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Germans Work on New Vineyard Classification

Erste Lage to add another wrinkle to Germany's complex wine laws

Bruce Sanderson
Posted: April 14, 2003

Germany's national association of winegrowers, Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP) has agreed to a proposal from the regional VDP of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer for a classification of the region's top vineyard sites. It's part of a new national vineyard classification, called Erste Lage, or first site, which identifies top vineyard sites, restricts yields and requires higher minimum ripeness levels.

However, the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer proposal differs from the other regions in that it embraces the traditional delicate fruity style of wines characteristic of the Mosel's northern vineyards. Thus, the top classified sites will offer several styles of wine including full-bodied, dry QbA, as well as fruity Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese. Other German regions like the Rheingau and the Pfalz have limited their classified vineyards to dry-style wines only.

In addition, the Mosel growers have won a concession that allows them to chaptalize the dry-style wines. "Here in the Mosel, we don't have a tradition of dry wines," explained Ernst Loosen, proprietor of Dr. Loosen. "You can't make a good dry wine with 10 percent alcohol. Dry wines are important to the German market. If we produce them we should be able to chaptalize."

The VDP Accord of 2002 classifies the wines in a pyramid consisting of three levels. The top category is Erste Gewächse (first-growth) in the Rheingau, Erste Lage in the Mosel and Grosse Gewächse (great growth) in all other regions. The next level includes wine from a classified site, with only classified vineyards allowed on the label. The base of the quality pyramid consists of Gutsweine or Ortsweine. These are estate wines made according to specific quality criteria, but are not marketed with a vineyard designation.

Although the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is the last regional VDP to embrace the 2002 Accord, it applies to VDP members only. It has yet to be passed into law by the state government of Rhineland-Pfalz. The Rheingau, which lies in the state of Hesse, achieved legal status for its Erste Gewächse classification in 2000.

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