German wine

German wine is primarily produced in the west of Germany, along the river Rhine and its tributaries, with the oldest plantations going back to the Roman era. Approximately 60 percent of German wine is produced in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where 6 of the 13 regions (Anbaugebiete) for quality wine are situated. Germany has about 103,000 hectares (252,000 acres or 1,030 square kilometers) of vineyard, which is around one tenth of the vineyard surface in Spain, France or Italy.[1] The total wine production is usually around 10 million hectoliters annually, corresponding to 1.3 billion bottles, which places Germany as the eighth-largest wine-producing country in the world. White wine accounts for almost two thirds of the total production.

Steep vineyards on Rüdesheimer Berg overlooking the river Rhine. These vineyards are located in the southwestern part of the region Rheingau at a bend in the river. These vineyards are planted with Riesling grapes, with some Spätburgunder (Pinot noir), and produce some of the finest wine in Germany.
Steep vineyards along the Moselle, close to the village Ürzig

As a wine country, Germany has a mixed reputation internationally, with some consumers on the export markets associating Germany with the world's most elegant and aromatically pure white wines while other see the country mainly as the source of cheap, mass-market semi-sweet wines such as Liebfraumilch.[2] Among enthusiasts, Germany's reputation is primarily based on wines made from the Riesling grape variety, which at its best is used for aromatic, fruity and elegant white wines that range from very crisp and dry to well-balanced, sweet and of enormous aromatic concentration. While primarily a white wine country, red wine production surged in the 1990s and early 2000s, primarily fuelled by domestic demand, and the proportion of the German vineyards devoted to the cultivation of dark-skinned grape varieties has now stabilized at slightly more than a third of the total surface. For the red wines, Spätburgunder, the domestic name for Pinot noir, is in the lead.

Wine styles

Germany produces wines in many styles:[3] dry, semi-sweet and sweet white wines, rosé wines, red wines and sparkling wines, called Sekt. (The only wine style not commonly produced is fortified wine.) Due to the northerly location of the German vineyards, the country has produced wines quite unlike any others in Europe, many of outstanding quality. Between the 1950s and the 1980s German wine was known abroad for cheap, sweet or semi-sweet, low-quality mass-produced wines such as Liebfraumilch.

The wines have historically been predominantly white, and the finest made from Riesling. Many wines have been sweet and low in alcohol, light and unoaked. Historically many of the wines (other than late harvest wines) were probably dry (trocken), as techniques to stop fermentation did not exist. Recently much more German white wine is being made in the dry style again. Much of the wine sold in Germany is dry, especially in restaurants. However most exports are still of sweet wines, particularly to the traditional export markets such as the United States, the Netherlands and Great Britain, which are the leading export markets both in terms of volume and value.[1]

Red wine has always been hard to produce in the German climate, and in the past was usually light-colored, closer to rosé or the red wines of Alsace. However recently there has been greatly increased demand and darker, richer red wines (often barrique-aged) are produced from grapes such as Dornfelder and Spätburgunder, the German name for Pinot noir.[4]

Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of German wines is the high level of acidity in them, caused both by the lesser ripeness in a northerly climate and by the selection of grapes such as Riesling, which retain acidity even at high ripeness levels.


Vine trellising according to the Pfälzer Kammertbau system traditional to the Palatinate, where it was widely used until the 18th century. In an all-wooden version (without the steel wires), this system is supposed to date back to Roman times.

Early history

Viticulture in present-day Germany dates back to Ancient Roman times, to sometime from 70 to 270 CE/AD (Agri Decumates). In those days, the western parts of today's Germany made up the outpost of the Roman empire against the Germanic tribes on the other side of Rhine. What is generally considered Germany's oldest city, Trier, was founded as a Roman garrison and is situated directly on the river Moselle (Mosel) in the eponymous wine region. The oldest archeological finds that may indicate early German viticulture are curved pruning knives found in the vicinity of Roman garrisons, dating from the 1st century AD.[5] However, it is not absolutely certain that these knives were used for viticultural purposes. Emperor Probus, whose reign can be dated two centuries later than these knives, is generally considered the founder of German viticulture, but for solid documentation of winemaking on German soil, we must go to around 370 AD, when Ausonius of Bordeaux wrote Mosella, where he in enthusiastic terms described the steep vineyards on the river Moselle.[5]

The wild vine, the forerunner of the cultivated Vitis vinifera is known to have grown on upper Rhine back to historic time, and it is possible (but not documented) that Roman-era German viticulture was started using local varieties. Many viticultural practices were however taken from other parts of the Roman empire, as evidenced by Roman-style trellising systems surviving into the 18th century in some parts of Germany, such as the Kammertbau in the Palatinate.[5]

Almost nothing is known of the style or quality of "German" wines that were produced in the Roman era, with the exception of the fact that the poet Venantius Fortunatus mentions red German wine around AD 570.

