Germany, or rather the area that belongs to it today, has a wine culture that is over two thousand years old. But imported wine was already being drunk before that, as evidenced by a Greek wine bottle made of clay dating from around 400 BC found in a Celtic tomb. The oldest vineyards were located on the banks of the Rhine, Neckar and Moselle. These rivers with their elongated valleys, as well as their tributaries, are still the classic growing areas today. Viticulture was established by the colonization of the Greeks in Gaul and then brought to perfection by the Roman culture. The conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) brought Roman viticulture from the Rhône valley to the Rhine.
The Roman emperor Probus (232-282) contributed to the further expansion of the vineyards by promoting measures. In the 5th century, viticulture was already so widespread in the area of present-day Germany that Clovis (466-511) enacted the so-called "Salian Law", which made the theft of a vine a punishable offence. In the 6th and 7th centuries, viticulture spread to southern and northern Germany. The Frankish King Dagobert I (610-639) is documented as a donor of vineyards to churches or monasteries. Wine-growing in the Palatinate is documented by a document of King Siegbert III. from the year 653 and in the 8th century there are already well over a hundred wine-growing communities in the Palatinate mentioned.
Emperor Charlemagne (742-814) gave important impulses, as he had dense forests cleared and planted with vines from Hungary, Italy, Spain, Lorraine and the Champagne region. He passed the first laws and gave permission to sell the wine he had produced himself in Buschenschanken. Crucial for cultivated viticulture were the Cistercians, who founded thousands of monasteries in Europe and were professionally engaged in vineyard care, grape variety selection and wine making. In 1136, twelve monks from Burgundy founded the famous Eberbach Monastery in the Rheingau. Over the next 100 years, 200 branches were established on the Rhine between Worms and Cologne. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the monastery and its branches were, so to speak, the largest winegrowing enterprise in the world. Initially, the monks planted vines brought from Burgundy, mainly red wine varieties. They soon realised, however, that white wine varieties thrived best in the Rheingau.
In the High Middle Ages (1050-1250), due to the effects of the Medieval Warm Period, the cultivation limits of about 200 m were higher than today, so that agriculture and viticulture experienced a great expansion. The largest vineyard area was then reached in the 15th century with about 400,000 hectares (about four times as much as today). At that time, however, Alsace with its extensive vineyards was also included. However, the vineyards were mainly located in low-lying flat areas due to the clearing of heavily forested areas in northern Franconia. The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), like the rest of Europe, left behind destruction on an apocalyptic scale, from which German viticulture recovered only very slowly. Many former flourishing wine regions such as Bavaria, northern, eastern and central Germany were no longer planted with vines at all. But also the emergence of beer as a mass drink strongly affected viticulture. Wine became rarer and more expensive. In 1563 a piece of Rhine wine (1,200 litres) was still available for 300 Goldtaler, some years later 500 Goldtaler.
Further setbacks with periods of cold weather and the resulting many failed harvests were caused by the effects of the Little Ice Age (1450-1850) with particularly cold periods from 1570 to 1630 and 1675 to 1715. Despite this, from the beginning of the 18th century onwards, viticulture picked up again. Due to the secularisation of the monasteries at the beginning of the 19th century, mainly noblemen took the place of monks, to whom the current standard is owed. Quality began to play a major role. In this context, the Prussian layer classification took place in 1868 and 1897. From the beginning of the 1860s, the phylloxera and mildew plague came over Germany, which in turn led to severe devastation.
During the French revolutionary wars (1792-1815), the church's property, secularised under Napoleon (1769-1821), gave rise to vineyards that were mostly owned by the state. The objective of these "model/teaching wineries" was and is in part still today to spread modern viticultural production methods. This was done by testing new methods in the vineyard, as well as by producing and distributing grafted vines. In 1892 the first wine law was introduced, where among other things controlled sugaring was still permitted. In the first half of the 20th century, the two world wars caused a major recession and by 1945 the area under vines had shrunk to less than 50,000 hectares. The wine trade export reached a low point. From the 1950s onwards, a positive change took place.
