The concept of appellation is usually attributed to the French, but in 1910, the Germans were the first to form an association of quality estates:Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP), or Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010 with a worldwide series of events focusing on the concept of German grand cru,
writes Joel Payne.
Originally formed as an association to auction their natural wines, (ie, not chaptalized with added sugar), forerunners of today’s Prädikats, the members are now the bedrock of traditional German viticulture. Surprising for some readers will be the fact that their finest dry Rieslings once fetched prices higher than those of Château Latour in Bordeaux or Burgundy’s Romanée Conti.
Today’s 198 members cultivate 4% of Germany’s 100,000 hectares of vineyard, but produce only 2% of all wines. Not only are their yields small, but only the finest grapes are harvested, by hand, from choice vineyards planted with traditional varieties. Their bottles are easily recognizable by the logo on the capsule – a stylized eagle bearing a cluster of grapes.
Since 1990, 104 estates have been selected as new members; over the same period 67 were expelled for not maintaining quality standards. 55% of members’ vineyards are planted to Riesling, which account for 6% of all Riesling cultivations worldwide.
One of their greatest challenges today is the preservation of Germany’s finest hillside vineyards. Since 2001, the members have established a site classification that very closely reflects those used by Prussian authorities in the 19th century to levy taxes. For them it was simple. As the best vineyards regularly brought the finest and most expensive wines, they paid higher property taxes. Not surprisingly, these estates have played a decisive role in the budding Riesling renaissance.
This article first appeared in Sommelier India, Issue 4, (August-September) 2011