From Medieval times to today

Before the era of Charlemagne, Germanic viticulture was practiced primarily, although not exclusively, on the western side of Rhine. Charlemagne is supposed to have brought viticulture to Rheingau. The eastward spread of viticulture coincided with the spread of Christianity, which was supported by Charlemagne. Thus, in Medieval Germany, churches and monasteries played the most important role in viticulture, and especially in the production of quality wine. Two Rheingau examples illustrate this: archbishop Ruthard of Mainz (reigning 1089–1109) founded a Benedictine abbey on slopes above Geisenheim, the ground of which later became Schloss Johannisberg. His successor Adalbert of Mainz donated land above Hattenheim in 1135 to Cistercians, sent out from Clairvaux in Champagne, who founded Kloster Eberbach.[5]

Many grape varieties commonly associated with German wines have been documented back to the 14th or 15th century. Riesling has been documented from 1435 (close to Rheingau), and Pinot noir from 1318 on Lake Constance under the name Klebroth, from 1335 in Affenthal in Baden and from 1470 in Rheingau, where the monks kept a Clebroit-Wyngart in Hattenheim.[6][7] The most grown variety in medieval Germany was however Elbling, with Silvaner also being common, and Muscat, Räuschling and Traminer also being recorded.[5]

For several centuries of the Medieval era, the vineyards of Germany (including Alsace) expanded, and is believed to have reached their greatest extent sometime around 1500, when perhaps as much as four times the present vineyard surface was planted. Basically, the wine regions were located in the same places as today, but more lands around the rivers, and land further upstream Rhine's tributaries, was cultivated. The subsequent decline can be attributed to locally produced beer becoming the everyday beverage in northern Germany in the 16th century, leading to a partial loss of market for wine, to the Thirty Years' War ravaging Germany in the 17th century, to the dissolution of the monasteries, where much of the winemaking know-how was concentrated, in those areas that accepted the Protestant reformation, and to the climatic changes of the Little Ice Age that made viticulture difficult or impossible in marginal areas.[5]

At one point the Church controlled most of the major vineyards in Germany. Quality instead of quantity become important and spread quickly down the river Rhine. In the 1800s, Napoleon took control of all the vineyards from the Church, including the best, and divided and secularized them. Since then the Napoleonic inheritance laws in Germany broke up the parcels of vineyards further, leading to the establishment of many cooperatives. However, many notable and world-famous wineries in Germany have managed to acquire or hold enough land to produce wine not only for domestic consumption, but also export.

An important event took place in 1775 at Schloss Johannisberg in Rheingau, when the courier delivering the harvest permission was delayed for two weeks, with the result that most of the grapes in Johannisberg's Riesling-only vineyard had been affected by noble rot before the harvest began. Unexpectedly, these "rotten grapes" gave a very good sweet wine, which was termed Spätlese, meaning late harvest. From this time, late harvest wines from grapes affected by noble rot have been produced intentionally. The subsequent differentiation of wines based on harvested ripeness, starting with Auslese in 1787, laid the ground for the Prädikat system. These laws, introduced in 1971, define the designations still used today.

Geography and climate

The German wine regions are some of the most northerly in the world.[8] The main wine-producing climate lies below the 50th parallel, which runs through the regions Rheingau and Mosel. Above this line the climate becomes less conducive to wine production, but there are still some vineyards above this line and the effects of climate change on wine production are growing.

Because of the northerly climate, there has been a search for suitable grape varieties (particularly frost resistant and early harvesting ones), and many crosses have been developed, such as Müller-Thurgau in the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute. Since several years ago there has been an increase in plantings of Riesling as local and international demand has been demanding high quality wines.

The wines are all produced around rivers, mainly the Rhine and its tributaries, often sheltered by mountains. The rivers have significant microclimate effects to moderate the temperature. The soil is slate in the steep valleys, to absorb the sun's heat and retain it overnight. On the rolling hills the soil is lime and clay dominated. The great sites are often extremely steep so they catch the most sunlight, but they are difficult to harvest mechanically. The slopes are also positioned facing the south or south-west to angle towards the sun.

The vineyards are extremely small compared to New World vineyards and wine making is dominated by craft rather than industry wines. This makes the lists of wines produced long and complex, and many wines hard to obtain as production is so limited.


