In the mid-1980s, initial thoughts about a vineyard classification started taking concrete shape. The following chronology will enable you to track the evolution of the VDP.Classification – from inception to implementation.
The Rheingau vintners’ association CHARTA was founded. As of 1987, it revived the tradition of the Dahlen map of 1885 for its members by classifying the top vineyards of the Rheingau as “the best parcels of famous sites since time immemorial.” Members’ wines that originated from these sites and produced according to the prescribed guidelines were entitled to be designated “Erstes Gewächs based on the guidelines of CHARTA.”
The first Riesling wines to bear the first growth logo – three Romanesque double arches on a black strip – appeared on the market.
Classification initiatives developed in the Pfalz and in Rheinhessen.
The Strasbourg Manifesto was issued in conjunction with the “wine summit” of great European wine estates – a joint project of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux and VDP. Among other things, it called for “a regulation enabling every European wine-growing region to have a say in the labeling laws relevant to their respective wines; a regulation that safeguards and/or makes possible the introduction of protected designations of origin and classification; legislation that takes into account the needs of traditional wine-growing regions; legislation that acknowledges the differences of viticultural conditions and traditions among the wine-growing nations of Europe...there is no universal approach applicable to all of Europe; and above all, there should be equitable conditions for all producers who are highly committed to quality and tradition."
In Speyer, a VDP Manifesto was issued on “safeguarding our collective viticultural heritage for the future.”
The VDP-Pfalz passed a Riesling statute. Only Riesling wines from the best, narrowly demarcated sites will bear vineyard names.
In Bacharach, standardized classification principles were established for classified growths of German origin. A classification based on origin, growth or estate – depending on regional circumstances and differences – becomes a declared aim of the VDP estates. The long-term goal of the VDP classification is to produce wines with a recognizable, high-quality profile that are internationally comparable with “Grands Crus.”
Criteria for the production of classified growths: Origin is limited to classified vineyards. Grape varieties are limited to traditional varieties, such as Riesling and Pinots. Maximum yields will be set that are well below the existing low yields prescribed by the VDP. Harvesting by hand is obligatory. The wines are subject to critical tastings prior to release. These minimum standards are applicable in addition to the 30 general criteria that are requisite for VDP membership.
In the Rheingau, a map of the region’s classified sites was published, and a regulation on “Erstes Gewächs” was adopted. As of vintage 1999, the use of the term “Erstes Gewächs” on labels has been legally permissible.
In Castell, the VDP adopted a resolution on an in-house classification. Members agree upon a three-stage model that combined of the best portions of the Bordeaux and Burgundy classifications.
“VDP.GUTSWEINE” and “VDP.ORTSWEINE,” i.e., regional and villages wines, form the broad base of the “quality pyramid.”
The second level of the “quality pyramid” consists of “klassifizierte Lagenweine,” or wines from classified sites. Henceforth the VDP estates will restrict their use of vineyard designations to those sites that impart a distinctive character to their respective wines. Every VDP regional association will, under private law, determine which sites merit classification status. The wines must meet additional quality criteria.
The first and highest level of the “quality pyramid” comprises the “VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS®,” or great growths. The wines of this exclusive category are from the finest portions (parcels) of narrowly demarcated sites and are subject to even stricter production criteria.
“Our association of top-quality wine estates will continue to voluntarily practice quality-oriented measures in the vineyard and in the cellar to produce wines of distinguished character – based on the precept of “quality over quantity.”
Mitgliederversammlung 2001 - Die Abstimmung (c) VDP
In Oestringen, at their general meeting, a historical breakthrough was achieved when VDP members throughout Germany agreed on uniform production criteria for the production of VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS®.
After many rounds of tough discussions, members agreed upon a set of quality standards that are as uniform as possible, stringent, and applicable in all 13 German wine-growing regions. The focal point is the profile of a VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS® as a dry wine. The lusciously sweet wines are on a par with the VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS®.
They are identifiable by a common logo embossed on the bottle or following the name of the vineyard site on the label, and the sweeter wines will bear the name of a Prädikat.