Germany's wine-growing regions are among the most northerly in the world and are thus located in the border area between the warm and humid Gulf Stream climate in the west and the dry continental climate in the east. Due to the widely scattered vineyards, the soils, some of which are very different, consist of basalt, mottled sandstone, rock, loess, shell limestone, porphyry, slate and volcanic rock. The best conditions for viticulture are provided by south- or southwest-facing slopes in protected valleys, such as on the Rhine and its tributaries or on the Elbe, Saale and Unstrut. There are 13 cultivation areas for quality wine with 43 areas, 167 large sites and 2,658 individual sites.
Land wine region
This quality level was introduced in 1982. There are 26 country wine regions, most of which are sub-areas within the production areas. These are Ahrtaler LW, Badischer LW, Bayrischer-Bodensee LW, Brandenburger LW, LW Main (formerly Fränkischer LW), LW der Mosel, LW Neckar, LW Oberrhein, LW Rhein, LW Rhein-Neckar, LW der Ruwer, LW der Saar, Mecklenburger LW, Central German LW, Nahegauer LW, Pfälzer LW, Regensburger LW, Rheinburgen - LW, Rheingauer LW, Rheinischer LW, Saarländischer LW, Sächsischer LW, Schleswig-Holsteiner LW, Schwäbischer LW, Starkenburger LW and Taubertäler LW.
There are 13 growing areas, which are divided into areas, large sites and individual vineyards. Only in these areas may the designation quality wine be used. They are mainly concentrated in the southwest in the valleys of the Rhine and Moselle and their numerous tributaries. In the south they are rather loosely scattered in the landscape. Due to the reunification in 1990 the two new wine growing areas Saxony and Saale-Unstrut in the east were added. Outside of these regions, vines are also cultivated on 56 hectares of vineyards in Bavaria, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Schleswig-Holstein. However, the wines produced from them may only be marketed as regional wines.
Area (BER): With the exception of the Ahr, Nahe and Rheingau, the growing areas are divided into two or more areas. The areas are divided into large vineyards.
Large layer (GL): This comprises several adjacent, but not necessarily contiguous, individual layers. Usually, this large layer is named after the most famous single layer (before reduction). However, the information on the bottle label does not indicate whether it is a single layer or a large layer.
Single vineyard (EL): This is rarely less than five hectares in size. However, there is a range from less than one to 200 hectares. Over the centuries, about 25,000 vineyard names have developed, often with only a few rows of vines. These have been greatly reduced by the 1970 wine law and the 1971 land consolidation
Land register location: the smallest geographical unit of protected origin. Since 2014, any wine-growing enterprise can apply to have vines registered in the cadastre defined as a cadastral location, which can be indicated on the label.
With one single exception, Germany's wine-growing regions are located in European wine-growing zone A, only the Baden region (like Austria) is part of wine-growing zone B. In 1972 there were still more than 100,000 wine-growing enterprises, since then there has been a continuous strong structural change and an enormous reduction to 42,000. The 16,827 enterprises in the table are only those with 0.5 hectares of vineyard area or more. Some 4,300 holdings cultivate less than 1 hectare; that is a quarter. Some 3,100 farms cultivate more than 10 hectares, of which 890 farms cultivate more than 20 hectares. They cultivate more than 60% of the total area. The average farm size grew from 4.8 to 5.9 hectares. Approximately 9 million hectolitres of wine are produced annually in different ways (see also under Wine production volumes). The export amounts to about 25%, the traditional buyers are Great Britain, USA, Netherlands and Japan. In 2018, 102,874 hectares of vineyard area were declared:
Approximately 140 grape varieties have been approved, but only a dozen of these are of market significance. Many new grape varieties have been introduced in the last ten years, most of them PIWI varieties. The trend towards red wine varieties in all growing regions has now passed its peak and is slightly declining. Exactly two thirds of the grape varieties are white wine varieties and one third red wine varieties. In 1998 the ratio was 71% white wine varieties to 29% red wine varieties. The most common grape variety with a continuing upward trend is still Riesling with a share of over a fifth. The ascendants are the Burgundy varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc as well as Sauvignon Blanc, the relegated varieties Müller-Thurgau, Kerner and Blauer Portugieser. The grape variety status 2018 (0 = less than 0.5 ha):
