Since its founding in 1910, the VDP, the world’s oldest association of wine estates, has been committed to the correlation of producer/site/quality, a trinity that has helped set high standards in German wine culture. Today, it comprises some 200 very individualistic vintners who share a deep commitment to tradition and above all, to high quality. In the course of the past century, the VDP’s modus operandi has often been unconventional, even controversial, yet it has greatly contributed to improvements in vineyard management and winemaking. Last but not least, VDP wines and first-class events have also helped rekindle an interest in and appreciation for fine German wine in Germany and abroad.
Verband Deutscher Qualitäts- und Prädikatsweingüter, mercifully abbreviated VDP, literally means: The Association of German Quality and Prädikat Wine Estates. And, what about “Prädikat”? A Prädikat is simply a special attribute. In this case, an umbrella term used to denote the highest category of quality wines produced in Germany. The name of the association reflects the quality-oriented philosophy practiced by its members.
No less daunting in length was the association’s original name: Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer, i.e. estates that sold their “natural” (unchaptalized) wines at auction. For more than half a century, “natural wine” was synonymous with unadulterated wine of high quality. The concept was not embraced by everyone in the German wine industry. With the passage of the German wine law of 1969/1971, the term was prohibited, and the association was forced to adopt a new name. They simply replaced the designation “natural” with “Prädikat.”
More than once in its history the VDP has devised logos to enhance the recognition value of its wines. First and foremost is the “VDP eagle,” a stylized eagle bearing a cluster of grapes. Since its creation in 1926, the VDP eagle has basically remained unchanged. In 1982, members agreed to the mandatory use of the logo in their packaging and since 1991, on capsules.
With the advent of its in-house classification system at the start of this century, an additional logo was created to signal the VDP’s premium wines from an “Erste Lage" – top site: a stylized numeral one that partially frames a cluster of grapes Once again, the legalities of nomenclature came into play: the German wine law does not recognize the designation Erste Lage, ergo it is illegal.
The requirements for membership in the VDP are demanding and require adherence to self-imposed standards that well exceed the minimums prescribed by law. In addition to having their own winemaking and cellar facilities, members agree to reduced yields, higher starting must weights, and selective harvesting (for the finest wines, by hand) to foster higher quality. Their vineyards are planted primarily (80%) with traditional varietals, such as Riesling or the Pinot family, that are typical of their region. Members are obligated to care for their vines and soils in harmony with nature, i.e. practice ecologically friendly, sustainable viticulture, and use traditional winemaking techniques. Estates and their wines are inspected and certified on a regular basis to ensure ongoing high standards, from vineyard maintenance to cellar technology.
In recent years, members have agreed to an in-house vineyard classification system in order to secure a common viticultural heritage for the future. Classified growths are subject to very stringent production criteria. It is neither credible nor possible for every parcel of every site to bring forth wines of outstanding quality. The use of a vineyard name on a label is reserved for wines sourced from top sites that show site-specific characteristics. With its classification system, the VDP has made a marked departure from many of the tenets of German wine legislature. Yet the VDP’s venture into terra incognita on behalf of terroir has already achieved a remarkable, albeit small, following in Germany and abroad.
VDP winemakers are on the go. They regularly participate in tastings and competitions. They present their wines at domestic and international trade fairs, not least at their own Weinbörse in Mainz every spring – a tradition since 1973. They organize regional wine auctions annually and occasionally, a fine wine and rarities auction. A new tradition made its debut in 2001: the annual VDP wine ball, already legendary for its first-class wine, food and entertainment.
In 2010, as it celebrates in centennial, the VDP has come up with a spectacular agenda of events (www.vdp.de) for professionals and wine enthusiasts alike. There’s no better time to become acquainted with the fine wines and winemakers of the VDP.
One of the greatest challenges the Prädikat wine estates have dealt with – past and present – is the preservation of Germany’’s finest vineyard sites. Using Burgundy as a model, the VDP began to estab-lish a private vineyard classification of its members’ vineyard sites in 2001. A three-stage pyramid ensued. Wines are classified according to their origin, as follows:
= Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter e. V. (Pradikat Wine Estates)