History of the national association
In the Sign of the Eagle 2.0
A brief history of German wine as mirrored by the VDP
In the Sign of the Eagle 2.0
A brief history of German wine as mirrored by the VDP
On 26 November 1910, four regional wine-growers’ associations joined forces to form the Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer (i.e., estates that sold their “natural” [unchaptalized] wines at auction): “Vereinigung Rheingauer Weingutsbesitzer” (founded 1897), “Verein der Naturweinversteigerer in Rheinhessen” (believed to have been founded 1910), “Trierer Verein von Weingutsbesitzern von Mosel, Saar und Ruwer” (founded 1910), and “Verein der Naturweinversteigerer der Rheinpfalz” (founded 1908). In spring 1912, a Verein von Naturweinversteigerer was founded in the Nahe and joined the VDNV. The first attempt of “natural wine” producers in Franken to emulate their Rhine and Mosel counterparts failed. Renowned “German wine personalities” such as the brothers Ludwig and Friedrich von Bassermann-Jordan, as well as viticultural officials such as Peter Ehatt, the director of the Royal Prussian Wine Domains in Trier, and August Dern, who later became the Royal Bavarian state inspector for viticulture, played leading roles in the association. Albert von Bruchhausen (1849-1948), the mayor of Trier and a man with considerable political clout, became the association’s first president – a position he held until 1935.
At the start of the 20th century, German natural wines were highly esteemed worldwide. The prices they achieved during the auctions of the Naturweinversteigerer were the highest ever fetched for German wines, and because they were published in the national press as well as in all trade publications, they decisively influenced the entire wine market. No respectable wine merchant and no prestigious hotel could afford not to list VDNV members’ “Originalabfüllungen” (estate-bottled wines).
The blockade imposed by the entente made it virtually impossible to sell German wines in Western countries. At the same time, imports of foreign wines dropped. As such, the demand for wine from the population and military administration soon exceeded supply. In addition, the high quality of the 1915 and 1917 vintages led to increases in the price of wine. During the final months of the war prices increased so much that the entire wine industry was viewed as a “war profiteer.” It wasn’t until 1919 that prices began to fall. Although wine auctions had contributed to upward price momentum and there had been various calls to discontinue them, they were not forbidden during or after the war.
Despite claims that they had helped drive up wine prices, the auctions continued to be held in full force even in the fourth year of the war. Political and economic circumstances changed only after the armistice on 8 November. Just a few days later, amid fears of postwar plundering and confiscations, particularly at the hands of occupying forces, the Trierer Weinversteigerer single-mindedly auctioned the 1917 vintage. The director of the Prussian state domains received orders to secure all wines fit for transport from falling into French hands. In early January, several hundred barrels of wine from all of the Rheingau domains were shipped to Würzburg in Bavaria. Soon thereafter, a plan was drawn up to auction a portion of the wines on the spot – it was, however, never implemented. In autumn 1919, the majority of the “evacuated” wines were returned to the Rheingau, where they were sold at an auction marked by great celebration.
In the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany lost Alsace-Lorraine. Up until this time, it had been Germany’s largest wine-growing region. All “noble wine-growing regions” – from the Rheinpfalz to the Nahe and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer on the left bank of the Rhine as well as the Rheingau on the right bank – were to be occupied by the French for an indefinite period of time. Exports of wine and sparkling wine never reached prewar levels. Great Britain, the largest export market, was an enemy of war. The Bolsheviks in Russia put an end to the nobility’s feudal reign. The USA was on the dawn of Prohibition.
The very good vintages of 1911 and 1915 were followed by another outstanding vintage in 1921. When the first wines could be auctioned in cask at the end of 1922, many estates opted not to release them due to ongoing currency devaluations. In the year thereafter, at the height of inflation, the wines were only auctioned if absolutely necessary. Many estates began to bottle the 1921 vintage and sold them little by little. During the Great Depression of the late 20s and early 30s, the bottled wines of 1921 served as a nest egg.
