Germany's VDP Grosses Gewächs - The 2022 Preview

Germany's VDP Grosses Gewächs - The 2022 Preview

Tuesday 30th August 2022
by Mark Dearing

Germany's VDP Grosses Gewächs - The 2022 Preview

After a two-year Covid hiatus, it was an honour to be invited back to Wiesbaden to intensively taste all the upcoming VDP Grosses Gewächs (GG) releases over a full three days, brushing shoulders with the who’s who of the national and international German wine business and press. Much is made of the seamless organisation and eye for detail at this important VDP event, as almost 450 wines are sorted in to 82 flights (and 40 refrigerators) according to their origin, permitting direct producer comparisons across almost all of Germany’s most prestigious single vineyards.

This year’s preview was particularly special as 2022 marks the twentieth anniversary of the birth of the VDP Grosses Gewächs classification. A move that necessitated years of negotiations and diplomacy on behalf of the VDP and all their member estates, the road was not a smooth one. But with the first two decades now behind us, Justerini & Brooks, as longstanding German wine traders, is in step with the VDP when they assert that the Grosses Gewächs and broader VDP Gutswein (Estate), Ortswein (Village), Erste Lage (Premier Cru) and Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) classification process has played a huge rule in internationalising the industry and bringing renewed focus and prestige to Germany’s greatest vineyards. To this we would add that better dry wines and tighter legislation has helped to attract a younger generation of globally mobile, high-end wine collectors.

The VDP considers 2002 as the year in which Germany’s dry wine renaissance began. By this, they mean the pursuit of quality dry wines characterised and classified qualitatively by their origin and not by starting must weight. That change fundamentally negates the national German Wine Law of 1971 which, amongst other things, consolidated around 30,000 historic parcels into 3,000 significantly increased vineyards, the suggestion being that quality wine could be made anywhere with sufficient ripeness, and that limiting the number of vineyards would make life easier for consumers.

What this meant in actuality however was that any historic correlation between vineyard name and quality was lost, and the legal quality Prädikat categories (Kabinett, Spätlese etc.) provided no orientation as to actual quality. This latter failure was exacerbated by producers who understood that the new crossings being developed in Germany at the time would easily achieve high must weights and yields, and prove very useful in blends or as individual bottlings. The Prädikat terms would hence give no real indication as to whether the wine was well-made, interesting, or have any capacity to develop further in the bottle. Simultaneously, wineries charged more on the grounds of starting must-weight, resulting in an ocean of cloying yet insipid wines with no intrinsic character hitting the market, foreshadowing the steady decline in Germany’s reputation as a wine-producing country. Largely difficult vintages in the 1970s and 1980s only made matters worse.

So, it was from 1984 onwards that the VDP, representing around 5% of all German wineries and about 3% of the total German yield, set about developing a new quality framework, doubling-down on their belief that the best way to maintain standards was to uphold a peer-reviewed, by-invitation approach only to producers. This ensured that even if consumers were asked to pay more, then they would at least be guaranteed a properly authentic German wine. Their long-term ambition was to cement a top-tier of producers who would, with the VDP’s marketing and economic support, restore significance to the names of Germany’s finest vineyards and resume the correlation between official Prädikat levels and traditional taste profiles, using only noble varieties.

In 2022, there are 200 member estates across all thirteen German wine regions, making up 6% of the total vineyard area, and 13% of all revenue. 20% of all the organic vineyards in Germany are cultivated by VDP members, with many VDP estates currently in the three-year conversion process. Membership is reviewed every five years, and if there are certain estates and vineyards whose inclusion will likely be debated for all eternity, nobody can deny that the far-reaching ambitions and professionalism of this association is to be hugely respected, and one that many others could learn from.