Germany - A nation of long wine tradition
Germany is one of the oldest and most significant wine-growing countries in Central Europe. The first German vineyards were planted by the Romans along the Rhine and Mosel rivers. Emperor Diocletian (240 – 316) had the city of Trier, then known as Augusta Trevorum and later known as the birth place of Karl Marx, expanded to serve as a storage site for the wine trade with England, and the slopes along the banks of the rivers Rhine, Mosel, Main and Neckar were covered with vineyards early as the 4th century.
Today, on an area of almost 102,000 hectares under vines in Germany, almost 10 million hectolitres of wine are produced making Germany the 8th largest wine producer worldwide. Overall, there are roughly 60,500 wineries in Germany and fewer than 6,000 of them cultivate an area under vines of more than 5 hectares. While there are many wineries, only 200 of them are members of VDP. For several years now, Germany has also followed the French cru concept which classifies the wines in accordance with the vineyard designation. Accordingly the top vineyard locations are listed as »Grosses Gewächs« (literally: Great Growth) as well as »Erstes Gewächs« (First Growth) or »Erste Lage« (First Location) on the label of the bottle. The vinification of »Grosses Gewächs« wines is regulated by particularly strict rules which stipulate a maximum yield of 50 hl/ha and hand harvesting. The promotion of the designation of top vineyard locations is based to a great extent on the efforts of the Association of German Quality Wine Estates (VDP) and the strict German wine law.
Germany has a total of 13 wine-growing areas which, with the exception of Sachsen and Saale-Unstrut in the north-east of the country, are all concentrated in the south-west, whereby the state of Rhineland-Palatinate has by far the largest area under vines. The 13 wine-growing regions are: Ahr, Baden, Franken (Franconia), Hessische Bergstraße, Mittelrhein, Mosel, Nahe, Pfalz (Palatinate), Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen (Saxony) and Württemberg. With an area of 26,000 hectares, Rheinhessen is the largest region in terms of size, but the Rheingau, Mosel and Pfalz regions in particular are far more renowned.
The northerly location of most of the German wine-growing areas has the result that most vines are grown on the steep slopes of narrow river valleys to ensure that the vines get as much light and heat as possible when the sun is low in the sky, and also to make use of the heat storage potential of the water surface. In the opinion of many experts, the long vegetation cycle of the vines caused by the low average temperatures ensures that in particular Riesling, the top grape variety, can absorb sufficient nutrients from the soil, thus achieving a very harmonious ripeness. Where soils are concerned, Germany has a virtually unlimited bandwidth of different formations, from the clay slate of the Mosel and Mittelrhein regions through the basalt formations of the Ahr, sand, loess and gravel/shingle in the Rheingau, red slate formations, loess and chalky marl in Rheinhessen, the shell limestone of Franconia to the gigantic loess formations of the Kaiserstuhl hills in Baden giving each wine a distinct character.
The most important grape varieties
Although almost 140 different grape varieties are grown in Germany, only around two dozen of them have any great market significance, above all Riesling being the Queen among the white varieties. A fifth of the total German area under vines is planted with Riesling. Pinot Noir and Dornfelder are the most important red wine grape varieties. Wine production in Germany is divided into 63 % white and 37 % red. Consequently, there are virtually exclusive white wine regions, such as the Mosel, while there is a considerable red wine tradition in the Ahr region and the southern regions of Württemberg and Baden.