In early January 1923, French and Belgium troops occupied the Ruhr. The Allied Rhineland High Commission imposed sanctions throughout the Rhineland – allegedly, in retaliation for the German government’s failure to make its reparation payments on time. In the Pfalz and Mosel regions, as well as the French-occupied bridgehead at Mainz, the city of Wiesbaden, and large portions of the Rheingau, thousands of citizens were expelled, including Albert von Bruchhausen, the mayor of Trier, director of the state wine domains in Trier, and president of the VDNV. At the last minute, the Prussian Treasury managed to secure the majority of domain’s wines from being confiscated by the French. On condition that most of them would be auctioned in Germany, the wines were sold to Nicolaus, wine merchants in Frankfurt and a subsidiary of the Anheuser brewery in the USA, forerunner of today’s Anheuser-Busch. Eberhard Anheuser had immigrated to the USA from the Nahe wine-growing region, where he grew up in a family of wine-growers that founded a prosperous viticultural dynasty.
The Rhineland, part of the German Empire for a millennium, was celebrated throughout Germany in 1925. Despite the French occupation, the first “Imperial Exhibition on German Wine” took place that year in Koblenz. Graphic artist Franz-Josef Lichtenberg from Köln created a promotional poster for the exhibition. It featured a stylized imperial eagle bearing a cluster of grapes.
The association was entered into the official registry of associations, gave itself a "trademark", and published its first membership directory. The trademark was the "VDP eagle", newly designed by the painter and graphic artist Fritz Quandt from Trier. The stylized eagle bearing a cluster of grapes and the initials VDNV was to remain the association's legally protected logo until 1971 and promoted as follows: "Bear in mind that this logo stands for the authenticity, quality, and wholesomeness of the contents of the bottle." In conjunction with an estate's cork brand, the VDP eagle was to guarantee a wine's natural purity and function as an internationally recognized logo for high-quality German viticulture.
The 1920s were fraught with bad news for the German wine industry. Due to inflation in 1923, both wine-growers and merchants lost considerable capital. Furthermore, the poor quality of most vintages, lower yields, and higher costs for pest control left many vintners and wine businesses struggling to survive. The Prussian state tried to foster wine sales by launching an advertising campaign under the motto “Drink German wine” and providing financial support to publications about viticulture. Nor were the members of the VDNV spared from the pressures of the economic and financial crisis. Numerous founding members left their regional associations in order to avoid restrictions regarding the exclusive sale of wine by auction, both in cask and in bottle. End of membership also opened the way to market “improved,” or chaptalized, wines under proprietary names. Several ex-members in the Mosel region joined forces to form a new group, “Promorsa.” In the Rheingau, an intiative to form a sales cooperative failed.
For reasons of age, Albert von Bruchhausen retired as the mayor of Trier, yet he remained in office as the president of the VDNV. He was also responsible for the founding of the Deutsches Weinmuseum (German Wine Museum) in Trier. It opened on 13 July 1927.
Paul von Hindenburg, president of the German Reich, celebrated his 80th birthday on 2 October 1927. To mark the occasion, the members of the VDNV put together a gift of wine: a spectacular collection of top-quality German wines, the likes of which would only be seen once again, when von Bruchhausen stepped down in 1934.
Among the three drafts submitted for a uniform label, that of the Berlin graphic artist and painter Ernst Böhm (1890 - 1963) came closest to meeting the expectations of VDNV members. Böhm had been a professor at the United State Schools for the Fine and Applied Arts in Berlin since 1921 and had made a name for himself as a designer of book covers, among other things. The label was vertically divided into one narrower panel in which the VDNV logo was to be displayed and another, larger panel with space for the individual estate’s traditional marks. It was designed to prompt wine drinkers to focus their attention on the producer and association to a greater extent than in the past. The label was reserved for estate-bottled, naturally pure (unchaptalized) wines only.