German wine from Franken in the characteristic round bottles (Bocksbeutel)

The wine regions in Germany usually referred to are the 13 defined regions for quality wine. The German wine industry has organised itself around these regions and their division into districts. However, there are also a number of regions for the insignificant table wine (Tafelwein) and country wine (Landwein) categories. Those regions, with a few exceptions overlap, with the quality wine regions. To make a clear distinction between the quality levels, the regions and subregions for different quality levels have different names on purpose, even when they are allowed to be produced in the same geographical area.

German wine regions

There are 13 defined regions ("Anbaugebiete") in Germany:[4][9]

  1. Ahr – a small region along the river Ahr, a tributary of Rhine, that despite its northernly location primarily produces red wine from Spätburgunder.
  2. Baden – Germany's southernmost, warmest and sunniest winegrowing region, in Germany's southwestern corner, across river Rhine from Alsace, and the only German wine region situated in European Union wine growing zone B rather than A, which results in higher minimum required maturity of grapes and less chaptalisation allowed.[10] Most of the land is cultivated with Pinot family. That include Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder), Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder) and Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder). [11]
  3. The Kaiserstuhl region in the winegrowing region of Baden is Germany's warmest location. One of two wine regions in the state of Baden-Württemberg.
  4. Franconia or Franken – around portions of Main river, and the only wine region situated in Bavaria. Noted for growing many varieties on chalky soil and for producing powerful dry Silvaner wines. In Germany, only Franconia and certain small parts of the Baden region are allowed to use the distinctive flattened Bocksbeutel bottle shape.
  5. Hessische Bergstraße (Hessian Mountain Road) – a small region in the state Hesse dominated by Riesling.
  6. Mittelrhein – along the middle portions of river Rhine, primarily between the regions Rheingau and Mosel, and dominated by Riesling.
  7. Mosel – along the river Moselle (Mosel) and its tributaries, the rivers Saar and Ruwer, and was previously known as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. The Mosel region is dominated by Riesling grapes and slate soils, and the best wines are grown in dramatic-looking steep vineyards directly overlooking the rivers. This region produces wine that is light in body due to lower alcohol levels, crisp, of high acidity and with pronounced mineral character. The only region to stick to Riesling wine with noticeable residual sweetness as the "standard" style, although dry wines are also produced.
  8. Nahe – around the river Nahe where volcanic origins give very varied soils. Mixed grape varieties but the best-known producers primarily grow Riesling, and some of them have achieved world reputation in recent years.
  9. Palatinate or Pfalz – the second largest producing region in Germany, with production of very varied styles of wine (especially in the southern half), where red wine has been on the increase. The northern half of the region is home to many well-known Riesling producers with a long history, which specialize in powerful Riesling wines in a dry style. Until 1995, it was known in German as Rheinpfalz.[12]
  10. Rheingau – a small region at a bend in the Rhine that provide excellent conditions for winegrowing. The oldest documented references to Riesling come from the Rheingau region[13] and it is the region where many German winemaking practices have originated, such as the use of Prädikat designations. Dominated by Riesling with some Spätburgunder. The Rheingau Riesling style is in-between Mosel and the Palatinate and other southern regions, and at its finest combines the best aspects of both.
  11. Rheinhessen or Rhenish Hesse – the largest production area in Germany. Once known as Liebfraumilch land, but a quality revolution has taken place since the 1990s. Mixed wine styles and both red and white wines. The best Riesling wines are similar to Palatinate Riesling – dry and powerful. Despite its name, it lies in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, not in Hesse.
  12. Saale-Unstrut – one of two regions in former East Germany along the rivers Saale and Unstrut, and Germany's northernmost winegrowing region.
  13. Saxony or Sachsen – one of two regions in former East Germany, in the southeastern corner of the country, along the river Elbe in the state of Saxony.
  14. Württemberg – a traditional red wine region, where grape varieties Trollinger (the region's signature variety), Schwarzriesling and Lemberger outnumber the varieties that dominate elsewhere. One of two wine regions in the state of Baden-Württemberg.

These 13 regions (Anbaugebiete) are broken down into 39 districts (Bereiche) which are further broken down into collective vineyard sites (Großlagen) of which there are 167. The individual vineyard sites (Einzellagen) number 2,658.

