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Winemakers add second tier to vineyard classification system

Germany's top wine growers' association has disregarded German wine law yet again to introduce a second tier to its controversial vineyard classification system.

The prestigious Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VdP), an association representing Germany’s quality wine estates, launched level 2 of its classification system this month after 10 years of planning. The notion of categorising vineyards on grounds of inherent quality runs counter to the current German wine law, which declares all vineyards potentially equal.

‘In 1994 we decided to stop complaining about the wine law,’ VDP president Prinz Michael zu Salm-Salm said. ‘We felt it was time to get on with setting up our classification as the best way to improve the quality of German wine.’ The long-term aim is to create a range of outstanding single-vineyard wines from across the country.

In a controversial move last year, the VdP classified estates in the Rheingau – the pearl of Germany’s wine regions – as Erste Gewächs (the equivalent of France’s premier crus). Now, the association has extended the system to rest of the country, in an effort to highlight the country’s second best wines and sites.

Local committees in each region must decide which grape varieties and sites are worthy of the new Grosses Gewächs (Great Growth) status. Qualifying wines have to be either dry in style or nobly sweet, and yields are kept low to promote quality. A tasting panel rigorously eliminates any wines not up to standard.

German labelling laws, though, are not being changed to accommodate the new classification. ‘We’re not allowed to use the words Grosses Gewächs on the label,’ Prinz Salm-Salm said, ‘so we’re going to have to find some other way to indicate that these are top wines.’ Coloured capsules are currently being considered, and it is expected that the wines will be sold in specially embossed bottles.

The classification system is currently open only to VDP members, but the intention is that any grower who meets the criteria will be able to participate in future.

Written by Stephen Brook18 September 2002

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