In early 2021, the parliament of Germany passed the tenth amendment to the German Wine Law of 1971. These new German wine laws create a classification system based on geography that will apply to all of German wine by 2026.
This system consists of three quality pyramids — one within another within another.
A familiar pyramid
The first pyramid is the same as the one in use today. It starts with the country-wide Deutscher Wein designation at the bottom.
The next tier up, Landwein, is for wines with geographical indication made within one of 26 Landwein regions in Germany (these include titles like Mitteldeutscher Landwein and Saarländischer Landwein that may be less familiar).
The top tier, Qualitätswein/Prädikatswein, is for wines from one of the 13 major wine regions of Germany (Pfalz, Mosel, etc.).
Getting more specific
The top tier, Qualitätswein/Prädikatswein, forms the first level of a new pyramid that captures increasingly specific geographical areas. Wines at this tier might simply be labeled “Mosel” or “Rheingau.”
The next tier up is for wines from specific Bereiche, or districts, within a growing area. For example, Saar, which is located within Mosel.
The next tier up is for wines from individual villages.
By creating these tier, the new German wine laws also overwrite a pernicious loophole in the existing system. Currently, if a wine comes from a district, it could include a village name on the label along with the district name.
This created situations where a wine labeled Piesporter Goldtröpfchen is a single vineyard wine while a wine labeled Piesporter Michelsberg is a blend from any of eight villages surrounding the village of Piesport. This is definitely a welcome update.
And narrowing down even further, the top tier is for wines from individual named vineyard sites.
And now we have yet another pyramid, this one having to do with wines produced in single-vineyard sites.
By following a strict set of rules defined by regional committees, both red and white wines can be labeled Erste Gewächs.
Wines can be labeled Großes Gewächs if they follow an even stricter set of rules. These wines are meant to truly represent the terroir of that vineyard.
The key thing to take away about these styles is that they both must be dry. This reflects a strategic move on the part of Germany’s government.
The changes in the amendment are, in part, a reaction to a slowdown in demand for German wine.
The last major update to wine laws in Germany was the German Wine Law of 1971. That law made official the Prädikatswein system that classifies wines as Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, or Trockenbeerenauslese based on their sugar levels at harvest.
In 1971, that system made some sense. It was cold enough that ripe grapes were far from a guarantee, and the emphasis on sweetness as a marker of quality agreed with the tastes of consumers at the time.
Of course, not everyone appreciated working within a system that rewarded sweetness above all. An organization of producers called the VDN redefined itself as the VDP and began promoting classic, dryer wine styles.
The VDP also adopted stricter standards than those developed by the government, and as a rejection of the idea that good wine can come from anywhere as long as it’s sweet, the organization created its own ranking system based on terroir.
The system was similar to the one in Burgundy.
- The first tier, VDP.Gutsweine, refers to regional wines made by VDP producers in line with those stricter standards.
- VDP.Ortsweine refers to wines made from vineyards within a specific village.
- VDP.Erste Lage refers to wines made from a single vineyard that the VDP identifies as being exceptional. It’s about equivalent to “premier cru” in Burgundy.
- And at the top of the pyramid is VDP.Grosse Lage. These are the Grand Crus of Germany. And the top wines from these sites, which are known as Großes Gewächs, must be dry.
The 10th amendment to the German Wine Law of 1971 effectively integrates the VDP system into German wine law.
In 1971, the VDP reimagined itself to make the most of the laws. And with these changes, I’m sure it’ll do the same. There are still a few years until these laws become binding, so there might be some changes before then. We’ll keep an eye it.