Sorted by size

Data from 2016.[14]

Region Vineyard area (ha)  % White  % Red Districts Collective sites Individual sites Most grown varieties
Rheinhessen266287129324442Riesling (17.0%), Müller-Thurgau (16.4%), Dornfelder (12.7%), Silvaner (8.6%), Pinot gris (6.3%), Pinot Noir (5.5%), Pinot blanc (4.7%), Portugieser (4.5%), Kerner (3.1%),
Palatinate235906436225330Riesling (24.8%), Dornfelder (12.7%), Müller-Thurgau (8.6%), Pinot noir (7.1%), Pinot gris (6.5%), Portugieser (6.3%), Pinot blanc (5.2%), Kerner (3.6%)
Baden158125941915315Pinot noir (34.5%), Müller-Thurgau (15.5%), Pinot gris (12.9%), Pinot blanc (9.4%), Gutedel (7.0%), Riesling (6.8)%
Württemberg113063169620207Trollinger (19.4%), Riesling (18.7%), Lemberger (15.2%), Pinot Meunier (12.8%), Pinot noir (11.6%)
Mosel8796919620507Riesling (61.3%), Müller-Thurgau (11.6%), Elbling (5.6%)
Franconia61078119322211Müller-Thurgau (26.4%), Silvaner (24.1%), Bacchus (12.1%)
Nahe4205762417312Riesling (28.6%), Müller-Thurgau (12.8%), Dornfelder (10.2%); Pinot gis (7.2%), Pinot blanc (6.7%), Pinot noir (6.6%), Silvaner (5.4%)
Rheingau31258515111120Riesling (78.3%), Pinot noir (12.3%)
Saale-Unstrut76575252420Müller-Thurgau (15.0%), Pinot blanc (14.1%), Riesling (9.07%), Dornfelder (6.9%), Silvaner (6.7%)
Ahr56317831143Pinot noir (64.7%), Riesling (8.2%), Pinot Noir Précoce (6.2%)
Saxony49982182416Müller-Thurgau (14.6%), Riesling (14.2%), Pinot blanc (11.8%), Pinot gris (9.4%)
Mittelrhein4678515211111Riesling (66.2%), Pinot noir (9.4%), Müller-Thurgau (5.1%)
Hessische Bergstraße46179212324Riesling (43.8%), Pinot gris (10.8%), Pinot noir (10.2%)

Tafelwein and Landwein regions

There are seven regions for Tafelwein (Weinbaugebiete für Tafelwein), three of which are divided into two or three subregions (Untergebiete) each, and 21 regions for Landwein (Landweingebiete).[15] These regions have the following relationship to each other, and to the quality wine regions:[16]

Tafelwein regionTafelwein subregionLandwein regionCorresponding quality wine regionNumber on map
Rhein-MoselRheinAhrtaler LandweinAhr1
Rheingauer LandweinRheingau9
Nahegauer LandweinNahe7
Rheinischer LandweinRheinhessen10
Pfälzer LandweinPalatinate8
Starkenburger LandweinHessische Bergstraße4
MoseltalLandwein der MoselMosel6
Landwein der Saar
Saarländischer Landwein
Landwein der Ruwer
BayernMainLandwein MainFranconia3
DonauRegensburger Landwein
LindauBayerischer Bodensee-LandweinWürttemberg13
NeckarSchwäbischer Landwein
OberrheinRömertorBadischer LandweinBaden2
BurgengauTaubertäler Landwein
AlbrechtsburgSächsischer LandweinSaxony12
Saale-UnstrutMitteldeutscher LandweinSaale-Unstrut11
NiederlausitzBrandenburger LandweinIn the state of Brandenburg, outside the quality wine regions
Stargarder LandMecklenburger LandweinIn the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, outside the quality wine regions

Grape varieties

Overall nearly 135 grape varieties may be cultivated in Germany – 100 are released for white wine production and 35 for red wine production. According to the international image, Germany is still considered a region for white wine production. Since the 1980s, demand for German red wine has constantly increased, and this has resulted in a doubling of the vineyards used for red wine. Nowadays, over 35% of the vineyards are cultivated with red grapes. Some of the red grapes are also used to produce rosé.

Out of all the grape varieties listed below, only 20 have a significant market share.