For German viticulture, 1932 was the most difficult year since time immemorial. The country was run by emergency measures; increasing numbers of people from all walks of life were affected by massive unemployment; and industry and commerce were struggling to survive. It was no different for vintners and wine businesses. A newspaper article on the legendary Trier autumn auction reported that “with the exception of a few top wines or those whose names warranted higher prices, the prices fetched at auction were so low that they barely covered the cost of production. Regardless of who won the final bid, it showed that the need for cash was all the same – be it larger wine estates or smaller growers. In contrast to all earlier auctions, the number of casks that did not meet the minimum opening bid was greater than ever.” On orders from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Prussian domains had to leave the VDNV. Profitability was to be restored through the sale of “improved” wines.
Hitler was named chancellor of the Third Reich by Hindenburg on 30 January 1933. Legislative assembly elections were held on 5 March. A boycott of Jewish businesses was declared on 1 April. The law to restore the civil service was enacted on 7 April. Last but not least, the national socialists set about to purge German viticulture of Jews. There were no objections to ousting all Jews from professional associations within the German wine industry. Yet Jewish wine merchants and wine brokers were not prohibited from practicing their professions. Considering that some 60 percent of the German wine trade was in Jewish hands, suppression of Jewish wine merchants at this early point in time would have been inopportune. About one million people in Germany earned their living directly or indirectly from viticulture, most of them in the western part of the country.
Like all agricultural organizations, the VDNV had to assume that it would be dissolved and integrated into the Reichsnährstand, an umbrella association that was responsible for the interests and activities of all agricultural producers. In fact, the VDNV was permitted to remain legally independent – but had to agree to being “affiliated” with the Reichnährstand and to replacing its president, Albert von Bruchhausen, with Jakob Werner, district farmers’ leader of Rüdesheim/Rheingau and member of the Nazi party. All evidence suggests that no one wanted to jeopardize the international prestige of German natural wines. For the same reason, the VDNV’s wine auctions could continue to take place until autumn 1939. In 1935, the VDNV comprised 6 regional associations: Baden, Nahe, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, and Rheinpfalz. The statute of the VDNV reflected the “new state of affairs” as follows: “The purpose of the association is to safeguard and promote the interests of its members subject to agreement with the Reichsnährstand. Its activities include: the coordination of auction conditions and schedules as well as joint advertising for them; participation in exhibitions in Germany and abroad; addressing all other questions related to wine sales; and encouraging members to share experience on viticulture and winemaking.”
Five years after the national socialists came into power, the “Aryan” wine trade was well enough established that the Nazis could financially ruin Jewish merchants and brokers. Prussian wine domains were forbidden from selling wine to non-Aryans. Members of the VDNV were advised to do the same. It’s difficult to say how many followed these instructions. Nor is it possible to ascertain the extent of members’ pro- or anti-Nazi sentiments. However, no VDNV estate owners held any significant political offices. Late in 1938, the “Aryanization” campaign came to an end.
A few days before Germany invaded Poland, wine professionals from around the world gathered in Bad Kreuznach/Nahe for the International Viticultural Congress. Germany was regarded as a model thanks to its outstanding achievements in research. No one seemed put off by the plight of the Jews.
The wine-growing communities along the French border had been evacuated. The last wines of the excellent 1939 vintage changed hands at that year’s autumn auctions. An auction in Trier scheduled for spring 1940 was prohibited because of the forthcoming war with France.
Viticulture was not spared from the ravages of the war. Allied bombs laid waste to vineyards, estate buildings, and important centers of the wine trade (Mainz and Bingen). In Berlin, the Red Army came across Hermann Göring’s wine collection. Like many other Nazis in high positions, he had helped himself to wines in the treasure chambers of the Prussian domains up to the end of the war. During the first few years after the war, a resumption of free trade in wine and the auctions was out of the question. The occupying forces confiscated wine to supply their own troops and individual lots of wine were exchanged for essential goods within Germany and abroad.
The wine-growing regions on the left bank of the Rhine, such as Rheinpfalz and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, as well as most of the largest region, Rheinhessen, were located in the French occupation zone. The Rheingau and the portions of Rheinhessen on the right bank of the Rhine were under American administration. The French occupation zone was isolated from the American and British zones and interzonal trade was prohibited. It wasn’t long before smuggling flourished – even wine was smuggled. In 1947, Karl Berbuer composed a convivial song for the Rhineland carnival season. It satirized the wine shortage in Köln: “O Mosella, you have so much wine ...don’t drink it all alone...in your Garden of Eden, grows enough wine for everyone...”
