German wine

Whether Riesling or Spätburgunder: German wine has a good reputation. Today, German wines of excellent quality can be found on the menu of any good restaurant. Ultimately, it is committed winegrowers and a good wine trade that make German wine palatable again to the end consumer.

With the expansion of the Roman Empire into Germania, wine culture also reached northern Europe. First as finished trade goods from about 50 BC shipped, vines were also cultivated at the beginning of the first millennium by order of the “wine emperor” Probus. The traces can still be seen today in numerous terraced vineyards, e.g. on the Rhine and Moselle. With the fall of Rome and the subsequent migration of peoples, viticulture and production fell into oblivion.

Cultivation areas in Germany:
Ahr, Baden, Franconia, Hessische Bergstrasse, Moselle, Middle Rhine, Nahe, Palatinate, Ruwer, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Saar, Saxony, Saale-Unstrut, Taubertal, Wuerttemberg and also in the Harz there is a small growing area.

Best known grape varieties in German viticulture
(List not complete):
White wine:
Bacchus, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Kerner, Müller-Thurgau, Muscat, Riesling, Scheurebe, Silvaner, Pinot Blanc
Red wine:
Cabernet Sauvignon, Dornfelder, Frühburgunder, Merlot, Spätburgunder, Schwarzriesling, Trollinger, Zweigelt

The art of viticulture was reawakened by Charlemagne. At the same time he issued a purity law for wine. For example, it forbids the storage of wine in animal skins and enacts extensive regulations for cultivation, production and sale. Today, the purity requirement for quality wine and Prädikat wine is strictly regulated in EU directives.

With his regulation “Capitulare de villis” on the serving of wine, he was the founder of today’s Straußenwirtschaften or Besenwirtschaften (the winegrower’s serving of wine with his own wine). In the course of time and with the expansion of the cultivation areas, more and more monasteries also begin to devote themselves to wine production and cultivation. (They had already optimized the beer production quite well). In the process, they also improved the technique of cultivation and thus the quality of the wines. Initially cultivated for home consumption, wine increasingly became a commodity. Soon a distinction is made between a simple tavern drink made from randomly mixed grapes and wine as a luxury drink from the good vineyards of the monasteries and noble residences.

The original cultivation areas of approx. 300,000 hectares spread over the whole of Germany shrank to a third as a result of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) and the Palatinate Wars of Succession (1688-1697). In addition, there were bad harvests, excessive customs duties and, from the middle of the 17th century, beer, which replaced wine as an everyday drink. At the same time, pure quality wines (e.g. Riesling) developed on the few areas under cultivation, especially on the Rhine and its tributaries.

A new beginning in viticulture

grape in the vineyard

Winegrowing throughout Europe experienced a major break at the end of the 19th century. The phylloxera destroyed almost all the vines. It was only with the grafting of native vines to phylloxera-resistant roots that the wine industry began to recover. However, many grape varieties typical of the region had disappeared with it. This was followed by the establishment of winegrowers’ cooperatives and several decrees that improved the quality of the wines (e.g. the addition of alcohol and sugar were banned). German Rieslings from the Rheingau, the Palatinate and the Moselle were sought-after luxury goods throughout Europe until the end of the Empire in 1918. The I. and II. World War I and II also had devastating consequences for winegrowing. In 1950 there were still 49,000 hectares of cultivated land. In the mid-50s, many winemakers discovered that new technologies could be used to influence the wine. And so they produced what the customer supposedly wanted: sweet, cheap and simple. The reputation of German wines has suffered greatly.

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With the increasing possibility to travel to other countries on a flat-rate and affordable basis, a different world of wine tastes opened up to many Germans. From then on, large quantities of red and white wine were imported.
With the coming into force of the wine law of 1971 three new quality classes are created: Table wine, quality wine and quality wine with predicate. In addition, the number of layers was reduced and combined. Simple qualities can now also be offered under the label of famous sites.

However, there was no noticeable improvement in quality until the end of the 1980s. As a result, first-class wines have been brought to market in recent years. Today, German wines of excellent quality can be found on the menu of any good restaurant. Ultimately, it is committed winegrowers and a good wine tradethat make German wine palatable again to the end consumer. (Source: Wine Atlas Germany, Hallwag-Verlag)

Author: Sabine Oertel

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