Common grape varieties in Germany (2015 situation, all varieties >250 ha)[17]
VarietyColorSynonym(s)Area (%)Area (hectares)TrendMajor regions (with large plantations or high proportion)
1. Rieslingwhite23.023 596increasingMosel, Palatinate, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Nahe, Mittelrhein, Hessische Bergstraße
2. Müller-ThurgauwhiteRivaner12.412 736decreasingRheinhessen, Baden, Franconia, Mosel, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen
3. SpätburgunderredPinot noir11.511 784constantBaden, Palatinate, Rheinhessen, Württemberg, Rheingau, Ahr
4. Dornfelderred7.77 868decreasingRheinhessen, Palatinate, Nahe
5. GrauburgunderwhitePinot gris, Grauer Burgunder Ruländer5.85 947increasingRheinhessen, Palatinate, Mosel
6. SilvanerwhiteGrüner Silvaner4.94 977decreasingRheinhessen, Franconia, Saale-Unstrut, Ahr
7. WeißburgunderwhitePinot blanc, Weißer Burgunder, Klevner3.64 973increasingBaden, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen
8. Blauer Portugieserred3.23 246decreasingPalatinate, Rheinhessen, Ahr
9. Kernerwhite2.72 792decreasingRheinhessen, Palatinate, Mosel, Württemberg
10. Trollingerred2.22 280constantWürttemberg
11. SchwarzrieslingredMüllerrebe, Pinot Meunier2.02 058decreasingWürttemberg
12. Regentred1.91 917constant
13. LembergerredBlaufränkisch1.81 846increasingWürttemberg
14. Chardonnaywhite1.71 764increasing
15. Bacchuswhite1.71 732decreasingFranconia
16. Scheurebewhite1.41 414decreasingRheinhessen
17. GutedelwhiteChasselas1.11 136constantBaden
18. TraminerwhiteGewürztraminer0.8918constant
19. Sauvignon blancwhite0.9894increasing
20. St. Laurentred0.6643constant
21. Merlotred0.6619increasing
22. Elblingwhite0.5521constantMosel
23. Ortegawhite0.5495decreasing
24. Morio-Muskatwhite0.5502decreasing
25. Acolonred0.5476increasing
26. Elblingwhite0.5521decreasing
27. Faberrebewhite0.6587decreasing
28. Dominared0.4404increasing
29. Dunkelfelderred0.4352decreasing
30. Cabernet Mitosred0.3320constant
31. Cabernet Sauvignonred0.3288increasing
All white varieties63.665 114increasing
All red varieties36.437 227decreasing
Grand total100.0102 341constant
Per cent share of common grape varieties in Germany 1964–2007. Data taken from German Wine Statistics.[18][19]

During the last century several changes have taken place with respect to the most planted varieties. Until the early 20th century, Elbling was Germany's most planted variety, after which it was eclipsed by Silvaner during the middle of the 20th century.[20] After a few decades in the top spot, in the late 1960s Silvaner was overtaken by the high-yielding Müller-Thurgau, which in turn started to lose ground in the 1980s. From the mid-1990s, Riesling became the most planted variety, a position it probably had never enjoyed before on a national level. Red grapes in Germany have experienced several ups and downs. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, there was a downward trend, which was reversed around 1980. From mid-1990s and during the next decade, there was an almost explosive growth of plantation of red varieties. Plantings was shared between traditional Spätburgunder and a number of new crossings, led by Dornfelder, while other traditional German red varieties such as Portugieser only held their ground. From around 2005, the proportion of red varieties has stabilized around 37%, about three times the 1980 level.

Common white wine grapes

White grape varieties account for 66% of the area planted in Germany. Principal varieties are listed below; there are larger numbers of less important varieties too.

  • Riesling is the benchmark grape in Germany and covers the most area in German vineyards. It is an aromatic variety with a high level of acidity that can be used for dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling wines. The drawback to Riesling is that it takes 130 days to ripen and, in marginal years, the Riesling crop tends to be poor.
  • Müller-Thurgau is an alternative grape to Riesling that growers have been using, and is one of the so-called new crossings. Unlike the long ripening time of Riesling, this grape variety only requires 100 days to ripen, can be planted on more sites, and is higher yielding. However, this grape has a more neutral flavour than Riesling, and as the main ingredient of Liebfraumilch its reputation has taken a beating together with that wine variety. Germany's most planted variety from the 1970s to the mid-1990s, it has been losing ground for a number of years. Dry Müller-Thurgau is usually labeled Rivaner.
  • Grauer Burgunder or Ruländer (Pinot gris)
  • Weisser Burgunder (Pinot blanc)
  • Silvaner is another subtle, fairly neutral, but quite old grape variety that was Germany's most planted until the 1960s and after that has continued to lose ground. It has however remained popular in Franconia and Rheinhessen, where it is grown on chalky soils to produce powerful dry wines with a slightly earthy and rustic but also food-friendly character.[21]
  • Kerner
  • Chardonnay
  • Bacchus
  • Scheurebe
  • Sauvignon blanc

Common red wine grapes

Red wine varieties account for 34% of the plantations in Germany but has increased in recent years.

