinker to the winery and the association more than before.” It should be reserved for natural wines that are bottled in their own cellar.
1932: At the End
The year 1932 will be the most difficult for German viticulture in living memory. The country will react with emergency measures, ever larger sections of the population are caught up in the pull of mass unemployment, and industry and trade are fighting for survival. It is no different for viticulture and wine trading. A newspaper report about the legendary autumn auction in Trier says: “Apart from some top wines or wines from well-known estates, the prices achieved were so low that the production costs far exceeded the proceeds. If the bid was nevertheless won at such prices, it shows that even with the larger wineries, the need for cash is hardly less than with the small ones. The number of barrels that did not sell was greater than at all previous auctions.” The Prussian domains must leave the VDNV per the instructions of the Ministry of Agriculture. The aim is to restore profitability by selling “improved” wines.
1933: Hitler in Power
After the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Reich Chancellor by Reich President Paul von Hindenburg on 30 January 1933, the Reichstag election on 5 March 1933, the boycott of Jewish businesses on April 1st, and the law to restore the civil service on April 7th, the National Socialists begin “cleansing” German viticulture of Jews. All Jews are ousted from the wine-growing professional organizations without resistance. However, Jewish traders and commission agents are not banned from practicing their profession since around sixty percent of the wine traded in Germany goes through Jewish hands. Breaking up the Jewish wine trade at this early stage is inconvenient. Around one million people in Germany live directly or indirectly from viticulture, most of them in the western part of the empire.
1935: 25 Years of VDNV and Integration into the Reichsnährstand
Like all agricultural organizations, the VDNV expects to be dissolved and incorporated into the Reichsnährstand, an office set up by the government to regulate food production. The National Socialists, however, are content with joining the VDNV to the Reichsnährstand and replacing chairman Albert von Bruchhausen with district farmer leader Jakob Werner. All evidence suggests that the international prestige of German natural wine is not at risk, and for the same reason, the wine auctions continue until autumn 1939. At this time, the VDNV has six regional associations: Baden, Nahe, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, and Rheinpfalz. The statutes of the VDNV say: “The purpose of the association is to preserve and promote the interest of the auctioneers of German natural wines in agreement with the Reichsnährstand. This activity extends in particular to the regulation of auction conditions and dates, joint advertising, exhibitions at home and abroad, and all other questions relating to wine sales, exchange of experience in viticulture, and the handling of wine.”
1938: Trade with Jewish Wine Merchants is Prohibited
Five years after the National Socialists came to power, the “Aryan” wine trade has become so well established that the National Socialists can economically destroy the Jewish traders and commissioners. The Prussian domains are prohibited from selling wine to non-Aryans. The members of the VDNV are urged to act in the same way. How many of them follow the instruction cannot be determined, nor can the extent of sympathy or antipathy towards the Nazis. No winery owner holds a high or even middle party office. At the end of 1938, the “Aryanizations” come to an end.
1939: International Viticulture Congress in Bad Kreuznach – Beginning of the Second World War
A few days before the attack on Poland, experts from all over the world gather in Bad Kreuznach to attend an international viticultural congress. Thanks to its outstanding achievements in the field of research, Germany is considered a role model. Officially, no one is offended by the fate of the Jews.
1940: The Last Auction
The wine-growing communities along the French border have been evacuated, and the last wines of the outstanding 1939 vintage are sold at the autumn auctions in 1939. In the spring of 1940 the auction in Trier, which has already been announced, is cancelled due to the upcoming French military campaign.
1945: End of the Second World War
Battles have passed over wineries and vineyards and have been destroyed, and the bombings have left their marks everywhere. The centers of Mainz and Bingen, the capitals of the wine trade, have largely been destroyed by Allied bombardments. In Berlin, the Red Army discovers Hermann Göring’s wine collection. Like many other high-ranking Nazis, he has made use of the treasuries of the Prussian domains until the end. After the war, the resumption of the free wine trade and the auctions are out of the question for the time being. The occupying powers confiscate wine to supply their troops and use individual lots in interzonal trade and foreign trade as a medium of exchange for essential goods.
1947: “O Mosella!”