Shortly before the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany, the first post-war wine auctions were held in Trier and in the Rheingau. The VDNV also reestablished itself. Dr. Alfred Bürklin/Pfalz, vice president of the VDNV under Jakob Werner, was elected president. He remained in office until 1967. In all regions, other VDNV members took on honorary positions in national and/or regional viticultural associations, often as presidents. NDNV members were also prominently represented in the executive committee of the German Wine-growers’ Association, among others: Richard Graf Matuschka-Greiffenclau/Rheingau, Freiherr von Neveu/Baden, Dr. Albert Bürklin/Pfalz, and Werner Tyrell/Mosel.
The first VDNV auction of top wines and rarities - including those of the newly founded Association of Natural Wine Producers of Franken, but excluding those of the Mosel, Saar, and Ruwer producers - took place in Wiesbaden's Kurhaus. It was highly acclaimed by the trade and press. Additional special auctions followed in 1969, 1974, 1978, 1981 (see below), 1985, 1991, and 1997.
A series of mediocre vintages yielded few natural wines suitable for auction and the growing demand for sweet, simple wines during the “economic wonder” years put members of the VDNV to the test. On the one hand, the association’s first internal quality controls were introduced, and members were obliged to maintain the traditions associated with natural wines with regard to vineyard layout, choice of grape varieties, and cellar setup. At the same time, emergency measures were implemented. With prior approval and registration with the DLG (German Agricultural Society), members were allowed to sell chaptalized wines. Members in Franken regularly refused to approve such resolutions. In the Rheingau, the second attempt to set up a sales cooperative for wines deemed unsuitable for auction was a complete failure. The Grosser Ring, Trier, did away with its regular spring auctions.
The outstanding 1959 vintage enabled the natural wine producers to regain entry to markets in the West, above all in the USA.
A new wine law was to supersede that of 1930. Among the topics under discussion within the DWV (German Wine-growers’ Association) was the legality of the term “natural” in conjunction with a product that contained additives – in wine, for example, sulfur. Also controversial was the issue of chaptalization, which the VDNV traditionally rejected as a method of “improving” wines, and thus at odds with the production of natural wines. Despite its strong presence in the leadership of the DWV, the VDNV’s petitions to retain the concept of “natural wine” failed to win a majority backing. Neither the concept nor the term could be saved, and with the new wine law of 1969/1971, they were replaced by the Prädikat system and designation “Quality Wines with Prädikat."
After the concept “natural wine” was banned, the VDNV as well as some regional associations, such as the Vereinigung Fränkischer Naturweinversteigerer, considered dissolution. At the last minute, thanks to an impassioned speech by Peter von Weymarn of Weingut Heyl zu Herrnsheim/Rheinhessen, 16 representatives of the remaining member estates – now only 75 in number – refrained from taking this step, and dissolution of the traditional association was averted. Ultimately, the association received a new seat; a new name (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter [VDP], or Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates); a new president (von Weymarn); and a new statute with higher standards for members.
After the Second World War, the Verband der Naturweinversteigerer an der Nahe ceased to exist. In 1972, the VDP-Nahe was founded and joined the national organization. In 1975, Württemberg producers followed suit in 1975, with their newly formed VDP-Württemberg.
The Mainzer Weinbörse trade fair was founded during Peter von Weymarn’s term of office. Over the years, the auctions had increasingly lost their importance. The Weinbörse was to serve a similar purpose, i.e., provide an annual forum where wine buyers and VDP members could meet to do business. In 1973, ten Rheinhessen estates held the first Weinbörse in the electoral palace in Mainz. Since then, it has become THE trade fair for top-quality German wine. Today, some 150 of the VDP’s nearly 200 member estates welcome the international wine trade to the Weinbörse in Mainz every spring.
Erwein Graf Matuschka-Greiffenclau, proprietor of the traditional Rheingau estate Schloss Vollrads, was elected president of the VDP. His tireless efforts to pair wine with food opened new horizons for German quality viticultlure and German cuisine.
