Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
As we learned in the first part of this series, at the beginning of the twentieth century an association was formed by four wine auction houses as a reaction against the lack of quality control by the country’s government and in favor of the production of “naturrein” (naturally pure) wines. These four regional associations, Vereinigung Rheingauer Weingutsbesitzer (The Association of Rheingau Winery Owners); Verein der Naturweinversteigerer in Rheinhessen (The Association of Natural Wine Auctioneers in Rheinhessen); Trierer Verein von Weingutsbesitzern von Mosel, Saar und Ruwer (Trier Association of Winery Owners from the Moselle, Saar and Ruwer); Verein der Naturweinversteigerer der Rheinpfalz (The Association of Natural Wine Auctioneers in the Rhine Palatinate) inaugurated the VDNV or Verein Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer (The Association of German Natural Wine Auctioneers) on 26 November 1910. The association is led by various important personalities of the German wine world at that time, including the Bassermann-Jordan brothers, Friedrich and Ludwig, of the renowned Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan winery. Other associations would later form and join the VDNV.
The VDNV would survive the crises of the twentieth century including two world wars. Theirs is truly an interesting history but outside the focus of this entry. If you’d like to learn more about the history of the VDP, you can find it here.
In the years leading up to and during the deliberations about the 1971 German Wine Law, there was an effort by the DWV (German Viticulture Association) to remove the term “natur” (natural) from the official wine lexicon. Despite efforts by the VDNV, “natur” was removed and replaced by the concept “Qualitätswein mit Prädikat” (Quality Wine with Special Attributes). After the abolition of the term “natural wine,” the VDNV and several regional associations were considering disbanding. Under the impression of 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. From this day forward, the focus of the brand new VDP would be to not only improve the quality of German wine in general, but also to, and perhaps more importantly, improve the perception of quality in the eye of the consumer. These efforts would culminate in January 2012 with the presentation of the pyramid of quality, four distinct levels of quality, giving prestige to each one. Looking at the pyramid designed by the VDP, one can understand how the classification works. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the VDP’s classifications do NOT replace German wine law! They are additional indications of quality.
The VDP Pyramid of Quality
Remember that the German word “wein” means “wine.” The word “guts” in this compound word means “estate,” so these are “estate wines.” These wines are produced from the estate’s own vineyards and are wines made in a style typical of the estate from grape varieties typical of the region. Yields may not exceed 75 hectoliters per hectare. Dry wines are labeled “Qualitätswein trocken” (quality dry wine). Apart from the label, the capsule may also show the phrase “VDP.GUTSWEIN”.
VDP.GUTSWEIN: Gunderloch Riesling Kabinett “Jean Baptiste”
In this case, the word “orts” means “place,” so these are wines with an indication of the municipality or village of their birth. These wines transmit the typicity or terroir of their municipality’s vineyards. In fact, they might even include grapes from vineyards classified as VDP.ERSTE LAGE® (premier cru) or VDP.GROSSE LAGE® (grand cru). These wines are produced from grape varieties typical of the region, and the yield may not exceed 75 hectoliters per hectare. Dry wines are identified by the phrase “Qualitätswein trocken” (quality dry wine). The Prädikatsweine (wines with special attributes) carry the traditional terms: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, etc. You can find more information here. Apart from the label, the bottle’s capsule may also show the phrase “VDP.ORTSWEIN”.
VDP.ORTSWEIN: Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Oberemmeler Trocken
In this case “erste” means “first,” and “lage” means “place” or “site.” It’s more or less equivalent to the term premier cru as used in Burgundy, France. As the name implies, these are wines made from grapes from a renowned vineyard and classified as very good quality. The vineyard has been specifically identified for its special qualities. Additionally, the regional council of each wine producing region has identified the specific grape varieties approved for producing wines classified VDP.ERSTE LAGE® (see below). The harvest is done completely by hand, and the yields must not exceed 60 hectoliters per hectare. The work in the vineyard is monitored by the VDP, and the wines classified VDP.ERSTE LAGE® are subject to a sensory examination by a panel of experts before being sent to market. Dry wines carry the phrase “Qualitätswein trocken” (dry quality wine). The Qualitätsweine (quality wines) which are legally considered semi-dry do not show any additional designation, and in fact labeling as semi-dry is optional. The same applies to wines labeled feinherb (off-dry). The Prädikatsweine (wines with special attributes) carry the traditional terms: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, etc. You can find more information here. Apart from the label, the capsule also carries the phrase “VDP.ERSTE LAGE®”. The label shows the name of the municipality of origin and the name of the vineyard, and the grape variety. The wines must spend a minimum amount of time in the bottle and are marketed for the first time at the VDP.Weinbörse (the VDP’s professional wine fair), which takes place every year at the end of April in the city of Mainz.