The wine-growing regions on the left bank of the Rhine, Pfalz, and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, as well as the largest, Rheinhessen, are in the French occupation zone. The Rheingau as well as the right bank area of the Rheinhessen are under American administration. The French zone of occupation is isolated from the British and American ones, and trade across borders is prohibited. Smuggling soon flourishes, including in wine. For the Rhineland Carnival of 1947, Karl Berbuer composes a song that satirizes the lack of wine in Cologne, O Mosella. You can listen to the song here: https://youtu.be/zdhapClZiXk
O Mosella, you have so much wine
O Mosella, you drink the wine alone
In your Garden of Eden
Wine grows for everyone,
And without wine I can’t be,
1949: Resumption of Auctions
Even before the founding of the new Federal Republic of Germany, the first wine auctions are held in Trier and the Rheingau. Dr. Alfred Bürklin, long-time chairman of the Pfälzer Naturweinversteigerer (The Palatinate Natural Wine Auctioneers) and Jakob Werner’s deputy since 1937, is elected chairman of the VDNV. Bürklin will hold this office until 1967. In all regions, owners of VDNV wineries take part in the (voluntary) service of winegrowing associations, often as their presidents. The natural wine auctioneers are also prominently represented on the board of Deutscher Weinbau-Verband – DWV (The German Viticulture Association). Other notable names: Richard Graf Matuschka-Greiffenclau (Rheingau), Freiherr von Neveu (Baden), Dr. Albert Bürklin (Palatinate), and Werner Tyrell (Moselle).
1955: Top Wine Auction in Wiesbaden; Franconia Joins
Except for the Naturweinversteigerer der Mosel (The Moselle Natural Wine Auctioneers), all regional associations, including the Vereinigung Fränkischer Naturweinversteigerer (The Association of Franconian Natural Wine Auctioneers) founded at the beginning of 1955, take part in the VDNV’s first premium wine auction. The event in the Wiesbaden Kurhaus meets with a wide response from experts and the media. Further auctions of top wines take place in 1969, 1974, 1978, 1981 (see below), 1985, 1991 and 1997.
1958: Quality before Quantity
A series of “missing years” with a low yield of natural wines that can be auctioned as well as the demand for simple and, above all, sweet “consumer wines” associated with the economic miracle puts the natural wine auctioneers to the test. The first quality controls are introduced within the association, and the members are obliged to adhere to the traditions of natural wine when planting vineyards, selecting grape varieties, and setting up their cellars. At the same time, emergency measures are taken which enable the members to sell “improved” wines after prior approval and notification to the Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft – DLG (The German Agricultural Society). The Fränkischen Naturweinversteigerer (The Franconian Natural Wine Auctioneers) regularly refuse to approve such resolutions. In the Rheingau, the second attempt, a sales cooperative for wines that cannot be auctioned, ends in economic failure. Trier’s association of wine producers, the Grosse Ring, cancels the regular spring auction.
1959: Vintage of the Century
With the wines of the 1959 vintage, which was outstanding in terms of both quality and quantity, the natural wine auctioneers are returning to the markets in western countries, above all to the United States.
In the label to the left you can see the logo of the VDNV at that time.
1967: Out with Natural Wine
The deliberations on the new wine law, which is to replace the law of 1930, enter their decisive phase. Within the Deutschen Weinbau-Verbandes – DWV (The German Viticulture Association), strong forces have been working for years towards the legal prohibition of the term “natur” (natural) or identical word formations. Although many well-known members of the VDNV are active in leading positions in the DWV, the association’s request to preserve the term “natural wine” is defeated. The concept and idea can no longer be saved. With the new wine law of 1969/1971, the system of Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (Quality Wine with Special Attribute) replaces “natural wine.”
1971: New Wine Law and Continuation of the Association’s Work
After the abolition of the term “natural wine,” the VDNV and individual regional associations such as the Vereinigung Fränkischer Naturweinversteigerer (The Association of Franconian Natural Wine Auctioneers) consider disbanding. Impressed by a passionate speech by Peter von Weymarn, owner of the Niersteiner Heyl zu Herrnsheim winery, sixteen representatives of the only 75 member companies shy away from this step at the last minute, and he is able to avert the disbanding of the traditional association. The result: a new headquarters, a new name (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter – VDP), a new constitution, a new president (Peter von Weymarn, Nierstein), and higher demands on membership.
1972: Nahe Returns
After the Second World War, the Verband der Naturweinversteigerer an der Nahe (The Association of Natural Wine Auctioneers on the Nahe) is not reconstituted. Now, a VDP.Nahe is founded and joins the federal association. In 1975, the VDP.Württemberg is launched.
1973: Founding of the Weinbörse
The Mainzer Weinbörse e.V. (Mainz Wine Exchange registered association) is launched under the chairmanship of Peter von Weymarn. It is intended to replace the auctions that have appeared almost everywhere, and to bring repeat buyers and VDP members together in the early spring of each year. In 1973, ten Rheinhessen wineries compete in the first wine exchange in the Electoral Palace in Mainz. Since then, the Weinbörse has become the trade fair for top German wine, at which 150 of the nearly two hundred VDP members host international wine experts every year.
