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German retailers call on EU to protect ‘Rotspon’

North German bottlers of one of Europe's oldest - and oddest - wine names are calling on the appellation authorities to beef up its legal protection.

HF Von Melle Lübecker Rotspon Bordeaux AC Tradition

There is a mini-boom in so called ‘Rotspon’, a Medieval term describing a French red wine imported in bulk and bottled and aged within the city limits of Hamburg, Lüneberg or Lübeck.

The fact that the wine is aged in the damp and cool climate of northern Germany is supposed to give it special qualities and longevity. Napoleon is said to have been impressed with the quality of the wines he found in the region when he marched through in 1806.

Now bottlers are at war over who should have the right to put Rotspon on their labels.

The Lübecker Rotspon appellation is legally protected, but outside Lübeck the term Rotspon is used on the whim of wine merchants. It is possible to find Austrian Pinot Noir – neither aged in North Germany nor produced in France – on sale as Rotspon.

The confusion can even extend to Lübecker Rotspon itself. The appellation is being misused to describe wine that has not been aged within the city limits.

Emmanuel Mack of leading Lübecker Rotspon bottler HF von Melle, whose sales of around 200,000 bottles are growing by up to 5% year on year, says some bottlers are ‘jumping on a bandwagon’.

Hamburg-based Johannes Kemnitz started bottling Rotspon in 2005 ‘because we liked the history and tradition of Rotspon and thought that this is really a privilege for a city in a region without viticulture’ is calling for EU intervention to protect the wine’s good name.

Kemnitz charges the biggest Lübecker Rotspon bottler, Carl Tesdorpf, with bottling French barrel-aged wine on arrival in Germany rather than cellaring it themselves.

As part of the Hawesko group, one of Germany’s bigger players in the wine market, says Kemnitz, ‘they seem to have good lawyers who were able to make a case because of vagueness over the legal definition of Rotspon.’

Rotspon (which means ‘red wooden stave’), in Mack’s view, should showcase the skill of barrel ageing and bottling wine, and is gratified to find his own sales of around 200,000 bottles growing by up to 5% year on year.

For both Mack and Kemnitz the art of Rotspon is to select a French red wine, age it in barrel, and release it at the optimum moment for immediate drinking.

Rotspons retail at €7 to €20, and are are taken seriously: wines such as HF von Melle’s Lalande-de-Pomerol 2009 beat all French-bottled rivals in a Bordeaux-organised competition. They are popular in Scandinavia and sold all over Germany, but rarely exported to the UK or the US.

No one from Tesdorpf was available to comment at the time of going to press.

Written by Patrick Matthews

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