  • Spätburgunder (Pinot noir) – a much-appreciated grape variety that demands good sites to produce good wines and therefore competes with Riesling. It is considered to give the most elegant red wines of Germany.
  • Dornfelder – a "new crossing" that has become much appreciated in Germany since it is easy to grow and gives dark-coloured, full-bodied, fruity and tannic wines of a style that used to be hard to produce in Germany.
  • Portugieser
  • Trollinger
  • Lemberger (Blaufränkisch)
  • Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier)
  • Regent
  • Merlot
  • St. Laurent

Permitted varieties

According to the German wine law, the state governments are responsible for drawing up lists of grape varieties allowed in wine production. The varieties listed below are officially permitted for commercial cultivation.[22] The lists include varieties permitted only for selected experimental cultivation.

permitted white grapes
  • Nobling
  • Optima
  • Orion
  • Ortega
  • Osteiner
  • Perle
  • Perle von Csaba
  • Phoenix
  • Prinzipal
  • Regner
  • Reichensteiner
  • Rieslaner
  • Riesling
  • Roter Elbling
  • Roter Gutedel
  • Roter Muskateller
  • Sauvignon blanc
  • Scheurebe
  • Schönburger
  • Septimer
  • Siegerrebe
  • Silcher
  • Silvaner
  • Sirius
  • Staufer
  • Veltliner
  • Weißer Burgunder
  • Würzer
permitted red grapes
  • Acolon
  • André
  • Blauburger
  • Cabernet Dorsa
  • Cabernet Mitos
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Dakapo
  • Deckrot
  • Domina
  • Dornfelder
  • Dunkelfelder
  • Frühburgunder
  • Hegel
  • Helfensteiner
  • Heroldrebe
  • Lemberger

Viticultural practices

In the Mosel region, such as here close to the village of Zell, vines are often trained on individual wooden stakes, Einzelpfahlerziehung

Many of the best vineyards in Germany are steep vineyards overlooking rivers, where mechanisation is impossible and a lot of manual labour is needed to produce the wine.

Since it can be difficult to get ripe grapes in such a northernly location as Germany, the sugar maturity of grapes (must weight) as measured by the Oechsle scale have played a great role in Germany.

German vintners on average crop their vineyards quite high, with yields averaging around 64–99 hl/ha,[17] a high figure in international comparison. Some crossings used for low-quality white wine yield up to 150–200 hl/ha, while quality-conscious producers who strive to produce well-balanced wines of concentrated flavours rarely exceed 50 hl/ha.

Many wines in Germany are produced using organic farming or biodynamic methods. With an average annual growth rate of 25 percent and a cultivated area of more than 7,000 hectares, Germany ranks in place six worldwide. The market share of organic wine is between four and five percent.[23]

Winemaking practices

Chaptalization is allowed only up to the QbA level, not for Prädikatswein and all wines must be fermented dry if chaptalised. To balance the wine, unfermented grape juice, called Süssreserve, may be added after fermentation.


A German wine bottle, designed for Rheingau wine

German wine classification is sometimes the source of confusion. However, to those familiar with the terms used, a German wine label reveals much information about the wine's origin, the minimum ripeness of the grapes used for the wine, as well as the dryness/sweetness of the wine.

In general, the ripeness classifications of German wines reflect minimum sugar content in the grape (also known as "potential alcohol" = the amount of alcohol resulting from fermenting all sugar in the juice) at the point of harvest of the grape. They have nothing to do with the sweetness of the wine after fermentation, which is one of the most common mis-perceptions about German wines.

  • Deutscher Tafelwein (German table wine) is mostly consumed in the country and not exported. Generally used for blended wines that can not be Qualitätswein.
  • Deutscher Landwein (German country wine) comes from a larger designation and again doesn't play an important role in the export market.
  • Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) wines from a defined appellation with the exception of Liebfraumilch, which can be blended from several regions and still be classified as Qualitätswein.
  • Prädikatswein, recently (August 1, 2007) renamed from Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) wines made from grapes of higher ripeness. As ripeness increases, the fruit characteristics and price increase. Categories within Prädikatswein are Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. Wines of these categories can not be chaptalized. All these categories within Prädikatswein are solely linked to minimum requirements of potential alcohol. While these may correlate with harvest time, there are no legally defined harvest time restrictions anymore.
    • Kabinett wines are made from grapes that have achieved minimum defined potential alcohol levels. Those minimum requirements differ by region and grape variety. Essentially, Kabinett is the first level of reserve grape selection.
    • Spätlese wines ("late harvest") are made from grapes that have achieved minimum defined potential alcohol levels. Those minimum requirements differ by region and grape variety. Essentially, Spatlese is the second level of reserve grape selection.
    • Auslese wines ("select harvest") are made from grapes that have achieved minimum defined potential alcohol levels. Those minimum requirements differ by region and grape variety. Essentially, Auslese is the third level of reserve grape selection.
    • Beerenauslese wines ("berry selection") are made from grapes that have achieved minimum defined potential alcohol levels. The concentration of the grape juice may have been facilitated by a fungus Botrytis, which perforates the skin of the grape forcing water to drip out and all remaining elements to concentrate. Due to the high potential alcohol level required for this category of ripeness, these wines are generally made into sweet wines and can make good dessert wines.
    • Trockenbeerenauslese wines ("dry berries selection") are made from grapes of an even higher potential alcohol level, generally reachable only with the help of Botrytis. The grapes used for Trockenbeerenauslese have reached an even more raisin-like state than those used for Beerenauslese. Due to the high concentration of sugar in the raisin-like grape, these wines can only be made in a sweet style and make extremely sweet, concentrated and usually quite expensive wines.
    • Eiswein (ice wine) wine is made grapes that freeze naturally on the vine and have to reach the same potential alcohol level as Beerenauslese. The grapes are harvested and pressed in the frozen state. The ice stays in the press during pressing and hence a concentrated juice flows off the press leading to higher potential alcohol levels, which in turn generally result in sweet wines due to the high potential alcohol. The taste differs from the other high-level wines since Botrytis infection is usually lower, ideally completely absent.