In August 2009, the EU wine market regulation came into force with fundamental changes in wine types and quality levels (see Quality System). In Germany, the new designations PDO and PGI were prohibited until the end of 2011. From 2012, the regulation came into force to allow the old traditional designations Landwein, Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein (with all predicate levels) to continue to be used. In addition, the new terms "protected geographical indication" and "protected origin" may be used on the label as alternatives, but not in abbreviated form:
Wine without a more specific indication of origin (formerly the now prohibited term table wine)
Wine with grape varieties and/or vintage year
Wine with a protected geographical indication (PGI) = local wine
Wine without variety and/or vintage information - German wine
Must be made exclusively from grapes harvested domestically. Must come exclusively from authorised vine varieties. Must have a minimum natural alcoholic strength by volume of 5% vol (44 °Oe) in zone A and 6% vol (50 °Oe) in zone B. Must have an actual alcoholic strength of not less than 8,5 % vol = 67 g/l in zones A and B after any enrichment. Must have a total acidity, expressed as tartaric acid, of not less than 3,5 g/l.
Wine with variety and/or vintage information - German wine
Only authorised vine varieties may be used and indicated.
Country wine and/or wine with a protected geographical indication
Only the long text is authorised; the short form 'wine PGI' is not authorised. The wine must come from at least 85% of grapes harvested in the area, e.g. Brandenburger Landwein. Concentration by cold is not permitted. An enrichment of the must before fermentation is permitted. The maximum yield per hectare is 15,000 litres of wine. Must correspond to "dry" or "semi-dry" taste.
Quality wine and/or wine with a protected designation of origin
Only the long text is allowed; the short form "wine PDO" is allowed is not permitted. The traditional designation QbA (quality wine from certain growing regions) is still possible (but is hardly used any more). After a positive sensory and analytical test, the official test number is assigned. The wine must have typical characteristics and be free of defects in appearance, smell and taste. It can be used for cultivation areas, but also for narrower geographical designations (area, large site, place name, individual site). Vineyard and field names (parcels) that were no longer permitted under the 1971 Wine Act may be reused under certain circumstances. The wines require product specifications, which describe the production (grape varieties, yields, etc.) and the taste of the wine's origin.
The grapes used must come exclusively from authorised vine varieties of the species Vitis vinifera. They must have been harvested in a single "specified region" and, in principle, have been processed into quality wine in the specified region. The grape must obtained in fermentable containers must have at least the minimum natural alcoholic strength by volume laid down for each specified region and for each vine variety. The actual alcoholic strength by volume must be at least 7% vol = 56 g/l and the wine must have a minimum total alcoholic strength by volume of 9% vol = 71 g/l. The addition of concentrated grape must and cold concentration are prohibited.
According to EU law also a quality wine, as officially only the three quality levels mentioned exist. However, traditional designations may still be used, which is also used by other countries such as Austria, Italy (DOC and DOCG) and Spain. According to German wine law, a Prädikatswein is therefore a higher level of quality wine. There are six types of Prädikat wines: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. These must at least meet the quality wine criteria. In addition, higher must weights apply (detailed descriptions can be found under the relevant keywords):
CabinetAt least 67 °Oe to 82 °Oe must weight different for each growing region. At least 7% vol = 56 g/l actual alcohol content. At least 9% = 71 g/l minimum total alcoholic strength.
Late HarvestAt least 76 °Oe to 90 °Oe must weight different for each growing region. As a guideline, a "late harvest" and fully ripe condition of the grapes is required.
SelectionAt least 83 °Oe to 100 °Oe must weight varies according to the growing region. All diseased and unripe berries must be eliminated.
BeerenausleseAt least 110 °Oe to 128 °Oe must weight varies according to the growing region. Only largely noble rot or at least overripe grapes may be used. The naturally existing alcohol content must be at least 5.5% vol.
