"We both had the same ideas and philosophy," said Wilhelm Weil, director of Weingut Robert Weil and new chairman of VDP-Rheingau.
VDP-Rheingau, created in 1897, was Germany's first regional wine organization, whose aim has been to produce top-quality wines linked to top vineyard sites. The much younger Charta Rheingau, created in 1983, founded a new system for classifying top-quality trocken (dry) Riesling. With the 1992 vintage, the group developed the "Erstes Gewachs," or first-growth, system of classifying vineyards according to quality, similar to the classification in France's Burgundy region.
Current German wine law does not recognize vineyard classifications or the use of "Erstes Gewachs" on labels. Instead, quality is defined by the ripeness of the grapes at harvest. Charta Rheingau made its standard higher than what the law requires, only granting the use of its first-growth symbol on labels to producers who adhere to tight regulations. First-growth wine must originate solely from delimited classified vineyard sites and 100 percent hand-picked Riesling grapes. In addition, vineyard yields must be around 2.5 to 3 tons per acre (roughly half of what the growers are permitted by law), and the wine must spend a minimum of 18 months in bottle. First-growth wines carry the symbol of three black arches. The labels for all wines in the new VDP-Rheingau incorporate the symbols from the former groups: Charta's Roman arches and VDP's eagle.
"Our main goal is to continue improving the image of the Riesling grape," said Weil. "In the '60s and '70s, our image and prestige were badly hit; then came the '80s, where we began to focus on quality again. The early '90s saw a drastic increase in quality, and for the next 10 years, we want to show the world that the great Rieslings are among the top wines of the world -- on the same level as Bordeaux and Burgundy."
VDP-Rheingau is working with the German government to pass legislation allowing the term 'Erstes Gewachs' to appear on wine labels. "I am very optimistic that this will be made possible very soon," said Weil. "The concept of first-growth wines is based on all our winemaking history."
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