Germany has finally succeeded in launching a vineyard classification that has taken 10 years to come to fruition.

On 7 September the VDP (Verband Deutscher Pradikatsweinguter), Germany’s most prestigious growers’ association, launched the long-awaited classification.

For almost ten years this has been a controversial enterprise, as the whole notion of rating vineyards runs counter to the egalitarian German wine law, which declares all vineyards potentially equal.

‘In 1994 we decided to stop complaining about the wine law,’ said Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm, the VDP president, ‘and just got on with setting up our classification as the best way to improve the quality of German wine.’

Local committees in each region established which grape varieties are acceptable, and which sites are worthy of classified status. These are called Grosses Gewächs (‘great growths’). The wines must be either dry in style or nobly sweet. Yields are kept very low, and a strict tasting panel eliminates any wines not up to standard.

The VDP stipulates dry or nobly sweet wines as it feels that in most regions Riesling is at its best as a dry wine, but allows that botrytis wines can be of the same quality. It is against Spatlese style wines, which are often rather flabby and sweet without any botrytis influence.

Prince Salm is aware that it is one thing to have a fine range of outstanding single-vineyard wines from across Germany. It is another to explain them to non-German drinkers.

‘We’re not allowed to use the words Grosses Gewächs on the label, so we’re going to have to find some other way to indicate that these are top wines,’ he said. Ideas mooted include coloured capsules, and the wines will be sold in a special embossed bottle.

At present the system is open only to VDP members, but the intention is that any grower who meets the criteria for Grosses Gewächs can participate.

The last vineyard classification to be introduced in Germany was the controversial Rheingau Winegrowers Association classification in August 2000. Wines from vineyards that comply can be designated Erstes Gewachs (‘first growths’).

Written by Stephen Brook2 October 2002