VDP.ERSTE LAGE®: Franz Keller Spätburgunder Oberbergener Bassgeige
Approved VDP.ERSTE LAGE® Grape Varieties by Region
Baden: Silvaner, Scheurebe, Gewürztraminer, Muskateller, Sauvignon Blanc, Auxerrois, Schwarzriesling. Rieslaner (exclusively noble sweet wines).
Franken: Grauburgunder, Scheurebe, Rieslaner, Traminer, Frühburgunder. Additional on request: Müller-Thurgau, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muskateller, Lemberger.
Pfalz: Grauburgunder, Chardonnay. Scheurebe, Gewürztraminer. Muskateller (exclusively for sweet wines).
Saale-Unstrut: Blauer Zweigelt.
Württemberg: Silvaner, Chardonnay, Muskattrollinger, Gewürztraminer, Muskateller, Sauvignon Blanc, Samtrot, Schwarzriesling, Trollinger, Zweigelt.
In this case the word “grosse” means “grand,” and the word “lage” means “place” or “site.” So, this phrase is more or less equivalent to the term grand cru as used in Burgundy, France. These are vineyards of the highest quality. There are few vineyards in this category, and the price of the wines produced from these vineyards is high. As in the case of the VDP.ERSTE LAGE®, the vineyards classified VDP.GROSSE LAGE® possess notable qualities. They enjoy perfect locations due to various factors, among these, exposition, slope, and soil. These vineyards have great histories and were identified long ago, in some cases centuries ago. A good example is the Doktor vineyard (sometimes written “Doctor” and meaning exactly that), located in the municipality of Bernkastel (Moselle), mentioned for the first time in 1677. The legend tells us the wine from this vineyard cured Trier Elector Boemund II of a grave illness during his stay at Landshut Castle. It is also said that King Edward VII of Great Britain also drank the wine as “medicine.”
Additionally, the regional council of each wine producing region specifies the grape varieties permitted for the wines classified VDP.GROSSE LAGE® (see below). The harvest is carried out completely by hand, and the maximum yield may not exceed 50 hectoliters per hectare. The work in the vineyard is monitored by VDP officials, particularly regarding yields, and wine classified VDP.GROSSE LAGE® are subject to a sensory analysis by a panel of experts before being sent to market. The dry wines are classified and identified with a special phrase: VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS® and the letters “GG”. The Prädikatsweine (wines with special attributes) carry the traditional terms: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, etc. You can find more information here. Apart from the label, the capsule will also carry the phrase “VDP.GROSSE LAGE®”. Being names recognized around the world, the label carries only the vineyard name without mention of the municipality, and the grape variety. The Prädikatsweine are sent to market on the first of May following the harvest. The white wines classified as VDP.GROSSE LAGE® are sent to market approximately a year after the harvest, on the first of September following the harvest. The red wines classified VDP.GROSSE LAGE® must spend at least one year in oak barrels and are sent to harvest the first of September two years after the harvest.
VDP.GROSSE LAGE®: S.A. Prüm Riesling Lay GG
Approved VDP.GROSSE LAGE® Grape Varieties by Region
Ahr: Spätburgunder, Frühburgunder. Riesling (sweet wines only).
Baden: Riesling, Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, Spätburgunder, Chardonnay. Lemberger (only in Badische Bergstrasse and Kraichgau).
Franken: Riesling, Silvaner, Weissburgunder, Spätburgunder.
Hessische Bergstrasse: Riesling, Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, Spätburgunder.
Mittelrhein: Riesling, Spätburgunder.
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (the VDP continues to use the term “Mosel-Saar-Ruwer” while the official name is “Mosel”): Riesling.
Pfalz: Riesling, Weissburgunder, Spätburgunder.
Rheingau: Riesling, Spätburgunder.
Rheinhessen: Riesling, Spätburgunder.
Saale-Unstrut: Riesling, Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, Spätburgunder, Frühburgunder, Traminer, Silvaner.
Sachsen: Riesling, Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, Spätburgunder, Frühburgunder, Traminer.
Württemberg: Riesling, Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, Spätburgunder, Lemberger.
What does it take to become a VDP member?
- Potential members are always invited. It is not possible to request membership.
- Membership may be revoked if the member does not comply with VDP rules.
- The member owns vineyards recognized by the VDP for their exceptional and superlative quality.
- The member manages all aspects of the winery. Vineyard management, vinification, and commercialization of the wines are handled by winery staff and managed by qualified personnel.
- The winery must present a positive external image.
- The member uses the VDP logo, the eagle with the bunch of grapes, as a guarantee of wine of the best quality and as a symbol of quality recognized around the world.
- The member submits to periodic audits, at least once every five years, made by VDP officials.
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