In the same year, members of the regional committees from the Pfalz, Saale-Unstrut, Württemberg, Baden, Franken, Mittelrhein, Nahe, Rheingau and Rheinhessen regions defined the boundaries of their classified vineyards and presented the first vintage of VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS® at a gala premiere in Berlin.
In Düsseldorf, the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Comité “Erste Lage” passed regional regulations for a three-stage classification statute.
Distinctive terroirs call for an individual concept.
The “Erste Lage” model embraces the same stringent production criteria outlined in the classification statute of the VDP Accord of 2002. With regard to wine style, however, it takes into consideration the region’s distinctive terroirs and traditional taste profiles.
As such, wines labeled “Erste Lage” will comprise a whole spectrum of fascinating interpretations of terroir: full-bodied, dry QbA; light, subtle Kabinett; elegant, fruity Spätlese; and complex, lusciously sweet Auslese wines. Clear taste profiles have been assigned to the individual quality categories.
Just as the classification in St. Emilion varies from that of Médoc, regional differences in Gemany necessitate that classification be open to various interpretations. Nevertheless, all regions that are participating in the classification system will use a common logo to identify wines from the peak of the quality pyramid.
The Prädikat wine estates of the Ahr were the last to adopt the three-stage classification model for the production of Grosse Gewächse. They classified 15 vineyards. Henceforth, these are the only sites that will appear on their labels. The production of Grosse Gewächse is limited to Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Frühburgunder (an earlier-ripening mutation of Spätburgunder) with a minimum starting must weight of 90 degrees Oechsle. All other stringent production criteria were adopted.
At the VDP general meeting, members agreed upon Agenda 2015 for premium wines of the VDP classification.
- VDP.ERSTE LAGE® is the uniform umbrella term in all regions for all wines of the top category. These wines can be identified by the logo on the label and/or embossed on the bottle. All wines that are designated VDP.ERSTE LAGE® will be produced according to the same strict, terroir-oriented criteria.
- VDP.ERSTE LAGE® dry wines will be denoted as VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS® (great growths). As of vintage 2006, these wines will all be dry in style, i.e., have a maximum residual sugar level of nine grams per liter, as prescribed by law.
- VDP.ERSTE LAGE® fruity wines with natural sweetness will be denoted by the traditional Prädikats, from Spätlese and Auslese to Trockenbeerenauslese. For every vineyard, every region will define which taste profile(s) is (are) optimal for reflecting a vineyard site’s terroir.
- Vineyard sites that number among those in the top category will no longer be permitted to be used for wines in the second category, i.e., wines from classified sites.
At an extraordinary general meeting in January 2012 in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse/Pfalz, VDP members unanimously passed a resolution to refine their classification system.
Henceforth, VDP appellations of origin are designated as follows:
VDP.GROSSE LAGE® (comparable with Grand Cru in Burgundy)
VDP.ERSTE LAGE® (comparable with Premier Cru in Burgundy)
VDP.ORTSWEIN (comparable with Village in Burgundy)
VDP.GUTSWEIN (comparable with a regional or generic wine in Burgundy)
First, the regional associations determine which of their vineyard holdings qualify for VDP.GROSSE LAGE® (or optionally, VDP.ERSTE LAGE®) status. It is up to each region to decide whether or not to differentiate between the very best and very good sites. VDP.GUTSWEINE and VDP.ORTSWEINE denote wines originating from sites of average and medium potential, as decided by the regional associations.
The goal is to implement the “one wine principle” for dry wines bearing the name of a classified vineyard site. The traditional Prädikats are reserved for all wines with natural, ripe sweetness. Specific taste profiles for the Prädikats are to be determined region by region.
A dry wine from a VDP.GROSSE LAGE® is a VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS®.
The same labeling options apply to both VDP.ORTSWEINE and VDP.Lagenweine. VDP. GUTSWEINE can be either Qualitätsweine (QbA) or Prädikatsweine in any style (dry, off-dry, sweet).
The regional associations are in the process of developing more detailed, regionally relevant concepts, bearing in mind compliance with the regulations outlined above.
The refined VDP.CLASSIFICATION is valid as of vintage 2012.
Mitgliederversammlung 2012 - die Abstimmung (c) VDP