On wine labels, German wine may be classified according to the residual sugar of the wine. Trocken refers to dry wine. These wines have less than 9 grams/liter of residual sugar. Halbtrocken wines are off-dry and have 9–18 grams/liter of residual sugar. Due to the high acidity ("crispness") of many German wines, the taste profile of many halbtrocken wines fall within the "internationally dry" spectrum rather than being appreciably sweet. Feinherb wines are slightly more sweet than halbtrocken wines. Lieblich wines are noticeably sweet; except for the high category Prädikatsweine of type Beerenauslese and above, lieblich wines from Germany are usually of the low Tafelwein category. The number of German wines produced in a lieblich style has dropped markedly since the style went out of fashion in the 1980s.

In recent years, the Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter (VDP), which is a private marketing club founded in 1910, has lobbied for the recognition of a vineyard classification, but its effort have not yet changed national law.

There are also several terms to identify the grower and producers of the wine:

  • Weingut refers to a winegrowing and wine-producing estate, rather craft than industry.
  • Weinkellerei refers to a maturing and bottling facility, a bottler or shipper.
  • Winzergenossenschaft refers to a winemaking cooperative.
  • Gutsabfüllung refers to a grower/producer wine that is estate bottled.
  • Abfüller refers to a bottler or shipper.

Industry structure

The German wine scene consists of many small craft oriented vineyard owners. The 1999 viticultural survey counted 68 598 vineyard owners, down from 76 683 in Western Germany in 1989/90, for an average size of 1.5 ha. Most of the 40 625 operators of less than 0.5 ha should likely be classified as hobby winemakers. The 2016 viticultural survey counted 15 931 vineyard owners. Two digit decreases of operating owners change the structure.[14] Many smaller vineyard owners do not pursue viticulture as a full-time occupation, but rather as a supplement to other agriculture or to hospitality. It is not uncommon for a visitor to a German wine region to find that a small family-owned Gasthaus has its own wine. Smaller grape-growers who do not wish to, or are unable to, commercialise their own wine have several options available: sell the grapes (either on the market each harvest year, or on long-term contract with larger wineries looking to supplement their own production), deliver the grapes to a winemaking cooperative (called Winzergenossenschaft in Germany), or sell the wine in bulk to winemaking firms that use them in "bulk brands" or as a base wine for Sekt. Those who own vineyards in truly good locations also have the option of renting them out to larger producers to operate.

A total of 5,864 vineyard owners owned more than 5 ha each in 2016, accounting for 81% of Germany's total vineyard surface, and it is in this category that the full-time vintners and commercial operations are primarily found.[1] However, truly large wineries, in terms of their own vineyard holdings, are rare in Germany. Hardly any German wineries reach the size of New World winemaking companies, and only a few are of the same size as a typical Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé château. Of the ten wineries considered as Germany's best by Gault Millau Weinguide in 2007,[24] nine had 10,2 — 19 ha of vineyards, and one (Weingut Robert Weil, owned by Suntory) had 70 ha. This means that most of the high-ranking German wineries each only produces around 100,000 bottles of wine per year. That production is often distributed over, say, 10–25 different wines from different vineyards, of different Prädikat, sweetness and so on. The largest vineyard owner is the Hessian State Wineries (Hessische Staatsweingüter), owned by the state of Hesse, with 200 ha vineyards, the produce of which is vinified in three separate wineries.[25] The largest privately held winery is Dr. Bürklin-Wolf in the Palatinate with 85,5 ha.[26]

Largest German wineries

By April 2014, the ten largest German wine producers were:[27]