The Weinbörse in 2016
1978: Rheingau Nobility
Erwin Graf Matuschka-Greiffenclau, owner of the traditional Rheingau winery “Schloss Vollrads,” is elected President of the VDP. With his concern to combine wine and cuisine, Graf Matuschka opens up new horizons for German quality winemaking and German gastronomy.
1981: A Top Wine Auction
At the height of the production of bulk wines and the wave of sweet wines, the VDP organizes another “Auction of German Top Wines” on 19 November 1981 in Mainz’s Rheingoldhalle convention center. In the foreword to the commemorative publication, the VDP affirms the link between the quality of German wine and the location and care of the tried and tested grape varieties. It is said of the member wineries that they have good and the best vineyard locations and mostly have a long tradition in viticulture. Additionally, they vinify the wines in their own cellars and age them in a manner typical for each grape variety. It goes without saying that the companies also have several vintages on offer. All in all, the wineries in the VDP have made a significant contribution to the reputation of German wine for decades: “Their names are often on wine lists at home and abroad and are mentioned in almost all international wine books.” The association boasts 161 wineries with a total of 2,575 hectares (6,363 acres) of vineyards.
1982: On Our Own Paths
A good ten years after the 1971 German Wine Law comes into force, the members of the VDP decide to make higher quality standards binding within the association. Among other things, the minimum must weights for premium wines is increased. All wineries are obliged to use the eagle-grape cluster logo as a symbol of association. The foundation for building a brand is laid.
1985: Win Back Foreign Markets
Some regional associations are starting to present their wines to important foreign markets. The image of German wine abroad is ambivalent: on the one hand, there is a quasi-monopoly of wineries that, with branded wines such as Black Tower or Blue Nun and active support from organizations such as the Deutscher Weinbauverband (The German Wine Association) and the Deutscher Weinfonds (The German Wine Fund), present German wine as “sweet and cheap;” on the other hand, a small group of top wine producers who uphold the reputation of what was once based on pure natural wines. The glycol scandal, which becomes public in the summer of 1985, throws their efforts back years. Top German wines are also not for sale in Japan or The Netherlands. The VDP’s focus on maintaining quality standards is bearing new fruits. In Baden and on the Middle Rhine, ambitious wineries join forces to form regional associations and increase their number to nine.
1991: A New Era
A new era begins with the election of Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm, from the municipality of Wallhausen, as President. The wineries introduce strict production rules (stricter yields, increase in must weight, and marketing rules: obligatory use of the association symbol on the capsule). Compliance with these is checked through regular operational controls. Of the 161 wineries that belong to the VDP at the beginning of Salm’s presidency, 73 will quietly leave the association by 2010. A total of 108 will be added during the same period.
1994: Self Restraint
The VDP tries to avoid the undesirable ramifications of the new German wine law through further self-restrictions. After heated discussions, it is decided to forego the use of Grosslage (collective vineyard sites) when naming the wines. The emphasis on selective hand-picking is the answer to the increasing use of mechanical harvesters. In the presence of the English wine critic Hugh Johnson, the VDP members decide to work out an independent classification of the German vineyards. In the Rheingau, winemaker Bernhard Breuer establishes the Vereinigung Rheingauer Charta-Weingüter (The Rheingau Charta Wineries Association).
2002: A Classification Statute
The internal classification system is decided at the general assembly at Castell. It is a mixture of the best elements of Romanesque and German winemaking traditions. The capsule with the eagle-grape cluster logo stands for a classification of wineries based on the example of Bordeaux. The “1” with raised grapes on the neck of the bottle symbolizes a classification of “first sites” analogous to the site (vineyard) classification in Burgundy. The bottle’s label, with information on the location, the grape variety, and optional predicate (special attribute) adapts to German wine labeling law. Based on a member association’s internal vineyard classification, the VDP wineries will in the future differentiate between Gutswein (estate) and Ortswein (village) wines, and classified vineyard wines, the Erste Lage (premier cru) and Grosse Lage (grand cru) sites.
2007: The New President
Steffen Christmann, from the municipality of Gimmeldingen, is elected to succeed Prince Salm as President of the VDP.
2010: Under the Sign of the Eagle-Grape Cluster
The VDP celebrates its centenary. The tenth regional association is founded in Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.
2012: The New Classification is Decided
The new 4-level classification pyramid is unanimously adopted at the extraordinary general meeting in Neustadt in January. The pyramid is divided into VDP.GUTSWEIN, VDP.ORTSWEIN, VDP.ERSTE LAGE®, and VDP.GROSSE LAGE®. The special attributes (Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, etc.) are only permitted for off-dry to noble sweet wines. The best dry wine from a VDP.GROSSE LAGE® is VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS®. The new rules apply from the 2012 vintage, with a transition period until 2015.
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