TrockenbeerenausleseAt least 150 °Oe to 154 °Oe must weight varies according to the growing region. Must be pressed largely from noble rotten grapes.
Ice wineAt least 110 °Oe to 128 °Oe must weight (like Beerenauslese). The frozen grapes are crushed and pressed, the ice remains in the marc.
Sparkling wineA higher quality sparkling wine bears the designation "Deutscher Sekt", in this case it consists of 100% grapes grown in Germany. The designation "Sekt bA" means that the grapes come 100% from a certain production area.
The German standard work on wine law is "Weinrecht" (Walhalla-Verlag), which in the edition published in 2020 comprises 4,604 pages in four folders plus CD-ROM. It offers the wine law of the EU as well as of Germany and the federal states. Another comprehensive work is the "Weinrecht Kommentar" by Prof. Dr. Hans-Jörg Koch. See also under wine law.
Must weightFor each wine quality level there is a minimum must weight or resulting potential alcohol content (see above). Within the quality levels, a further differentiation is made according to grape variety. In order to do justice to the different climatic conditions, these quantities are different for each growing region.
IncomeThe maximum permitted yield is expressed in hl/ha. They are defined responsibly by the responsible authorities of the cultivation areas and vary for each cultivation area and in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate also for each quality group. Regardless of the quality group, these are 80 hl/ha (Saxony), 90 (Baden, Franconia, Saale-Unstrut), 100 (Ahr, Hessische Bergstrasse, Rheingau), 105 (Middle Rhine, Nahe, Palatinate, Rhinehesse), as well as 110 (Württemberg). In Rhineland-Palatinate (Moselle, Nahe, Palatinate, Rhinehesse), these are 105 for quality wine and 125 for Moselle, 125 for country and varietal wines, 150 for German wines, and 200 for base wines for the production of sparkling wines or distillates.
Origin / vintage / grape variety: At least 85% of a wine must come from the indicated origin, grape variety and vintage. If the foreign content (from a different origin, grape variety or vintage than that indicated in the designation) reaches the maximum limit of 15%, then a maximum of 10% foreign sweet reserve may be added. This is because the total foreign content including the sweet reserve may not exceed 25%. "German wines" must originate 100% from grapes harvested in Germany. Under seed law, 87 yielding grape varieties (66 of which are listed above), 15 rootstock grape varieties and 12 ornamental grape varieties are permitted. A detailed description with the wine-growing characteristics is contained in the "Descriptive List of Grape Varieties" of the Bundessortenamt (see under Plant Variety Protection). The indication of varietal purity is only permitted if the wine comes 100% from the specified grape variety.
Sugar contentThe residual sugar content is optionally indicated on the label. A wine is considered dry if its total acidity is not more than 4 g/l or 9 g/l if its total acidity is not more than 2 g/l lower than the residual sugar. At 8 g/l, for example, this requires 6 g/l total acidity. The other degrees are semi-dry with 12 g/l or 18 g/l, if the total acidity is not more than 10 g/l lower, sweet with a higher value than for semi-dry but max. 45 g/l, as well as sweet with zum. 45 g/l. Terms not relevant to wine law are fine-tangy, Franconian dry and tart.
Sweetening (increase in residual sugar): the wine may not be sweetened by more than 4% vol alcohol. Only grape must designated as a sweet reserve may be used, concentrated grape must and RTK is prohibited for country wine, quality wine and Prädikatswein (is even a restriction of EU law; the reason is to preserve the originality of the wine). If grape must is added to the predicate wine, it must correspond to the same predicate wine level.
Enrich (increasing the natural alcoholic strength by volume): May be carried out on all types of wine (irrespective of wine colour and quality grade) by a maximum of 2% vol. alcohol using the authorised means. In the past, only sucrose (dry sugar) was permitted for agricultural and quality wines in Germany. However, following a ruling by the European Court of Justice, the German Wine Law was amended in 1989. After a successful application, quality wine b. A. may not exceed an alcohol content of 15% vol. In principle, enrichment is not permitted for Prädikatswein.