On 19 November 1981, at the height of mass wine production and the sweet wine boom, the VDP conducted another fine wines and rarities auction, this time in the Rheingoldhalle in Mainz. In the forward of the catalogue, the VDP underscored the importance of vineyard site and traditional grape varieties as prerequisites for the quality of German wine. With reference to the member estates, it stated that for the most part, they have a long viticultural tradition; they own good and excellent vineyard sites; they produce and age wines in their own cellars; and they produce wines that reflect typical varietal character. It goes without saying that the estates’ portfolios feature wines from several vintages. All in all, VDP estates have significantly contributed to the reputation of German wine for decades. “Domestically and abroad, their wines frequently appear on wine lists, and the names of these estates are mentioned in nearly all international wine books.” In 1981, the association had 161 member estates with a total of 2,575 ha (6,363 acres) of vines.
A good ten years after the German wine law took effect, the members of the VDP agreed to adhere to binding, in-house, higher quality standards, including higher starting must weights for Prädikat wines and the mandatory use of the VDP logo (stylized eagle bearing a cluster of grapes) on packaging. The foundation had been laid for building a brand.
Several VDP regional associations had begun to conduct regular presentations of their wines in the most important foreign markets. The image of German wine abroad was mixed. On the one hand, commercial wineries with brands like Black Tower and Blue Nun and active support from organizations like the German Wine-growers’ Association and the German Wine Fund strengthened the image of German wine as being “sweet and cheap.” On the other hand, there was a small group of top-quality producers that upheld the reputation of what were formerly known as natural wines. Their efforts were set back by years when the diethylene glycol scandal was uncovered in summer 1985. Even top-quality German wines were virtually impossible to market in Japan or Netherlands. The VDP’s unwavering focus on maintaining quality standards bore fruit. In 1987, ambitious wine producers in Baden reorganized and Mittelrhein growers formed a new regional association, thereby increasing the total number of regional associations in the national organization to nine.
With the election of Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm of the Prinz zu Salm-Dalberg’sches estate/Nahe as new president of the VDP, a new era began. The estates introduced strict regulations on production (restricted yields, increased starting must weights) and marketing (mandatory use of the VDP logo on capsules). Compliance was checked in the course of regular estate inspections. The VDP’s uncompromising efforts to improve quality resulted in membership changes. At the start of Prinz Salm’s term of office, the VDP had 161 members. Up until 2010, 73 estates left the association, yet 108 estates became members.
The VDP estates continued to try to remedy shortcomings in the German wine law of 1971 through additional self-imposed quality standards. After heated discussions, they voted to abstain from the use of the misleading Grosslage (collective vineyard site) designations. Greater emphasis on selective harvesting by hand was the answer to the increasing use of mechanical harvesters. In the presence of English wine authority Hugh Johnson, they decided to develop an independent classification of German vineyards.
At an annual meeting in Castell/Franken, members voted for an in-house vineyard classification system. It combined the best elements of Romance and German viticultural tradition. A capsule bearing the “VDP eagle” signified an estate classification based on the Bordeaux model. The logo http://www.vdp.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Bilder/Logos/Logo_VDP_nicht_oeffentlich_/EinsTraubegrau_55k.jpg(a stylized numeral one that partially frames a cluster of grapes) on the label and/or embossed on the bottle symbolized a classification of the Erste Lagen (top sites) based on the Burgundy model. Bottle labels with the name of a vineyard site, grape variety, and Prädikat (optional) were an adaption of the German labeling law. Henceforth, based on their in-house vineyard classification, VDP estates differentiated among Gutsweine (estate wines) and Ortsweine (village wines), klassifierte Lagenweine (wines from classified sites), and Grosse or Erste Gewächse (great or first growth wines).
Steffen Christmann of Weingut A. Christmann/Pfalz was elected to succeed Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm as the president of the VDP.
The VDP celebrated its 100th anniversary. Growers in Sachsen and Sachsen-Anhalt founded the tenth regional association.