  • Weingut Lergenmüller Hainfeld (Palatinate), 110 ha; and Schloss Reinhartshausen, 80 ha[28]
  • Juliusspital, Würzburg (Franken), 170 ha
  • Weingut Heinz Pfaffmann, Walsheim (Palatinate), 150 ha
  • Hessische Staatsweingüter Eltville (Rheingau), 140 ha
  • Markgraf von Baden Salem (Baden), 140 ha
  • Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier (Mosel), 95 ha
  • Staatlicher Hofkeller Würzburg (Franconia), 120 ha
  • Weingut Anselmann Edesheim (Palatinate), 115 ha
  • Bürgerspital zum Heiligen Geist Würzburg (Franconia), 110 ha
  • Weingut Friedrich Kiefer Eichstetten am Kaiserstuhl (Baden), 110 ha

See also



  1. German Wine Institute, German Wine Statistics 2019–2020 (PDF-file; 700 kB). Retrieved 9 May 2022.
  2. Andrew Ellson, Roll out the riesling, German wines are making a comeback, in: The Times, 9 December 2019. Retrieved 9 May 2022.
  3. Jason Wilson, How German Wine Found Its Sweet Spot, in: The Washington Post, 5 September 2019. Retrieved 9 May 2022.
  4. The wine regions of Germany.
  5. Entry on "German History" in J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition, pp. 304-308, Oxford University Press 2006, ISBN 0-19-860990-6.
  6. Wein-Plus Glossar: Pinot noir', accessed on February 17, 2008.
  7. Wein-Plus Glossar: Kloster Eberbach, accessed on February 17, 2008.
  8. German Wine Institute: Wine growing regions Archived 2008-02-07 at the Wayback Machine, accessed on February 17, 2008.
  9. (German Agricultural Society): 13 winegrowing areas in Germany Archived 2007-10-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. Entry on "Baden" in J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition, p. 59, Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0-19-860990-6.
  11. "Your 2022 guide to Baden Wine Route". 2022-09-02. Retrieved 2022-11-04.
  12. Wein-Plus Glossar: Pfalz, accessed on December 16, 2007.
  13. All about The History of the County of Katzenelnbogen and the First Riesling of the World.
  14. "2017 / 2018 Deutscher Wein Statistik" (PDF). Deutsches Weininstitut GmbH. 2017. Retrieved 9 May 2022.
  15. Weinverordnung (WeinV 1995), updated until Art. 1 V v. 11.3.2008 I 383, § 1 for Tafelwein and § 2 for Landwein.
  16. Bird, Owen (2005). Rheingold – The German wine renaissance. Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk: Arima publishing. pp. 259–260. ISBN 1-84549-079-7.
  17. German Wine Institute: German Wine Statistics 2016–2017 Archived July 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. German Wine Institute: German Wine Statistics 2005–2006 Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine
  19. German Wine Institute: German Wine Statistics 2006–2007 Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine
  20. Entry on "Silvaner" in J. Robinson (ed), "The Oxford Companion to Wine", Third Edition, pp. 630-631, Oxford University Press 2006, ISBN 0-19-860990-6.
  21. Silvaner subtle, shapely & stylish, retrieved 9 August 2018.
  22. Walter Hillebrand, Heinz Lott & Franz Pfaff (2003). Taschenbuch der Rebsorten, 13th edition. Mainz: Fachverlag Fraund. ISBN 3-921156-53-X.
  23. Thomas Brandl, Bio-Wein boomt immer stärker (Organic wine is booming stronger) retrieved 15 June 2020.
  24. Unsere Besten Archived 2007-12-14 at the Wayback Machine, accessed on December 16, 2007.
  25. Wein-Plus Glossar: Hessische Staatsweingüter, accessed on December 16, 2007.
  26. Wein-Plus Glossar: Bürklin-Wolf, accessed on December 16, 2007.
  27. List of wineries indicating the biggest German producers,, retrieved 14 April 2015.
  28. Archived 2013-04-20 at the Wayback Machine Weingut Lergenmüller – new owner of Schloss Reinhartshausen.

General sources

  • Barr, Andrew (1988). Wine Snobbery: An Insiders Guide to the Booze Business. ISBN 0-571-15060-8. Chapter 8 on history of sweetness in German wines.
  • Brook, Stephen (2006). The Wines of Germany. ISBN 978-1840007916.
  • Hallgarten, S.F. (1981). German Wines. ISBN 0-9507410-0-0.
  • Langenbach, Alfred (1962). German Wines and Vines. Vista Books. OCLC 5530662.
  • Reinhardt, Stephan (2012). The Finest Wines of Germany: A Regional Guide to the Best Producers and Their Wines. ISBN 978-0520273221.
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